By Joe Talora, Local Democracy Reporter
Commuter trains into central London are set to return to levels seen last year following disruption caused by the Omicron wave of Covid-19.
South Western Railway, which operates services to and from London Waterloo, introduced a temporary reduced timetable earlier this year due to staff shortages caused by Covid-19.
But the operator announced on Friday that, from Monday, February 21, its timetable will be restored to the one last used in December 2021 meaning that several services will be reinstated.
Four services – the 07:38 from Southampton to Waterloo, the 17:02 Waterloo to Guildford, the 07:00 Shepperton to Waterloo and the 08:15 Waterloo to Waterloo (via Hounslow) – will not return, however.
South Western’s managing director Claire Mann said it has been a “difficult period” for the railway and that the operator was left with “no choice but to temporarily reduce [its] timetable” in response to staff shortages in January.
But Ms Mann said: “With staff availability now consistently improving, we are pleased to be able to announce this uplift, which will essentially see service levels return to where they were prior to the spread of Omicron.
“More and more people are returning to our railway, and this timetable will ensure that we match capacity and demand while delivering reliability for customers”.
Despite the upcoming uplift in South Western services, the operator is under pressure over its plans to permanently slash its timetable from December 2022.
Last autumn, South Western opened a consultation on its plans to reduce the number of trains it runs in response to new commuting patterns emerging since the end of lockdown.
But the plan has been met with backlash from commuters, politicians and transport stakeholders.
In response to the consultation, transport watchdog London TravelWatch said the cuts were “premature” and would “disadvantage those who have no choice but to travel” and “increase car dependency in outer London”.
This concern was recently brought up by former London mayoral candidate and Green Party London Assembly member Sian Berry.
Earlier this month, a YouGov survey commissioned by Ms Berry found that as many as one in four outer Londoners felt “forced” to own a car due to a lack of transport options.
Ms Berry said that further cuts to suburban rail services would “make this awful situation of Londoners feeling forced to own a car even worse” and called on the Government and the Mayor of London to ensure that there are adequate public transport options across the whole of the capital.