Covid forces South Western Railway to put plans for more services on hold

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South Western Railway has put its plans on hold  (South Western Railway)
South Western Railway has put its plans on hold (South Western Railway)

South Western Railway has put plans to expand its timetable on hold with commuter numbers still half of what they were pre-pandemic.

The company is currently running around 85 per cent of the commuter trains it operated before the pandemic and had hoped it would resume its full offering after December.

But this week South Western released its business plan which acknowledged that although the news could be “disappointing” to south and west Londoners, it would now look to resume the full offering at a later date when it is more sustainable.

Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney has described the move as a “kick in the teeth” for her Richmond Park constituents as well as others in the region.

Claire Mann, South Western’s managing director, said: “Alongside our business plan, we have made the joint decision with the Department for Transport and Network Rail to defer our planned December 2022 timetable changes.

“While we know this will come as a disappointment to some of our customers, we cannot justify spending taxpayers’ money on a further timetable uplift while the number of commuter journeys sit at around 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.”

This means that stations such as Whitton, Hampton, Teddington, St Margarets, Mortlake and East Sheen will not be brought up to four services per hour during off peak hours.

Some south west London stations are on a circular route to and from the city and passengers can find gaps of half an hour between trains and only two trains an hour to Waterloo in the faster direction.

Over the past 12 weeks, South Western has seen its overall customer journeys stabilise at 70 per cent of pre-Covid levels. While off-peak travel has returned to 100 per cent of pre-Covid trips, commuters have been slower to return making just 53 per cent of the peak journeys they did before the pandemic.

From December it will continue with its current service, with a “limited number of targeted interventions to optimise services” where demand has returned quickest.

Ms Olney said: “I fear future cuts will come as a kick in the teeth for commuters paying eye-watering prices.

"Season ticket prices for commuter towns in the South East are set to rise by a staggering £600 next year because of inflation. How can you justify these sums of money for receiving half the service?”

As part of the business plan, South Western has also pledged to boost wi-fi provision, improve station toilets and step up plans to achieve a net zero carbon footprint.

Ms Mann added: “The Covid pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work, play and travel, and the long-term future of the railway depends on it adapting to the new normal.

“Our new business plan does just this, striking the right balance between reducing the cost to taxpayers, who have subsidised the railway to the tune of £16 billion since the start of the pandemic, and delivering the improvements our customers want to see.”

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