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.

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.

Warning About Christmas Station Closures

Inspecting the work in progress at London Bridge Station
Michael inspecting the work at London Bridge Station earlier this year.

Michael has warned commuters in the Sevenoaks constituency to be prepared for significant rail disruption over the Christmas period.

In addition to the regular reduced service level between Christmas and New Year, no trains will be stopping at Charing Cross, Waterloo East, Cannon Street or London Bridge from 8pm on Christmas Eve until 4am on Monday 4th January.  Service frequency will begin to reduce from the afternoon of 24th December.  All trains will be redirected to Victoria, Blackfriars or New Cross and tickets will be accepted on Transport for London services.

Kent’s Members of Parliament met Southeastern’s Managing Director, David Statham, and his team earlier this week to hear more about the plans, which are part of the Thameslink improvement programme at London Bridge.

Michael said: “Whilst I understand this major disruption to services is necessary for the ongoing redevelopment of London Bridge station, I will be monitoring the work to ensure that the reopening of the stations is not delayed.  Passengers must not experience any more disruption than is absolutely necessary.”

London Bridge Station

Inspecting the work in progress at London Bridge Station
Inspecting the work in progress at London Bridge Station

On Thursday 16th July Michael Fallon MP visited London Bridge Station for an update on the current redevelopment and a tour of the site.

The station is being rebuilt as part of the Government-sponsored Thameslink Programme.  The Programme is expected to be completed by late 2018 and will provide service users with more space, improved connections to more destinations and importantly, reliable services for commuters.

Michael said:  “The scale of the work taking place at London Bridge is impressive and I am reassured of the benefits commuters will experience once the redevelopment has been completed.

Our railways are carrying more passengers than ever before and investment is vital to ensure services operate at their greatest potential for years to come; however I have reminded Network Rail of the need to keep disruption to existing service users at a minimum and I still want to see a discount for season ticket holders who face such a long period of disruption.”

Network Rail Act on MP’s Advice

network rail

Network Rail have written to Michael Fallon MP following his visit to London Bridge Station to confirm that they will be acting on several changes which he has been calling for.  Michael said:

“Following my deep concerns about capacity on platforms 1 and 2, Network Rail have assured me that they will be demolishing two of the buildings on the platforms to make extra room for passengers.  Additionally, they have extended the canopy on platform 1 to encourage passengers to use the full length of the platform.

London Bridge Station
London Bridge Station

“Changes to passenger information have also been put in place with additional information screens installed.

“I welcome Network Rail acting after my visit and I will be continuing to monitor the situation at London Bridge very closely.”

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9th January 2015

Michael met managers from Network Rail today to discuss commuters concerns regarding the London Bridge Station closure and the proposed new Otford railway crossing.

Michael Fallon MP said:  Network Rail have apologised for the recent overcrowding at London Bridge station and the ensuing disruption.  The train drivers should have been better informed and trained to cope with the new lay-out.  I have insisted that they also improve the clarity and authority of passenger announcements, and move people more rapidly to less crowded areas.

“We face nearly two years of disrupted travel. Although the revised timetable has been trialled,  I will be monitoring how it works in the coming weeks, and if there is further disruption I will be calling Network Rail back to answer questions.

I welcome Network Rail’s commitment to work with Otford Parish Council, local District Councillors and residents to secure the best option for a new and safer railway crossing.  I have made it clear that residents’ views must be heard and taken into account before a final decision is made.  I urge all local residents to attend the Public Information Event at Otford Village Hall this Wednesday 14th January (5-9pm).”

Speaking Up For Sevenoaks Rail Commuters

Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon is due to meet the new Chief Executive of Southeastern Rail, David Statham, and Network Rail managers in the next week to discuss the closure of London Bridge Station, rail fares and the general standard of service offered to commuters.

Michael said:  Sevenoaks commuters deserve a better standard of service. I will be calling on Network Rail and Southeastern to work more closely together to ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum. I will also continue press for commuters to be allowed to use alternative stations to complete their journey at no additional cost for the duration of the disruption.

Rail fares increases have been at the maximum allowed each year. Commuters are already paying very large amounts – it’s time they had a break.”