This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 31/10/2018.
Croydon passengers who experienced ‘nightmare’ journeys say trains are back on track after timetable chaos
Southern and Thameslink commuters in Croydon have had to put up with a lot in the last five months.
It has been a long time coming but passengers finally feel Croydon train services are getting back on track after months of misery due to timetable changes.
Rail operators brought in huge timetable changes in May, aimed at deliver “big benefits to passengers” including improving punctuality and boosting capacity – but the reality of what people have experienced has been far from that.
Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which runs Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express trains, was cancelling up to 470 trains a day when the new timetable first came in, leaving passengers facing weeks of “chaos”.
Now five months since the overhaul, Croydon’s commuters believe the railways are getting back on track.
The timetable changes had a severe impact on Ellie Verrall’s day to day life as she ended up having to sleep on friends’ sofas as she couldn’t get a train home after work.
The 29-year-old old, who now lives in Laundry Close in East Croydon, was living in Worthing at the time while working in events at a Chancery Lane law firm.
She said: “The first week was fine, then the second week it was just nuts. Every other train was getting cancelled.
“I was ending up having to sleep on my friends’ sofa in London because I just couldn’t get home.
“Due to my hours I don’t finish until late and if they were cancelled I wasn’t getting home until 11 o’clock at night. I had to get into work for 8 o’clock the next day so I was just having to stay on my friends’ sofas. It wasn’t fun!”
Ms Verall added: “I went to London Bridge once and the train was so busy a woman was crying because she needed to get home to pick up her children from school.
“No one was letting her on because there was physically no space and people had been waiting for over an hour.
“The past month or maybe couple of months it’s got better.
“They are a lot more regular. The journey in is fine but it’s the journey home. But they do seem to be better”.
Graham Hall, 41, of Brighton Road, has spent the last two years living in Croydon after moving from the north of England and he described having to get a train as a “nightmare” back in May.
Speaking of the May timetable changes, he said: “For the first month or six weeks or so it was a nightmare, everything was delayed.
“I had faith that it would get better because, well it couldn’t get any worse.
“Now I can’t complain. It’s generally pretty good.
“It’s a quick service into London Bridge, so now it’s how it should have been in May, with a five-month delay”.
According to GTR, Southern recently recorded its best punctuality figures, for trains arriving on time, for five years and Thameslink is at the same reliability levels as before the May timetable changes, with 200 more trains running every weekday.
Sharing this sentiment, Ben Palczynaski, 36, of The Waldrons, in Waddon, said: “There was the initial disruption for a couple of weeks that made it harder to get to the office.
“But since then I think there are more frequent trains on the route, so if anything it’s better now.
“The initial disruption was a bit annoying but I think more recently it’s been a lot better”.
One commuter who continues to be affected by the timetable changes is Peter Sageman, 35, of Warren Road in Purley.
He said: “They ‘stole’ the Horsham train, it was really annoying.
“That was the fast train that would get me to Victoria that suited my time. That train doesn’t stop at Purley anymore”.
As a result, Mr Sageman like many others has changed his morning routine and must get up earlier to fit around the timetable changes.
“I like my bed,” he added.
“What’s really annoying is when they put on a four carriage train during the busy period, it makes no sense”.
He added: “I feel like it’s the same [as before the timetable change]. I think if you travel on Southern Railway then you just get used to it. They’re a nightmare”.
Croydon’s MPs are continuing to call on railway operators like GTR to improve their services.
Conservative MP for Croydon South, Chris Philp said: “It was complete chaos in the immediate aftermath of the new timetable.
“It has been getting progressively better since then, although it still needs to improve more and by about Christmas we’re going to have 24 Thameslink trains per hour going to central London.
“There’s fewer last minute cancellations and more of the services are running.
“What’s really annoying is when a crowded train turns up with only four carriages. It happens quite a lot. If GTR are short on drivers they should run trains with 12 carriages so as many people as possible can get on.”
“There’s still a long way to go until it’s properly fixed so I’m going to stay on the case until they’ve sorted it.”
Sarah Jones, Labour MP for Croydon Central, said: “I’ve been commuting for over 20 years from East Croydon and I think we are some of longest suffering passengers in the country. We know the full timetable won’t be back up and running until December, which is hard to take for commuters who often pay thousands per year.
“The recent ORR report into the May timetable fiasco found a litany of failings across Government, train companies and Network Rail. The Government has announced yet another review, but for passengers who continue to put up with sub-par service that isn’t good enough.
“We clearly need change.”
A GTR spokesperson said: “We plan to introduce another 200 services in December. Meanwhile Network Rail is investing £300 million to make the route more reliable and is planning major work to remove the notorious bottleneck in the Croydon area, which is one of the busiest rail junctions in Europe.
“As identified by the recent Office of Rail & Road (ORR) report, the issues surrounding the introduction of the May timetable were caused by industry-wide factors. We recognise the impact this has had on our passengers and take responsibility for our role in this.