Lewes railway stations will ‘lose out’ when Southern introduces a new train timetable next week, according to the Lib Dems.
The major changes by rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway, which come into force on Sunday May 20, will see extra trains, more carriages, new connections and other improvements across the network.
But the Lib Dems have argued the Lewes constituency’s stations are ‘losing out’, with the ending of through services to Ashford, halving of trains to and from London Bridge, lengthened journey times, cuts to connections between Glynde and Berwick, reduced weekday services to other neighbouring villages including Plumpton, and no end to splitting of trains at Haywards Heath.
Vic Ient, a Lib Dem Lewes district councillor and transport spokesperson, said: “It seems the rail network is to see big improvements all over the place except for rail travellers in the Lewes constituency. Here, far from improvements, we are going backwards.
“The shortened journey times from Lewes to London, down to 61 minutes in the off-peak, which Norman Baker secured, have been reversed, with journeys now lengthened to 70 minutes.
And the Ashford service, which Southern have long wanted to cut but which Norman fought successfully to keep, has been chopped, now he is no longer there to stop them.”
Meanwhile Sarah Osborne, Lib Dem group leader at LDC, criticised the Tories and MP Maria Caulfield for being ‘asleep on the job’.
But Ms Caulfield said she had ‘repeatedly held ministers’ feet to the fire’ over Southern’s poor performance, while £300m investment in rail infrastructure would tackle delays and increase capacity.
She added: “I was disappointed by the lack of consultation from Southern on the new timetable and so I personally contacted over 5,000 rail users in the constituency to alert them to the consultation and ask them to respond. As a result the constituency of Lewes had some of the highest numbers of responses across the network and services were altered as a result.
“I have met with residents over the new timetable concerns from passengers at Lewes concerned about changes to trains now going to London Victoria instead of London Bridge, with residents in Berwick, Polegate, Wivelsfield and Plumpton concerned about the loss of trains not stopping and with residents in Seaford where we managed to retain a number of the direct services from Seaford which were planned to be scrapped.
“Ultimately once the £300 million investment in the line and the upgrade to East Croydon is complete there will be additional services but we are suffering now because of the lack of investment in our local rail service many years ago.”
A spokesman for GTR said: “The timetable has been rewritten to create a more reliable service with capacity targeted where it’s most needed, based on careful analysis of where people travel and when, and on the 28,000 responses to our public consultation. Passengers in Lewes will benefit considerably from increases in frequency, capacity and reliability of their services to London and along the coast.
“By replacing through services to Ashford with overlapping services between Brighton and Hastings and between Eastbourne and Ashford, we can double the length of trains between Hastings and Eastbourne, and increase frequency from three to four per hour, where demand is highest. This also allows us to increase services between Lewes and Brighton from five to six per hour, with more frequent stops at Falmer and Moulsecoomb.
“Lewes will gain four more services per day to London, including three in the morning peak. The first train to Victoria will depart 20 minutes earlier to provide an earlier arrival at Gatwick Airport. There will be one fewer London Bridge service (two rather than three) in the morning peak, reflecting the greater demand for trains from Lewes to Victoria. At other times, passengers for London Bridge can change at East Croydon where will be at least ten trains per hour. In the evening peak, the number of trains from London Bridge to Lewes will remain at two, with an additional service from Victoria closing two current gaps of 45 minutes between trains.
“On average, journey times to London have been lengthened slightly to allow more time for passengers to board and alight, to integrate with the new pattern of Thameslink and Gatwick Express services, and to make the timetable more realistic (and thereby make journey times more predictable). While the fastest journeys will be 68 minutes rather than 63 minutes, more services will take just 68 minutes than currently take 68 minutes or less, and the longest duration will be only two minutes more than it is now.”
The spokesman added: “For the majority of the day, trains will stop at Berwick or Glynde, but not both. Prior to implementing this change we analysed passenger demand and identified that very few passengers would be affected. Many more passengers will benefit from a regular half hourly train service between Brighton and Hastings from 0500 until 2300. Berwick also maintains its direct peak-time trains to London at 0534, 0634 and 0734 but the current limited off-peak services will require a change of train at Lewes to connect. Berwick will also have an improved evening service between Brighton and Hastings. Following a request from Berwick passengers, we have recently added an additional stop on the 22:47 from Victoria at the station.
“While we are reducing the splitting of trains as far as we can, it will still be necessary to do this for some services, including at Haywards Heath where at some times of day dividing or joining trains is the most efficient way to meet demand for travelling between London and both East and West Sussex.”
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