Kent County Council Rail Summit

County Hall, Maidstone Tuesday 15th October, 2019.

Executive Summary:

This annual event is hosted by Kent County Council and normally takes place every spring in Maidstone. However, this year the event was postponed until the autumn on the basis that a new franchise operator or the existing one would have been appointed but this procurement process has been cancelled. Southern Eastern will continue until April 2020 (very possibly even later) as the government awaits the Williams Review which will highly influence the structure of rail franchising in the future.

Because of the South Eastern Stakeholder Forum being held at London Bridge in September the SER and NR presentations were largely the same (see the report on that meeting on our website).

The only additional note was a commitment to greater close working to examine issues when things go wrong with SER/NR analysing cause and effect together (should be happening anyway!!!).

Key points from Eurostar (Renaud Thilllayc) –

  • Commitment to make travel as easy and seamless as possible for passengers whatever is in place post – Brexit

  • Eurostar actively preparing for Brexit situation in terms of admin/ pressure on government/ driver licence updates

  • Services will make more Ashford stops in May 2020 timetable with in interim improvement in January

  • New Eurostar trains (e3200) are more carbon efficient and there is a new focus on reducing on-board plastic as part of a ten point environment plan

  • Eurostar have ten beehives in Kent producing honey for use on-board trains

  • Keen to develop the Amsterdam service with additional trains and establish direct return services when customs arrangement have been agreed for Amsterdam Central station with the Dutch government

  • New working arrangement being discussed to enable Eurostar and Thalys high speed services to provide greater customer benefit

 

Key points from Eurotunnel (John Keefe) –

  • Eurotunnel celebrating its 25th anniversary

  • 2.7 million passenger vehicle journeys in 2018 with four shuttle trains per hour

  • 1.7 million lorry and truck journeys in 2018 with eight trains per hour

  • Considerable effort and money spent on post Brexit arrangement with the maximum use of technology to ensure that carriers suffer no time penalty wherever possible to ensure smooth flow

 

 

Kent Rail Action Plan 2020 to be launched (Stephen Gasche, KCC):

  • Improvements to Ashford journey times

  • Improve the Sandwich service during the golf tournament

  • West Kent – seek enhancement of the power supply to support more/longer trains

  • Faster journey times on the north Kent lines

  • Focus on the ‘Access for all’ programme

  • Support the extension of high speed service to Hastings and Bexhill

  • Campaign for the Elizabeth line to be extended beyond Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet to support housing development in that area

  • Welcome the introduction of ‘Transport for the South East’ although this body is currently non-funded and non-statutory, it will hopefully enable a more holistic approach to transport in the home counties

South Eastern Railway

Stakeholder Forum – September 2019

SER held the latest stakeholder forum in the lecture theatre of the Science Gallery just opposite the mainline station on the Shard side.

As ever representation from rail user groups was high including our colleagues from Sevenoaks and Tonbridge. Tunbridge Wells Borough Council was represented as well in an audience of around 80 people.Presentations were given by South Eastern and Network Rail.

Much was updates on what we already know, although there was mention of resilience improvement on the Hastings Line: we have contacted Network Rail for more details.

Principal Points – South Eastern

  • Delighted with London Bridge station works and associated travel benefits ie improved connectivity with other destinations and greater retail offering

  • SER achieved best performance results in terms of punctuality

  • Consistent improvement in customer satisfaction scores

  • Introduction of the ‘One Team’ approach at London termini had produced very positive customer feedback

  • Improved data with more ‘actual info’ ie where a train is/ number of carriages etc

  • 10th anniversary of the start of High Speed One trains

 

SER Customer Experience

  • Hit 86 percent on punctuality and performance in July this year

  • About to hit leaf fall season but still very focused with Network Rail on lineside management, running ghost trains at night and applying a material solution directly to the track to assist trains

  • Trespass incidents – still a major concern for the railway with small incidents having high impact in terms of lost time and customer inconvenience (NR to review access issues and launch a new initiative)

  • Focus always on improving performance

  • Smart ticketing – singles and returns now available on the card

  • Launched SE motion is October 2018

  • Improving delay info – more info available including last known position of delayed train

  • Delay Repay 15 introduced

 

SER – leaf fall plans

  • Water based treatment trains available for deployment

  • Robust line side vegetation management by Network Rail

  • Sandite to be applied to improve wheel grip on rails

 

Network Rail

  • Continued focus on collaborative working with South Eastern

  • Will launch a new crime & trespass initiative

  • Major track renewal and point work planned for the Lewisham / Hither Green area

  • Continued resilience works on the Hastings line

  • Working with other parties to support and develop the access for all programme (improvement in access at stations for mobility impaired persons Note: TWDRTA has written to the TW Borough Council in support of a second bid for High Brooms station as part of the second round of grants available from the Department for Transport)

General:

  • Two marriage proposals made (and accepted!) on South Eastern services

  • One baby born this year on a train!

Meeting with Greg Clark MP - September 2019

The MP for Tunbridge Wells kindly met with us, where we put the following views:

 

Train services

  1. We are pleased that the franchise has been abandoned as the timetable it imposed on bidders was significantly worse than the current one (as far as the peak service is concerned). We registered our position that when a new franchise tender is formulated (if indeed one is), bidders should not be obliged to offer a worse service.

  2. London Bridge redevelopment. This has on balance left us with a worse service. All CHX fast trains now all stop at LBG, adding several minutes to each journey.

  3. Also, punctuality has deteriorated as extra trains at the London end now conflict with ours.

  4. Regarding the current Train Operating Company:

    1. No grounds to suppose anybody else would be any better.

    2. Abandoned franchise would not have brought us new trains (as far as the bidders were prepared to tell us).

    3. Lengthening of some services would alleviate overcrowding (and we will follow this matter up with recommendations of which services need lengthening)

    4. SER have continued to introduce modest improvements (WiFi, information).

  5. Fares: they are disproportionately high. SE franchise's fares are higher than other franchises' [and also note, TW fares are higher than other stations the same distance from London]

  6. Gatwick services: to be of much use, these would have to be direct trains, and start quite early in the morning. They are unlikely to materialise in the short term, but we will keep them under consideration.

 

Infrastructure

Contending for investment is a major area where we need to stand up and be counted; we are on our own here as there are no large developments in our catchment area that provide a claim on funds.

  1. An action plan for increasing capacity Tonbridge - Orpington should be prepared by Network Rail. This is the most important single issue that will impact the quality of TW services in the future.

  2. Ditto Hastings-TON, and especially double-tracking Somerhill Tunnel. Apparently Network Rail have identified a more cost effective way of doing this

  3. High Brooms down platform step-free access . Greg had met with Network Rail and it appears a ramp should be possible; the Association will issue a letter of support.

  4. Capacity of CST has been reduced. This should be reinstated, and additional flexibility on the approach to London Bridge provided.

 

Greg will be seeking a meeting with managing director of Southeastern to discuss these matters.

Tunbridge Wells Public Transport Forum – July 2019

Key points from the rail part of the evening are as detailed below –

Southeastern Railway

  •   Franchise extended by DfT to November 2019 and possibly again to April 2020 (decision expected soon)

  •   Delay Repay – will cover 15 min delays from this autumn

  •   Improved smart ticketing will now cover single and return tickets online

  •   Clock tower work at Tunbridge Wells now complete, completely renewed but very much the same style as before

  •   August consultation request expected regarding the December 2019 timetable

  •   High Brooms station:  following the unsuccessful bid last time, a second round of DfT funding for access issues is available (20 million nationally) High Brooms can be nominated again for lift or ramp access from platform 2. In response to questions from TWDRTA. South Eastern advised that station does not need to be staffed for the whole traffic day and would possibly have remote monitoring / alarm to another station. TWDRTA very concerned about a lift operating under such circumstance ie vandalism, breakdown, use as a toilet. NR are the landowners so access to build not thought to be a problem. In any event HB would need to be subject to a feasibility study so would need to re-nominated first. Forum agreed that HB should be re-nominated

Network Rail

  •   Simon Hulse gave a presentation largely focussed on the new NR structure with greater decision making at local or regional level

  •   In respect of High Brooms step free ML again reminded all that South Eastern will allow passengers’ with mobility issues to use either Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells stations and provide an accessible taxi at SE expense. ML again pressed SER to make this option far more prominent on the website under assistance with travel

  • ML expressed concern that there have been a small but significant number of infrastructure failures in the London Bridge area in recent months, most recently a cracked rail in the platform area (an area of new assets). NR replied that no trends had been identified that would lead to concern about asset performance

 

 

Franchise Update

Actually not much of an update: nothing seems to be happening! The new franchise was supposed to commence at the start of this month, then it got postponed to June, and now that's only two months' off - hardly enough time for a new operator to take over should Southeastern not win. Rumours are starting to circulate that the new franchise might not go ahead; presumably Southeastern would just be extended in that event, but what would the investment intentions be in that case? Take a look here for more details. Update: this is confirmed, certainly to 10th November 2019, probably to 1st April 2020: see https://newsroom.southeasternrailway.co.uk/news/southeastern-begins-discussions-to-extend-franchise . With the DfT being taken to judicial review (again) over other franchise awards, though, don't be surprised if the current operator stays for even longer.

Train Punctuality Information

The Rail Delivery Group recently announced the availability of much more detail on how well trains have run (see https://www.raildeliverygroup.com/media-centre/press-releases/2019/469775562-2019-03-22.html) . This lets us see how punctual our trains have been at the stations at which we actually use them, not just their final destinations. This will be particulary useful for seeing what time evening trains arrive at Tunbridge Wells and stations towards Hastings; previously, it was only the arrival at Hastings that counted towards punctuality statistics. There is also a programmatic interface which will allow us to write a script to capture daily figures for all peak hour trains serving Tunbridge Wells. Hopefully when this is written (time permitting!), we will be able to discuss specific poor-performing trains with Southeastern. The article below implies, with its 91% punctuality that trains are only late once a fortnight. Really? Well, let's get some facts for TW and talk about it.

Tunbridge Wells Public Transport Forum – November 2018

Key points from the rail part of the evening are as detailed below –

Southeastern Railway

  •   PPM ("Public Performance Measure") 91.2 percent, upward trend generally

  •   Annual Average 87.7

  •   Improvements made with on platform information screens (DMI) – ML acknowledged this

  •   Fleet deep clean now over fifty percent complete

  •   High Brooms station: to be considered for improvement to step free access on downside platform (note: station would need to fully staffed if a lift was installed)

  •   Leaf fall performance – good but not consistently robust, will compare with last year when period is finished
     

Network Rail

  •   Sevenoaks  tunnel – work on drainage will be complete by end of this month. Did not know status of track/signalling works

  •   In respect of High Brooms step free ML reminded all that South Eastern will allow passengers’ with mobility issues to use either Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells stations and provide an accessible taxi at SE expense. Michael Coggles from the Disabled Access Group advised that this is a legal requirement.
     

Buses

  •   Arriva advised that they will rolling out contactless payment on their buses starting shortly

Key points from the rail part of the evening are as detailed below –

Southeastern Railway

  •   PPM ("Public Performance Measure") 91.2 percent, upward trend generally

  •   Annual Average 87.7

  •   Improvements made with on platform information screens (DMI) – ML acknowledged this

  •   Fleet deep clean now over fifty percent complete

  •   High Brooms station: to be considered for improvement to step free access on downside platform (note: station would need to fully staffed if a lift was installed)

  •   Leaf fall performance – good but not consistently robust, will compare with last year when period is finished
     

Network Rail

  •   Sevenoaks  tunnel – work on drainage will be complete by end of this month. Did not know status of track/signalling works

  •   In respect of High Brooms step free ML reminded all that South Eastern will allow passengers’ with mobility issues to use either Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells stations and provide an accessible taxi at SE expense. Michael Coggles from the Disabled Access Group advised that this is a legal requirement.
     

Buses

  •   Arriva advised that they will rolling out contactless payment on their buses starting shortly

Easier Fares Consultation

The Rail Delivery Group has been running a consultation with a view to making the structure of the various fares on offer simpler. The objective would be for the various ticket types to change whilst keeping the overall revenue from them the same. The Association is responded as follows:

  • we would like a better deal for those passengers who commute between 2 and 4 times per week. At the same time, any decrease in revenue must not be made up by increases in fares for 5 day a week commuters. If achieving this leads to more complexity, then so be it.

  • One suggestion we have is for a Tuesday to Sunday season. This would alleviate overcrowding on Mondays, and reward those who avoid that day with a lower fare

  • When a fare is requested, we want to be confident it is the cheapest

  • Although fares have become more complex of the last 20 years, ease of accessing fare information via the internet more than offsets this.

Tunbridge Wells Public Transport Forum – July 2018

The summer meeting of the forum recently took place at Tunbridge Well’s town hall and both Network Rail and Southeastern Railway were present. Key points from the rail part of the evening are as detailed below –

Network Rail

Sevenoaks Tunnel maintenance programme

  • Massive track and ballast renewal in tunnel

  • Work to improve drainage, already underway

  • Tunnel is 2.5 miles long and any disruption is high impact on Kent/Sussex mainline

  • Signalling assets and power also being done (note: there will also a power upgrade between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells by December this year to improve resilience in this area)

  • Work will require a number of weekend closures between now until December

 

Kent Route Study

  • Received considerable feedback from stakeholders and interested parties including TW MP Greg Clark

  • Study seeks to highlight and quantify train service needs until 2024

  • Charing Cross and Cannon Street pretty much at capacity but some space still exists at Victoria and Blackfriars

  • Projected need for an additional 32 carriages by 2024

  • High Speed trains from Bexhill / Hastings – still possible but do not hold your breath

 

Southeastern Railway

  • Toilet availability / mural type graffiti on trains – SER advised that both issues have been addressed and they have almost completed all necessary work

  • Fleet refurbished on mainline stock by end of this year

  • Plan to expand the Keycardticketing to include singles and returns

  • Bids have been submitted for the next franchise which will commence in April 2019. Department for Transport is expected to announce successful bidder in November this year (there are three bidders including the current operator)

  • SER acknowledged concerns regarding any loss of direct Cannon Street services on our line but could not comment further until new franchise holder is confirmed

ML

May 2018 Timetable

No substantial changes, but I am pleased to say some of the padding in peak hour services has been reduced. In the morning, the 07.35 TW-CS becomes 4 minutes faster (getting it back to what it was 10 years ago), the 08.16 TW-CS is 3 minutes faster and the 08.36 TW-CX 1 minute faster. In the evening, the 17.01 from CS and the 17.15 from CX are each 1 minute better, and the 19.02 from CS is 3 minutes better.

While these improvements are welcome, they also show us that there is no need for the padding in other trains. The 18.26 from CS is 3 minutes slower that it was 10 years ago, for instance. CX services now have LB stops, but even so, the 18.45 from CX is 4 minutes slower, and the 17.15 5 slower. I will take this up with Southeastern.

ITT Follow-up

I communicated my concerns about the new franchise to the three bidders. The DfT introduced a ban on them disclosing their intentions to stakeholders such as us for some reason. However, we have indications that they are trying to interpret the ITT in a favourable way for us.

I have also exchanged a number of emails with the MP for Tunbridge Wells, Greg Clark, who has forwarded my concerns to the DfT. The Rail Minister Jo Johnson did at least respond with a reply that actually addressed each of my points in some detail, even if only to confirm my reading of the ITT. Two points in his letter are of interest:

  1. Regarding stops at Orpington for the peak TW starters/terminators, it seems the rationale is that bidders will be obliged to run longer trains, and should there be seats available as a result, then these should be made available to Orpington passengers. We will have to wait for more information once the franchise is awarded.
     

  2. Of greatest impact to our line is the loss of several of the through Cannon St - Hastings fasts. The Rail Minister defends this by pointing out that one of the TW-Charing Cross slow trains per hour is diverted to Cannon St, and that bidders are free to extend those slow services from Tunbridge Wells to Hastings. Yes, he really said that! So instead of a comfortable middle-distance train running fast from London Bridge to High Brooms and then onwards to Hastings, we get a train designed for shorter-distance commuting which calls at Orpington, Chelsfield, Sevenoaks, Hildenborough and Tonbridge before it even gets to High Brooms. Then, if we are "lucky" it will carry on to Hastings. What have we done to deserve this?

Clearly there is still work to be done if the new franchise is to give us peak service nearer what we have now. Greg will be following through, especially once the franchise award is made. Ideally we will also be engaging with MP's further along the line, where the impact will be most felt.

PH 17.3.2018

Franchise Invitation to Tender

It's finally been published. The franchise will start in April 2019, run for 8 years, and the main timetable alterations will take effect from December 2022: it is from that date that we will really see any changes.

The ITT doesn't specify a timetable that the operator should run, rather a specification of how many trains should run where in peak and off-peak. Hence, it's not immediately obvious how we will be affected, but in principle, these are the changes being imposed:

Peak: quite a bit of bad news and no obvious good news. Our fast trains from Hastings to London may stop additionally at Tonbridge. The Tunbridge Wells starters are likely to stop at Orpington. I am trying to work out whether there are any additional trains, but it looks as if these extra stops will lead to serious overcrowding on already full trains, and the stops will of course add to the journey time.

There may be as few as two fast trains from Hastings to Cannon St (currently 3 "fast" and one not so fast). One of these two has to arrive between 8.00 and 8.59 (currently 8.30), the other any time between 7.30 and 8.59 (current arrivals are 9.11 and 9.30)

As now, there will be three TW starters, but one will go to Cannon St, and they will probably have to stop at Orpington. If the trains would be full and 12 coaches long, the operator is allowed not to stop there. The DfT don't make any allowance for seasonal light loadings, such as in the school holidays.​

Out of the 12 trains passing through Tonbridge from TW or Ashford, 10 have to stop there. Hence there is scope for at best 2 out of our 3 fast trains to not stop there.

In the evening peak (16.00 - 19.59) there will be only one Cannon Street-Hastings instead of the current five. I believe 3  of these are 12 coaches long, so the demand is high, so the loss of these trains is a significant blow.

Corresponding to the morning, two of the TW terminators per hour will start from Charing Cross, with the third per hour moving over to Cannon St. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be compensation for loss of the four fast Hastings services, but they simply could not having the seating to make up for that being lost.

 

There have to be 2 Charing Cross fasts each hour in the peak. This would near-enough be achieved by diverting the current 6.34 departure from TW to CS to CX, and making the current 18.28 from CS - Ore start from CX. It is an obligation to run this many Charing Cross services, so there is not much scope to run extra Cannon St trains at this times in addition at these times.

Overall, it's a pretty dismal picture: stops will be inserted at Tonbridge for trains that are already full. They fasts are already mostly 12 coaches, so there is no scope to relief by lengthening them. The Orpington stops will also extend journey times yet further. The loss of Cannon St - Hastings trains in the evening peak is a particular blow, and conflicts with the DfT's own claims that they are not reducing choice of terminal or downgrading services to smaller stations.

Bidders are allowed to exceed these minimum obligations, but it's unlikely there will be capacity or incentive for them to do so.

 

Off-peak: slight improvement here, with the Hastings - London trains running fast from Tonbridge to London Bridge (although not good news if you want to go from Hastings to Sevenoaks or Orpington, say). Having at least one train an hour that does not call at Orpington is the sole improvement that we asked for that has actually made it into the franchise specification! Calls of the TW starters are not clear: it would be permissible for us to have no through trains to Orpington or Hildenborough at all. I will be suggesting to bidders that both TW starters call at Orpington and one at Hildenborough.

On Sundays, as well as the 2 Hastings - Charing Cross trains per hour, there will be 2 TW starters, which is quite an improvement.

Miscellaneous: bids will be scored higher if they offer any of the following:

  • a service on Boxing Day

  • faster Hastings - London peak times (i.e. offer to take some of the padding back out)

  • power sockets (provision of WiFi of some sort is obligatory)

  • better value for money for part-time commuters

  • and finally: hydrogen fuel cell technology.

I have shared my concerns with all three bidders, who confirm the timetable deteriorations being imposed by the DfT. All three are sympathetic to the problems this will cause, and will do what they can for us in light of my comments. However, they absolutely must submit bids that comply with what the DfT is demanding, so don't have much scope to help us. Once the franchise is awarded, there will be a consultation of the timetable proposed by the winning bidder, so with luck we can reverse some of the damage the DfT is doing.

Overall, we shall count ourselves lucky if the service under the new franchise is no worse than it is now.

 

 

PH

 

Meeting with Stagecoach

Stagecoach are one of the bidders for the Southeastern franchise. They invited us to meet them, giving us the chance to run through our priorities as we see them. They had done their homework, having studied our views on this website closely. We also touched on how we might interact with them should they be awarded the franchise. They are a totally credible bidder having run South West Trains for over 20 years until recently, so are fully qualified in terms of experience of a comparable network. We can expect them to put in an attractive bid to the DfT.

Kent County Council Rail Summit - 15th May 2017

Summary

This annual event is hosted by Kent County Council and takes place every spring in Maidstone. The guest speakers are from South Eastern Trains naturally enough and other parties such as Network Rail, Eurostar and the KCC. The principle attendees are usually from local authorities, parish councils, rail user groups and others. This year I was pleased to note that Paul Carter, the head of KCC, slipped in the audience. Perhaps an indication of how keen KCC are to have an input into rail matters across the county.

This year was different because the general election being called – in public life there something called the ‘purdah period’ when public bodies and their officers’ are not allowed to speak or present and therefore both Network Rail and the Department for Transport withdrew their speakers.

However, the Kent Rail Community Partnership gave a presentation instead and KCC filled the gap with a more detailed summary of their submission to the government on the aspirations for the next south eastern franchise which will start in December 2018 (Invitation to Tender to be issued in September).

 

Key points from South Eastern Railway

  • All stations on the network have been deep cleaned

  • More frontline staff employed

  • Introduction of smart card ticketing

  • Trial of ‘ travel ambassadors’ at Charing Cross and Cannon Street – uniformed staff to provide a broader range of information to enhance the passenger experience

  • Achieved Gold Standard status in the Investors in People scheme

  • New staff uniforms

  • More ticket machines

  • Refurbishment of the class 375 mainline rolling stock

 

Performance:

Challenging start to 2017 with a number of infrastructure issues especially the Lewisham freight train derailment but pleased with Network Rail’s response to complete the repairs in just a few days.

Performance fell to 86 percent but is now back at 94 percent in terms of punctuality.

Mystery shoppers survey results displayed and local managers use in team briefings.

Developed strategy improve punctuality and reliability and better working with Network Rail.

 

 

 

KCC aspirations for the new franchise:

Overall - to meet the housing and employment growth in Kent looking forward to 2031.

  • Drive ever improving punctuality and reliability of train services

  • Develop capacity where possible

  • Improve service recovery when things go wrong

  • Improve frequency of services

  • Challenge the regulated fare increase formula

  • Deliver excellent passenger experience in all areas

  • Develop high speed services in the county

  • Rolling stock cascade to support longer trains

  • Metro /middle distances services – existing Networker stock will need replacement

  • 8-10 year franchise will allow for improvement in long term planning

 

Kent Community Rail Partnership – summary

KCRP covers two lines in the county -Medway Valley (Tonbridge to Strood and the Swale line on the Isle of Sheppey).

Two staff plus a team of volunteers promote rail travel and are tasked by the Department for Transport to develop plans for the following four areas –

  • Deliver growth is rail usage

  • Investigate cost savings

  • Develop community involvement in local stations / projects

  • Identify social and economic development

Some examples –

  • Artwork project in redundant station buildings / subways

  • Talks at local schools

  • Highlighting rail safety at community events

  • Pop up hubs on principle stations promoting leisure activities by rail

Tunbridge Wells Public Transport Forum - April 2017

The forum meets three times each year at the town hall in Tunbridge Wells. The principal attendees are local councillors, representatives of the parishes, Network Rail, Southeastern, Arriva and the other main bus companies, local groups, including our rail user association, and disability access. Usually KCC sends someone as well.

The rail related highlights are as follows –

Network Rail –

  • NR Kent Route Study is open for public consultation

  • Increasing capacity on Kent mainline routes is the key challenge

  • Capacity issues – all trains, aspiration to be 12 cars in the peaks / introducing a berthing siding near Cannon Street to free up platform space

  • Additional HS1 trains to include Hastings

  • Extend SET Metro services to 12 car where possible

  • Access to new / additional rolling stock is the principal restraint (for example, release of Thameslink stock as their services are converted to the new class 700 trains)

  • Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, has applied pressure regarding the rolling stock

 

South Eastern

  • Train performance – shaky start to 2017 due to various infrastructure issues but punctuality / reliability now back at 91 percent, need to maintain / improve

  • Dec 2017 / Jan 2018 – major timetable changes  as Cannon Street trains will stop at London Bridge again

  • Significant works over Easter weekend with Charing Cross, Waterloo East, Cannon Street all closed and services diverted (except Hastings train which will run to London Bridge via the Redhill line)

  • The current franchise ends in December 2018 – consultative document now available for the new franchise

  • New mural is now in place at TW station

South Eastern Rail Franchise

Public Consultation - Analysis

Key Issues

The Association is preparing a detailed response to the consultation, but two issues stand out at this stage:

  1. We are paying much more for our services than other towns a similar distance from London - up to 43% in one case. The Association is calling for season ticket prices to be pegged at the current level throughout the next franchise.

  2. Withdrawal of our Cannon Street services must be opposed.
     

Background

The Department for Transport recently published its consultation on the awarding of the next franchise for operation of our trains. The franchise renewal comes at a time when:

  • interest by operators in bidding has fallen to a low level. Three bidders is the current norm, having fallen from around four over the years. The South Western franchise last year received only two. Clearly there is little room for the DfT to be tough or clever, as bidders will just walk away.

  • our fares have risen to be not just much higher than in the past, but much higher than towns a similar distance from London. We pay 43% more than Wendover does, for example, for the same distance.

 

At the same time, Network Rail has published its consultation on possible infrastructure improvements. This is a detailed document full of ideas. We will be responding soon to this, as this is where the opportunities for improvements to capacity and reliability are, should the Government choose to fund them.

Consultation Questions

We now look at the franchising questions. Not all are listed here, particularly those related only to suburban services. You can see the DfT document at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/future-of-south-eastern-rail-services. The numbers here are those of the DfT questions.

1. Do our priorities correctly reflect your views?

There is no mention by the DfT of fares in their priorities. Redressing the disproportionately high level fares the Tunbridge Wells line pays is a high priority. Taking a few examples of towns the same distance from London, we pay 43% more than Wendover, 23% more than Farncombe and 20% more than Aldershot. We want our fares to be pegged at the current level throughout the new franchise until our fares are in line with the rest of south eastern England.

2. Do you agree that more space is needed for passengers at the busiest times of the day?

We need more seats, not just space.

3. What comments, if any, do you have on options for providing more space through:
a) Longer trains; and
b) Metro style carriages with larger entrances and more standing room and handholds?

  • Most trains at times of highest demand are already at their maximum length of 12 coaches. Those that start from Tunbridge Wells are only 10, so increasing them would be useful, especially to our passengers returning in the evening and joining at London Bridge. What is now the 8.16 from Tunbridge Wells to Cannon Street was reduced from 11 to 8 coaches not long ago. This should be restored.

  • There can be no question of Metro style trains on Mainline: passengers should have a seat for their entire journey

 

It is disappointing that the consultation does not explicitly seek views of 2+3 seating. This format has always divided opinion, understandably, between those who usually get a seat in the more comfortable 2+2 trains, and those who have to stand for 50 or more minutes. The Association made the DfT aware of this issue, yet the chance to gauge opinion has been lost.

 

4. Would you support removing First Class seating on the busiest routes to provide more space?

 

Seats in first class are the same as in standard, at least in most of our trains, so removing them would not "provide more space". The DfT has been contacted for an explanation of this assertion.

If there is to be first class, then it must be reliably declassified when the train is short-formed or covering for a cancellation. The current practice has been too random. Also, the number of seats available should better reflect demand: the current operator has been too slow in adjusting this balance, which given that they are the same seats is easy to do.

It should be noted that if we were paying fares more in line with other parts of the south east, first class would be more affordable and hence provide a valuable benefit to those who need to use their time productively. We would also need to know whether standard class fares would be increased to make up for the lost first class revenue, or whether trains would be shortened.

 

7. What changes to the fares structure would be of benefit to you?

It is important that any new fares structure is not funded by increasing existing season ticket fares.

 

11. How far do you support, or oppose, the extension of High Speed services from London St. Pancras to Hastings, Bexhill, and Rye, where this would represent value for money to the taxpayer?

We support this, as it would free up seats for use by our members, with the proviso that it is not funded by keeping our fares disproportionately high.

 

12. How far do you support, or oppose, reducing journey times to key destinations in Kent and East Sussex, by reducing stops at less well used intermediate stations to create hourly fast services?

 

13. If you support this proposal, which services do you think would most benefit from this approach?

All trains in the off-peak currently stop at Orpington. There is no need for 4 trains per hour to serve this flow. The proposal for one train from Hastings to London to skip Orpington is supported. South of Tunbridge Wells this is already the practice.

The stopping patterns of peak hour services must be retained.

14. Which journeys do you make today which are difficult? a) By rail? b) By road, which would be easier by rail?

Journeys to Gatwick Airport require two changes of train (Tonbridge and Redhill), as do most journeys to Maidstone. Even one change would be a substantial improvement. Reinstatement of Boxing Day services would be welcome.

 

15. Which additional services would you wish to see provided in the next franchise?

Those in question, 14, but new services are a low priority. We would prefer the demand for new services to be analysed through a methodical study, rather than random responses to the consultation.

 

17. How far do you support, or oppose, options to reduce the choice of central London destinations served from individual stations with the aim of providing a more regular, evenly spaced timetable, and a more reliable service?

We are totally opposed to this. This has been the consistent explicitly-expressed position of our members over many years and remains the case now.

 

18. How far do you support, or oppose, plans for the train operator and Network Rail to form a close alliance with the aim of reducing delays and improving performance?

Strongly support. The Association was unanimously opposed to the split in the first place back in the 90's, pointing out the problems that the DfT seeks to remedy now.

 

19. What are your views on how this alliance should be incentivised and held to account for its performance?

Incentives increase the risk to bidders, leading to request for higher subsidy or not bidding at all. Passengers just want the railway to work.

We are sceptical that sufficient private sector interest would exist within an existing timescale, unless they were paid a lot more.

 

20. How would you prefer the next South Eastern operator to engage with you:

a) As an individual? b) As an organisation (if appropriate)?

The current operator has been totally approachable by us, in response to emails, face to face meetings and stakeholder presentations. This should be continued, but any attempt by a bidder to exceed this is unlikely to be a good use of resources.

Meeting with Department for Transport - March 2017

On behalf of the Committee, I met with David Kimball, the DfT's Specification Manager for the southeastern franchise competition. The franchise of our current train operating company, Southeastern, expires next year. The DfT are likely to extend it from June 2018 to December 2018 to allow time for the next operator to be identified. The official consultation will start soon and run to the end of May. The purpose of our meeting was to identify the sort of things that were in scope for selecting the new operator, and for sharing some ideas about what we would like to see done. It was only an initial before the formal consultation starts.

I began by outlining the sense that our line has missed out on improvements elsewhere in Kent: Ashford, Medway and north and east Kent have benefitted from the high speed line to St Pancras. Even Tonbridge and Sevenoaks derive a secondary benefit from this with seats on trains from Ashford being freed up. Then there is the pain we are going through at London Bridge which does pretty much nothing for our line other than adding an extra platform for Charing Cross services. In fact, the capacity of Cannon St is actually reduced by the scheme. On the other hand, our fares are some of the highest in the country for the distance. Overall, Tunbridge Wells is getting a worse deal than comparable areas.

Turning to what issues are in scope, I asked about infrastructure, and its impact on reliability. My own observation suggests something like 80% of delays are caused by signal failures and the like. It seems there is little or no connection between funding made for infrastructure investment and the new franchise. The Government would like to see closer working between Network Rail and the train operators it serves, but that's about all at this stage. Likewise fares, at least those of season tickets, are not part of the competition: these are set by the Government's fares policy.

Turning to the trains themselves, this is the time to be asking for more seats. Ensuring that everyone has one has to be one of our priorities. Just how this might be achieved on a saturated network is not obvious. This brought us to the timetable. This will have to change on completion of the London Bridge work. The best train from High Brooms to Cannon St used to take 40 minutes. Now it is over 50. We need to make sure this doesn't get any worse, and ideally improves a little.

 

Final lesser points included train wifi and refunds. The former has to be included by all bidders. The latter is again more a matter for the bidders to comply with. The lateness threshold is coming down to 15 minutes. I suggested that using the "key" smart tickets might give scope for providing automatic refunds.

 

Overall I got the impression we can't expect too much from the new franchise; if we get back to where we were in 2014 before the London Bridge work started, maybe we should be grateful. There surely is scope for improving reliability through infrastructure renewals, but that's a matter for the Government to allocate funds to Network Rail rather than a franchise issue. As to the Government pegging or decreasing our fares, we can dream about it, but when it comes to making representations, I will spend my time pushing on other, open doors.

PH

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