Sevenoaks Rail Travellers’ Association (SRTA) represents the interest of all those who use Sevenoaks, Dunton Green, Bat & Ball, Otford, Kemsing, Shoreham and Eynsford stations. According to the latest available annual statistics, more than 4.8 million train journeys began or ended at our stations. There are more than 3000 daily commuters from the Sevenoaks area to London, and hundreds of school children who travel south to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells every day.
During the year we have had meetings with Southeastern, with Network Rail, and with Kent County Council, Transport for London, Sevenoaks District Council and Sevenoaks Town Council, and have had regular correspondence with all of these. We have regularly briefed Michael Fallon, the MP for Sevenoaks, on rail issues and helped him take up issues with the Department for Transport. We have also tried to coordinate our ‘voice’ for Sevenoaks travellers with those from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, to maximise our impact.
The benefits of our lobbying cannot, of course, be limited to our members who support us financially. We are grateful to the members who help defray our limited expenses. (This report also goes to other supporters, who have given us their e-mail addresses in order to receive our reports. We would be glad if you, too, supported us financially. Our subscriptions remain £5 for two years and £20 for ‘life’ – we have introduced online payment of subscriptions through our website, and alternatively cheques can be sent to the Secretary whose address is at the end of this report.)
Events since the last Annual General Meeting
The major development in the last year has been the award of a further four years franchise to Southeastern. Although we understand the logic of continuing with the same franchisee during the expected disruption during the rebuilding of London Bridge, we are disappointed that DfT have not taken the opportunity of the stability of an existing franchise to push through improvements such as better passenger information, smart card ticketing and automatic refunds to season ticket holders, more passenger and community engagement, and better management and faster recovery from disruption. Our suggestions were set out in October 2013. However the franchise award announced on 11 September 2014, although lacking detail in some regards, seemed to be very much “More of the Same” – and certainly not the “Fresh Start” envisaged by the Rail Minister.
The implications of the rebuilding of London Bridge for Sevenoaks area rail travellers became more apparent through the year. An initial announcement of the changes to Southeastern services from 2015 to 2018 was made in summer 2013 with the proposal that from January 2015 to August 2016 trains to and from Charing Cross would not stop at London Bridge, and then from August 2016 to some time in 2018 trains to and from Cannon Street would not stop at London Bridge. Draft timetable proposals were published at the end of 2013. The Association produced a detailed analysis of these for members and we submitted full comments to Southeastern. After a lot of internal consideration by Southeastern and others in the rail industry a revised timetable from January 2015 was published on 1 July 2014. While it reversed some of the problems caused by proposed changes, our analysis and our press statements drew attention to the remaining problems. We also produced a more detailed guide for Sevenoaks rail travellers.
We continue to be concerned about overcrowding on the smaller number of trains that will stop at London Bridge (during the morning peak most of the Tunbridge Wells trains which stop at Chelsfield will then go direct to Waterloo East). We are also concerned about the fragility of the arrangements to any disruption – especially since London Bridge engineering work has already caused major problems from time to time before the main changes to the Southeastern lines have even started.
This will be compounded by the continuing failure of Southeastern to get a grip on improving the flow of information to passengers; the proposal in the new franchise to issue iPads/tablets to station staff rather misses the point that the problem is an upstream one of getting information quickly, accurately and reliably from the control room not only to station staff but increasingly to passengers themselves. The failure of the Southeastern website to handle the peak load at times of disruption (such as the St Jude storm) is still to be addressed.
During periods of snow or other acute disruption in past years many members have told us that they have appreciated our updates of the latest news on rail services via Twitter, email and website. In fact, this service relies to a significant degree on members themselves reporting their first-hand experience and observations to us. We appeal to members to contribute information on services – what works and what doesn’t, which trains are overcrowded, and so on – during the forthcoming three years of disruption. We are looking at ways for this information to be systematically collated and communicated to members – any ideas on how best this could be done would be most welcome.
The winter saw major problems on the lines in Kent and East Sussex – particularly land slips on the line between Hastings and Tunbridge Wells. During this period Southeastern introduced an emergency timetable that meant that some up trains did not stop at Sevenoaks. This caused major inconvenience at Sevenoaks with, as far as we could see, very little actual benefit to Hastings travellers whose journeys were severely disrupted anyway. We quickly highlighted the issue, and subsequently investigated how many empty seats were passing Sevenoaks. Southeastern tried to present this as a zero-sum Hastings v Sevenoaks issue, but we worked with other passenger groups and local MPs along the line, including our own MP Michael Fallon, to refocus attention on improving the line for everybody.
The Stations Group has continued to press issues of ticket queues, ticket vending machines, graffiti and station information and announcements with SER. We have pressed for improvements at Bat & Ball and Dunton Green stations, as well as pressing SER to make the most of the major improvements at Sevenoaks
We continue to press for a second Ticket Vending Machine to be installed on the Kippington side of Sevenoaks station, particularly as the barrier staff have become less willing to let people cross from the Kippington side to the Town side in order to buy tickets. After the refurbishment of the Town side of the station there are now 5 TVMs on that side, and rarely a queue, whereas even offpeak there can be a queue on the stairs for the one Kippington machine (where there used to be two!).
Bat & Ball
SRTA Member Keith Alderman has continued to keep the Committee informed about issues at Bat & Ball station. During the year he has contributed a monthly Travel Diary to the Association’s website and has highlighted Bat & Ball issues such as the poor state of the footbridge and the broken clock.
At the end of June 2014 the Association’s membership was 59 Life Members and 15 current 2-year Members.
Following the introduction of the new website in August 2013 we have overhauled member communications and administration. Membership subscriptions can now be paid online, and this is proving to be a popular choice both for renewals and for new members. The website and the mailing list are now integrated so that we have been able to send periodic emails to members highlighting new content on the website; we have had good feedback about these.
During the year ending 31 August 2014 – the first 12 calendar months of the new website – we had 4,554 visits to the website with a total of 9,884 pageviews. The St Jude Storm in late October 2013 and the publication of the revised timetable for the London Bridge rebuilding period cause clear peaks of interest in the website. 23% of visits to the website come from mobile phones and a further 14% from tablets.
We are grateful to colleagues – Roger Johnson, Brian Houghton, Richard Parry, Gerry Dolby-Gray, John Ryan and Merilyn Canet – who serve on the committee for their continuing time and support which is essential to our work. We are also grateful to help from other members and supporters who contribute information and views, including sharing experience and comments on the website.
We would particularly like to hear from regular commuters who would be prepared to join the Committee; the duties are not onerous – and we do make a difference! We would also be interested to hear from people who could contribute in other ways to the work of the Association without joining the Committee itself.
The Association’s Annual Meeting is on Wednesday 15 October at 7.30pm in the hall of Christ Church URC on the corner of London Road and Kippington Road. We do not intend to hand out leaflets at Sevenoaks (and other) stations this year before the Annual Meeting. Instead we will rely on notices at the stations, emails to members and other contacts, and some coverage in the Sevenoaks Chronicle.
|Tony Clayton (Chairman)
75, Bayham Road
Kent TN13 3XA
|A C Stott (Secretary)
PO Box 191
Kent, TN13 2AW
SRTA Accounts to 31 December 2013 in PDF fromat