During the first national lockdown, Southern train services between London Bridge and Victoria stations (‘the loop line’) were suspended, leaving just two Southern trains an hour between London Bridge and East Croydon. There was an expectation that the service would return to normal this autumn, but they have only been running an intermittent service to East Croydon at weekends since September 2021.
Last week I met with key officials from Govia Thameslink (the parent company of Southern), alongside the Forest Hill and Sydenham societies. The main reason given for the reduction in service was the shortage of train drivers, due to many being forced to self-isolate and not enough remaining staff to cover absent staff.
We were provided with charts that showed the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on train crew available. Pre-covid train crew unavailability was usually around 9% at any one time for Govia Thameslink. But current staff unavailability is currently around the 14-15% mark.
Those present from Thameslink stated that the ‘loop line’ hasn’t been re-introduced to a regular service because train occupancy levels show that passenger numbers are still under 60% of what they were pre-Covid levels and that they were suffering from significant staff shortages due to the self-isolation of drivers.
Those present did confirm that they do intend to reintroduce services between London Bridge and Victoria on the 4th January 2022. However, this will only be a partial service, running throughout the day on Saturdays and Sundays, but only during peak times on weekdays (7:30-9:30am and 4:30-6:30pm) to improve capacity for the highest loaded trains. Therefore, in non-peak hours, Southern are still advising to travel to Norwood Junction from Forest Hill and Sydenham and change there for trains to Victoria.
We also discussed the recent announcement that Southern services to Victoria will be redirected to London Bridge over the Christmas period, due to re-signalling work around Victoria station. This means that from any of the stations in our constituency, two changes will be required to get to Victoria, and we called on Govia Thameslink to make sure this work is completed as soon as possible.
Good transport links for our constituency are incredibly important, and I am grateful for all the help the Sydenham and Forest Hill societies have provided to ensure we have these. But going forward we need to make sure that Southern brings back a more regular service pattern on the ‘loop line’ than the service proposed to be re-introduced and we will continue to press Southern and Govia Thameslink on this.