British Timetable Review – December 2014

by Alan de Burton

Overview and Timetable Format

Unless otherwise specified, the text refers to Monday to Saturday timetables. Major changes this time are limited to Southeastern, Southern and Thameslink services which do (or did) serve London Bridge, Southeastern services more generally and ScotRail electric services around Glasgow.

This is the second Network Rail paper timetable for which Middleton Press is the only publisher. This time all the tables are consistently presented ‘two-up’ on Landscape format pages. Presentation of table 226 of the electric services on the two low level lines through Glasgow has been vastly improved by splitting it into separate tables for the Queen Street and Argyle Lines. Unfortunately this timetable like some of its predecessors suffers in various places from ‘missing trains.’ The most conspicuous omissions are on the summary table of High Speed Domestic Services from St. Pancras International. This is especially unfortunate since these services have been considerably extended and improved.

Arriva Trains Wales (dmus and some diesel loco-hauled)

On Mondays to Fridays Arriva has introduced another loco-hauled train in North Wales on Mondays to Fridays which works a diagram Crewe – Chester – Manchester Piccadilly – Holyhead – Manchester Piccadilly – Llandudno – Crewe replacing dmus. Unfortunately, since the Holyhead working replaces a dmu which served Llandudno, Llandudno now suffers a gap of about an hour and a half each way in its midday train service. The Cardiff to Ebbw Vale Parkway trains now call at a new station at Pye Corner in the suburbs of Newport.

First ScotRail (emus, dmus and loco hauled including sleepers)

From 1 April 2015 FirstGroup will hand over the ScotRail franchise to Abellio for the main franchise and to Serco for the Caledonian Sleepers. In the meantime ScotRail have made major changes to the Argyle Line electric services in Glasgow and minor changes elsewhere.

The electrification of the line from Rutherglen to Whifflet has provided the opportunity for a complete revision of the electric services south-east of Glasgow. While the electric half-hourly Lanark service ran through Glasgow Central Low Level on the Argyle Line, the half-hourly diesel service to Whifflet necessarily ran from Glasgow Central High Level. These routes have now swapped. The Lanark service now runs from the main High Level station and the newly electric Whifflet trains run as part of the Argyle Line service. At the east end, one train per hour on the Whifflet service now extends to Motherwell. Further out, the Lanark service has been changed further. Previously it alternated between Holytown and Shieldmuir its route is now standardised via Shieldmuir. Taken together journey times between Glasgow and Lanark have shrunk by up to quarter of an hour. Detailed pathing in the Motherwell and Hamilton area of the whole service group is now quite different, as are the cross city linkages to destinations west of Glasgow.

Sunday services have also improved. For the first time both the Whifflet line and Larkhall have Sunday services, hourly in both cases. Around Glasgow a Sunday service is advertised from Glasgow Queen Street High Level via Maryhill to Anniesland.

In the West Highlands there is an extra round trip on the minimum winter service on Sundays between Glasgow and Oban. The Caledonian Sleepers now make public stops for foot passengers at Glasgow Queen Street Low Level. Far North services beyond Inverness have been slowed a little, apparently because of recent operating problems. Around Edinburgh the service to Newcraighall has been separated from services west of Edinburgh in preparation for its extension to Tweedbank later in 2015.

First Great Western (HSTs, dmus and diesel loco-hauled sleepers)

First Great Western have finally resolved a major deficiency in its West of England services which dates back over 30 years: lack of an early fast train from Paddington to Plymouth. On Mondays to Fridays the 07 06 from Paddington via the Berks & Hants line to Paignton and the 07 30 from Paddington to Penzance have swapped destinations. There are a number of consequent changes in the Up direction. The 11 06 from Paignton to Paddington starts at 11 30 and loses some of its stops, the 15 00 from Plymouth to Paddington starts back from Penzance while the 14 00 from Penzance starts from Plymouth. Connecting local trains have been changed to fit. Additionally on Mondays to Fridays, the 12 18 ‘stopper’ from Paddington to Taunton starts at 11 33 and extends to Exeter but loses some of its intermediate stops. Its return at 15 23 from Taunton also starts from Exeter but keeps its wayside stops.

First TransPennine Express (dmus and emus)

TransPennine dmus working between Manchester Airport and  Blackpool North are diverted all week between Manchester and Preston. They will run via Wigan North Western rather than Bolton and Chorley from Easter to the end of the timetable validity in mid May. Curiously Northern trains on the same route are unaltered even in the Working Timetable,

London Midland (emus and dmus)

Off-peak emus between Euston and Tring now call hourly at Wembley Central. The daytime frequency of the Birmingham Cross-City emu service beyond Longbridge to Redditch has increased from 2 trains per hour to 3.

Southeastern (emus)

Introduction

Southeastern’s new timetable begins on 11 January after a long shutdown for major engineering work at London Bridge. There are 2 major features: (1) major revisions to the structure of their services outside the London suburban area, and (2) alterations to cope with the railway in effect being divided by the engineering works into two parallel but separate and unconnected railways from Charing Cross and from Cannon Street as far out as Lewisham. The segregation of the tracks is permanent and Cannon Street becomes a ‘full time’ 7-day terminus for the first time since off-peak service reductions in 1958, or arguably even 1917! The most important temporary consequence of the continuing engineering work is that Charing Cross trains cannot call at London Bridge until August 2016. Charing Cross station is closed on Sundays and all trains run from Cannon Street. A few late evening trains on Mondays to Saturdays from Charing Cross call intermediately at Cannon Street and reverse there.

Suburban Services

Within the constraints above, daytime suburban services are remarkably little changed, even in the peak, although peak services are marginally thinned mainly on the route via Greenwich and Woolwich. However, evening services on Mondays to Saturdays on almost all routes are vastly improved. In general, the reduction in service frequency from off-peak daytime to what was in most cases half the service frequency in the evenings now occurs about two hours later. On the Bexleyheath line, the Victoria service whose last departure was previously 20 09 on Mondays to Fridays and 19 39 on Saturdays becomes 00 09 the following morning. On Sundays the entire Bexleyheath line service runs from Victoria. This is the first time parts of the route from Victoria to Lewisham have had a Sunday service.

Main Line Services via Chatham

Once again, the previous peak services have been adapted rather than drastically changed. However, 2 morning up trains to Cannon Street  and one down are diverted to Blackfriars; they all call at Elephant & Castle. Two up Gillingham to Victoria trains in the morning peak run through from Sheerness, balanced by two back in the evening.

Off-peak and Sunday train services on the ‘Chatham’ have been completely changed. The main innovations are (1) the extension of one train per hour of the half-hourly High Speed services from St. Pancras International to Faversham to extend through to Margate, Ramsgate and beyond towards Dover (see below) and (2) the abandonment of splitting and joining of train portions every half hour at Faversham on Mondays to Saturdays. Splitting and joining portions for Ramsgate and for Dover at either Gillingham or Faversham has been a feature of electric services ever since electrification in 1959. One of the Victoria (not so) fasts now runs only (slow) to Dover while the other runs only to Ramsgate. To make up the frequency to twice hourly to Dover, the Victoria to Gillingham stopper which also now calls at Denmark Hill extends fast(ish) to Dover.

Changes on Sundays broadly follow the Monday to Saturday pattern. One of the St. Pancras International to Faversham trains extends each hour to Margate, Ramsgate and beyond. Since the Victoria to Ramsgate train still runs, there are 2 trains per hour east of Faversham rather than one. The Victoria to Canterbury East stoppers also call at Denmark Hill.

Main Line services via Ashford International

Off-peak services have been extensively reorganised. As at Faversham splitting and joining of portions at Ashford International has been abandoned. The hourly off-peak High Speed train from St. Pancras International to Dover now continues to Ramsgate and runs through back to St. Pancras as part of the extended St. Pancras International to Ramsgate service via Faversham already described. Taking the High Speed and conventional services together, service provision east of Ashford International is as before on Saturdays and Sundays, but on Mondays to Fridays the extra ‘conventional’ train between Ashford and Dover has been lost. The practice of splitting the High Speed trains at Ashford International in the peak has also been abandoned with the former combined portions running separately from St. Pancras to Ashford International. These have ‘absorbed’ all but one (in the morning) of the previous peak short workings between St. Pancras and Ebbsfleet International.

Main Line services via Tunbridge Wells.

The daytime Charing Cross to Tunbridge Wells short workings now run from Cannon Street. Southeastern have now introduced a 90 minute Charing Cross to Hastings train on Mondays to Fridays at 16 20 Down, 08 04 Up. This is 5 minutes better than the Southern Railway managed with steam power 80 years ago in the 1930s! Southeastern’s 90 minute trains run non-stop between Waterloo (East) and High Brooms.

Personal Conclusions

We will have to see how operationally practical will be the new hourly High Speed service from St. Pancras to Ashford, Dover, Ramsgate, Faversham and back to St. Pancras and vice versa. However, in broad terms, the abandonment of splitting and joining train portions at Faversham and Ashford International should aid reliability. Extension of half the off-peak and Sunday Faversham High Speed trains to the Kent Coast is arguably a step that should have been taken when the services were first introduced in December 2009. Nevertheless they are little faster than Victoria trains up till 2009 and charge higher ticket prices.

While the Thameslink works include a connection into the South Eastern tracks in the New Cross area, it is no longer clear whether these will ever be used. Should this be the case, there is no reason why an adaption of the new January 2015 service shouldn’t follow past 3rd Rail practice and remain broadly unchanged into the 2020s. But will a subsequent management finally decide that the 22 minute evening peak sequence introduced to find room for Eurostar paths over 20 years ago has run its course?

Thameslink (emus) and Southern (emus and some dmus)

Thameslink

From 14 September 2014, Govia the present owner of the Southern franchise took over from First Capital Connect as the operator of Thameslink. However, for the present Thameslink and Southern remain separate Train Operating Companies (TOCs). From the timetable change, Thameslink have taken over operating responsibility from Southeastern for the Catford Loop services to Bromley South, Swanley and Sevenoaks. They have also taken responsibility for Denmark Hill station and stations from Nunhead to Ravensbourne.  Although scarcely served by Southeastern trains, Southeastern retain responsibility for the minor stations between Swanley and Sevenoaks. The few peak trains previously jointly operated by First Capital Connect and Southeastern running through from the Thameslink core to the Maidstone East line and to Rochester via Swanley have become a Southeastern responsibility and no longer work north of Blackfriars.

Because of the major engineering work at London Bridge the main challenge for Thameslink is to re-route their off-peak train service between Blackfriars and East Croydon to run via Herne Hill and Tulse Hill rather than London Bridge, as they already did in the peaks. This diversion has added about 10 minutes to journey times. Consequently, the prime through Thameslink service between Bedford and Brighton has been reduced from 4 to 2 trains per hour on Mondays to Saturdays south of Three Bridges as was previously the case on Sundays. Pathing is less than ideal often with extended journey times. To provide a service from London Bridge, there is a new half hourly service to Brighton on Mondays to Fridays from 09 42 till 16 12 and from 18 42 till 20 42 and on Saturdays from 07 42 till 20 12.

Southern

Except as noted, services from Victoria and via the West London line are little altered. The major engineering work challenges Southern rather differently from Thameslink; it is to run their services out of fewer terminal platforms at London Bridge which mainly affects the peak. Southern have made few changes to the longer distance services but peak London Bridge suburban services have been thinned in various ways. Those most affected are services via Peckham Rye and Tulse Hill where a number of previously London Bridge trains turn short at South Bermondsey. Further out, rather more ‘against flow’ Down trains in the morning peak to Caterham and Tattenham Corner run together to Purley where they split. In the Up direction, journey times into London Bridge seem to have been extended excessively but working time arrivals are now often 5 minutes earlier than public times.

The various changes on the Brighton Main Line result in many detailed changes to the stopping patterns of both Thameslink and Southern trains at local stations between Three Bridges and Brighton. Revised Thameslink services have made an impact at times when the new Thameslink London Bridge to Brighton services mentioned above don’t run in the evening. On Monday to Friday evenings the Victoria to Horsham via Redhill stopping trains are diverted to start at London Bridge, as they already do daytime. Also the 02 and 32 minutes past the hour Victoria to Brighton semi-fasts are diverted to Horsham, as they do for the rest of the day.

Personal Conclusions

Whereas Southeastern have achieved some neat timetabling which in principle should stand the test of time, the Brighton line arrangements look very much like a temporary expedient. I assume that services will change further when the new class 387/2 emus arrive to replace the 442s on the Gatwick Express services. We have already been told that the Gatwick Express working will be consolidated with the Victoria – Brighton fasts all day: more splitting and joining portions at Gatwick Airport at a time when Southeastern have virtually abandoned the practice?

Virgin Trains (Pendolino emus and Voyager dmus)

Virgin have finally extended a number of their trains to Shrewsbury. These are the Mondays to Fridays 10 23 and Saturday 10 23 from Euston to Birmingham and the 18 23 Mondays to Saturdays and 19 00 Sundays to Wolverhampton. Trains return from Shrewsbury on Mondays to Fridays at 06 39, Saturdays at 08 18 and on all 7 days at
15 24.

Virgin have extended the Mondays to Fridays 16 33 Euston to Preston on to Blackpool, returning at 05 35 Mondays to Fridays. The latter is a diversion of a train from Lancaster.

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