Stop the great train robbery

These are tumultuous days in South London, the new trains timetables have been announced and those that have realized that their trains will be soon reduced or cancelled altogether are up in arms. Trains through Hither Green have been spared from the chop, but other lines in Lewisham and beyond have not been so lucky and as the railway is a network, every cut affects the whole system.

It looks like a gap in the investments needed for large projects like the East London Line have created a knock on effect with serious repercussions for some important railway routes across South London. Responsibilty is being shuffled between the various bodies overseeing transports, with the Government blaming TfL and TfL blaming the Government, the train operators saying that they just execute orders (we heard that already, didn’t we).

The Victoria to Bellingham line that was planned to make up for the closure of the  South London Line through Peckam Rye has been cancelled, the Victoria to London Bridge via Crystal Palace (touching in our borough the stations of Sydenham, Forest Hill, Honor Oak Park and Brockley) has seen a massive reduction. Blackheath commuters have been told that they will lose half of their rush hour trains.

It’s quite obvious that the recent consultation on the South London Rail Utilisation Strategy (link) has been a very flawed process that has failed to recognize the importance of sustained good and improving public transports for the quality of life in the myriad of communities that compose London.

Something serious must be done about it, there is widespread rebellion all around. Ironically that’s the real consultation, that’s what people think, and it’s coming through only now that the “consultation” is closed.

Southeastern announcement that they’re cutting services through Blackheath after Government asked them to do so because they want instead to bump up numbers on the DLR shows that there is an urgent need of a rethink of the role of Government.

Just a few considerations of strategic nature about what a weaker public transports system would mean for South London:

  • a weakening of the transport provision would harm the London economy;
  • the planning concept of sustainable communities to allow high density residential use around transport hubs needs sustained train services, taking away convenient public transport from outer London impacts the building industry;
  • people will  switch back to car usage instead of public transport harming the environment, damaging air quality and nullifying a whole host of other policies and investments to counter precisely those trends.

We desperately need strong political leadership to intervene in this process and provide guidance for a transport strategy that helps the economy, our daily lives and supports all those other policies that transport is a key part of. London is the birthplace of the railway, we live it and breath it. Weaken it and you weaken London itself.

Besides the flagship infrastracture we need sustained services across the urban region of London, the millions of commuters that pay their ways don’t feel they’ve been subsidized at all and surely deserve better.

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