SOUTH HAMPSHIRE RAIL USERS’ GROUP NEWSLETTER
ISSUE 129 (SEPTEMBER - DECEMBER 2010) PART 2
NETWORK RAIL PUBLISHES ROUTE UTILISATION STRATEGY FOR LONDON AND THE SOUTH EAST
DEADLINE FOR RESPONSES TO NETWORK RAIL: 18 MARCH 2011
OUTLINE, BACKGROUND AND INTERIM THOUGHTS
* The consultative document is on Network Rail’s website. It is extensive and technical, but rail users in South Hampshire should be aware of it, particularly the chapter which discusses services in the Solent area.
* Capacity problems on Waterloo trains are expected to spiral, and a suggested solution is 16-coach trains from the international platforms, which might split en route. Flyovers are proposed at Clapham Junction and Woking.
* More freight paths are proposed via Didcot, Reading and Basingstoke to Southampton Docks. Longer routes to Southampton via Melksham or Andover are not favoured. This has obvious implications for passenger service provision.
* Of more immediate interest are the studies on services around the Solent area:
- Restoring passenger services to the Southampton-Hythe route is rejected, on the basis that the Bluestar Bus services are adequate, and more convenient for many users. There is a passing reference to possible consideration of a future tram-train scheme. Oddly, the document ignores the huge peak-hour traffic congestion on the road route, which is the principal justification for the proposed passenger train service. Buses into Southampton have their schedules extended by 9 minutes in the peak, but are often late. One small road accident, and bus services collapse. Within the city, the buses travel through one of Hampshire’s pollution hotspots.
- The poor train service between Southampton and Portsmouth – an issue we have been pressing for years, is recognised. An additional hourly service is considered, with various options including a system of stop-skipping between Southampton and Fareham. However, the intermediate stations on the latter section are seen as poorly used and considered to have excellent bus services. The idea of faster services, with some stations served only in the peak is therefore floated as a further option.
What this fails to recognise is that, even without the problems of road congestion, all these bus services are to and from Southampton and, without the rail service, people living in this corridor would have no public transport to Portsmouth, and would lose their connections to Sussex and Gatwick at Fareham.
Oddly, although intermediate stations between Fareham and Eastleigh are seen as better-used because of their direct services to London, there is no suggestion of a Portsmouth-Waterloo service via Netley.
Given that the corridor’s population is substantial but scattered, better services at the existing stations would seem preferable to faster trains. Express bus services between Southampton and Portsmouth were superficially very attractive but could not attract enough custom to survive. In addition, Southern considers that there is no commercial case for cutting stops to accelerate trains on their Coastway West services, which now extend to the Southampton-Fareham line.
Implicit in the discussion is that there is a jigsaw problem from incorporating additional services. This arises because of the complexity of the existing services, track capacity limitations, and achieving efficient rolling stock use when all-stations Portsmouth-Southampton takes about one hour, so that three trains are needed for an additional hourly service, unless the layover time of existing services can be utilized.
- Better rail links with Southampton Airport from the East are seen as an important objective. The need to progress Southern’s franchise commitment to running Brighton-Southampton services via the Airport is discussed, including the option of running trains via that route in both directions rather than in a one-way loop (which means Brighton-Airport passengers travelling out via Eastleigh and back via Southampton). The two-way system seems not to be favoured as it requires an additional train unit.
- The possibility of a new ‘chord’ line to allow trains to run from Southampton Airport towards Portsmouth (without the need to reverse at Eastleigh) is considered, along with the provision of an additional platform at Eastleigh. Another option would be to double-track the Eastleigh-Fareham line. This has a high cost because of the tunnels.
- It is suggested that the Salisbury-Southampton-Eastleigh-Romsey service could continue back to Salisbury. This would give shorter journey times between Salisbury and Southampton Airport. The proposal, which would require a fourth train unit on this route, seems remarkably extravagant, seeing how little is being done to relieve routine overcrowding on the Portsmouth-Cardiff service. It would mean 3-4 trains per hour across the sparsely populated rural area between Romsey and Salisbury.
* Although Southampton-Portsmouth is the South’s most populous urban corridor outside the London suburban area, there has been no consistent strategy for its rail services.
* The 1950s saw the introduction of an intensive service of local diesel trains, with stations such as St Denys, Woolston and Netley served by two Southampton-Portsmouth trains each hour, 7 days a week, with additional trains at peak times. Services were so busy that trains had to be lengthened.
* The 1960s brought the ‘Solent City’ concept, which would have seen tightly planned residential and commercial development of the corridor. Rail enhancements included extending the railway under Portsmouth Harbour to Gosport, and back to Fareham. In effect, Portsmouth would no longer have been at the end of a spur line, and trains could have run, for example from Brighton to Southampton, via the city centre.
* However, railways fell out of political fashion for a time. On the Portsmouth-Eastleigh route, the double-track line, avoiding the single-track Fareham tunnels, was closed just to save the cost of a new bridge when the M27 was constructed.
* Proposals to shorten the Southampton-Portsmouth line, by diverting trains along the old route to the terminus station, and incorporating a rail deck into the new Itchen Bridge, bypassing St Denys and Bitterne, proved abortive.
* The hourly semi-fast service between Southampton and Portsmouth was ‘suspended’ in 1983, because of construction work in Southampton tunnel which necessitated single-line working. It was never reintroduced, but the occasional Portsmouth-Cardiff services were incrementally increased to hourly.
* Hampshire County Council’s strategy moved towards converting the Southampton-Fareham route to a tramway. It would continue from Fareham to Gosport and then under a tunnel to Portsmouth. At the Southampton end it would cross the Itchen Bridge. Many millions of pounds were wasted on developing the scheme, which was approved and then dropped by central Government.
* The Strategic Rail Authority had other ideas. Its 10-year plan included an abortive proposal for half-hourly Portsmouth-Southampton-Bristol trains, seven days a week, from 2006.
* Meanwhile, the Southampton-Portsmouth route has suffered from one of the worst inter-urban services in Britain with FGW’s Cardiff-Portsmouth semi-fast trains, and SWT’s Southampton-Portsmouth all-stations trains arriving and departing at Portsmouth a few minutes apart in each hour. In addition, the popular direct services between Brighton/Portsmouth and the West of England have all disappeared. Rather oddly, FGW operates occasional Great Malvern services which are both part of the cross-Bristol timetable and help provide additional peak seats between Worthing and Brighton.
* Serious overcrowding has become commonplace on the Cardiff-Portsmouth services, with passengers sometimes unable to board. At the southern end of the route, these trains provide Portsmouth with connections at Southampton for Manchester and Weymouth, and connections at Salisbury for Exeter. A new fleet of 4-car units was in prospect, but these have seemingly succumbed to spending cuts. The Great Western Route Utilisation Strategy envisages only an extra carriage on a few peak services.
* A happier story is that Southern now operates hourly services to Southampton from both Victoria/Gatwick and Brighton. These trains have boosted services at Cosham, Portchester, Fareham and Swanwick. Cosham is in the geographical heart of Portsmouth but distant from the City Centre and Harbour.
* Service development on the Southampton-Portsmouth service has been haphazard, partly owing to strategy changes, and partly because three operating companies are now involved, with their approaches to the route ranging from progressive to stolid.
* The SRA’s strategy (Portsmouth-Southampton-Bristol-Cardiff service increased to half-hourly between Portsmouth and Bristol) would probably have been the most attractive option, providing the additional train could have made a few extra stops (after the fashion of the Portsmouth-Bristol service which operated for a few years from 1973). However, this option seems to have disappeared over the horizon, and today it can be seen as having the negative effect, in green terms, of increasing diesel train mileage over electrified tracks.
* It is doubtful whether there is a practical optimum service pattern for a route that is now complexly timetabled. With so many past and mutually-contradictory approaches, we hope as many people as possible will respond to the consultation. Changes need to take account of passengers’ interests as widely as possible.
* The danger is that timetable changes can bring big disadvantages as well as big improvements. SWT’s December 2007 timetable increased some journey times between substantial population centres by almost half an hour. Southern’s new West Coastway timetable, conversely, speeded services between Southampton and Sussex by removing the need for Southampton passengers to travel via Fratton.
* Our Group would be grateful for comments or suggestions before we consider a response to Network Rail.
1 The consultation document recognises that passenger numbers at stations between Eastleigh and Fareham are heavier than at those between Southampton and Fareham, and attributes this to the Eastleigh line having direct London services. The substantial but scattered population of the Southampton-Portsmouth corridor could similarly benefit from the introduction of a direct London service.
A London service might be provided by diverting the hourly Waterloo-Poole service to Portsmouth via Netley, (possibly omitting stops at the smaller suburban stations of Bitterne, Sholing and Hilsea where passengers have easier access to faster London services from the major stations). The existing Waterloo-Poole service is direct in name only since it has 18 minutes of layover time at Southampton Central, and 25 minutes at Brockenhurst.
Along with the existing Cardiff-Portsmouth and Southampton-Portsmouth services, there would be an approximately 20-minute frequency between Southampton and Portsmouth.
The change would not only double the service level at some stations, but would provide more direct and connectional journey opportunities. Most stations between Fareham and Southampton would get connections at Fareham both to and from Brighton.
Would provide a direct hourly service between Portsmouth and Southampton Airport.
Should enhance use of the Woolston interchange. Woolston station is served by nine bus routes covering a wide area of Southampton.
The Waterloo-Portsmouth via Netley service could inter-work with the Portsmouth-Southampton local service, providing better rolling stock utilization.
2 The Waterloo-Poole service could be replaced between Southampton and Poole by an hourly shuttle, running on the opposite side of the hour westbound.
Southampton to Poole train would be some 25 minutes faster through removal of the need for layover time at Brockenhurst.
The shuttle would provide reasonable connections at Southampton Central, in both directions, with London and Manchester services.
Turnaround at Southampton Central would be seven minutes, helping avoid congestion and making efficient use of rolling stock.
3 Running the Brighton-Southampton service via Southampton Airport in both directions would not seem a good use of resources, because layover at Southampton would be around one hour. However, if two additional units were available, the service might extend to Poole. Connex’s Victoria-Bournemouth trains loaded well. They were cut back to Southampton not because of poor demand, but as one of a raft of desperation measures by the SRA to mitigate SWT’s bad performance.
Trains could stop at the three major population centres (Totton, New Milton and Christchurch) between Southampton and Bournemouth. Currently, these places are very poorly served in relation to their population sizes. The two New Milton/Christchurch trains per hour arrive and depart at Southampton a few minutes apart. Christchurch and New Milton have one direct hourly service to and from London, and an additional connectional service from London only. Trains from London to Totton, and from Totton to New Milton/Christchurch take 25 minutes longer than before SWT’s disastrous December 2007 timetable was introduced.
In the peaks, one or two Brighton services might need to start/terminate in the bay platform at Bournemouth, with slightly longer journey times west of Southampton. Assuming the first service from Poole were around 07.35, the morning peak should not really be problematic. In the evening, the 16.33 from Brighton might need to lay over at Brockenhurst and follow the Poole portion of the 17.35 Waterloo-Weymouth, before turnaround at Bournemouth.
Commercially attractive; Connex proved demand for service between Sussex and Bournemouth.
Hourly service between Brighton and Southampton Airport finally achieved.
New hourly service between the busy commercial and residential centre of Hedge End and Southampton Central (previous connections at Eastleigh lost in SWT timetable changes).
Restoration of fast service between Eastleigh and Bournemouth/Poole.
Coastway service throughout between Poole and Ashford International with single change at Brighton. Huge number of journey opportunities, and very convenient for elderly population living along the South Coast. The area between Bournemouth and New Milton has one the country’s greatest concentrations of older people.
Normally terminating at Poole represents better stock utilization than terminating at Southampton or Bournemouth.
4 As a knock-on effect of suggestions 2 and 3 above, Waterloo-Weymouth ‘fast’ service to stop at Wool instead of Branksome and Parkstone.
Restoration of previous faster journey times between Poole/Wool and Waterloo.
Branksome and Parkstone gain better-spaced services under suggestions 2 and 3.
5 Salisbury-Southampton-Eastleigh-Romsey service to be accelerated by removal of layover time at Southampton Central.
Faster trains from Salisbury to Southampton Airport.
More cost effective and better utilization of rolling stock than extending the service full-circle back to Salisbury.
A ROUGH TABULAR ILLUSTRATION OF THE SERVICE AS AMENDED BY THESE SUGGESTIONS [MINUTES PAST EACH OFF-PEAK HOUR] IS BELOW.
NOTES TO THE TABLES
B: Southern service to or from Brighton. Amendments to accommodate the Monday-Friday peak service, west of Southampton, are discussed above. Suggested schedules allow for Hedge End stops between Eastleigh and Fareham.
C1: Cross Country service every hour.
C2: Cross Country service every 2 hours.
PH: To or from Portsmouth Harbour via Hedge End.
F6: ‘Figure of 6’ service between Romsey and Salisbury.