High Speed 1 (HS1) – not a panacea for overcrowding

Since December 2009, a high speed domestic service operating on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) between London St Pancras, Ashford and the Kent coast, has been operating. Southeastern claim that a commute from Ashford International to London takes just 37 minutes – against an average Mainline journey time of 1 hour and 20 minutes. Journeys from the Kent coast at Folkestone are expected to take 61 minutes rather than the 98 minutes.

HS1 is being promoted as a solution to many of the overcrowding problems that now beset commuters on the existing mainline services up from Ashford via Sevenoaks. However, at best we believe it will divert only around 2,300 passengers who would otherwise be using the current main line services calling at Sevenoaks.

Over the last 5 years, the number of passengers travelling from Sevenoaks to London in the morning peak has risen by 19%. We believe that the additional seating capacity which will become available on the existing mainline as a result of HS1 services will provide only a temporary respite, and the much of the benefit could be eroded by the premium on fares that will be charged for travelling on HS1.

In a paper submitted to the KCC Select Committee on the CTRL domestic rail services, SRTA also argues that if HS1 is to be used to its full potential, improvements in the connections at Stratford for Docklands are needed.

Kent Route Utilisation Strategy

Kent Route Utilisation Strategy (‘RUS’)

Network Rail’s work on the Kent RUS commenced in January 2008 and a scoping document was published February 2008.

Network Rail published their consultation paper in April. (But take care it’s 190 pages!)

The RUS consultation paper explores various options to address future increases in demand but the long-term solutions proposed as they affect Sevenoaks commuters are, to say the least, unpalatable. The additional mainline capacity proposed would be available only after 2019 and then only represent the equivalent of the next 5-years’ expected growth in numbers. And what’s worse, other changes proposed would represent a major reduction in the standard of service, particularly for travellers to the City.

The 3-year rebuilding of London Bridge station beginning in 2012 is likely to cause massive disruption. And on completion of this work, the RUS envisages that there would be fewer high peak trains per hour and these would stop at Orpington and most at Chelsfield. There would be an ending to the current 3 trains per hour mainline peak services to/from Kent into Cannon Street for the City, these services being replaced with only 2 trains per hour into Blackfriars or Farringdon via Thameslink.

In its response to these proposals the SRTA is critical of the absence of any substantive proposals to address capacity constraints on routes into London and its terminus stations, and the bottleneck on the two-track section between Orpington and Tonbridge. Neither does the RUS attempt to address shifts in user travel patterns (including the switch to Docklands and east London) that could be tackled by by-passing London Bridge. We also question the claim that there is insufficient demand for rail access to Gatwick from Kent.

Background

Since June 2005, Network Rail has been required to publish Route Utilisation Strategies (or ‘RUS’) for its different regions. These look at future rail infrastructure needs up to 30 years ahead. Stakeholders, such as the SRTA and other passenger groups, are able to participate in this planning exercise by submitting ideas on future services.

In our view, the supply of, and demand for, commuter services from the Sevenoaks area is increasingly becoming mismatched –

  • There is a substantial unmet demand for services to new destinations, specifically Docklands, St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet and Gatwick Airport.
  • The twin track section between Tonbridge and Orpington is acknowledged as one of the worst capacity bottlenecks on the South East Main Line But despite this, many thousands of empty peak time seats are run between Sevenoaks and Orpington every day.
  • Improvements to the Maidstone East line would encourage more commuters to use their local stations, helping to re-balance demand and take some of the pressure off Sevenoaks.

The SRTA’s submission to Network Rail suggest several ways these problems can be addressed. And at our Annual Meeting in October we had an opportunity to impress upon Southeastern Trains the need to look at the available options in an imaginative and innovative way.

Also of relevance for us is the RUS for South London which was published in March 2008.

For our views on the impact on Sevenoaks trains of High Speed 1 services which are due to commence in December 2009, click here.

Give us back our carriages!

At the beginning of year, SER abruptly withdrew 2 coaches from 6 heavily loaded peak trains: 07.18, 07.44, 8.04 and 8.29 from Sevenoaks and the 17.41 and 18.28 from Charing Cross. Given the continuing very heavy demand for theses peak morning and evening services, there was no case for reducing the available seating.

SRTA pressed SER hard for the immediate reinstatement of these coaches and was supported by e-mails from individual members and publicity in the local press.

In response to this campaign, SER has relented (somewhat). The original train lengths have now been restored to the 07.44 and 8.04 and to the 17.41 and 18.28 services. But the shortfall on the 07.18 remains and we will continue to press SER to restore the cut.

We have recently been told that with the introduction of a new timetable in December 2009, the length of the 7.29 Cannon Street service will be increased from 10 to 12 carriages. You might ask, however, why such an important peak service was restricted to 10 carriages when Cannon Street is capable of taking 12 carriage trains. A shortage of rolling stock apparently.

The SRTA Committee would especially like to thank those individual members who lobbied SER and for their strong backing of the Committee’s efforts.

Route Utilisation Strategies

SRTA has long been active in making recommendations to improve commuter and other train services from Sevenoaks. For example, we submitted a paper to the successor to South East Trains, GoVia putting forward detailed proposals for tackling overcrowding. That paper followed up earlier ideas we have put to the previous train operators to improve services.

Since June 2005, Network Rail has been required to publish Route Utilisation Strategies (or ‘RUS’) for its different regions. These look at future rail infrastructure needs up to 30 years ahead. Stakeholders, such as the SRTA and other passenger groups, are able to participate in this planning exercise by submitting ideas on future services.

Of most relevance for us are the RUS that are being conducted for South London and Kent. Click here for more information on the Kent RUS and our response to Network Rail’s proposals.

The RUS for South London was published in March 2008.

 

New Timetable

The latest timetable took effect from 10 December. It is good news in that the number of trains to and from London overall has increased. However, the morning peak has lost one early service (the 06:31). More trains are now stopping at London Bridge both in the morning and evening. The changes in the number of services each weekday are shown in the table below.

To London Old New Change
Waterloo E & Charing Cross 68 74 6
Cannon Street 12 12 0
Total 80 86 6
Peak services 18 17 -1
Stopping at London Bridge 72 82 10
From London Old New Change
Waterloo E & Charing Cross 69 70 1
Cannon Street 9 9 0
Total 78 79 1
Peak services 18 18 0
Stopping at London Bridge 71 75 4

Source: Southeastern Trains.

The morning peak is defined as trains leaving Sevenoaks after 6:30 and before 9:00. The evening peak is defined as trains leaving London from 16:30 and before 19:30. This definition differs from that of the Passenger’s Charter.

Members will be already be aware of some changes in train departure times and the (timetabled!) duration of journeys. It is difficult to summarise the net impact of these but the following charts, which compare scheduled journey times of each weekday service before and after the latest changes, may be helpful.

Source: Southeastern Trains

For journeys up to London, there has been a reduction in the number of the faster trains, and evening services are generally somewhat slower. But in most cases the differences are a matter of a couple of minutes.

Source: Southeastern Trains. Chart does not include the 00:10 from Charing Cross. This service’ scheduled journey time is 44 minutes, 2 minutes slower than the 00:08 in the previous timetable.

Trains from London during the morning peak are somewhat slower, while there are some slightly faster late morning and early afternoon trains. Some evening trains are now slower but the difference is not as marked as trains up to London at this time.

The latest alterations in the timetable are relatively minor. We can expect more radical changes with the introduction of fast commuter services from Ashford into St Pancras using the Channel Tunnel line in 2009. The Committee is determined that these changes will not lead to related adjustments to services through Ashford that might be to the disadvantage of Sevenoaks commuters. The timetable is also likely to be affected by the redevelopment of London Bridge and Blackfriars. Again, your Committee is keeping a close eye on this to ensure any disruption is minimised.

Who runs the Railway?

In recent years the operation of rail services from the Sevenoaks area have been subject to uncertainties – and to the ordinary rail traveller probably some confusion – arising from changes in:

  • our area’s Train Operating Company (TOC),
  • the provider of the network’s infrastructure, and
  • official responsibility for strategic oversight of the railways.

The Train Operator

Since 1 April 2006, train services from Sevenoaks have been operated by GoVia, under the nameSoutheastern, through its 100%-owned subsidiary London & South Eastern Railway Limited (LSER). Prior to the re-privatisation of the Kent franchise, between November 2003 and March 2006 the system was operated by South Eastern Trains (‘SET’), a subsidiary of the now defunct Strategic Railway Authority (SRA). This followed the withdrawal of the franchise from ConnexSouth Eastern which had been the TOC for our area following British Rail’s privatisation in 1996.

GoVia is a joint venture of the bus and train Go-Ahead Group (65%) and Keolis (35%). Shares in Go-Ahead are widely held but Keolis is part-owned by the French national railway SNCF. (GoVia is also the owner of Southern, the TOC providing services into London from the South Coast, mainly through East and West Sussex and Surrey.)

The terms of a TOC’s franchise – in our case GoVia’s ‘Integrated Kent Franchise‘ (IKF), which combines SET’s services with (from 2009) domestic services on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (‘CTRL’) – are specified and monitored by the Rail Group of the Department for Transport (‘DfT’). Previously, this responsibility was that of the SRA. GoVia’s franchise runs to end-March 2012 with a two-year extension if performance targets are met. The DfT is also responsible for regulating fares.

TOC’s typically lease their trains from rolling stock leasing companies (ROSCOs). Currently there are three – owned by Abbey, HSBC, and Royal Bank of Scotland. In June 2006 the DfT made a formal complaint to the ORR alleging that some of the ROSCOs’ activities were distorting competition. This charge is under investigation.

Owner of the infrastructure

The railway infrastructure (stations, track ,signals, etc) is owned by Network Rail, a ‘not for profit’ company limited by guarantee, which took over the running of the network from Railtrack in October 2002. Network Rail operates the main London termini such as Cannon Street and Charing Cross, but leases smaller stations to the TOCs. (So GoVia, as a ‘station facility owner’, leases the stations in our area from the ‘landlord’ Network Rail.)

Network Rail is owned by members (including representatives from the railway industry, the DfT, public organisations (including Transport for London (TfL) and other associations such as passenger groups and trade unions), and appointed individual members of the general public.

Network Rail is regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR). Since 1 April 2006 the ORR has also had responsibility for the oversight of railway safety, which was previously part of the remit of the Health and Safety Executive.

Other

London Travel Watch (officially the London Transport Users Committee) is sponsored and financed by the London Assembly (part of the Greater London Authority) and was established to represent the interests of transport users in and around London. The Rail Passengers Council ( ‘Passenger Focus’) is an independent, government-funded body that represents rail users’ interests at the national level.