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Kent: Southern Rail services to Tonbridge and Ashford disrupted by 341 service cancellations from today

By Natalie Tipping

Southern Rail is cancelling 341 services from today as it battles staff shortages and continued disruptions. 

Services affected include those going through Tonbridge and Ashford. 

The amended timetable is initially planned to run for four weeks from today. 

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Southern Rail. Stock picture
Southern Rail. Stock picture

The franchise currently runs 2,242 services each day during the week. 

Train cancellations have been a problem for Southern for some months now, with disputes with staff over the potential implementation of more driver-only operated services. 

Currently, around 40% of services run by Southern are driver-only operated. This means that drivers are in charge of checking CCTV in the carriages to ensure passengers are clear of the doors before closing them.

"It is the best thing we can do for our passengers who have been suffering daily cancellations" - Alex Foulds, Southeastern

The company is said to currently be cancelling more than five times as many trains as the next-worst provider. 

Off-peak services between Redhill and Tonbridge will be reduced on the new timetable. 

Through trains to Victoria will not run, so trains will shuttle between Tonbridge and Reigate. 

This is with the exception of three trains from Reigate in the morning, which are the 7.27am from Reigate to London Bridge, and the 7.40am and 7.52am services to London Victoria. 

Passengers on the Tonbridge route will have to change at Redhill to get to London. 

Southern currently charges £3,164 for an annual ticket from Tonbridge to London. This does not include access to high speed services. 

The East Coastway line has no reduction at peak times, but the Rye and Ashford shuttles will be removed at peak times, and replaced with buses. 

Extra stops are being added to Brighton to Ashford services to cover Falmer due to services from Seaford being withdrawn. 

Southern Rail map showing service disruptions
Southern Rail map showing service disruptions

Southern passenger services director Alex Foulds said: "We are introducing this temporary weekday revised timetable with reluctance, but it is the best thing we can do for our passengers who have been suffering daily cancellations ever since this dispute began.

"It should give the majority of our passengers a better, more consistent service that they can plan around."

Southeastern Railways has confirmed that commuters travelling from Tonbridge to London Victoria and London Bridge will be able to use their Southern tickets on Southeastern services. 

"This is crisis management on Britain's biggest rail franchise, a franchise that is now in terminal meltdown" - Mick Cash, RMT

Govia Thameslink (GTR), the company that runs Southern Rail, say the emergency timetable has been brought in due to unprecedented staff shortages.

Figures released by GTR show that one in six members of staff have taken a sick day in the last two months since April.

The union for Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT) blames other factors however. 

In a statement released on its website, RMT general Secretary Mick Cash said: "This is crisis management on Britain's biggest rail franchise, a franchise that is now in terminal meltdown.

"The continuing attempt to blame this gross mismanagement on the front line staff is a cynical and cowardly ploy by a company who have chosen to wage war on their passengers and workforce alike.

"This so called emergency timetable enables Govia to cancel 15% of their trains and rig their appalling performance figures to protect their profits."

The RMT has organised walkouts in the past, including in May this year, which caused chaos for commuters between the South East and London. 

Due to continued cancellations of services, there have been many calls for Southern Rail to lose its franchise on the services. 

Mick Whelan, General Secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers' union, said: "If the company cannot deliver on its franchise commitments then it's time for the company to hand back the keys.

"Because Southern is failing to deliver for passengers, letting down the government, and selling the British taxpayer short. 

"Morale among staff is, not surprisingly, at rock bottom."

He added: "This new timetable is simply entrenching failure. It's not fair on passengers, it's not fair on the staff, and it's not fair on the British taxpayer."

Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge, Malling, and Edenbridge, agreed with Mr Whelan. 

"Over the past few months the service on the Uckfield and Tonbridge to Redhill line has significantly deteriorated.

"It now comes as a surprise to passengers when a train runs on time," he said.

He added: "Govia Thameslink is clearly incapable of running a major rail franchise, and I would like to see it stripped of the Southern franchise immediately.

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"I, and other residents in Tonbridge, Edenbridge, and surrounding villages, are fed up with the appalling service which is prevalent across its network."

Representatives from RMT and GTR have attended a Parliamentary Select Committee meeting today to discuss the recent performance of the rail franchise. 

Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, commented: "Today's evidence session reflected the high volume of correspondence we had from angry passengers who use the Southern Railway network. 

"It is clear that the current situation is totally unacceptable and you only have to look at the number of delays and cancellations, and the impact these have on passengers, to realise that these problems need to be addressed immediately. 

"We will watch carefully to see how the new emergency timetable, with its planned cancellations, helps, and how the operator and unions work together to find a permanent solution that improves the poor services passengers have suffered with for too long."


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