ESRA has formally objected to Southern about the consequences of the December 2012 timetable revision, and requested details of how the service can be made more robust. There is scope to escalate the matter to ministers and the Office of Rail Regulation, which has a statutory duty to promote improvements in railway service performance.
The salient points of the case put to Southern are:
A meeting was held between the East Sussex Rail Alliance and Southern in October. At this meeting, we expressed concern that the evening timetable was unworkable on the East Coastway because the headways allowed between Lewes and Bo-Peep Junction (east of Bexhill) were too short.
These concerns have been entirely borne out this week. We have been tracking the performance of services in the evening peak, as well as receiving reports from members on the affected services. The 17:27 Victoria to Ore was late every single night the week commencing 10 December, by 13–20 minutes.
The flaws we have identified are as follows:
- The 17:27 Victoria–Ore runs too close behind the 17:23 London Bridge–Eastbourne. The headways (gaps between trains) in the timetable between Keymer Junction (just south of Wivelsfield Station) and Eastbourne are as little as four minutes in places. This is despite the headways needed by signalling between Glynde and Hampden Park being 6–8 minutes in places.
- The 17:23 is prone to late running, usually by 2–3 minutes, meaning that there is an automatic delay to the 17:27 which together with the insufficient headways in (1) are magnified into a still greater delay.
- This delay to the 17:27’s arrival at Eastbourne means that the 18:32 Brighton–Ashford service is close behind at Eastbourne. Because the latter is limited-stop, the long headways needed between Normans Bay and Bo-Peep Junction and the constraints of the single line section between Ore and Appledore, signallers have been faced with a dilemma: either hold the 17:27 still longer at Eastbourne and let the Ashford service go in front; or cause havoc to the Marshlink schedules for the next two hours. In the event on four nights out of five [the exception being Wednesday 12 December] the Ashford service was prioritised. However, on 12th December the Victoria–Ore train was allowed in front, which caused significant disruption to the Marshlink.
In addition, the incoming service forming the 17:27 from Victoria appears to be prone to late-running.
ESRA would submit that the timetable is fundamentally flawed because of the incorrect assumptions about headways and pathing. Pending an emergency re-cast, which we would assume could not happen until June at the earliest, there appears to be the following options, both of which acknowledge that the 17:27 cannot run beyond Eastbourne to the existing timings.
- Re-time the 17:27 to depart later from Eastbourne to Ore, essentially after the Ashford service. However this is extremely unattractive, creating as it does a very lengthy journey time of 2½ hours-plus between Victoria and Hastings. Combined with the increase in journey time on the 17:57 (previously 18:06), the service is bordering on unusable.
- A slightly more palatable alternative could be as follows
- Extend the 17:23 London Bridge–Eastbourne service to Ore. Withdraw the Glynde and Berwick stops to give a more robust arrival and departure time at Eastbourne.
- Terminate the 17:27 Victoria–Ore service at Eastbourne with a more realistic arrival time. This would also enable additional stops to be made at Glynde, Berwick and Hampden Park on the way into Eastbourne, thereby resolving a grievance of users at that station.
The December 2012 timetable was introduced on Sunday 9 December. The formal representation was made at the end of the first week of operation.
The suggestions (a) and (b) may require a change to be made to the Service Requirement mandated by the Department for Transport, because passengers for Glynde and Berwick on the 17:23 service would need to change at Lewes to the revised 17:27 Victoria–Eastbourne service immediately behind. There may also be implications for movements of train staff. Southern’s initial assessment of the proposals is that a change to the Service Requirement would be needed.