24 May 2014

Govia gets Thameslink franchise

Govia's award of the Thameslink franchise and the introduction of a new fleet of rolling stock will not solve the problems that have affected this service since it was introduced in 1988.

Thameslink reinstated a service which had last run in 1916. British Rail had been reluctant to re-open the route, arguing that there was no demand. When, in 1986, Chris Green took over what was then the London and South East Sector and re-christened it Network South East, he pursued the re-opening of the route. The trains were packed from day one, showing that it satisfied a long-standing suppressed demand.

However, it has always been a problematic route.The difficulties are inherent in running a long distance service through the middle of London. It is consequently vulnerable to disruptions on both of the main lines over which it runs ie a points failure at Haywards Heath will cause delays in the Bedford area a couple of hours later.

A further difficulty is that the rolling stock has to be designed to inner suburban standards with relatively few seats and plenty of space for standing and circulation. This means that passengers can spend an hour in an uncomfortable seat and may have to stand most of the way. On top of this are the crowds of passengers travelling to and from Gatwick with their luggage. Standing is a shiny new train is no more comfortable than standing in an old one, and in fact the new trains will be little different fundamentally than those they will replace.

The Thameslink (and Crossrail) concepts in the present form are flawed. These routes should be cut back to operate roughly within the area enclosed by the M25. Destinations further from London should be served by dedicated services operating from the London terminals.