Operation London Bridge: Thameslink Programme, 1975-style

If you use trains, there’s plenty of aggravation to come from next year as the Thameslink Programme works really kick in. It’s not really been done on this site for a few years, as the topic’s been covered in depth elsewhere.

The work’s to remodel London Bridge station to accommodate the expansion of Thameslink services. One permanent consequence will be the permanent ending of train services from Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich and Deptford to Waterloo East and Charing Cross. These services, along with services which stop at St Johns and New Cross, will be permanently diverted to Cannon Street from January.

The hope is that London Bridge will end up as a simple station to change trains at, so the aggravation of changing will be reduced.

We’ve been here before, though – here’s a glorious 1975 British Transport Film from the last time London Bridge station was rebuilt.

(There’s a very good reason why the 21st century scheme isn’t called Operation London Bridge, by the way…)

So what’s happening next year? From January 2015 to August 2016, no Charing Cross trains will call at London Bridge. Cannon Street trains will continue to stop there. Then from August 2016, it swaps over – no Cannon Street trains will stop at London Bridge, while Charing Cross trains will resume calling there. Full details are here, and the whole thing will be finished in early 2018.

Judging by how the rebuilt bits of London Bridge already look, the aggravation should be worth it. But so many questions remain unanswered. How will people whose trains sail through London Bridge in 2015, 2016 and 2017 be catered for? Will people be able to use rail tickets to get from Cannon Street to Charing Cross/Embankment during this time? Will Greenwich line passengers get a better service in return for being diverted to Cannon Street? What about people who need to attend hospital appointmemts at Guy’s? Will Cannon Street and Bank be properly promoted as an interchange so people can access the Tube?

During the council elections, Labour candidates Cherry Parker and Paul Morrissey set up a petition to push Southeastern, Network Rail and TfL for answers and action. Now they’ve been elected, hopefully it’ll carry a bit more clout and the council will carry it forward. You can sign it here.

34 comments

  1. Anne Robbins

    A very clear description of how this will affect local rail users. I’m sorry, though, that you haven’t mentioned the work that residents and community groups have been putting into trying to mitigate the effects, long before political candidates waded in with their clicktivist petition. The Charlton Rail Users’ Group and the Greenwich Line Users’ Group have been meeting with South-Eastern and Network Rail to try to make them understand how difficult this programme will be for passengers, and publicising how serious the effects will be, for more than a year.

  2. clogsilk

    I love the film! One silly question – if they remodelled the track at Borough market as suggested in the film, why does it need remodelling again now? Or did it not all get done in 1975 after all?

  3. Darryl

    As a steering group member of the Charlton Rail Users Group, I promise to have the author thrashed forthwith.

    (CRUG can be contacted at http://charltonrail.wordpress.com – Anne, do you have GLUG details?)

    As for Borough Market, in 1975 there weren’t any Blackfriars services – they didn’t start until the late 80s – the new work is to accommodate them properly (currently they have to creep across the tracks and go up a little single-track line to get to the Blackfriars line).

  4. marymills

    It was – I recall – once part of a scheme called Thameslink 2000 – and I remember walking through the then disused Snow Hill tunnel and talking about how wonderful it would be..

    Anne is quite right, Darryl. there have been a number of community groups extremely active in this, who need to be mentioned – not just the specialists, who have been doing a great job – but also the local amenity societies, and others.

    Council officers and local councillors have also been trying to get the message out – one of the last meetings I went to as a councillor was with rail staff to raise the whole issue of their publicity on this.

    I do think this is the point – as many people as possible need to be talking about it – I am appalled at the number of local people I meet who really have not the faintest idea about these changes, and the future difficulties of using London Bridge. I have also been assured by rail staff on other lines that nothing of the sort is taking place and that they don’t believe me.

    We need to talk talk talk about – and get the message out – and a degree of public pressure to get into the heads of rail staff that inconvenience needs to be kept to a mimimum, wouldn’t go amiss.

  5. Matthew Pennycook

    A really useful post Darryl.

    Anne is absolutely right to point to the efforts of local residents involved in The Charlton Rail Users’ Group and the Greenwich Line Users’ Group (Michael Sparham is the convener and can be reached at m.sparham@sky.com) over the last year. They’ve provided rail users with a strong collective voice on this issue and have successfully ensured Network Rail and Southeastern have raised their game in a number of areas.

    A number of councillors have also been monitoring developments closely and pressing both organisations for details on how the disruption caused by the station rebuild will be, as far as is possible, mitigated.

    I last wrote to Network Rail, Southeastern and Transport for London on 17 April asking for answers to the following:

    1. What progress has been made in gaining agreement to extending evening and weekend opening times at Cannon Street for the duration of the rebuilding work?

    2. What additional transport services will be offered to passengers wishing to access Waterloo and Charing Cross but whose only option 2015 will be a train terminating at Cannon Street?

    3. Will passengers requiring additional bus or tube journeys to reach their destination as a result of the rebuilding works at London Bridge be able to travel on their existing rail tickets or PAYG Oyster cards at no extra cost?

    4. What arrangements are being discussed with Thames Clipper to incentivise river travel and reduce pressure on the Greenwich line?

    5. What consideration has been given to running additional eastbound services from Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe to Charlton in peak hours so that residents are able to utilise the Blackheath line to complete their journeys to central London?

    6. What consideration has been given to extending carriage lengths or the frequency of services on the Blackheath line to cope with greater demand?

    The responses I’ve received over recent weeks make clear that:

    • Transport for London has agreed that Cannon Street tube station will be extending opening hours to coincide with the diversion of Overground services from January 2015.

    • The Travel Demand Management Board (TDM) – which comprises representatives from the train operating companies, TfL and Network Rail – has agreed in principle that customers diverted to Cannon Street (or Charing Cross) will be allowed to travel back on the tube to London Bridge, Waterloo East, Charing Cross or Cannon Street as necessary at no additional cost. However, this in principle agreement is subject to final sign-off from the Department of Transport who will need to fund this.

    • TfL is exploring the provision of additional bus services to further ameliorate disruption and Southeastern have agreed to ask the TDM to consider what arrangements might be made with the Thames Clipper services to do likewise.

    • Increasing the frequency of services on the Blackheath line is not a possibility as the required spare capacity is not available but Southeastern are looking to introduce 12 car trains on peak services via Greenwich and Woolwich Arsenal that they believe should go some way towards maintaining capacity.

    I’ll continue to press Network Rail, Southeastern and TfL on these and other outstanding issues but I hope the above is useful to your readers.

  6. Political Animal

    Superb film, which I’d never seen before. As always with things of this age, some – ahem – interesting health and safety at work practices going on. On service changes, I’m amazed at how half-hearted the train operators and Network Rail have been in terms of the publicity. There’s now barely six months to go until the first big alterations kick in and I’d have expected Charlton and every other station on the relevant lines to have been coated in advance publicity by now – actuality: nothing. I’m sure that by this point out from the Olympics we were being bombarded with information about the short-term and (by comparison) pretty minor service changes.

    Clogsilk – I think basically the 1975 remodelling and the current one at Borough Market Jnc are trying to solve different problems. In 1975, they were seeking to segregate Cannon Street and Charing Cross-bound trains well before they arrived at London Bridge, so getting rid of all the conflicting movements at Borough Market, immediately to the west of the station. Thus we ended up with the current situation where platforms 1-3 at London Bridge can only serve Cannon Street, and 4-6 serve Charing Cross/Blackfriars. What the 1975 remodelling didn’t do was address the pinch-point on the Charing Cross lines over Borough Market, where you have the odd situation that the four lines from Charing Cross merge into two to squeeze over the viaduct just before London Bridge – this has become, I understand, the busiest bit of double track in Britain and possibly Europe – there simply isn’t room for any more trains through it and is a huge cause of delays. The planned massive expansion of Thameslink services will mean that far more trains have to fit over the Borough Market viaduct before they turn right to head to Blackfriars, hence the creation of a second viaduct (already in place, but without tracks yet) and the remodelling of the whole station and track layout – the end result will effectively be that coming out of the west end of London Bridge, you’ll have the two lines to Cannon Street as they are, two lines for Blackfriars, on what are currently the Charing Cross lines, and two lines for Charing Cross using the new viaduct, all completely segregated from each other. Sorry – long explanation!

  7. Deborah

    Things are pretty chaotic at LB already, for occasional travellers who don’t know the ropes. Temporary signs are misleading, tickets can only be purchased from machines (few of which are working) and staff point vaguely, rather than engage in useful discourse (I’ve not experienced the latter before at LB – perhaps they’re not too sure what’s going on either). This does not bode well.

    This may seem a silly question, but have any of the pressure groups written to the letter pages of the local press (including GT)? I think I have only seen one article in either the Mercury or the News Shopper – last year. I don’t mind sending one to get the ball rolling.

  8. Neil Clasper

    Great film.

    As others have said above, it’s amazing that local stations don’t have huge signs pointing out that a significant number of passengers’ daily journeys are going to be affected by these changes.

  9. clogsilk

    Ah thank you Political Animal, that explains it. (And how did I get so interested in track layouts?!)

    Those of you saying certain groups/people need to be mentioned, well you’ve mentioned them, so now we all know. That’s the beauty of blogs that allow comments – those comments can be used to add to the collective wisdom on a subject and not just to have a pop.

  10. Chris

    Sorry, but I think the petition is deckchair re-arranging.
    I still find it astonishing that the Greenwich line is permanently losing Waterloo East and Charing Cross as direct destinations from next year so that people from Peterborough and the like can get to London Bridge and points (sic) beyond.
    How on earth was this allowed to happen?

  11. Deborah

    Losing them as direct destinations is not the problem – more of an inconvenience (if you are travelling light) and a serious inconvenience if travelling with luggage, are disabled, have small children or are frail. Nonetheless, it’s an inconvenience It’s losing the ability to get to them easily (without additional tubes/buses) during the disruption that is a problem and the lack of information is a biggy. The difficulty of getting to the hospitals is a biggy (I know of several people, my late mother included, who went for cancer treatment weekly and some even daily). The aim of the petition isn’t mere “deckchair arranging”, but making the CEOs of the various transport organisations involved realise the chaos and the serious inconvenience and extra cost that will result and, especially, that there are things they can do to alleviate the problem. These are clearly set out in the petition.

    A small example, although about the other line. I recently travelled from Woolwich Arsenal to Victoria, changing at Lewisham. Obviously (to me, anyway), I followed the same route back. I waited for quite some time for a Woolwich train to materialise. There was no timetable on the platform nor any notices about cancellations or delays. I asked other people on the platform for information. No-one could help and no staff to ask. A handful of people were in the same position as me. Eventually, I walked through the tunnel to the station to ask. The man at the turnstile told me that there were no trains to Woolwich any more for the two-hour rush period and that I would have to get a bus or the DLR to Greenwich and change. There is absolutely no information about this on the platform where people change trains. Multiply this handful of people hundreds of times…

    Letter to local papers (x3) sent.

  12. Political Animal

    I may make myself a bit unpopular with this comment, but I actually think the removal of the Greenwich – Charing Cross services is probably the right thing to do in terms of the greater good, which is the basis on which rail service decisions ought, eventually, to be made. If this was still an all-day service, I might feel differently, but we’re talking about, I think, just 3 trains per day in the peaks, plus the services after Cannon Street shuts for the evening. I’m a pretty frequent user of them – in the morning, the vast majority of passengers get off the 08:44 ex-Greenwich at London Bridge. I’m currently on the 18:12 from Charing Cross. I can count the number of passengers from CHX and Waterloo in my carriage on the fingers of two hands, at the height of the Friday peak. The problem with these trains is they arrive on the wrong side of the alignment approaching London Bridge, so have to snake across to reach the Charing Cross lines – they don’t just take up their own path, but in all likelihood remove two other potential paths for services from elsewhere in SE London or Kent/Sussex. Given the premium such paths are at in the peaks, it’s remarkable the direct trains have survived as long as they have, but in the final reckoning, they’re a ‘lovely to have’, not an essential service. So long as London Bridge becomes a much better place to change – and I’m pretty sure it will – I can’t see it as the end of the world. Obviously, I declare my interest – as a Charlton resident, I retain my Charing Cross service via Lewisham – though as Deborah rightly says, we need that restoring in the peaks if possible!

  13. ned

    I’ve had cause to use the Charing X service every day for the last 21 years: Political Animal’s observations bear no resemblance to my experience of the service. The flipside is the sheer number of people who already alight from Cannon St trains for Charing X services at London Bridge.

    I do understand the engineering logic behind ending the direct Charing X service though.

  14. Chris

    Political Animal – Re the direct service to CX via Lewisham, are you sure it’s going to be retained? When I asked the Southeastern guy who came to Charlton Station last year (part of the propaganda telling us why we should be grateful for losing services) he didn’t have a clue if it would continue.
    He reckoned it would stay at least until 2016 (I think it was) but thereafter he claimed not to know.

  15. Deborah

    I think that was my point. It will be inconvenient rather than the end of the world. And if, overall, the service is improved then I won’t be complaining. However, problems can and should be alleviated during the works. And I keep banging on about it, but information is key. At least people can make plans, then.

    I have to agree with ned, though. The experience of Political Animal does not match my own. I no longer travel into London for work and therefore my up-to-date experiences are occasional. Most of the trains travelling to and from Charing Cross are packed. Not with people who are travelling directly to or from destinations outside of central London, but with people who are changing at London Bridge. In the evening, the train is busy between Charing X and LB, with many getting off at LB and not quite so many getting on. Travelling in the morning, however, is a different experience. Trains travelling to CX are packed from LB onwards. I have travelled from Woolwich Arsenal, to LB, changed onto a Charing Cross train and only been able to rest half a foot on the floor whilst standing. Excrutiating! And that’s the crux of the matter – more people will be changing at LB. If the addition of more lines will mean more trains to Charing Cross, then this should hopefully not be a problem.

  16. Political Animal

    I’m certainly not aware of any proposals to remove the Charlton-Lewisham-Charing Cross service and as is set out here http://www.thameslinkprogramme.co.uk/node/104 it’s only the stations Westcombe Park-Deptford inclusive that lose their service to Charing Cross. Something has to serve the Charlton-Blackheath line, and that has to end up somewhere – it would be physically difficult post the completion of these works for that to be Cannon Street. I suspect haziness on the part of Southeastern on the future is a mixture of the finite nature of their franchise and not knowing exactly what form it will take – whether the service remains the Gillingham semi-fast or maybe becomes a Dartford/Plumstead- Charing Cross stopper. I suspect the former, as Abbey Wood will become an important Crossrail interchange post-2019, and a link from the Medway towns would be desirable.

    But while I think the survival of the service is pretty much certain – and there’ll be no physical impediment to it – it’s certainly something that should be demanded as being set in stone at every opportunity!

  17. Deborah

    The opposite will be the case with the Lewisham line, then – that it will not serve Cannon Street? That means yet more people changing at London Bridge – not just from ‘our’ line when it diverges via Blackheath and Lewisham, but from the Bexleyheath line and presumably Bromley North and stations out in Kent that travel via Hither Green too. I’m not against it – just trying to get my head round it.

  18. Darian Thomson

    @Deborah, no Lewisham will have access to Cannon Street and Charing Cross at all times due to Tanners Hill flyover. No train path conflicts are caused using that route apart from Lewisham Junction. It’s just Lewisham will have less trains to London Bridge as only some of it’s services will be able to call at London Bridge.

    New Cross, St Johns, Deptford – Westcombe Park will not call at London Bridge from mid 2016-late 2017. Apparently after Thameslink is complete we should get 10min peak services according to the Network Rail RUS instead of the every 10/20min service.

    Remember people, once Thameslink is complete changing at London Bridge will be easier to all 16 platforms as it will have escalators and lifts. The Charlton-Blackheath route won’t be closed. Also once Crossrail is complete usage of our line will reduce as a lot of Woolwich – Dartford passenger will likely switch to that service so better for me being at Deptford. Sometimes it’s like cuddling the door to London Bridge and hopefully that’ll stop.

    I can’t see why the Cannon Street – Charing Cross service can’t run during the works, no conflicting Thameslink service due to they will be routed via Elephant & Castle and 4 tracking between Metropolitan Junction (the west curve between Cannon St and Waterloo East) to Charing Cross.

  19. Alex Grant

    I can’t agree with Anne Robbins – someone I do normally agree with – that Labour candidates have “waded in with their clicktivist petition”. Rather than jumping on a bandwagon, the Labour Party in Greenwich has been raising concerns about, and helping to publicise, the impending chaos at London Bridge ever since 2012 (see http://bwlabour.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/disruption-ahead-greenwich-line-passengers-learn-of-two-years-of-chaos-to-come-at-london-bridge/).

    Nick Raynsford MP, Matt Pennycook, Len Duvall and Labour councillors – along with others – have been asking TFL, Southeastern and Network Rail for answers regularly for the last two years. This has been to support the excellent work of the Greenwich Line Users Group (most of whose meetings I attended in my capacity as a Blackheath Westcombe ward cllr), not to compete with it.

    This pressure, as Matt explains, is already yielding results. There’s no point asking for the Greenwich line to keep direct trains to Charing Cross long-term, Chris: that battle was sadly lost about ten years ago. Instead the petition asks for practical steps that can be taken to ease the pain.

    The key problem, as Mary Mills rightly says, is that the majority of rail passengers aren’t even aware of the impending chaos – many understandably assume a project called “Thameslink Programme” does not affect the Greenwich line. Giving passengers as much notice of the disruption so they can plan their journeys, as well as ensuring that no-one has to pay more for a longer journey, would be a good start. Most of the publicity so far has concentrated on the long-term benefits of the plan. I agree that Greenwich Time is an under-used resource fort this sort of campaign and hope it can now be used more.

  20. IslandDweller

    There will be Lewisham to CharingX trains, but St Johns is likely to lose out. The trains towards CharingX are now more likely to use the ‘Tanners Hill’ link. That’s the recently rebuilt ramp alongside St Johns. That puts the trains onto the CharingX tracks, without having to cross the path of other trains (the issue that is why Greenwich is losing the CharingX trains).
    I do agree that Network Rail /Southeastern publicity is woeful.

  21. Deborah O'Boyle

    It certainly sounds like things will be much improved, once the work us done – and I was thinking that many people will switch to Crossrail with a 17 min link to Town from Abbey Wood and the journey to Bank from Woolwich is fast too, thus easing things for passengers further up the line. Alex Grant seems to have explained concerns about the interim in a nutshell, where it took me several rambling posts.

  22. Plumstead Resident

    Great post and that archive film is a complete gem!

    The morning commute into Cannon Street often gets stuck in congestion between Deptford and London Bridge, which is really annoying and unpleasant for everyone (especially when it is overcrowded). Anything that makes that line more operationally efficient and removes the congestion would be worth it in my opinion.

    As a side, given then the platform extension work done by Network Rail for 12 coach trains, I wonder what other timetable and route changes are planned on the Greenwich to Dartford line. For example, Woolwich Dockyard will only have a 10 coach platform so will 12 coach trains not alight there or will the last two coaches simply not open their doors?

  23. Chris

    Yes, Alex and Political Animal, thanks for clearing a couple of things up, appreciated.

    If I pass by Charlton station during rush hour I thank my lucky stars I no longer have the commute!

  24. blackheather

    Re Darian Thomson
    “I can’t see why the Cannon Street – Charing Cross service can’t run during the works, no conflicting Thameslink service due to they will be routed via Elephant & Castle and 4 tracking between Metropolitan Junction (the west curve between Cannon St and Waterloo East) to Charing Cross.”

    1. When the NEW borough market viaduct is opened, the existing one will be closed for a substantial period for refurbishment so there will only ever be 2 tracks for Charing Cross in operation at anytime.

    2. The construction of the Bermondsey diveunder (a massive flyover structure which swaps over the future Charing Cross and Blackfriars lines) will prevent Greenwich line services reaching the Charing Cross lines – permanently. Construction has already been underway for more than year at the site near the Waste CHP plant but its construction has not yet affected rail services, it will do from August when southern services will be affected and early January 2015 (i.e. post Christmas – New Year blockade) for Southeastern services.
    This will mean that only services stopping or through New Cross will be able to get to Charing Cross.

    3. The peak hour Charing Cross slots will have been swapped with services that can no longer get into Cannon Street as easily from other destinations.

    4. Post 2017 all Charing Cross services will stop at London Bridge (just 16 out of 28 in the peak hour can at the moment) so it should be much easier to get on a service for Charing Cross at London Bridge.

  25. Walt

    For a commute between Greenwich and East Croydon/Gatwick, I’ll now have to go via Cannon street-Victoria :S

    It’s absurd they haven’t come up with a better alternative. Is it just the assumption that no one wants to travel to east london from gatwick for FOUR years?!

    One possibility would be, to have a fast overground line taking path between New cross gate-East Croydon that the other trains would have taken?

  26. Rob 'Rocklad'

    I agree with Walt – being a regular commuter between New Cross and East Croydon. During the daytime I can go via New Cross Gate. After 18:00 this is a stopping service only, so it’s quicker to change at London Bridge. After 23:00 the stopping service ceases, so I HAVE to change at London Bridge which obviously won’t be possible when New Cross/Deptford services aren’t stopping there! At present the last London Overground and tube services do not run up until the 00.56 service from London Bridge to Orpington via New Cross, which incidentally is nearly always full! So clearly something needs to be provided to get these people from London Bridge to either Waterloo East or Cannon Street when each respective service is not calling at London Bridge.

  27. Deborah

    Isn’t it fairly easy to get to Gatwick from North Greenwich? Croydon, on the other hand…

    At the risk of being pedantic (and I usually am), this is not East London. I actually heard someone recently refer to Swanley as East London.

  28. Rob 'Rocklad'

    It’s worrying that they are still only in discussions with DfT and TfL! They should have it all planned out by now, including the alternative options and how it is paid for – and they should be informing the public the details, not just the bare basics of when the lines are closed…

  29. Deborah

    Quite. The letter also went to The News Shopper and The Mercury. As far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been printed, but it is something they should both be investigating and not limiting their questions to Southeastern either. As Matt Pennycook stated, use of tickets for the extended part of the journey has only been agreed in principle. We need to know whether DfT will fund this. Information is still woefully lacking. There should be information boards at all stations, even those further out from Westcombe Park. I was at London Bridge again today and noted there is absolutely nothing to explain what is going on. You’d think that at the very least, the companies involved would be putting a positive spin things, with slogans on the hoardings and attractive displays illustrating their “vision”. I may be wrong, but even the information portacabin seemed to have disappeared.

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