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Grumpy ex-Chairman's Blog

14.3.2017 Why are our fares so high for the region?

It is claimed in the the March News Bulletin that our fares are exceptionally, even unreasonably high. Is this so?. Let's have a look at what a selection of stations the same distance from London pay for a standard class annual season:











Ah! It's true! We are paying 42% more than Wendover, for instance. If anybody thinks this extra amount is justified, please mail us.



April 1st

To London in the morning but off-peak. A comparative pleasure and reasonably priced too (if you can arrange to travel off-peak and/or be flexible when you make your journey, there are very competitive fares to be had - particularly if you are going on from London). Come back on the 8.15 from Charing Cross after a long day.


April 2nd

To Tunbridge Wells for a meeting and then into London. Get 10.45 back after a concert. Decided to leave slightly before the end to ensure getting a taxi and making the train but end up with time to spare at Charing Cross!


April 4th

Partner travels to London late afternoon to go out with friends. She gets the last train back which gets back into Etchingham at 1.00 a.m. Both services work fine. I'd like a train to Hastings that leaves after midnight - maybe 12.15. That could mean that if you are at a concert at say Hammersmith or Wembley, you won't be anxious about the number of encores!


April 10th

Get to Etchingham but 11.18 am cancelled (missing train crew - grrr!). South Eastern arrange to make the fast service stop at Etchingham so the delay is half an hour rather than a full 60 minutes. However, as I am on my way to The Midlands it still means I miss my connection at London St Pancras. It then turns out that the train that wasn't due to stop at Etchingham but is now going to stop has also been delayed by nearly 25 minutes. Ticket office guy at Etchingham (to his credit) goes onto the platform and hands out delay repay forms to a couple of dozen disgruntled passengers. Don't get me started on the information system which is less than useless. 3 automated announcements about delays to the same train are made in a 5 minute period - all with different minutes given for the extent of the delay. It reinforces totally the wrong image about what is supposed to be a professional, customer-focused organisation. East Midlands staff understand my plight at St Pancras and I get the train an hour after my scheduled one.


April 11th

Re. my entry for April 1st, I have decided to take advantage of these competitive fares by staying late in the Midlands and taking a slower

train back into St Pancras. Saves around £30 but the disadvantage is that I won't get back into Etchingham until midnight. London Bridge at 10.50 pm is a slightly scary place but Hastings train arrives on time.


April 16th

After a couple of days off it's back on the commute to London. 10.18 arrives on time. There has been some interesting reaction to a fare dodger who travelled from Stonegate to London and avoided fares over 5 years. Whilst the figures have been inflated (£43000!) by considering single fares rather than an annual season ticket, there is no doubt it is disturbing how he got away with it for so long. We can argue about the cost of fares but my take is that fare dodging (like insurance fraud) is not a victimless crime. We all pay in the end. Calling him a "Robin Hood" figure is just mis-guided and as a hedge fund manager earning much more than £100k (according to statistics) he would make an unlikely hero for the poor and down-trodden.

After a meeting in London it's off to Winchester via South West Trains. This and the return journey works well. Arrive in Waterloo with 5 minutes to get across to Waterloo East. I just make it without knocking anybody out of the way.


April 17th

Up to London in the middle of the day. Late afternoon meeting and a gin and tonic on the train home. Trains on time and (with Easter imminent) less busy - sometimes commuting is ok!


April 22nd

After the Easter break, partner heads to the West Country for work. It's a long haul but it works well and she arrives on time


April 24th

A trip to Tunbridge Wells to see Greg Clark MP on behalf of the association. I get an earlier train (to be sure to be on time!) and go to Wadhurst as there are two trains an hour back from Tunbridge Wells off-peak. I must ask South Eastern about the criteria for the semi- fast off peak services. Although it might add a couple of minutes, surely a stop at Etchingham and Robertsbridge would allow travellers in that area (ok including me!) the option of two trains an hour up and back during the day.


April 25th

A very early train into London which is on time with a couple of seats spare in my carriage (presumably because of Easter holiday). Coming back after an all-morning meeting, I am advised by the National Rail Enquiries app to get thefast train (13.45) and change at Battle and then go back to Etchingham. This will save me nearly 15 minutes compared to waiting for the next one at 14.15. 4 minutes to get over the bridge at Battle sounds fine in principle. However due to speed restrictions over repaired land-slip areas I arrive just as the train going back arrives. A sprint (well a fast jog) over the bridge means I make it with seconds to spare before the doors close. Anyone less able or carrying luggage would have missed it. My point is about the sophistication of communication - if everybody knows that speed restrictions apply and that the train is constantly 3-4 minutes late at Battle, maybe a warning or not advising taking that train to get back to Robertsbridge or Etchingham.


April 30th

Travelling late afternoon into Surrey (on a tube strike day). Fortunately I only have to go over the bridge from Waterloo East to the main station. Not surprisingly I am faced with a sea of humanity as I get off the train at Waterloo East and particularly at Waterloo main line. Other than the train out of Waterloo being very busy and too many people talking loudly about office politics on their mobiles, the journey passes without drama.






The secret commuter - diary from the (mainly South Eastern) front-line


Sunday 2nd March

9.13 East Midlands trains from Loughborough back into London. I paid extra to travel first class today with a reserved seat. Turns out there is no coach J seat 22A. First class is full and I end up sitting on one of the tip-up seats by the door. I am not happy! However an announcement at Leicester tells me that there are two trains joined together though without a walk- through so there is a coach J. Come down from my high-horse and decide to stay where I am......After a day in London I catch the 18.33 from London Bridge which is now running through to Robertsbridge. South Eastern have committed an own goal by advertising on Friday that they would run trains right through to Hastings but then having to back track.


3rd March

Partner into London today, I'm working from home. She has kept a rant-filled diary of her commuting experiences over the last few months apparently full of swear words and wishing eternal damnation on South Eastern. This will be added to today as advertised trains from Robertsbridge are cancelled and I have to take her to Staplehurst (a 20+ mile round trip) to catch a train that will get her into London late. She has to stand as far as Tonbridge on the return from London and - as well as not feeling well - this ensures there will be another curse-filled page added to her commuter diary.


6th March

Trains from Etchingham - go into the Bistro on the station for a coffee and get reacquainted with their fruit-cake. Train on time, very slow over the repaired Stonegate land slip area but that's understandable. Ends up 8 minutes late at London Bridge. Overnight in London.


7th March

Back after meetings in London. No alarms or dramas.


10th March

Working at home again but partner in London. Her thoughts of eternal damnation for South Eastern surface again as passengers are turfed off the train at Tonbridge as she returns to Etchingham. "Displaced member of train crew" - a euphemism for no guard or driver because of earlier problems/delays. Guards and drivers have to have breaks but are passengers really so much at the mercy of rotas/schedules that they are delayed by half an hour? My "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" persona returns - it is not good enough and is not the least bit customer focused.


12th March

Early train into London. It arrives slightly late into Etchingham and is delayed and eventually diverted ( via Bat &Ball and St Mary Cray) because of signalling problems somewhere north of Sevenoaks. Arrive 22 minutes late into Charing Cross. Slightly late on the return journey but I'd had a couple of beers so it felt less of an issue!


13th March

Another early start but journey hassle-free. Morning meeting over I travel back on a largely empty and on-time lunchtime service. Although it costs them more than running a single four-car unit, I would encourage South Eastern to stick with 8 coaches for off-peak services. It means a more pleasant journey and - if there are delays or cancellations - ensures that there is some capacity in the timetable. No news yet of when trains will run through all the way to Hastings following the Whatlington land-slip.


19th March

After a few trouble-free days getting home proves protracted because of a person hit by a train at Dunton Green. My natural sympathies for a tragic incident are affected by my thinking "I wonder if South Eastern could have communicated or handled this better". Three hours to get home does nothing for my mood despite understanding the reason.


20th March

Very early train (6.31 from Etchingham) which (in coach 3 where I was) had people standing from High Brooms. After a tiring and trying day I get the 5.59 from Charing Cross. 8 coaches, I get a seat but it is a bun-fight at Waterloo East and there are around 10 people in my carriage standing all the way to High Brooms. Resigned commuters listen to music, do sudokus or read. I (fortunately) no longer have to commute every day in peak time but if I did my stress levels would rise significantly.


21st March

Travel to London but off-peak. Nothing to report until the way home. I am on the Robertsbridge train and the train is pretty full. I have happened on a train that is full of school kids so there is a cacophony of noise. Was I really so noisy when I was that age or am I just getting old? This has not got much to do with commuting or South Eastern trains but I thought you should know......!


23rd March

A Sunday and I drive to East Croydon for a First Capital Connect train to Bedford to see friends. It goes round the houses to avoid London Bridge where major work continues. 1 hour 45 minutes+ but it's not too much of an issue as the Sunday papers are digested and sleep is caught up.


27th March

After 2 out of 3 hassle-free days (didn't travel on one day), I am up early for the 7.08 from Etchingham to Cannon Street. Etchingham very busy and (in carriage 3) people standing after Tunbridge Wells. I know this is a temporary timetable but it is very slow - 1 hour 22 minutes to Cannon Street takes me back to my first commuting experience on the line in 1979 with the diesels. No wonder Hastings commuters are looking for High speed via Ashford! Coming back, I am early at London Bridge so I decide to take Tunbridge Wells train and change at Tonbridge for the Robertsbridge (yes still Robertsbridge - no through trains to Hastings yet) connection. I always avoid spending too long on London Bridge station - it is ridiculously busy (and this before some of the major work has taken place) and there is something deeply psychologically positive in making it to Tonbridge. At least from there I have options about getting home. If there is a problem further up the line I am stymied........


28th March

A late afternoon train arrives at Etchingham on time and very empty to London Charing Cross for onward journey to Milton Keynes. Staying overnight as I'm working there on Saturday. Stop off for drink and a bite and catch train to MK at around 20.45. No dramas - the Virgin train was late but a London Midland one departed 3 minutes later.


29th March

Back from Milton Keynes - no issues.


31st March

The line to Hastings has reopened - coincidentally as I make my way to represent the association at Amber Rudd's (MP for Hastings & Rye) Rail Summit in Hastings! There is some good news (though don't hold your breath) in an announcement of a Hastings line specific investment programme, more resilience for the line and that there will be a customer information system upgrade sooner than the 2017/18 originally planned. The Secretary of State for Transport gives a speech around the legacy of under investment on the railways and how there is now massive attention on improving the rail network. It looks like electrification and improvements for the Marsh link (Hastings to Ashford) will happen with HIgh Speed trains mooted in time. Dave Ward Route Managing Director for Network Rail spells out more detail with much reduced journey times for Hastings and Bexhill commuters and consequent reduction in congestion on the Hastings to Tunbridge Wells line but it depends on consensus and a business case.



The secret commuter - diary from the (mainly South Eastern) front-line


Monday 24th Feb

I'm an Etchingham commuter so the last weeks have not been good with no trains from the station. Have to drive to Wadhurst today for the 8.24 to London. Minor chaos as rail-replacement buses, an already full car-park and inappropriate road-parking mean that I decide not to travel from Wadhurst. Tunbridge Wells it is then. £6.00 for parking and off to London. Meeting near King's Cross finishes early and I head to St Pancras International to get to London Bridge. Train 10 minutes late (not unknown on the Bedford - Brighton line!) but I am in time to pick up the 11.53 to Wadhurst. Still showing on departure boards as on time at 11.56! A Brighton train turns up and when that leaves the 12.09 Tunbridge Wells train is shown as the next departure. An unintelligible announcement follows. It turns out that the Wadhurst train had a fault. Tunbridge Wells train then turns up 2 minutes early.


Tuesday 25th Feb

To London again but via a different route. Left car in Bexhill for partner at 13.45 and walked about a mile to the station. Southern service (2 carriages - why do they do that - it's always busy and the passenger experience is poorer as a result?) to Ashford International. Train advertised as being late but turns up on time. Arrive as scheduled into Ashford and pick up the 15.43 South Eastern High Speed to St Pancras International. It's on time and it glides into the platform. I understand there is a group trying to get the line from Ashford to Hastings upgraded so that HS trains can run and thereby cut the journey time from Hastings to London down to around an hour. Good luck - major investment needed but the contrast between the 2 coach "rattler" across Romney Marsh and the HS1 to St Pancras could not be more stark. We eat up the miles as we speed through Kent. I arrive in St Pancras International at 16.20 (officially a minute early). Two hours later I'm on the move again. First Capital Connect (on time) to London Bridge and it connects with the 19.09 (running 4 minutes late) to Wadhurst. Jam-packed with 6 people standing in my half of the carriage alone. It all empties out at Hildenborough but that is half an hour standing for some people. Train waits outside Wadhurst for an empty platform and ends up 9 minutes late. For the umpteenth time in the last 3 weeks this will mean a drive to Wadhurst for my partner to pick me up rather than subjecting me to the rather tortuous rail replacement bus service.


Wednesday 26th Feb

To Gatwick for an afternoon meeting and then yet another way to get into London (well Wimbledon anyway). 17.42 Gatwick to Victoria train 7 minutes late leaving Gatwick. Connection at Clapham junction missed but it didn't matter much as another Wimbledon train came along 4 minutes later. Jammed but managed to get on and stare at somebody's armpit. Overnight in West London.


Thursday 27th Feb

Tube to Victoria and got on the 9.30 Gatwick Express. Comfortable, reasonably speedy (28 minutes this journey) but expensive. Drive back to East Sussex.


Friday 28th Feb

Now this is a real commute! Off to see brothers in Loughborough. It would have been the 8.13 from Etchingham but (as previously mentioned ad nauseam) I am again starting from Wadhurst. A cafe on the first floor of the station at Wadhurst (how civilised - I'm all for initiatives that mean the station is more than just a place you catch your train) means I can get a decent coffee. A few minutes late getting into London Bridge but I make the 10.28 Derby train at St Pancras with plenty of time to spare. Train busy but enough seats. One problem though - the heat setting in my carriage was set for an Antarctic winter rather than the cusp of spring in England. I've heard that conductors/guards turn up the heating if they've got a few inebriated football fans on board (much more likely that they'll go to sleep) but a Friday morning - really! I arrive (sweaty, needing a change of clothes and 5 pounds lighter) 7 minutes late into Loughborough.


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