We Need Certainty Over Delayed Fast Service

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.”

Victory as Council Scraps Plan to Axe Buses

Michael has welcomed Kent County Council’s decision to not cut vital bus services after he campaigned to save them.

Council leader Paul Carter committed to reconsidering the plans after more than 17,000 people signed a local petition against the plans.

Mr Carter said he was “passionate about not isolating people in rural communities” and although savings would now need to be made the emphasis would be on “conversation and not consultation.”Vintage Bus

The Council said it had set aside a budget of £500,000 to speak to people, district and parish councils about bus services. Some little used buses could see changes to the way they were run but routes would not be cut at present.  Councillors also pledged to continue a £8.7 million subsidy through the Young Persons Travel Pass.

The council’s funding shift comes after the Government agreed local councils could increase the amount they could raise in council tax without holding a referendum by one per cent. And it follows an announcement which gives Kent the right to retain business rates locally.

Michael said: “I welcome the county council’s commitment to looking at other options. This shows that when people get involved we can win and change minds.”

Kent MPs Signal Concerns to New Rail Minister

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.”

Click here to read the letter in full:      Page 1    Page 2

New Direction on Train Delays Needed

Michael has today (10) called for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to rethink the scheduled phasing of its new Thameslink fast service.

Writing to Chief Executive, Charles Horton, the Sevenoaks MP urged GTR to consider starting the postponed fast service as originally promised, but with one train per hour rather than the twice-hourly service originally planned.  The alternative proposal aims to ensure that families and businesses in the northern parts of his constituency still benefit from services that would help local regeneration.

Michael indicated it was possible to meet the capacity problem by protecting existing services and pursuing a more balanced phasing in of new services.

He said: “It is vital that the result of this delay avoids punishing businesses and commuters in my constituency who have anticipated the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”

Fallon Cross at “Betrayal of 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.”

Pressing Rail Execs for Answers

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.’

August Rail Closures: ‘Work Out Your Plan B’

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.’

COLUMN – Getting our Railways Right

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.

New Rail Timetable Underwhelming

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 Joins Call for ‘Major Rethink’ of Rail Services

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.