Kent County Council Rail Summit

Online Webinar conducted via Microsoft Teams, 20th October, 2021

This annual event is hosted by Kent County Council normally takes place every spring in Maidstone at County Hall. However, as per last year the event was moved to October in an online format.

The event had around ninety attendees although there was no visibility of the groups represented, it is reasonable to assume that all the usual rail user group and local authorities were online.

The guest speakers were from South Eastern and Network Rail along with KCC with David Brazier, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, chairing on behalf of the council.

 

Key points from South Eastern (Scott Brightwell, Train Services Director) :

  • Operating in still challenging and fast moving circumstances – 15 timetable changes in just 18 months. Most recent uplift in service was last month with a further minor revision planned for December

  • Smooth transition to DfT control over the previous weekend, no change in service level or focus on customer service improvement

  • New travel dynamic has emerged with around 45 percent of pre-pandemic commute has returning in the peak with Monday now being the quietest day and around 55 percent of off peak travel has now returned.

  • Around 84 percent of normal timetable is now being operated with continuous monitoring of train loads and making adjustments where possible.

  • Travel / commuter demand will be different in the future, this is the new normal

  • December timetable revision likely to make only low level changes

Key points from South Eastern/ Network Rail (Nina Peak/ Robbie Lough) :

  • Highlighted importance of partnership working both together and with wider stakeholders such as local user groups and local authorities when looking at infrastructure enhancements

  • Tonbridge station improvement – pavements, traffic lights and a new cycle hub were a good example

  • Maidstone East and Swanley stations were also examples where significant improvement had been made to both the station facilities and external environment

  • Access for All scheme (funded by the DfT) – Chatham and Canterbury East were mentioned but no update on the work at High Brooms on our patch

  • Kent will see its first new station for a while –Thanet Parkway

 

Kent Rail Action Plan 2021 update (Mark Welch, KCC):

  • Keen to push for improvement in the Maidstone East to the City service level

  • Concern that Eurostar were now delaying the return of Ashford stop on Eurostar services until 2023. KCC to continue to press company and highlight to social and economic need to get Ashford back in the timetable

  • Plan actively supporting a further extension of Crossrail from Abbey Wood to Northfleet/ Ebbsfleet (submission of options and costings to be made to government soon by the C2E Partnership group)

  • Will continue to press for High Speed One services to be both improved and extended further

  • Highlight need to improve Marshlink line

There was also a short presentation by Kent Community Rail Partnership by Gary Outram and Chris Fribbins covering the three adopted lines in the county.

Flexible / Part-Time Season Tickets

They have finally arrived. Southeastern started offering the new flexi season on 28th June. This allows travel on any eight days within 28, costing £286.40 to London terminals from Tunbridge Wells. This is a saving of 12% if you travel twice per week (compared to 2 anytime returns), and 15% if you travel 3 times per week (compared to a weekly season). They are available for travel from all stations on the Hastings line to London. There does not appear to be a first class version. Given the current financial climate, we have to be grateful they have been introduced at all. It is loaded onto a Key Card. Southeastern explain them here:

 

https://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/tickets/tickets-explained/flexi-season-tickets

The flexi season certainly is flexible. Maybe those of us who commute part-time but can choose when in advance would benefit from some sort of fixed, advanced purchase tickets. Perhaps an extension of advance purchase singles to peak hour trains might be a way of making part-time commuting cheaper than the new flexi season. We will inquire.

South Eastern Railway Stakeholder Forum – June 2021

Venue: Conducted online via Microsoft Teams due to Coronavirus restrictions

SER held the first stakeholder forum of the year online due to Corina Virus restrictions on large gatherings. Forum chaired by Sharon Willis from Network Rail.

Representation from rail user groups was high including our colleagues from Sevenoaks and Tonbridge plus local authorities. Over 50 people took part but it was not possible to know all the participants.

Presentations were given both Network Rail and various members of the South Eastern management team.

Principal Points – Network Rail, John Halsall, Regional MD, Southern Region

  • Highlighted the importance of continuing support for the post pandemic recovery with maintenance and major project works to improve the network.

  • Noted that peak hour commuting is around forty percent of normal but leisure traffic was becoming busy again.

  • Positive passenger feedback on the safety and cleanliness of the railway and the perception of being safe.

  • Future affordability of the railway was an issue which would have to be faced with perhaps some difficult choices ahead.

  • Paul Harwood, NR Infrastructure – outlined some of the key areas of work planned for Control Period 6 (CP6 starting this year). This includes power upgrades, buildings, drainage and signalling.

  • NR seeking to develop and implement a sustainability strategy at both corporate and regional level.

  • Fiona Taylor, NR Route Director, Kent – Performance has been good in terms of punctuality and reliability both also noted a reduction of delay minutes resulting from crime and trespass incidents. On-going and relentless focus on graffiti removal. Proud of her staff for the way the railway has been kept going despite need for risk assessments and new methods of working to be Covid secure.

 

 

 

SER Customer Experience

  • SE continuing to work closely with DfT, NR and across the industry to respond to rail transport needs during the current situation and has made twelve timetable revisions so far this year. SE is amending service where possible to meet changing demand.

  • Greatly enhanced cleaning regimes for both trains and stations.

  • Flexi Ticketing to be launched this month –the ability to purchase any eight days of travel within a twenty eight day period providing a discount when compared to monthly tickets. New online tool on SE website should automatically calculate best option for passengers.

  • Rail industry digesting the Williams-Shapps review into rail reform with some significant change due.

  • Scott Brightwell, SE timetables – numerous t/t changes this year had put pressure on planning resource and the eternal dilemma of capacity versus demand was even more difficult to predict, for example, passenger numbers greater on metro services than on main line.

 

SER – Health and Safety

  • Risk assessments monitored with regard to cleaning processes and frequency.

  • Staffing levels on stations increased in line with service increase.

  • Note: Over 14,000 samples across SE trains and stations on high contact surfaces have not produced any cases of the Covid virus being present.