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.’
Michael has warned constituents of line closures on rail networks to London over the bank holiday next week and has encouraged them to ‘work out [their] Plan B’.
From 26 August to 2 September, there will be no Southeastern services at London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross. This means there will be fewer trains into London and they may be diverted to different London stations.
The disruption will be caused by improvement work at London Bridge station and track upgrades, which is designed to improve station space, reduce future delays, improve connections, and facilitate more frequent journeys.
To assist passengers, the Thameslink Programme communications team has developed a campaign microsite, which details station by station the planned changes during the blockade, what this means for passenger journeys, detailed travel advice and customer information resources. The site is accessible via the following link: http://www.thameslinkprogramme.co.uk/2017-disruption.
In a post on his new Facebook page, Michael Fallon said: ‘These closures hit at a time when people are already back from holiday. So whether it’s changing the time you travel, finding another route, cycling to work, or working from home, you will need to work out your Plan B. I encourage everyone to visit the Thameslink Programme microsite and start thinking ahead.’
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.’
Michael has called on Southeastern to offer a new, more generous compensation system for passengers who have experienced delays.
The Department for Transport recently announced that rail passengers will soon be able to claim 25 percent of the cost of the single fare if their train is more than 15 minutes late. This is a reduction from the current limit of 30 minutes.
Under current plans, Southeastern passengers are currently unlikely to benefit until 2018. Michael has written to David Statham, Managing Director of Southeastern, to ask him to implement the improved ‘Delay Repay 15’ compensation scheme sooner.
Michael said: “With the disruption caused by work at London Bridge, my constituents should be able to benefit from this improved system right now. I have asked Southeastern to work with the Department for Transport to introduce this enhanced offer as soon as possible.”
Michael has warned commuters that more work is needed to secure the extension of the Oyster network to Sevenoaks.
At a recent meeting with the Rail Minister, Claire Perry MP, Department for Transport officials warned that the extension of the network, which had been due to take place in 2018, was not guaranteed.
Following recent reports about uncertainty over the future of the South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) scheme), Michael secured assurances that SEFT will be rolled out to Sevenoaks by the end of the year. SEFT will benefit season ticket holders, providing them with a single plastic card that will also work on TfL services.
Michael also received a guarantee that future decisions about bringing improvements like Oyster to Sevenoaks would not be affected by the installation of SEFT.
Michael said: “SEFT will be rightly welcomed by season ticket holders but it is no replacement for Oyster. Despite fresh uncertainty over a 2018 introduction date, this is not the end of the line. I promised to bring Oyster to Sevenoaks and that’s what I will do.”
Last May, I was honoured to be elected for the fifth time as your Member of Parliament.
Since the election, I have continued to work hard on behalf of all of my constituents. I hold two advice surgeries each month, as I have done consistently since 1997, and I regularly raise issues and concerns on your behalf. My Westminster office also deals with hundreds of emails and enquiries every week. I work closely with our county, district, town and parish councillors, as well as other organisations such as Kent Police, the Citizens Advice Bureau and West Kent Housing.
I remain closely involved in campaigns across Sevenoaks and Swanley. From fighting to save Hextable Dance Studio to defending Sevenoaks Hospital, I am proud to support my constituents and fight for our communities.
Supporting our local schools
I am a strong supporter of schools across my constituency. Since the election I have visited schools in Westerham, Sundridge, Swanley, Sevenoaks, and elsewhere to speak to pupils and answer their questions about my work as MP.
Winning our campaign to secure grammar school provision last October was probably my best ever day as your MP. This decision was long in coming but the priority now is to get this annexe built and open for local parents and pupils. My next goal is to secure grammar provision for boys and I am working on this.
Getting a better deal for commuters
Our ageing railways cause a huge amount of frustration for commuters and passen
gers. Disruption may be the price of the vital work at London Bridge – but passengers need to know why they are delayed and what is being done about it. I was concerned to learn on a recent train cab ride that drivers are often unable to inform passengers about ongoing disruption and slow running while their train is in operation. Making sure drivers and passengers have rapid, clear and sufficent information is essential. I will continue to raise these issues with Southeastern to make rail travel easier for my constituents.
Bringing Oyster to Sevenoaks was another promise I made at the general election. Rail passengers have waited long enough and I will be meeting the Rail Minister again shortly to push for a definite date.
Fighting for our NHS services
I am committed to our local NHS. We need to see more services in Sevenoaks, not fewer. That’s why I have continued to defend Sevenoaks Hospital against the threat of closure. The withdrawal of some clinics was concerning but I have secured assurances that these vital services will continue to be available for local people.
Protecting GP services is also important. There is a review of GP provision underway and I will ensure the views of local people are fully represented. The NHS is so much more than the big district hospitals like Pembury and Darent Valley; it works best where it is local and loved.
Boosting our local economy
In Sevenoaks and Swanley, our local economy is strong. Compared with 2010, there are 600 fewer people out of work, including 200 fewer young unemployed, and we have 600 more businesses. I see evidence of this progress on each of my regular constituency days. Since the election, I have visited businesses, shops and local sites throughout the constituency and I have more visits already planned for the next few months.
But there is still more to do to support our local economy. Broadband is a key issue that businesses and the Chamber of Commerce continue to raise with me. I have recently begun a fresh campaign to demand further action from BT. We need to make sure our local businesses and those who work from home have the broadband they need to thrive, wherever they are based.
Michael was in Sevenoaks and Swanley on Friday 11th March for his latest busy constituency day.
He travelled in the cab of a Southeastern train to learn more about the impact of the ongoing work at London Bridge on the services used by his constituents every day.
Following this, he spoke to pupils at Combe Bank School in Sundridge, answering questions on issues such as defence and the EU referendum.
In Swanley, he accompanied local councillor Victor Southern to the Swanley Therapy Centre, which relies on charitable donations to offer oxygen treatment to local patients. He also visited Lockdecoders, a vibrant local business run by Victor’s son Peter.
Returning to Sevenoaks, he received a tour of the latest progress at Knole House, where significant restoration work is transforming the medieval site.
Michael ended the day with his monthly advice surgery in Sevenoaks.
Michael has welcomed Southeastern’s commitment to introduce a number of measures to minimise disruption for commuters from the Sevenoaks constituency this autumn and winter.
Michael wrote to Southeastern’s Managing Director, David Statham, earlier this month to seek assurances about what plans Southeastern has to mitigate the impact of poor weather conditions on train performance.
In his response, Mr Statham stated that:
An additional three water jetting trains have been allocated to Kent this year by Network Rail to remove leaf debris;
Additional trackside equipment has been placed in areas that have caused serious disruption to journeys in the past to reduce the risk of disruptive incidents;
Southeastern will run empty trains through the night to keep tracks clear of ice;
Network Rail has installed heaters and NASA grade insulation to points at key locations and protective covers to points and point motors to keep snow out and prevent damage by ice falling from trains;
Southeastern has invested in hand-held mechanical snow ploughs to keep platforms, car parks and forecourts free of ice and snow;
Southeastern has reached agreement with Kent County Council to use its resources to ensure that station approach roads are kept clear.
On 4th October, Southeastern also introduced some changes to their timetable to take account of changing weather conditions and give passengers more certainty about arrival times.
Michael said: “I welcome the assurances that Southeastern have given me. They believe they are better equipped for poor weather conditions than before. But I will be continuing to monitor their performance to ensure that any problems that develop during the autumn and winter are dealt with as quickly and effectively as possible so that my constituents suffer the minimum of disruption.”