Tens of thousands of commuters are bracing themselves for three weeks of severe disruption as they head into the first working day of engineering works at London Waterloo.
London Waterloo is Britain’s busiest station with annual passenger numbers reaching 99 million in 2015/16, compared to 39 million at Birmingham New Street and 26 million at Manchester Piccadilly, official figures show.
The £800m station upgrade means that nearly half of the platforms at Waterloo will now be closed until 28 August.
Some commuters on social media posted images of almost empty carriages on their early Monday commute, while others experienced busier journeys, with one person tweeting: “A whole month of standing from Woking to Waterloo and no compensation offered? #southwesttrains #delayed #poorservice #terrible.”
Passengers travelling from Guildford, Woking and Surbiton will face particular disruption, while stations including Clapham Junction, Wimbledon, Earlsfield, Richmond and Vauxhall will suffer a knock-on effect.
In what is one of the biggest investments to the railway for decades, platforms will be extended to allow for longer trains and four extra platforms will be brought back into use.
But while many will welcome the much needed improvements to their service, they will be less happy about the reduced train service, longer journey times and station closures while engineering work takes place.
Sky News spoke to commuter Ian Keith, whose home station in Norbiton is one of those being closed during the project.
He said: “I’m entering into my morning commute with trepidation. I think we’re all expecting complete chaos.”
Image: Commuters attempt to board a full Southwest Train carriage
Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne has previously admitted he is “worried there will be challenging days” and accepted that “there are going to be days when the service is very difficult for people”.
Speaking to Sky News during the Monday rush hour he said the service was “running very well”.
He said when passengers are given “plenty of advance warning” they are “very understanding about this sort of engineering work because they see the benefits that they are going to get in the longer term”.
“This kind of job just can’t be done in a weekend. It’s three weeks of intensive activity, 24-hours-a-day with 1,000 people working on this site, so there is no alternative but to do it in this way,” he said.
“We choose to do it in August because there are fewer people travelling during the month, so it actually is the time when we have the least impact on passengers,” he added.
But while Mr Keith understands the need for the works, he’s irritated by the lack of compensation and alternative routes covered by his annual season ticket, which costs him £1,600.
He said: “I understand why they are doing the work – running 10 carriage trains instead of eight will make it better for everyone. But the fact that you can only use your tickets to travel on permissible routes is unfair.”
While he says he will follow South West Trains’ travel advice during the disruption, he fears that “there will be a meltdown and I’ll have to jump on a bus and get on the tube at my own cost”.
Adding to the travel chaos, in the midst of the engineering works, the South West Trains franchise will also change hands – moving from Stagecoach to First Group and Hong Kong-based MTR on 20 August.
And while South West Trains have advised passengers to consider taking a holiday or work from home during the works, for many commuters this is simply not possible.
Mr Keith said: “There’s just no way I can work from home. I’m putting work in my bag in case I’m left stranded, but that’s about as much as I can do.”
A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: “By the end of next year we will have made space for another 45,000 people at peak times as we turn the old Waterloo International into a high frequency commuter terminal fit for the 21st century.
“But before we arrive there, passengers travelling into Waterloo will face severe disruption over the next three and a half weeks – we are doing all we can to manage the impact on our passengers, and we thank them for their patience during this time.”