I am writing this as the biggest c2c timetable change for a decade is fast-approaching. For all of us; daily commuters, occasional passengers and c2c staff, from Sunday 13 December everything changes.
It’s the biggest timetable change that we’ve ever introduced and we really want it to work; it’s the result of two years of careful planning, consulting and preparation. I know it will affect everyone’s morning and evening routines. And I know many people have asked why we are changing what seems to work well?
The simple answer is because we have to.
Our top priority is managing crowding: there are 15% more passengers travelling with c2c compared with five years ago, and c2c has risen from having comfortably loaded trains to becoming the third-most crowded train operator in the South East. It’s not a reputation we are content with. If you are a customer from Benfleet or Basildon, you will know that some people are regularly standing from these stations for 35-40 minutes into London.
From next Monday, 14 December we will be giving you an extra 1,400 seats across the network in every morning peak, and creating room for 3,000 extra passengers in total including seating and standing. And this is after allowing for the Metro trains with 2+2 seats across. We’ve designed it so that people travelling the longest distances get a seat, and there is more space for those making short journeys of 10 – 20 minutes to get onboard.
Chafford Hundred and Ockendon customers get 50% more train services in the morning peak, Basildon customers get 45% more, and there are 30% more services for Leigh-on-Sea and Benfleet customers. On the Tilbury Line there will be slightly fewer services but everyone at Stanford, East Tilbury and Tilbury Town should get a seat in the morning.
We also have to improve London connections for everyone. West Ham station offers the best connections direct to Canary Wharf, Westminster and the West End. Until now, less than half of trains from the Southend area stop at West Ham at peak times. From Monday almost every train will do so. A number of customers have said they think this will mean more people boarding these trains to go one stop to/ from Barking. But our modeling tells us that it will ease the crush at West Ham and Barking because the passengers will now be spread over more trains.
We were very sensitive to what you said about journey times. We have reduced the journey time between most stations along the route, and we have modified our original proposals by reintroducing four of the fastest trains of the day to/ from the Southend area. Most of the other peak train journeys are 1-2 minutes longer. In the off-peak journey times to/ from Southend area are up to 4 minutes shorter.
So what do I think will happen next week? How do I feel about it? With such major changes I am sure the first few days will feel strange and unusual. No-one will know which is their best train to catch at first, and people may experiment with different ones during the week. We know from other timetable changes we have done in our career (in my case West Coast Main Line 2004) that passenger numbers on a particular train changes through the week; what is crowded one day may not be the next. And with people arriving at different times that can affect car parking and ticket offices too.
But I can promise you that we will be watching closely everything that happens. We will have managers at every station, observing what is happening, checking arrival and departure times, passenger numbers, whether or not signals are clear at the time they should be, and how customers are reacting and feeling.
We will have a daily conference each morning to review the previous 24 hours. If we find have got something wrong and we can change it without disadvantaging someone else, we will do it straight away. We won’t wait.
I know this means a big upheaval for a lot of people. We are doing it for all the right reasons, to give you what you told us you wanted – more capacity, more train services overall, and better connections. This won’t be the last time we change the c2c timetable, but it is probably the biggest for a while. Later, work we are doing with Network Rail should mean raising the line speed in several places to allow us to introduce faster peak and off-peak journeys.
We don’t make changes like this often, and I really do hope you find your service is better. We’ll be watching closely to make sure it is.
Managing Director, c2c