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The Sydenham corridor is currently served by Southern Trains, but from May, East London line services operated
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by London Overground will be extended to operate on the route alongside Southern services. London Overground's core service will operate four trains an hour between Crystal Palace and Dalston and West Croydon and Dalston. A separate service will operate from New Cross to Dalston. This compares with the former East London line, which operated only between New Cross Gate and Shoreditch. It is expected that eight of these trains will be extended to Highbury and Islington from 2011, once a new line is constructed at Dalston to connect the East London line with the North London line.

Further extensions to Clapham Junction are planned for 2012, which will mean that the route from Sydenham to New Cross Gate, which I know will be a prime concern to my hon. Friend, will see eight East London line trains an hour, plus Southern services. These East London line services will be operated by new class 378 trains in four-car formation similar to the new trains introduced on the North London line.

Importantly, the extended East London line will provide valuable interchanges with the rest of London's transport network. The interchange with the Jubilee line at Canada Water will be especially valuable, given the links from there to Canary Wharf and the west end, but the interchange with the Hammersmith and City and District lines at Whitechapel will also be important, while we must also not forget the link with the docklands light railway at Shadwell. The later link to Highbury and Islington will provide a further direct interchange with the Victoria line.

We expect a considerable number of people to alter their journey patterns to interchange at Canada Water rather than at London Bridge. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the interchange from national rail to London underground at London Bridge is rather tortuous and probably takes a minimum of five minutes when measured platform to platform. Canada Water will compare favourably in that the interchange is a simple escalator journey to the underground. The latest information that I have from TfL is that the main works are complete and that non-passenger trial operations on the core route are about to commence. If these trial operations and associated staff training are successful, TfL hopes to commence a service on the core route north of New Cross Gate later this spring. We are as confident as we can be that the route will open on time later this spring. That is my answer to the question about when we should press on with the publicity.

My hon. Friend mentioned that 10 stations between New Cross Gate and West Croydon have already transferred to London Overground in readiness for the extension-additional investment has already commenced. He also mentioned that London Overground is going to upgrade many of those stations. He referred specifically to CCTV and public address, but there will also be a deep clean of the stations, along with new floors and platform surfaces, new entrance canopies, new signage, information systems and lighting improvements. It is also worth noting that "Access for All" works, funded by my Department, are already well advanced at Forest Hill station. I should add that the £900 million extension of the East London line has been made possible only by the considerable increase in grant given to Transport for London over recent years.

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I am sure that my hon. Friend is supportive of all those investments in train services in his constituency. I firmly believe that these changes, along with other improvements, such as extension of Oyster pay-as-you-go, will transform the attractiveness of this area of south London-to reduce crowding, to support regeneration activities and to improve the overall service offered to the public.

However, the new services cannot be introduced without some changes to existing services and service patterns. Apart from some minor track works at South Croydon and Crystal Palace there is no building of new lines south of New Cross Gate, which means that the extended East London line timetable needs to mesh with Southern services. The issue is not as simple as might be imagined, especially given the complications of the crowded network in and about London Bridge and the interactions with other parts of the rail network including Southeastern services, Southern services to London Victoria, First Capital Connect services north and south of London, and the additional East London line services.

Mr. Pelling: Does this not underline the need for further investment at the Windmill Bridge junction north of East Croydon station? It is great to get the service going, but not enough money was provided for the East London line. If capacity is not increased, there will unfortunately be some passenger resistance.

Chris Mole: I assure the hon. Gentleman that, along with Network Rail, we are examining capacity issues throughout the United Kingdom network, because we consider those issues to be a priority.

I shall try to explain the background to each of the main changes, but I suggest that Members consider those changes as a whole and compare the final overall service from May this year with the service provided previously. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, since last December, later evening Southern services from the Sydenham corridor, amounting to a total of nine trains, have not progressed through London Bridge to Charing Cross. All services will now end at London Bridge, as they do throughout the rest of the day.

The reason for the change is that as part of its new timetable Southeastern-which, of course, has seen the introduction of high-speed services from Kent, and about 5 per cent. more capacity on metro services in Greater London-is stopping more trains at London Bridge during the off-peak period and in the evenings, and has also improved frequencies on the Bexleyheath corridor. Because of the provision of the additional trains, no spare capacity exists to allow Southern services to operate into Charing Cross. Southeastern and Southern have worked hard to identify a solution to the problem that would allow those trains to be accommodated through London Bridge. It has been unable to find a timetable solution, but it remains an aspiration of Southern to operate services through to Charing Cross. The Government have said that if in future Southern and Southeastern can find a way to extend services, which we agree is desirable, we will not stand in the way of the operators. I have asked officials to ensure that that option continues to be considered.

A number of timetable changes are planned for May 2010 on the commencement of the extended East London line. My hon. Friend has raised with me the apparent
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misalignment between opening dates for the East London line and changes to Southern services, and I understand that the Sydenham Society has raised the issue with him. I should make it clear that the new Southern timetable is planned to commence on Sunday 23 May, the day on which TfL plans to start operations south of New Cross Gate. There is thus no misalignment; TfL may be being a little cautious in its public statements.

As part of the new timetable, stations on the route will see a significant increase in the service provided overall. During the peak period, there will be six trains an hour from stations such as Sydenham to London Bridge, and a further eight trains an hour to the East London line. Sydenham currently has seven trains to London Bridge between 8 am and 9 am. In future, it will have a total of 14 trains to London, which will double the service and increase capacity by around 45 per cent.

I realise that it could be argued that Sydenham is seeing a reduction of one London Bridge train during the peak period, but given the parallel increase in services to the East London line, the overall benefits are large. In the off-peak period the service will broadly double from six to 12 trains per hour, which means a train every five minutes. Four of those trains will operate to London Bridge and eight to the East London line. I appreciate that that could be seen as a reduction of two trains an hour to London Bridge, but it has been made necessary by the operation of the East London line trains and the use of "turn back" facilities at West Croydon by East London line services.

I am particularly aware of the significant concern expressed about the evening peak changes on the corridor. Let me explain that in more detail. Southern currently operates six trains in the peak hour from London Bridge via the Sydenham "slow lines", with two of them operating to destinations outside London. Because of the introduction of the East London line services and the congested nature of the infrastructure from London Bridge to New Cross Gate, it has not been possible to timetable the longer-distance services to fit with the regular-interval East London line services. As
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a result, from May the Dorking and Guildford services will now operate via the fast lines running non-stop between London Bridge and Norwood Junction.

The only way these services could continue to operate on the slow lines via Forest Hill would be by reducing the peak service operated by the East London line. While I recognise that this is of little comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West, the change will reduce journey times to places such as Norwood Junction, Sutton and Dorking. The remaining London Bridge services will operate a regular-interval service from London Bridge at approximately 14 and 16 minutes apart, and should carry significantly fewer passengers as a result of the diversion of some passengers to destinations further afield. Most passengers to locations such as Sydenham and Forest Hill should need to alter their journey times by only two or three minutes. I will be happy to provide the House with details of the exact timetable, if required.

This change should be placed in the context of the eight East London line trains operating southbound from Canada Water, and, over time, we expect passengers who currently interchange from the Jubilee line at London Bridge to shift to interchange at Canada Water. It should also be remembered that passengers who previously changed on to Southern services at New Cross Gate will now be able to use both Southern and East London line services, further reducing demand pressures on evening peak services south of New Cross Gate. The same number of trains will be operating from London Bridge in peak times as today, and I can thus reassure Members that the changes are not being carried out for financial reasons; they are being introduced purely in order to timetable both Southern and East London line services on the same section of track.

Southern is committed to keep the situation under review after the introduction of the East London line next May.

3.1 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

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