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Forget timetables, Londons stations need the shake-up

For weeks, some London commuters have been blasted by headlines warning of “the biggest timetable shake-up in rail history”.

From Sunday, passengers on Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and the Gatwick Express routes had to reorganise their daily journey. And in the capitals workplaces this week, winners will be crowing while losers bleat.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I fall into the camp of moaners. Last week, my gentle trundle into City Thameslink involved an easy change at Denmark Hill in South London with lots of trains to choose from.

Now, between 8am and 9am, the line from Denmark Hill in to CNBC Towers has gone from five direct services to a grand total of one. Judging by the Thameslink Twitter feed, I am not alone in losing out.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has almost matched the newspapers in negative hyperbole, suggesting the new timetable could have “disastrous consequences” and “will place massive additional strains on infrastructure”.

Govia Thameslink, Britains largest rail franchise, has batted away the criticism. It claims that the new timetable will allow for an extra 50,000 morning peak-time passengers to commute into London. It also says that up to 80 more stations will enjoy direct services to central London stations by 2019.

Only time will tell if the changes prove beneficial, but it does raise questions over Londons commuting future and just how many bodies can, or should, be shuffled in and out.

In 2016, the independent watchdog London Travel Watch issued a document exploring potential future transport projects. One idea was to develop Londons outer rail hubs.

The paper argued that stations such as Ealing Broadway, Clapham Junction, Barking, or Brixton could be developed further and made much more appealing for commercial development.

Improving these interchanges would shorten journeys, stimulate local economies, and help with regeneration, the paper argued. And, crucially, if there are more jobs on the outskirts of London, there might just be more space for those still travelling to the inner city postcodes.

Stephen Joseph, executive director at the Campaign for Better Transport, says the average suburban rail station is currently “a bit miserable” and, with some exceptions, underused as an asset.

Joseph believes handing control over to Transport For London (TfL) – a state organisation rather than a private company – would push through more development around rail stations for people to live and work. He cited the development at West Hampstead as an example of what could be done.

One sticking point might be the frosty relationship between TfLs ultimate boss Sadiq Khan and transport secretary Chris Grayling. They are not thought to be on each others Christmas list.

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