East Croydon’s leaky artery: a transport hub on life support

By - Wednesday 12th March, 2014

Commuter Stephen Mann takes a look at the worrying drop in standards at Croydon’s transport gateway

“Southern is sorry to announce that the [insert train time here] to [insert destination here] is delayed by approximately x minutes. We are sorry for the delay this will cause to your journey today.”

I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of hearing the above message getting played over the tannoy at East Croydon station day in, day out. It’s become almost standard that whenever you arrive at East Croydon you know your train will be delayed for whatever reason.

Ever since the misjudged privatisation in the 1990s and the disaster that was Connex, Croydon’s chief transport artery has at best been leaky, at worst completely ruptured. In the last few years we’d seen steady improvement with new and longer trains – however, the slide is now on.

I grew up with stories from my Granddad of how his team kept the South-East Mainline open through dense snow in the 1980s

In the January/February Southern Stakeholders’ Update they get their excuses for the problems out early: “Between 23rd December and 1st January, 72 fallen trees or other obstructions on the line and four major infrastructure failures affected performance.” What Southern fails to mention is that between 26th December and 1st January they were already running a paper-thin service due to major engineering works. On such reduced running, the additional knock-on effect should in theory have at least been limited.

Whilst bad weather does present a legitimate issue, response to it has been poor at best. Coming from a railway family, I grew up with stories from my granddad of how his team kept the South-East Mainline open through dense snow in the 1980s, and from my parents about the clean-up after the great hurricane – told in a can-do spirit which now seems entirely lost.

Any commuter will tell you that even before the present difficulties,  things were diabolically bad. With the exception of the long distance operators, Southern and First Capital Connect are the least punctual in the business. Comparing Period 10 (8th December -4th January) of 2012/13 with the same period of  2013/14, the all-important Public Performance Measure (% of trains arriving within 5 mins of advertised time) has dropped by 9% for Southern and 7% for First Capital Connect. This now means that fewer than 3 in 4 services are running “on time”.

In Croydon we are privileged to be 15-20 minutes away from the heart of London and an hour away from the coast

Now while Network Rail and train operating companies are keen to give themselves some leeway, for commuters this ‘five minutes here and five minutes there’ only adds to the stresses of daily life.

There has recently been a campaign, backed by Transport Minister Norman Baker, to get train operators and Network Rail to employ what is known as ‘right time’ monitoring. When right time running is taken into account, the annual average is damning. Only 55% of trains over the 365 days up to 4th January 2014 ran bang on time. Even First Capital Connect has a rating 10% higher than Souther, and they have to contend with major engineering works at London Bridge for the foreseeable future.

With fares on the rise again in 2014 it does make you wonder what we are paying for. Whilst on one hand recent investment has been at a record high, spend on operators and operations has been steadily decreasing. This is before finding out if you can even get on a train (which will be the subject of a future article).

In Croydon we are privileged to be 15-20 minutes away from the heart of London and an hour away from the coast with an all-night rail service too. However, now we need a service worthy of that. With Network Rail effectively renationalised from September 2013 and both the Thameslink and Southern franchises up for grabs within the next three years, now is the time for both First and Govia (the franchise holders behind Southern) to prove they are worthy of running the new combined franchise.

On a tangent, an Evening Standard article last year made mention of Croydon Central having more than 25,000 season ticket holders. At the 2010 General Election the turnout was 50,000 with Gavin Barwell’s vote less than 20,000. His majority was a little over 3,000. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that whoever wins the commuter could well win the seat. 

Stephen Mann

Stephen Mann

Born in Addiscombe bred in Ashburton, Stephen is a local Labour activist seeking to both improve the local area and develop Croydon's community facilities. He will bea Labour candidate for Ashburton at the 2014 local elections. He also works in cricket development, covering youth engagement, and has a past in politics, disability support and communications. A keen sportsman, he is often found either at the football or on a cricket pitch.

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  • Anne Giles

    I am on the British Transport Police PACT Team and we meet with Southern Rail staff on a monthly basis. I must admit I rarely have problems with the trains at all. However, safety does come first and I would not want to be on a train if there were any risks from bad weather, i.e. trees on the line, etc.

  • Terry Coleman

    Great Britain invented railways – Stephenson’s Rocket eh – hard to believe, to judge by my commuting experiencee 1979 to 2006. Mostly an utter shambles, as was the tube and bus services. Between 1979 and 1983 it was so bad I gave up, got a push bike and rode that back and forth to London Town five days a week.

    This country just don’t seem to get it with Public Transport policy, no efficiency, no continuity and no integration.

    It’s not sexy enough for the main political parties to think about, far too common and working class.
    ‘Take care of the carriage trade’ you can hear them cry.