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Letter: SWR Assume Rail Travel Will Only Grow To 76% Of Pre-Covid Demand

Published on: 15 Sep, 2021
Updated on: 15 Sep, 2021

From: Fiona Davidson

R4GV Surrey County Councillor for Guildford South East

See also Off-Peak Fares To Waterloo To Rise By ‘Staggering’ 27%

I would like to make your readers aware of proposed changes to the South Western Railway (SWR) timetable.

The changes, which are due to be implemented from December 2022 (yes, I do mean 2022), are currently out for consultation with various organisations and local authorities.  The consultation ends on September 19.

Commuters arriving at Guildford Station on a November evening in 2019.

The consultation – which is being run in collaboration with Network Rail – covers the whole of the SWR network. It is partly a response to reduced demand and experiences during the pandemic, post-pandemic assumptions about rail travel made by SWR and NR, and cost constraints resulting from the new Department for Transport contract awarded in May 2021.

There are some cracking sentences in the report such as: ” The pandemic period has shown that performance and customer satisfaction improve significantly when we are able to run fewer trains while still meeting demand for our service.”

Guildford Station will be closed over the Easter weekend and have a limited service to London Waterloo the following week.

However, the good news for Guildford commuters (and leisure travellers) is that both fast services to and from the main Guildford station and slow services which go through London Road are relatively unaffected by the proposed changes.  Commuters from Epsom and in the Haslemere corridor may feel rather differently.

Guildford will retain three fast and semi-fast trains during both peak and non-peak hours on the Portsmouth line. The service to and from Waterloo via Cobham will be in line with the May 2019 schedule. The peak time service to and from Waterloo via Leatherhead will remain as at May 2019, but the off-peak service will be reduced to one train per hour. The Guildford/Farnham service will remain as at May 2019.

SWR and NR have assessed future aggregate demand (all types of travel across the SWR area) at 76% of the pre-Covid demand, and proposed capacity at 93% of the pre-Covid capacity and are therefore comfortable that there is sufficient slack to be able to respond to future growth and variations in demand. The assumptions include that commuter travel will only grow to 60% of the pre-Covid demand.

If the proposals are adopted it appears that Guildford residents will not be adversely affected, unless they want to travel to/from Leatherhead and Bookham from Guildford, off-peak.

The most disappointing aspects of this consultation are that there appears to be little growth in rail travel built into the assumptions, and that the service from December 2022 has to be planned now and not postponed to enable a more up-to-date forecast based on post August 16 demand.

It’s not a very climate conscious or agile approach, but given the chaos that followed the 2018 timetable changes, maybe safer.

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