Proposed changes to “key” commuter trains have triggered a backlash in Richmond.

Richmond MPs and councillors have hit back at South Western Railway’s (SWR) review of their timetable, which they argue could cause a 50% reduction in direct trains on certain routes.

Though the changes are still under public consultation, the rail operator says they plan to alter their services due to a difference in travel habits during the pandemic. 

The changes, which would come into effect in December 2022, are set to affect peak and off-peak services in the borough from stations including Whitton, Hampton, Teddington, St. Margarets, Mortlake and East Sheen. 

Direct trains from Whitton to Richmond and Waterloo could be reduced by 50%, including changes to the Hounslow Loop. 

Whitton would be serviced by two trains to Waterloo per hour, rather than the every fifteen minutes-service they had prior to the pandemic.

There would be no morning peak services in Whitton between 7:50 and 8:20 each morning, which Richmond Council has argued will “negatively affect” commuters at a “key” journey time. 

Cllr Alexander Ehmann, Chair of the Transport and Air Quality Services Committee, said:

“South Western Railway’s proposals are unacceptable and extremely short sighted. The changes would result in a significantly reduced service both at peak and off-peak times compared to the pre-pandemic service levels."

Richmond and Twickenham Times: The changes could come into effect in December 2022The changes could come into effect in December 2022

SWR said that the timetable changes would allow for other improvements to the rail service.

A spokesperson said: “The pandemic has brought about a sharp reduction in passenger numbers and changes to travel patterns and, based on what our customers are telling us, future demand is forecast to reach no higher than 76 percent of pre-covid levels. This gives us a unique opportunity to review our timetable, address historic performance issues and deliver more robust and resilient train services.

However, some MPs have called for a rethink of the current proposals. 

Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park, said: “While the Council and I recognise fully the changes to peoples’ travelling behaviour that has occurred due to the pandemic, particularly with regard to commuting for work, SW Railway’s own analysis has shown that leisure journeys will return to pre-pandemic levels. It is therefore imperative that SW Railway offer the rationale behind their thinking”

Whilst Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham, added: “I appreciate that passenger numbers are down due to the pandemic, but it’s far too early to be making permanent changes to the timetable when we don’t know what long-term commuting patterns will look like. Any reduction in services should be temporary, with a new consultation on permanent changes in 6 months’ time.

Richmond and Twickenham Times: Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham has criticised the changesMunira Wilson, MP for Twickenham has criticised the changes

SWR said the proposed changes are still under consultation. 

A spokesperson said: “We are currently running an eight-week stakeholder consultation on our proposals for the December 2022 timetable, which we are urging all MPs, councillors and passenger groups across our network to respond to.

“While our proposals do include a reduction in frequencies on some routes, the rollout of our new fleet of Arterio trains will help us to still provide 93 percent of pre-covid capacity – greatly outstripping forecast demand. By making this change, we aim to ease congestion across our network, consolidate the performance improvements we have seen over the past 18 months and deliver a more efficient service that provides excellent value to the taxpayer.

“We’re confident that, through these proposed changes, we’ll be able to build back a better railway which provides efficiency, value for money and the performance improvements that our customers expect and deserve”. 

You can see the consultation here: