COLUMN – Getting our Railways Right

It’s the summer of consultations.  The Department for Transport, Network Rail, Thameslink and Southeastern have all launched their plans for 2018.  I’ve responded to all four.  I hope to respond to many more in the future, because getting our railways right is important; especially now, before our young people start new jobs in the City, before school starts up again, and before families return to work.

In March, I made the case for passengers in Sevenoaks and Swanley to the Government consultation on the new South Eastern franchise.  It was a great opportunity to argue for more space on trains, improved compensation arrangements, an Oyster-style network, and an end to the unacceptably poor service many of us have endured for far too long.  This was accompanied by a lengthy letter I handed personally to the Transport Secretary, demonstrating to him my determination to ensure that passengers are finally put first.

I also helped draft a joint letter to the Rail Minister, which was signed by twelve other Kent MPs, calling for a major rethink of our rail strategy in the South East.  The more pressure we put on those in charge, the more likely we are to get results.

The Kent Route Study is not up to scratch.  Network Rail must consider further solutions beyond those mentioned in the draft in order to meet the projected population proliferation.  It’s crucial that our railways have the capacity to meet the increasing demand.  I responded to the consultation in June and have requested a meeting with Network Rail to discuss the proposals in more detail.

Whilst Southeastern’s 2018 timetable proposals are underwhelming, Thameslink’s new 2018 timetable proposals are more promising.  With plans to double the number of trains every hour from Swanley and introduce faster routes from Sevenoaks, it seems Thameslink are finally listening.

That’s why these consultations are important and that’s why I’ve taken considerable time to research and respond to them.  Now we need to ensure that the very best of the plans are delivered.

New Rail Timetable Underwhelming

Michael has said that he is ‘underwhelmed’ by the proposed Southeastern timetable effective May 2018.

The comment was included in Michael’s response to the Southeastern May 2018 Timetable Consultation, which sets out proposed changes to the timetable operated by Southeastern.  The consultation is one of a series of rail consultations that have been live over the summer period.

Among the proposed changes are plans to reduce the number of London destinations at peak times in order to ensure a simpler and more reliable service.  Whilst Michael supports the plan in principle, he warns that the redistribution of trains between Charing Cross, Blackfriars and Cannon Street must not come at the cost of lengthened journey times for passengers wishing to go to their original destination.

Michael said: ‘There are no major changes and the level of service will be broadly what it is today at a stage when a major rethink is required.  My constituents require faster, more regular and reliable train services.  Overall, I’m underwhelmed by Southeastern’s new proposals.’

Michael Joins Call for ‘Major Rethink’ of Rail Services

Michael has signed a joint letter addressed to the Rail Minister, calling for a ‘major rethink’ of how rail services in London and the South East are operated.

‘Passengers are dissatisfied’, the letter reads, ‘[w]ith insufficient room to stand at times and with some season tickets at more than £6,000, they feel they are not getting value for money. […] It comes as very little surprise that very few customers have confidence in the operator being able to deliver the improvements that are needed.’

Sevenoaks and Swanley feature prominently in the letter, which is signed by 12 Kent MPs.  In particular, the MPs support Michael’s campaigns for the rollout of smarter Oyster-style ticketing systems at all stations in the constituency and for Delay Repay 15 to be introduced before 2018.

The joint letter follows the personal recommendations Michael made to the Secretary of State for Transport back in March, in which he called for the new South Eastern franchise to ‘put passengers first’.

Michael said: ‘Signing a joint letter demonstrates the huge number of people affected by poor rail services.  Two Cabinet Ministers have signed this letter, including myself.  Getting a better deal for rail passengers is a top priority for me locally, and I will ensure it remains a top priority for this Government.’

Read the letter here.

New Thameslink Rail Times ‘Positive’

Michael has responded positively to the second phase of the Thameslink timetable consultation.

The proposed timetable, effective December 2018, will double the number of Thameslink trains from two per hour to four per hour in the constituency. This will affect mainline routes from Swanley and Otford and metro routes from Swanley, Eynsford, Shoreham, Otford, Bat & Ball and Sevenoaks to London.

During off-peak periods, however, existing Thameslink services will operate between Sevenoaks and London Blackfriars only. Whilst reducing the number of London destinations may make trains more reliable, Michael wrote, the only way to ensure that passengers are not then inconvenienced is to install Oyster-style ticketing for whole journeys at all stations in Sevenoaks.

Journeys from Swanley to London Bridge, London Blackfriars, City Thameslink, Farringdon, St Pancras International and beyond to Cambridge will be faster. A direct train service between Sevenoaks and Welwyn Garden City will also form part of the expansion of the Thameslink network.

Michael said: ‘Plans to double the number of trains per hour show that the train operators are listening. That’s why engaging in consultations is important. Now we need to make sure that these plans are delivered.’

The consultation closes on 27 July. To respond, visit transformingrail.com.

Kent Route Study Needs More Solutions

Michael has written to Network Rail calling for more solutions to combat capacity strains on South Eastern railways.

In response to the South East Route: Kent Area Route Study draft consultation document, Michael said that Network Rail must consider further solutions ‘beyond those mentioned in the consultation draft’ to meet population growth forecasts.

‘It is crucial that the South Eastern rail network has the capacity to accommodate the increasing demand on its services’, writes Michael, who suggests this could be achieved by extending train carriages, increasing carriage size, and striking a better balance of seating and standing room for passengers on-board.

Further, improving connectivity on the South Eastern railway is important to Michael. ‘Rail services need to be reliable’, Michael says, ‘but during periods of unexpected disruption, crucially, passengers also need to be better informed.’

Michael welcomed the opportunity to discuss these matters in more detail with Network Rail during the next stage of the Kent Route Study draft.