The Anonymous Widower

The Future Of Commuting

I take the title from this article in this Guardian, which is entitled Cattle-class: are Thameslink’s new ‘tube-style’ trains the future of commuting?

This is the sub-title to the article.

As the UK south-east’s rail nightmare continues, a new class of commuter trains has been quietly revealed – long, metro-style carriages without tables, built to accommodate as many standing passengers as possible. Is this the new normal?

The New Class 700 Trains

I have travelled on the new Class 700 trains and I wrote about my journey in A First Ride In A Class 700 Train.

These are things I thought some people might not like.

  • The lack of audible messages. – I liked the quiet, but I’m not blind.
  • The lack of tables in Standard Class compared with say the Class 387 trains, that currently work the line.
  • The lack of wi-fi.
  • The length of the train at 242.6m., if they get in the wrong carriage.
  • The high step up into the train.

The last one is possibly to be compatible with other trains and is being addressed at East Croydon station, by raising the platforms. I didn’t go to Gatwick, but imagine large numbers of heavy cases being loaded and unloaded.

I think that the problem is that some bright spark in the Department of Transport or the Treasury, decided that the trains should be a one size fits all and that they had to cope with a lot of stations, where the platforms wouldn’t be seriously modified.

Thank goodness this idiot didn’t order the same trains for Crossrail.

The Routes Compared

It is interesting to compare the route and trains of Thameslink with Crossrail

The trains are similar in length, with about a third of the passengers getting seats at full capacity of 1500 for Crossrail’s Class 345 trains and 1800 for Thameslink’s Class 700 trains.

But I think there will be a big difference in passenger loading between the two lines.

These are times from four selected end points to Farringdon, where the two lines cross.

  • Bedford (Thameslink) – 60 minutes
  • Brighton (Thameslink) – 86 minutes
  • Reading (Crossrail) – 58 minutes
  • Shenfield (Crossrail) – 43 minutes

So it looks like the average commute on Thameslink could be longer, so possibly their trains should reflect that, with wi-fi, lots of tables etc.

But whereas Brighton and Bedford will get a few trains every hour to Central London, Shenfield will get ten.

Shenfield and Reading will also have long distance services coming in from further out and going direct to the capital.

Unfortunately, trains can’t start further South than Brighton.

Another big difference, is that Crossrail serves a lot of the places, commuters and visitors to the capital want to go. For example.

  • Bond Street for the shops and the Underground
  • Canary Wharf with a cross-platform change, if not direct.
  • Heathrow for the planes
  • Liverpool Street for long distance trains and the Underground.
  • Moorgate for a walk to the City.
  • Old Oak Common for long distance trains and the Overground.
  • Paddington for long distance trains.
  • Stratford for the Queen Elizabeth  Olympic Park, shopping and the Underground.
  • Whitechapel for the Overground.

Thameslink’s list is shorter and less impressive.

  • Blackfriars for a walk to the City.
  • City Thameslink for a walk to the City.
  • Gatwick for the planes.
  • Kings Cross St. Pancras for Eurostar and long distance trains.
  • London Bridge for a walk to the City and the Underground.

I might be wrong, but this leads me to think that Crossrail will act like a high-capacity Underground Line across Central London,and will for example, be used by visitors wanting to have a walk in the City and then go to do some shopping in Oxford Street. Thameslink doesn’t have  similar casual uses across Central London.

Another difference, is that Crossrail’s Shenfield and Reading branches are very much all-stations branches, whereas Thameslink’s have a lot of semi-fast trains.

This thinking leads to an important difference.

Crossrail’s train design and capacity depends heavily on the needs from Stratford to Old Oak Common, wheras Thameslink’s trains are more about the needs of long-distance commuters.

But then, Crossrail has been designed as a system of trains and routes to satisfy the capital’s needs, whereas Thameslink has been created by stitching together a series of Victorian lines, that all have different needs.

A Redesign For Thameslink

I think a few years after Crossrail and Thameslink open, Thameslink services will have a big redesign.

So what will happen?

It will be driven by the statistics of where passengers need to go.

But I can see the following happening.

Upgrading Of The Class 700 Trains

The more I read about the two sets of trains, the more I feel that passengers will moan about the Class 700 trains on Thameslink, when they experience the Class 345 trains on Crossrail.

Points of annoyance could include.

  • The lack of wi-fi and charging sockets.
  • Nowhere to put a coffee.
  • The number of tables.
  • The layout of the seats.
  • Bicycles

But then these trains weren’t specified by the operator, unlike those on Crossrail, where Transport for London had a big input.

Creation Of More Cross-Platform And Same-Platform Interchanges

The only quality interchange between Thameslink and other services is London Bridge. But that has been designed recently.

East Croydon has been the victim of make-do-and mend for decades.

Gatwick Airport could be so much better.

St. Pancras is truly terrible and was designed so that passengers are kept fit, by walking long distances underground to reach other services.

West Hampstead Thameslink could be another Stratford, but it falls short.

I think we’ll see improvements to some of these stations to create better same-platform or cross-platform interchange between Thameslink and longer distance services.

As an example Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park seem to have been improved so that Thameslink has a good interchange with local services out of Kings Cross and Moorgate.

On Thameslink East Croydon, Gatwick and West Hampstead Thameslink must be updated to improve connectivity between Thameslink and longer distance services.

Separation Of Short And Longer Distance Trains South Of The River

On Crossrail, passengers going further East can change at Liverpool Street or Stratford in the centre or Shenfield in the East and those going further West can change at Paddington in the centre or Reading in the West.

Four of the five interchange stations; Liverpool Street, Paddington, Reading, Shenfield and Stratford, are large stations with excellent facilities and lots of trains and I can see that Shenfield will be improved by some pragmatic use of the current platforms and the nearby High Street.

North of the River on Thameslink, the interchange between short and longer distance distance trains isn’t perfect, but Finsbury Park, Kentish Town, Welwyn Garden City and West Hampstead are better and have more spare capacity than East Croydon.

The only decent interchange South of the River is the recently-updated London Bridge. But it is too close to the centre of London.

South of the River, Thameslink needs a station like Reading or Shenfield, where passengers have a cross-platform or same-platform change to and from a proper long-distance commuter train to a comfortable high-density shuttle across London, as an alternative to getting one train all the way.

The Brighton Belle Will Return

The Brighton Belle was the way to commute between London and Brighton until it ceased running in the 1970s.

I may have ridden it once as a child of about seven with my father, but we may have made our trip to Brighton on an ordinary train.

Having travelled to Brighton many times, the route could probably sustain a higher quality service than it currently gets.

Currently, there are three services on the route.

  • Thameslink, that when complete will go via Gatwick, East Croydon and London Bridge to all points North of the River.
  • Southern to Victoria, that will go via Gatwick Airport, East Croydon and Clapham Junction.
  • Gatwick Express to Gatwick and Victoria.

All are operated by the same franchise, Govia Thameslink Railway.

In my view, this is part of the commuting problem to the South Coast and especially Brighton.

There are no paths for a high-class operator on the route between either Victoria or London Bridge and Gatwick, but I think that better use could be made of the current services to increase capacity and the quality of the trains.

So I believe that as it was after the initial privatisation, Gatwick Express should become a separate franchise.

In its simnplest reincarnation, it would offer a high-class operator between Vicrtoria, Gatwick and Brighton, perhaps calling at Three Bridges and/or Horsham, just as did the original Brighton Belle called at Horsham.

But I’ve believed for some time that with the electrification of the Great Western Railway, that a service between Reading and Gatwick, should come under the control of Gatwick Express.

Consider.

  • A network of upmarket Gatwick Express services could be developed centred on Gatwick.
  • A Class 387 train, running from Reading to Gatwick would do the journey faster than using Crossrail/Thameslink, without all the problems of even a simple change.
  • A Gatwick to Ebbsfleet or Ashford service would be possible.
  • Gatwick could have Gatwick Express services to Luton Airport using Thameslink via London Bridge and St. Pancras.
  • The current services to Victoria and Brighton would continue.
  • It would have dedicated platforms at Brighton, Gatwick, Victoria and possibly Reading.

Properly structured it could be a mix of high-class Airport and commuter services.

  • It must have nothing to do with Govia Thameslink Railway.
  • The Class 387 trains are probably good enough for the franchise.
  • Something like a Chiltern-style Class system might be best.
  • Surely, modern technology should be able to create a decent buffet car.
  • Ticketing would be as now and must include contactless bank card and Oyster.
  • If it wants to extend services to Eastbourne, Portsmouth and Southampton, it should be taken seriously.

I’m certain, a bright marketing man would come up with an iconic name for the service.

The only problem would be that Govia Thameslink Railway would object like mad, but in some ways they’ve brought it on themselves.

Only Twelve-Car Trains Through The Central Tunnel

It is essential that to maximise capacity of the line, that in the most restricted section through the central tunnel, that all trains through the tunnel are twelve-car trains.

So this would mean that Sutton Loop Line services would have to terminate at Blackfriars station, as was originally intended until MPs intervened.

In the Wikpedia entry for The Sutton Loop Line, this is said.

Recent proposals were to increase the frequency of the Thameslink service but terminate at Blackfriars. This would allow the trains through the core section to be replaced with longer trains which could not use the loop, but this has not proceeded due to objections from loop passengers about the withdrawal of their through service.

It might be difficult to bring in now, due to the layout of Blackfriars station. This means that passengers going South will need to Cross under the lines to get to the bay platforms on the other side of the station.

It should be noted, that under the latest plans, passengers coming South on Thameslink and wanting to go to Sevenoaks, will have to negotiate this down and up at Blackfriars. It will be easier, if they are on the Midland branch, as they could get any of the four Sutton Loop Line trains and change at Elephant and Castle. But those passengers on the East Coast branch have only the 2 tph Maidstone East service that goes through Elephant and Castle.

Sufficient Trains On Each Section Of Thameslink

If you look at the current proposed timetable in All Change On Thameslink, you can summarise  each section as follows.

  • Bedford to St. Pancras – 16 trains per hour (tph)
  • Bedford to Luton – 8 tph
  • Luton to St. Albans – 10 tph
  • St. Albans to Kentish Town – 14 tph
  • Kentish Town to St. Pancras – 16 tph
  • Peterborough/Cambridge to St. Pancras – 6 tph
  • Peterborough to Hitchin – 2 tph
  • Cambridge to Hitchin – 4 tph
  • Hitchin to St. Pancras – 6 tph
  • St. Pancras to Blackfriars – 22 tph
  • Blackfriars To Elephant and Castle – 8 tph
  • Elephant and Castle to Sutton Loop – 4 tph
  • Elephant and Castle to Swanley- 4 tph
  • Swanley  to Maidstone East- 2 tph
  • Swanley  to Sevenoaks – 2 tph
  • Blackfriars to London Bridge  16 tph
  • London Bridge to Orpington – 2 tph
  • London Bridge to Rainham via Greenwich and Dartford – 2 tph
  • London Bridge to East Croydon- 12 tph
  • East Croydon to Gatwick – 10 tph
  • Gatwick to Brighton – 4 tph
  • Gatwick to Horsham – 2 tph
  • Gatwick to Littlehampton – 2 tph

My numbers are probably not totally correct, but it does show there are reasonable frequencies everywhere.

Note.

  • Rainham to Luton via Dartford, Greenwich and London Bridge looks a service for an area of South East London that needs development.
  • Rainham to Luton calls at Abbey Wood for Crossrail, so it also is a valuable extension to Crossrail services at Abbey Wood.
  • Swanley  seems to be developing into an interchange for services to Kent, with four tph to Blackfriars and two tph to each of Maidstone East and Sevenoaks.
  • Gatwick gets a frequency of 10 tph to London on Thameslink.
  • There are 8 tph between Gatwick and Luton airports.

These frequencies have changed from those given in Wikipedia

The Effect Of The Northern City Line

The original service plan for Thameslink to the North of London, showed the following.

  •  4 tph to Bedford
  • 2 tph to Peterborough
  • 4 tph to Cambridge

In total sixteen sixteen services were planned go up the Midland Main Line and eight up the East Coast Main Line and the Cambridge Branch.

But as I showed in All Change on Thameslink, it is now planned to be.

  • 8 tph to Bedford
  • 2 tph to Peterborough
  • 4 tph to Cambridge

The service to Finsbury Park and Welwyn Gsrden City has also disappeared, so although the total number of services on the Midland Main Line remains the same, the number of services on the East Coast Main Line has dropped to six.

Could this be because the Northern City and the Hertford Loop Lines are going to be given an increased role in providing services, when the new Class 717 trains arrive in a couple of years?

It certainly looks as if Govia Thameslink Railway could be organising their services out of Kings Cross and Moorgate to augment the Thameslink services.

It looks like the following is happening.

  • Short distance services up to about Hitchin and Letchworth Garden City are being served by trains from Kings Cross and Moorgate.
  • The increase in the number and quality of the Class 717 trains is being used to provide an improved local service.
  • Trains from Thameslink and Great Northern will provide the bulk of the long distance commuter services to Cambridge and Peterborough.
  • GTR have also said that their Class 387 trains, will be working between Kings Cross, Cambridge, Peterborough and Kings Lynn.

I don’t think anybody will be complaining.

Embracing The East London Line

If you were going from say Gatwick Airport to Hatfield, when Thameslink is fully open in a few years time, you would probably get one of the direct trains, which will run at a frequency of 4 tph.

But rail enthusiasts and masochists might travel by this route.

  • Gatwick Airport to East Croydon on Thameslink or Southern.
  • East Croydon to Norwood Junction on Southern
  • Norwood Junction to Highbury and Islington on the East London Line
  • Highbury and Islington to Finsbury Park on the Northern City Line
  • Finsbury Park to Hatfield on Great Northern or Thameslink.

I know it’s rather convoluted, but it does show how the East London Line is an important cross-London route, with strong links to railways controlled by Govia Thameslink Railway.

It is well-connected at the North, but connections at the South to Southern and Thameslink at the important station of East Croydon are woeful.

Thameslink must embrace the East London Line fully, just as it is embracing the Northern City Line.

Swanley Station

Swanley station could prove to be an important station for Thameslink.

Currently services call at the station are as follows.

  • 4tph to London Victoria via Bromley South
  • 2tph to West Hampstead Thameslink via Catford
  • 2tph to Sevenoaks via Bat & Ball
  • 1tph to Ashford International via Maidstone East
  • 1tph to Canterbury West via Maidstone East
  • 1tph to Dover Priory via Chatham

But if the current plans for Thameslink are fulfilled there will be the following Thamesline services through Swanley.

  • 2 tph – Maidstone East to Cambridge
  • 2 tph – Sevenoaks to Blackfriars

Adding these to the current services gives.

  • 4tph to London Victoria via Bromley South
  • 4tph to Blackfriars via Catford
  • 2tph to Cambridge via Catford and Blackfriars
  • 2tph to Sevenoaks via Bat & Ball
  • 4 tph to Maidstone East

Effectively, Swanley will get a turn-up-and-go 4 tph service to Blackfriars, Maidstone East and Victoria.

This map from carto.metro.free.fr shows the layout of lines at Swanley station.

Swanley Station

Swanley Station

Note.

  • Swanley station has two island platforms.
  • The line going North-East is the Chatham Main Line.
  • The line going South-East is the Maidstone Line, leading to Maidstone East and Sevenoaks stations.
  • At present, the platform arrangement is not one island platform for each direction.

This station could be dramatically improved to be a cross-platform interchange with London-bound and coast-bound services each with their own island platform. If of course, this were to be possible for other operational reasons.

The only passengers who would be inconvenienced, would be those who were travelling between stations on different lines to the East.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The East London Line having cross-platform interchange vwith Thamesllink.
  • Sortout the dreadful St. Pancras with good interchange between Thameslink and other lines.
  • Gatwick acts as a collector station, where passengers from all over the South change trains to a high-capacity Gatwick to Luton/Bedford shuttle.

Thameslink will be radically different to how it is planned to be today.

 

 

 

September 10, 2016 - Posted by | Transport | , , , ,

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