For the past 6 years I have been complaining to Southern about missed train connections at Lewes en route from London Victoria to Seaford. A few days ago I documented this issue + some possible solutions in a blog post.
A Constructive Meeting
Following a proposal from Passenger Focus, Southern was kind enough to arrange a meeting with their Head of Train Planning and one of his colleagues from their communications department. This meeting was very constructive.
They first outlined some of the changes currently going on at Southern and their vision for enhancements over the next few years as other routes are added to their franchise. This London TravelWatch document contains an overview. The creation of a new rail operating centre at Three Bridges is also expected to improve reliability of services.
I also learned a lot about the complexities of train planning and how difficult it can be to balance the needs of different passengers.
The Lewes Problem
We then moved on to the specific problem with the missed connections at Lewes, using the 20:17 from London Victoria to Seaford route as our main example, although it was recognised that other off-peak services on the same route are similarly affected. Here are the 3 suggestions I had previously made to Southern, and the conclusions we reached:
- Allow a longer time for the connection to be made: As previously documented, I had long since accepted that this is not possible, as this service is already running at its maximum end-to-end scheduled journey time permitted under the franchise.
- Hold the Seaford train for a longer period: The Head of Train Planning and I reviewed the timetables and he agreed that there was no actual adverse impact of holding the train at Lewes, given the isolated branch route it takes and the 14 minutes it has to turn around at Seaford. This was very welcome, as it was the first time I felt someone had fully understood the point I was making. Southern does have network-wide rules about only holding trains for 4 minutes past their scheduled slot – and on many services, it is very important this is adhered to. But he indicated that they could certainly look at how this connection could be made more robust, given the spare time in the schedule: whether by tweaking the schedule or holding the train beyond the 4-minute rule.
- Run a direct train: The main problem with this solution seems to be the complexity of splitting a train twice during a journey. Splitting a train once is already a complex process and when things go wrong recovery can be difficult. Splitting a second time makes recovery of services even more complex. This is therefore not a viable option in the foreseeable future. Whilst I am happy to accept the explanation that this is currently very difficult to achieve, I would encourage Southern to look at this as a longer-term aspiration, particularly as infrastructure gets upgraded and computer models of train timetabling improve.
What Happens Next?
Nothing will happen quickly. It will take time for Southern to review this internally and any change also needs to be agreed with Network Rail. However, I am optimistic that now Southern’s expert in this field is aware of the issues around this particular service (and other Seaford services that follow the same pattern) an improvement to the reliability of the London -> Seaford route may be on the horizon.
Thank You Southern
I wish to thank Southern as a company, and in particular the 2 representatives at the meeting, for their time and willingness to discuss this issue with me. Over the past few years I have raised a number of issues of concern with Southern and, until now, despite regular responses from Southern’s Customer Services Manager (which are always appreciated) it had felt as if no progress was being made. This meeting was a very welcome step forward. I am sure I am not the only Seaford resident who will be grateful for any improvement that can be made to the reliability of this connection.
It was perhaps ironic that on the way back from London to Seaford after this meeting, the train was delayed and the connection was missed. I arrived on platform 3 at Lewes at 21:31 and did not even see the back-end of the connecting train leaving the station, so it was not held for anything near the 4 minutes currently allowed. This underlines how desperately a review of this service is needed – and I am confident that this is now in hand with Southern’s Head of Train Planning.