Starship Enterprise arrives at Streatham: ‘Is this the Sutton train?’ – a modern cautionary tale

20 June 2017

Not a lot has happened at Streatham station in South London over the years. Yes, frequency has improved, paint has been applied, gates installed, there is a coffee shop and slightly better information but the place feels unloved. The evening crush to get off is epic as passengers try to get up the Victorian stairs. Somehow it has avoided the ‘Access for All’ money, so there is no lift. One day, the station will fall into the tender loving arms of Transport for London…

I sometimes catch the train to and from Streatham to Blackfriars. Northern Line problems, variety and, now heat, make the decision for me. Not having travelled on it for a while, it was a great shock when, instead of the venerable 30 year old trains, a new Thameslink Class 700 (2016) train glided in. I blinked as I wasn’t expecting this. The trains on my commute from Herne Hill in the 1990s were completely different. But this felt different, modern, better, and a step change improvement with air conditioning: these really trains really can eat up a lot of people. Albeit, I wouldn’t like to try commuting and working on one for over an hour, but just the ticket for South London.

Will passengers give credit? In the short term yes, but all our research shows it will be banked quickly, but the underlying truths remain. Passengers want a reliable service and good information when things go wrong. Last night there were signal problems at Balcombe so things were a bit out of kilter at City Thameslink. For ten minutes the indicators said the next train coming was a Sutton one. As a train appeared all the displays changed and it transpired this was actually a Sevenoaks one. Colleagues tell me announcements are generally much improved on Thameslink but I didn’t hear any announcement: the driver said nothing on the train so confusion reigned as people got on and off.

In the next year, 20 plus trains an hour will run through the central Thameslink section, a massive and welcome boost in frequency. But those stations are going to have to be run like pit stops if it is all to work. We argued they should start with a slightly more modest improvement and then build up to the full service.

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