The Kent Route Study is one of Network Rail’s long term planning “Route Studies“. These will form the basis for investment in the railway over the next 10-30 years.
The Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association is playing an active role in providing input and comment to the Kent Route Study. This post is based on the latest submission we have made to Network Rail.
The Kent Route Utilisation Study in January 2010 recognised that some peak service from Sevenoaks were amongst the most heavily overcrowded services on the South East Mainline with services between London and Hastings, and London and East Kent via Ashford. No proposals were offered to address the issue other than some marginal improvements to services on other lines and an aspiration to free a few paths into London termini by transferring the Hayes branch to TfL at some future date.
As the final stop on morning peak mainline services to London, Sevenoaks has always suffered from railheading with commuters driving in from a wide area mainly to the south and east of Sevenoaks. SER data on the postcodes of season ticket holders demonstrates this persistent pattern very clearly.
- Increasing route capacity
Prior to the temporary timetable due to the London Bridge rebuilding, the line between Sevenoaks and Orpington carried 12 fast and 3 slow services each peak hour (3 fast from High Brooms direct to London, 6 running fast from Sevenoaks to London, 3 semi-fasts calling at Chelsfield to London, 3 slows calling at all local stations). We understand the slows use a double path which gives a total of 18 paths per hour in use between Sevenoaks and Orpington. We also understand that the signalling is designed to provide a 3 minute headway which leaves two paths (6 minutes) for recovery purposes.
For the future, the Sevenoaks RTA recommends that the study examine options to modify the signaling to provide 24 paths per hour between Sevenoaks and Orpington which would enable 3 additional services to be run each hour (assuming the long standing 20 minute service pattern is retained). This would increase the mainline paths between Sevenoaks and Orpington from 12 to 15 paths with 3 slow services (6 paths). The three unused paths would increase recovery time to 7½ minutes.
With loadings on mainline services from Sevenoaks in the 2010 Kent RUS shown as 127%, (Kent RUS 2010 fig 3.10), and then adding the annual growth in passenger numbers since that date, this modest increase would still leave passengers without seats based on today’s numbers and, by the end of CP5, train loadings would once again be back to today’s levels of overcrowding. However, without a significant intervention, currently planned housing growth will produce unprecedented levels of overcrowding.
- Morning peak period services
The SRTA recommends that all AM peak period trains are composed of 12 cars capable of 100mph. This requires that all “Wealden” networkers, limited to 75mph, are returned to the SER Metro area (as planned to lengthen Metro services to 12 cars) and their replacement with additional Class 375 Electrostar type units.
The use of 12 car Electrostar trains instead of 10 car Networkers would not materially change the number of seats although providing greater comfort but it would allow the route to be retimed for 100mph stock rather than 75mph Networkers.
- Reducing journey times
In common with many London commuters, those on the SE Mainline want shorter journey times. SRTA wishes to see a reversal of the long term trend to ever slower services for any given stopping pattern. The faster trains in proposal 2 (above) would make a small positive impact. Following the full re-opening of London Bridge, SRTA recommends a study of SE Mainline stopping patterns at the London terminal area including the through platforms at London Bridge to optimize journey times.
- Maximising use of Thameslink Maidstone East services
In 2018 a Thameslink service will be operated between Maidstone East and north London via the Thameslink core. Currently only a peak period service is agreed. This route has potential to relieve demand on the SE Mainline. Postcode data for current SE mainline passengers suggests strongly that a significant number live along the Maidstone East line. However, the proposed limited service is unlikely to attract a large proportion of these potential passengers. West Kent stations, apart from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, have very few bus services which are useful for commuters and who consequently mostly use private transport.
Local experience shows that commuters’ working days are changing, notably returning later in the evening. There is also evidence of increasing flexibility in the hours worked. In consequence, commuters dependent on private transport to reach a station must have suitable services available for their return trip to the same station.
The proposed limited peak hour service is unlikely to attract a substantial number of existing commuters using the SE Mainline despite living along the Maidstone East line unless a full service is available for the whole working day and into the evening.
SRTA strongly urges that the Thameslink service on the Maidstone East line should run for the whole day from early morning to late evening rather than the currently proposed peak service.
- New SE London Transport Interchange
Sevenoaks District Council has one of the highest proportions of its working population across the whole of SE England who commute into London. Historically many of the SE mainline commuters worked in the City travelling via London Bridge or Cannon Street stations. Many of their jobs have migrated to Docklands in recent years. This had led to severe pressure on the Jubilee line at London Bridge.
SRTA strongly supports an investigation for a new major interchange in the Hither Green/Lewisham area, as suggested by TfL, to include an upgraded interchange between existing SER Metro, SER Mainline and DLR services with the potential to add links with London Overground via New Cross and a new Crossrail type route into Docklands.
- Direct link to Gatwick Airport
Finally, Kent remains the only county in all of SE England without a direct rail link to Gatwick Airport. As a result, many residents of Kent are forced to travel by train to Gatwick via London. This is the quickest way from Sevenoaks but is relatively expensive since any return trip to the airport requires two single tickets unless it is a day return trip. Consequently most people use a taxi along the overcrowded M25/M23 motorways.
SRTA members strongly support Kent County Council’s call for an hourly service between Ashford via Tonbridge and Gatwick.
We would be very interested in hearing your views on these proposals, and any further ideas for investment to improve rail services from our area. Please use the comment box below.