Michael has demanded the Transport Secretary’s assurance that the new Thameslink fast service will be delivered in full, following fresh fears that the future express service would be delayed “indefinitely”.
The new link – to run from Maidstone East through Swanley and Otford to the City – was set to begin at the end of this year. But the start date was postponed until at least December 2019.
Worse still, the Sevenoaks MP discovered that the tendering documents for the new South East franchise operator asked for a cost analysis of the “indefinite” delay of the service.
He warned that this spelled bad news for families and businesses in his constituency and requested an immediate meeting with the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, which was granted.
Following the meeting, Michael said: “The Transport Secretary has committed to investigating why this paragraph was included in the Invitation to Tender. He has also undertaken to provide further reassurance that the fast service will commence in December 2019 and will not be further postponed.”
Michael will meet Transport Secretary Chris Grayling next Tuesday after expressing fresh doubts over the deliverability of the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East yesterday morning.
During an interview on BBC Radio Kent, the Sevenoaks MP revealed he was “horrified” to learn that the Invitation to Tender document for the new South Eastern rail franchise outlines a hypothetical plan to delay the service “indefinitely”.
He said: “I’m now seriously beginning to wonder if this service will ever be delivered”.
The fast service was due to start in December 2018, but has been delayed until 2019 to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, according to the government.
Michael: “This is bad news for people in Maidstone East, but this also affects Otford and Swanley, because families, businesses, everyone has been looking forward to these regular express services to London for a long time.
My constituents in Sevenoaks have fast services to London through Southeastern. The Thameslink trains from Maidstone East would balance the level of service in my constituency: that’s what we were promised, and that’s what we’re going to insist on.”
The Sevenoaks MP went on to say that while rail timetabling is “complicated”, local stakeholders “should at least insist that we have an hourly service, which would help reduce some of the peak capacity issues”.
Michael has lead the campaign to deliver the new Thameslink fast service in Kent. He recently said the Transport Secretary’s decision to postpone the service betrays Kent commuters.
Michael recently met the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, in Parliament.
The pair reviewed Mr Scott’s recent funding proposals for Kent Police and issues affecting Michael’s constituency casework. The local MP was also happy to hear about the good progress of the new Police Constables in Sevenoaks, whom he had inspected during their Passing Out Parade last year.
Michael pressed Mr Scott to roll out a more effective speed prevention system in villages such as Otford and Brasted. He welcomed the introduction of TruCam – a smart speedwatch system that administers on-the-spot fines to repeat offenders – but called for more immediate action.
Michael said: “Kent Police is getting the funding to increase the number of officers patrolling our streets. But speeding remains a menace. So it’s important that some of this money is put towards rolling out more effective tools for stopping speeders.”
Michael has today (12) organised a letter to the new Rail Minister signalling concerns about the postponed new Thameslink fast service, which has been signed by four other Kent MPs also affected by the delays.
Following his representations to Govia Thameslink Railway about his alternative phased proposals earlier in the week, the Sevenoaks MP took the opportunity to put the issue on the new Rail Minister’s radar. It is the first time the local MP has took charge of a county-wide campaign since returning to the backbenches in November last year.
The letter reads: “Many families and businesses have made long-term plans on the basis of this service starting in 2018. Our constituents are therefore concerned that the services could be postponed further still, beyond 2019.
We are extremely disappointed at this situation, which has been taken without consultation, and would appreciate your time to discuss alternative phased proposals as soon as possible.
It is vital that the new plans avoid punishing businesses and commuters in our constituencies who have anticipated and planned for the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”
Michael has expressed his “severe disappointment” at the “betrayal of Kent commuters” in a letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling today.
The letter was sent in response to a letter Michael received from the Transport Secretary, explaining why the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London had been postponed until at least December 2019.
Having earlier contacted Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and the Rail Minister about the matter, Michael had wanted a comprehensive explanation from the Transport Secretary. Instead, the reply failed to address two of his key concerns: why a consultation had not been launched and why a similar fast service will be delivered on-time in Sussex.
“Govia’s decision is a betrayal of Kent commuters and my constituents”, the MP said.
“This news means that there will have been a delay of over a year and a half from the originally-planned completion date.”
The Sevenoaks MP has called for an urgent meeting with the Transport Secretary and GTR to consider “an alternative schedule that avoids punishing Kent’s commuters.”
Michael has pressed the government for answers following news that the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London due to start from December 2018 has now been postponed until at least December 2019.
The local MP submitted a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Rail Minister about the matter. The Rail Minister answered the questions last week, writing:
“Learning lessons from previous major changes and to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, the Secretary of State for Transport asked Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to propose options to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from the introduction of the Thameslink timetable and operational changes. GTR’s proposal increases the number of services through central London more gradually than had been planned, beginning in May 2018 and ending in December 2019.
The changes have been selected as the best option to benefit the most passengers across the wider south east network. The new Thameslink services from Maidstone East will now be delivered in December 2019.”
Michael has also written to the Transport Secretary for an explanation, demanding he provide reasons for not having consulted on proposals before having taken the decision.
Before writing to the Transport Secretary, Michael was informed by GTR that the decision had been taken by the Department for Transport.
Michael said: “This is not good enough. We need confirmation that operators will still achieve full capacity on this route, as planned, in 2018. I await the Transport Secretary’s explanation for not having consulted with stakeholders before taking this decision.”
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.’
Michael joined members of the West Kent branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Otford today to provide support and advice to their members. Among the shops he visited in the High Street were Mille Fleurs (bespoke hats) and the Bill Skinner Studio (bespoke jewellery).
Jane Cave has been a milliner since 1982 and set up the shop Mille Fleurs in 1997. The shop also hosts a workshop, where bespoke hats are made on-site using traditional millinery techniques.
The Bill Skinner Studio creates collections using traditional techniques as well as state-of-the-art technology such as 3D printing. The company employs 14 people at three different locations and exports internationally following extensive restructuring three years ago.
Michael said: “The small business rate-relief has helped many businesses. However, I am also keen to support the cutting of red tape in any way possible. Small businesses in small villages don’t get the same footfall as in the larger towns. There is strong competition from the internet so anything that we can all do to help to promote local small businesses must be worthwhile.”