Posted: 12.01.22 at 14:48 by Rory Poulter
Details of new cuts to rail services - taking more than one in four trains out of service compared to before the pandemic - have been revealed.
South Western Railway, which operates trains through Brentford to local stations and into central London, says the new timetable will come into effect on Monday.
Currently, passenger train services are running at 83% of the level seen before the pandemic, which is already causing crowding and pushing people back into their cars.
From Monday, the new timetable will reduce services to some 72% of the normal pre-pandemic levels.
SWR has blamed the reductions on the impact of the Omicron variant of Covid and resulting staff absence.
However, this appears at odds with reports that Covid levels in London peaked around Christmas and are now falling.
Industry analysts say a major driving factor is that SWR has effectively ‘run out of trains’ to run its London Metro services.
This is because much of its existing fleet is old and being removed from service, while there have been disastrous delays in the delivery of a new class of 701 – Arterio – trains.
These trains were originally due to enter service in December 2019, but they have not arrived and there is no information on when they will begin carrying passengers.
SWR said the new timetable is designed to ensure reliability for customers and cater to key workers, school pupils and those who cannot work from home.
It said: “In terms of the number of weekday passenger trains, the new timetable will run at 72% compared to our pre-covid timetable. Our current timetable runs at 83% of the pre-covid timetable.
“The emergence of Omicron has necessitated the need for a new temporary timetable, with staff shortages across SWR having led to unavoidable short-notice cancellations. With current guidance to work from home, this timetable will sufficiently meet current demand.
“Rigorous planning has gone into developing this timetable to deliver the right level of service for the current situation, but SWR will continue to monitor its services to ensure that they continue to deliver for its customers.”
The SWR managing director, Claire Mann, said: “The spread of the Omicron variant has had a significant impact on our railway, with fewer people using the train and staff shortages impacting on our ability to consistently deliver the current timetable.
“Having assessed demand and spoken to our industry colleagues, we believe this new timetable is the most effective means of ensuring our customers receive a reliable service, with short-notice cancellations minimised.
“Journey planners will be updated on a week-by-week basis, with updates taking place towards the end of each week. Customers should check their journey as close to their time of travel as possible.”
Green Party councillor on Richmond Borough Council, Andrée Frieze, said: “This is unacceptable for south west Londoners and is forcing people to use cars when congestion and air pollution are at an all-time high.”
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