Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East “remains on track” in a letter to Michael today.
The fresh assurances follow the pair’s meeting last week, in which Michael demanded the Transport Secretary’s commitment to delivering the new Thameslink fast service in full after fresh fears that the future express service would be delayed “indefinitely”.
Click here to read Grayling’s letter to Sir Michael
Reacting to the letter, Michael said: “Last week, the Transport Secretary tried to reassure me that the new service will be delivered. Now, its deliverability merely remains ‘on track’. Kent commuters, businesses and families need more certainty.”
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 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 recently pressed railway executives for more improvements to local services sooner rather than later.
In a meeting held in Parliament, the Sevenoaks MP sought answers from the Managing Director of Southeastern, David Statham, and Route Managing Director (South East) at Network Rail, John Halsall, about a range of issues.
Having been underwhelmed by the May 2018 Southeastern Timetable, Sir Michael was pleased to hear that there are now 14 extra services and 37 extra quicker trains at peak times through his constituency. Further, every train will now be at maximum capacity.
Mr Statham and Mr Halsall reported on the progress of planned regeneration at Bat & Ball station and Swanley Station, the rollout of on-board Wi-Fi and new fleet upgrades including carriage air-conditioning. Sir Michael also raised specific concerns about smart ticketing and was reassured that the range of tickets available on The Key will increase.
The executives committed to remaining in close contact with the local MP and thanked him for his help in pressing the Government to help tackle these issues.
Michael said: ‘My constituents want to see improvements now, not later. That’s why getting Southeastern and Network Rail in a room together was important. I will keep in close contact with Southeastern and Network Rail to ensure commuters in my constituency get the best deal.’
Michael has welcomed the Transport Secretary’s announcement today that longer trains will now call at local stations on services to London.
A third of peak-time services will be lengthened, offering Southeastern customers more than 5,000 additional seats starting today.
In his announcement, the Transport Secretary said he is ‘confident passengers will notice the benefits of these longer trains immediately’, adding, ‘I am committed to getting passengers more comfortable, reliable and efficient journeys.’
The changes will affect stations across the constituency, including Dunton Green, Kemsing, Otford, Sevenoaks and Swanley. Maidstone East line trains will have more air-conditioned modern carriages with some peak-time trains doubling in length. On the Hayes, Baxleyheath, Woolwich, Sidcup, Bromley South and Grove Park lines, passengers will see a number of peak-time trains lengthened from eight to ten carriages while some six-car trains will lengthen to eight.
Michael said: ‘Southeastern are finally reacting to capacity problems I’ve highlighted for years. But these improvements could go further. That’s why I plan to meet Southeastern and Network Rail in the coming months to ensure passengers get a better deal now rather than later.’
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.
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 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.
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.