Dear Chris Grayling
My constituents continue to suffer appalling disruption with delays of 2-3 hours on their journeys to work now quite common. Trains are cancelled every day; those that do arrive are frequently late and over-crowded.
Six weeks on from the start of a new timetable which was supposed to bring better services this is clearly unacceptable. The government needs to demonstrate that it understands the frustration caused to so many travellers. Better compensation has already been announced for passengers in the Northern franchise area who will be receiving the cash equivalent of a four-week refund. I would like you now to require Thameslink to introduce an equivalent scheme for my constituent as soon as possible.
Michael Fallon MP
Sir Michael has today made clear that the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, needs to get a grip on the ongoing issue of train timetables.
During media appearances with BBC South East, BBC News and BBC Radio Kent, the Sevenoaks MP outlined that the Transport Secretary should use his ministerial powers to make peak time Southeastern services to stop at Eynsford and Shoreham on their way to and from London.
The Sevenoaks MP pushed for Thameslink to offer alternative transport solutions for passengers when rail services do not run properly, as well as a proper compensation scheme to be in line with the disruption that commuters have suffered. Answering questions in the House of Commons this evening, the Transport Secretary confirmed this would be rolled out, as would an independent review into the failings of the timetable implementation.
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Sir Michael has this week written to the Managing Director of Southeastern, urging him to make Southeastern trains travelling through Eynsford and Shoreham stop to pick up passengers who have experienced severe delays and cancellations as a result of the Thameslink timetable changes.
The Sevenoaks MP said: “Eynsford and Shoreham are smaller villages with fewer peak-time services into London than places like Swanley and Bromley. Southeastern services stopping at Eynsford and Shoreham would ease pressure on Thameslink and I have urged them to do that so my constituents are not further inconvenienced.”
Sir Michael has urged the Rail Minister, Jo Johnson, to deploy more drivers who know the routes to and from London in order to ease the pressure on Thameslink’s services.
Currently, Thameslink do not have a sufficient number of trained drivers who know the routes from Kent to London, which has led to widespread delays or cancellations to peak-time services, leaving many commuters stranded. Thameslink have failed to prepare for the new timetable by not training enough drivers in time. Sir Michael will fight to ensure his constituents are not further inconvenienced.
The Sevenoaks MP said: “I see no reason why we should pay the price for Thameslink’s logistical issues and management failings. My constituents are rightly angry at how these timetables have been implemented and I will continue to press for other rail operators to deploy train drivers who know the London-Kent routes. This needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency.”
Michael met senior managers at Southeastern to discuss constituents’ complaints about the new timetables, overcrowding and out of use toilets.
He told Southeastern that it had to do better. He asked whether Southeastern could offer additional peak time services to London alongside Thameslink to give commuters more choice. Southeastern have offered to keep the new timetable changes under review to work with Thameslink to make further adjustments later.
Sir Michael said: “I have emphasised my concerns with overcrowding and the need to keep improving punctuality. Passenger numbers have increased significantly since privatisation, but the quality of service needs to reflect the high fares commuter pay. I will continue to make this case to Ministers as the next Kent franchise is prepared and awarded.”
Michael has vowed to continue fighting for rail travellers ahead of the new May 2018 timetable.
He met senior directors from Thameslink recently and complained that commuters to London and children heading to school in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells would be inconvenienced by the new timings.
In response, Thameslink made clear that it would provide the same number of services to London, though some timings are altered. The new 700 trains would double capacity to 1,000 seats. There was an extensive consultation last summer, with over 100 responses from this section of the line and the Sevenoaks Rail Passengers Association were involved. The timetables had been co-ordinated closely with Southeastern, who share an office with Thameslink.
Sir Michael said: “The consultation wasn’t thorough enough. Too many people have been inconvenienced. I have insisted that Thameslink be prepared to make changes to the timetables if there is sufficient evidence that particular services can be re-timed in ways that create more winners and losers. Timetables are revised again in December, and I am asking those who have complained to me to see if they can identify particular changes that could help.”
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 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 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.”