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.


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.

Train Performance

The reliability and timekeeping of trains are jointly assessed by the ‘Public Performance Measure (‘PPM’).

This is measured by the percentage of planned trains that are neither cancelled nor late. A train is ‘cancelled’ if it does not run or fails to complete half of its planned journey. For London and South East area train operators (‘TOCs’), a train is classified as ‘late’ if it arrives at its advertised destination five or more minutes after its scheduled arrival time.

As an example, in the three months ending 31 March 2006, South Eastern Trains – just prior to the handover to GoVia – had the following operating results overall.

Number of trains planned 131,249
Cancelled 0.8%
Late 9.1%
Ran and on time (PPM) 90.1%

Source: London Travel Watch July 2006

For train operators serving London and the south east, PPM is calculated both for morning and evening peak services combined, and overall.

A criticism that could be made of the measure is the understatement of the importance of cancellations. A cancelled train and a train 5 minutes late score the same, although the disruption to passengers created by a cancellation – particularly of a heavily-used service in the rush hour – is likely to be greater.

The graph below shows the performance of the Kent franchisees since the measure was introduced in 1997-98.

Source: Office of Rail Regulation. Data are for Connex South Eastern until November 2003, South Eastern Trains until March 2006 and Southeastern thereafter.

In the chart, quarterly data for performance of peak services and all trains are shown as dotted lines, with the trends (four-quarter moving averages) as a solid lines. The quarterly data show a distinct seasonal pattern with performance falling off sharply in the October to December quarter (‘leaves on the line’ and bad weather). Around 40-45% of delays each year occur in the last quarter.

The sharp drop in performance in late 2000 reflects reaction to the Hatfield derailment. However, even before that accident it was evident that overall performance by Connex was deteriorating. Since Hatfield, performance has recovered to roughly its level of eight years ago, although there was a downward blip in the December quarter last year.

The recent improvement in performance has been experienced by all the London and South East operators reflecting a recovery in performance by Network Rail. The chart below shows the PPM of the Kent franchise operators relative to all TOCs in the region. Except for a period in 2001-2002, the performance of other London and SE TOCs has been better than that in Kent.

Source: Office of Rail Regulation.

Responsibility for delays is attributed either to a train operator or to Network Rail according to the cause. In addition, delays arising from poor traction during the autumn leaf fall are allocated to a ‘Neutral Zone’. In the chart below the recovery from Hatfield is apparent in the falling share of delays attributable to Network Rail.

Source: London Travel Watch. Data are for years ending March.

The most common causes for delay are malfunctions in trains and signalling problems, along with an undefined ‘other’ item attributed to Network Rail. ‘External’ causes are largely attributable to other TOCs using the network.

Source: London Travel Watch

Thameslink Development Plans

The Thameslink project will involve major re-developments at London Bridge and Blackfriars.

SRTA will be monitoring developments closely. In the long run the improvements described below will help to alleviate congestion and improve our services. There will, however, inevitably be some disruption during the construction period which we want to ensure is kept to a minimum.

The work will in involve two phases:

Phase One (2009-11)

  • Farringdon station will be lengthened for 12 car trains (this requires the closure of the Moorgate branch).
  • Blackfriars will be rebuilt as a 12-car station across the Thames with access from the both south and north of the river. This involves early closure of the terminal platforms on the east side of the through lines, to enable these lines to be moved to the east, before new terminal platforms can be built on the west of the new position of the through lines.
  • A new viaduct will be built over Borough Market to carry two extra tracks west of London Bridge station.
  • During this time, services currently terminating at Blackfriars and Moorgate will be run as through services between Sevenoaks/ Maidstone East and St. Albans (or further north)..

Phase Two (2013-15):

  • During 2013-15, London Bridge station will be rebuilt and the rail approaches from New Cross and New Cross Gate will be re-arranged.
  • On completion of this work, services will be run from Ashford via Sevenoaks to Kings Cross and beyond.

Station Conditions 2007

Each year Network Rail makes an assessment of conditions at all stations.

It scores up to 34 different elements – such as platforms and structures – from 1-5, with 1 being best (‘as installed’) and 5 being worst (‘no longer serviceable’). It then calculates an average for each station. Remember, the higher the score, the worse the condition.

Network Rail has an overall regulatory target of 2.25. But as can be seen from the chart above, only one of our stations, Otford, meets the standard. This year’s report for Dunton Green does show some correction for an earlier deterioration, but otherwise conditions were unchanged. The report does, however, pre-date the floor renewal and redecoration work at Sevenoaks.

Source: Network Rail 2007 Annual Return

Trends in Fares 2007

How are fares regulated?

The Department for Transport (DfT) regulates prices of season tickets and standard day singles and returns. Other fares, including off-peak, promotional, and all first class tickets, are set freely by the train operators according to what the market will bear. Nationally (i.e. in GB), regulated tickets represent just over 42% of all fare revenue. (Just over half of all expenditure on rail fares is paid to train operators in London and the South East.)

Increases in regulated fares are linked to inflation as measured by the all-items Retail Price Index (‘RPI’). Since the completion of a review by the Strategic Rail Authority in 2003, most train operator’s ‘baskets’ of regulated fares can be raised by the 12-month change in the RPI (based on the previous July’s figure) plus 1 percentage point (‘pp’). So beginning 2 January 2007, most train operators will be raising their regulated fares on average by the 12-month change in the RPI to July 2006 (3.3%) plus 1 pp, or 4.3% in total.

Southeastern’s fare regime

Under the terms of its franchise, our train operator, Southeastern, is permitted to raise its regulated fares annually by the RPI plus 3 pp, or 6.3%. Their increase this year is the highest in the country (matched only by the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive).

In order to provide incentives for improvements in services, all train operators are allowed to vary individual fares within their regulated ‘baskets’ provided that the (revenue) weighted average increase overall is no more than the formula. (On a weighted basis above- and below-average changes must therefore cancel out.) There is, moreover, a 5 pp ‘cap’ on the amount an individual fare can be raised above the average allowed. So for Southeastern, the maximum annual increase at an individual station can be the change in RPI + 3pp + 5pp. In 2007 the maximum regulated fare increase is therefore 11.3%.

Increases in Sevenoaks fares

This year’s increase in the price of season tickets from Sevenoaks to London of 10.7% is thus close to the maximum allowed. The Chart below compares the increase at Sevenoaks with some other large stations on the Kent franchise.

Increase in the price of an annual season from January 2007

Source: Southeastern.

In the latest fare round, above-average increases have been applied to Orpington, Sevenoaks and Ashford, but below-average increases to Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone. An inspection of the trend in fares at those stations shows that the costs of season tickets at Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Ashford rose relative to Sevenoaks between 1998 and 2002 but have been lowered progressively since then and the relativities are now back close to their 1995 levels. Southeastern has said that above-average increases have generally been applied to stations with faster and more frequent services. At present we do not know whether the adjustment this year to Sevenoaks fares is a once-off ‘correction’ or the first of a number of above-average increases.

How do fares increases compare with inflation?

What is the trend in the ‘real’ (inflation-adjusted) cost of fares? As in all such calculations, it rather depends on the starting point.

SRTA has obtained information on fares going back to 1995. These are shown after adjustment for the change in the RPI since 1995.

Trend in ‘real’ fares Sevenoaks to London (Feb. 1995=100)

Indices of fares deflated by the all-items RPI.

Sources: Southeastern (fares) and National Statistics (RPI). In 1995 fares were increased in February. Figure for January 2007 are based on the change in the RPI to November 2006 (3.9%).

The chart show that recent above-inflation increases have restored the real cost of regulated fares (seasons and ordinary standard class returns) to a little below their level in the mid-1990s, although the real price of unregulated off-peak day return tickets is now some 9% higher than the 1995 base year.

Prices of season tickets from Sevenoaks were cut in January 1999, were left unchanged in January 2001, and reduced in January 2002 (latterly largely to compensate for a decline in performance following the Hatfield crash). At that time, the formula for annual fare changes was RPI minus 1pp. However, train operators in London and the South East were also subject to the Fares Incentive Adjustment Payments system (‘FIAP’), whereby an adjustment of up to ± 2 pp was made in relation to performance against standards in the year to the previous July. Following the SRA review mentioned above, this automatic link between changes in regulated fares and performance was replaced by the system of rebates under the Passengers’ Charter.

The fact that the real costs of season tickets are, on balance, a little below those of 12 years ago will, however, be of little consolation to those who began to commute from Sevenoaks more recently. In real terms the price of an annual standard class season in January 2007 will be nearly 21% higher than it was at the trough in January 2002.

A longer perspective shows that while overall the real cost of fares has changed little since the mid-1990s, fares prior to 1995 had risen sharply ahead of privatisation. The solid blue line in the chart below shows the train fares component of the RPI relative to the all-items RPI since January 1987. The shorter dashed series show the price of tickets using data published by the Office of Rail Regulation, again adjusted for inflation. The profile of the real price of regulated fares charged by London and South East train operators is similar to that of Sevenoaks. Note that the chart does not show the impact of the change in fares in January 2007 as the data are not yet available.

Longer-term trend in ‘real’ fares 1987- 2006 (Jan. 1995 = 100)

Indices of fares deflated by the all-items RPI.

Sources: Price of rail tickets Office of Rail Regulation (prices of rail tickets) and National Statistics (RPI data – all-items and train fares series). In 1990 and 1995 fares were increased in February rather than January which accounts for the apparent reductions in those years. (The February values for the train fares component of the RPI in those years are 90.7 and 102.4 respectively.)

National Passenger Survey 2006

Each spring and autumn a National Passenger Survey is conducted by Passenger Focus. As the results for each train operator are available, they provide a way of tracking commuters’ views on the performance of our train operator.

The chart below shows passenger views of train performance for our train operator. The data show the proportion of ‘satisfied or good’ replies to questions about the overall quality of the journey and a set of questions on stations and trains.

Source: Passenger FocusApart from the overall score, the chart highlights those areas of performance where the operators have traditionally not scored well.

While survey results have also improved nationally, there has been a slight relative improvement for services in Kent. Scores for punctuality and train cleanliness have risen. There has also been a steady improvement in passenger perceptions of the way the operator deals with delays.

However, less progress was made by South Eastern Trains with overcrowding (see separate brief) and ‘value for money’ (although with subsidies having been cut over the last few years, responsibility for this is unlikely to lie entirely with the train operator).