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Last updated: 16:41

Latest on our rail service

Last updated: 28 April 2022

What’s happening with the rail service?

From Sunday 15 May 2022 we will introduce a new timetable. You can plan your journey at www.nationalrail.co.uk.

How has Covid affected our rail service?

While the picture is improving overall and the direct impact of Covid on colleagues is reducing, its legacy continues to have an impact on our business and services, as it does in wider society.

One example is a backlog of training for drivers, meaning fewer are available than is ideal. For a long period during the pandemic, new drivers and those undergoing their standard route refresher training could not train with another person in the confined space of a train cab. This was due to social distancing restrictions. This backlog is clearing but without up-to-date training, it means fewer are available overall.

So, in the short term, we have taken a prudent approach to adding services, with the aim of ensuring we can offer reliability, rather than having to cancel trains last minute and possibly create large gaps in the service.

What's happening in the new timetable?

Following a sustained period with significantly fewer people using the railway, our customer numbers have now plateaued at around two thirds of pre-pandemic levels.

This matches the trend seen last Autumn.

Trends suggest that people will continue to work from home more regularly in the future. The railway therefore needs to adapt to lower passenger numbers and the impact of reduced commuting on the industry’s finances, while at the same time, encouraging passengers to return when they are ready.

This is a difficult balance to strike. As with all of our timetables, we are prioritising our available resources to support as many customers as we possibly can – safeguarding key services such as those for schools and rural communities with limited public transport alternatives, meeting demand for commuting and leisure, and then supporting the largest off-peak service that we can.

As a result, the changes from Sunday 15 May will do four things:

  1. Increase weekday frequencies where there is significant unmet demand
  2. Use our trains as efficiently and as intensively as we can
  3. Reduce overlap where an alternative service exists
  4. Southern will continue to run almost all its weekend trains to support destinations across the network. However with fewer people travelling overall throughout the week, some short distance routes will be reduced on Saturdays

While the effects of the pandemic remain with us, 2022 is a starting point to begin rebuilding the railway following the disruption of the past two years. The new timetable from Sunday 15 May 2022 is part of this change and is designed to provide room for growth.

As customers return to rail in the years ahead and the time is right, we want to see more services added in, so we build a thriving railway, meeting the needs of our customers.

However, we also know that excellent rail services do not, in their own right, attract significant numbers of people to public transport. The railway needs the support of policymakers to encourage people to use public transport in the future and to leave the car at home.

Trains are getting busier, how safe am I?

We are all getting used to being around more people following the relaxation of Covid rules across the country. We have enough space for those travelling now overall, but people may find a quieter train by travelling at a slightly different time if possible.

Passengers can make the most of the available space by using the full length of the train and all the doors, especially at busy interchange stations such as East Croydon and London Bridge. On Thameslink services, our on-board screens help show how busy each carriage is for an easy guide.

Our focus on Covid safety continues and we recognise returning to busier trains may concern some of our customers. However, our trains are regularly cleaned with long-lasting anti-viral solutions and the air is refreshed around every six minutes. So, even if people are now sitting closer to others on board, they can feel reassured and confident.

You can check what the quietest services are by using our ‘Find a quieter train’ tool.

What is happening to the Class 455 train on Southern?

The Class 455 train, dating from the 1980s and familiar to many Southern customers in the inner-London area on short distance “metro” services will be retired.

They will be replaced by younger Electrostar Class 377 trains. Unlike the old trains, these trains provide air-conditioning, 2X2 seating and accessible toilets. A £55m upgrade is currently underway to install at-seat power, better information systems and further improve reliability.

Why are you changing services on weekends?

Regrettably, as fewer people are regularly commuting we have had to make some difficult choices.

As a result, we have made changes to our Saturday services to two short distance routes in the inner-London area and two in the Brighton area. We have focused these changes to ensure that we maintain a minimum of half-hourly frequencies and increased the length of trains where needed, but we recognise changes like these are a disappointment.