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 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 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 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.”