SEVENOAKS RAIL TRAVELLERS ASSOCIATION
Annual Report 2014-2015
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 every day.
During the year we have had meetings with Southeastern, Thameslink, Network Rail, Kent County Council, Transport for London, the Greater London Assembly, London Travelwatch, 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 and the rail operators.
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 at http://srta.org.uk/wp/srta-membership, but 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 London Bridge rebuilding work started to have a major effect on Sevenoaks services on 12 January, with the introduction of a new timetable separating Charing Cross/Waterloo East services from Cannon Street/London Bridge services. The first few weeks of the new timetable were tough going for passengers, with overcrowded platform and weaknesses in passenger information and signage, and an initial denial by Southeastern that there was any overcrowding. Luckily there was no severe weather and the headlines about the severe situation on the Southern side of London Bridge put a lot of justified pressure on the rail industry as a whole. We also had the opportunity to travel to and from Sevenoaks in the peaks with David Statham, the Managing Director of Southeastern, and show him at first hand the key issues. All this led to some rapid revision of the Southeastern crowd control measures and an increase in staffing. Over the following months the attitude of passengers seems to have become one of grudging tolerance, although our members are having to stand on key morning peak services such as the 0723 and 0728 to Cannon Street and 0732 to Charing Cross most mornings and any operating incident can rapidly lead to serious overcrowding on London platforms in the evenings.
The overcrowding has not been helped by the limited and “railway-centric” TfL ticket acceptance arrangements, which were only announced in mid-November. These seem to have been designed on the principle that London Bridge is a final destination, whereas for the vast majority of travellers it is only a railway station on their way to their final destination. As a result big opportunities were missed to open other routes for commuters, including allowing the use of connections from Waterloo and Southwark to the City and allowing use of the District & Circle lines to access Southeastern services from Victoria.
However even the limited ticket acceptance arrangements proved too much for the railway industry’s information systems. We found that the National Rail Enquiries website gave incorrect and misleading information about fares, denying passengers the cheapest fares.
A further feature of the London Bridge project is that Sevenoaks rail services at the weekend are often reduced and diverted, including “long weekends” such as the Easter period and the August Bank Holiday. Saturday fast services can be reduced from six trains to only two, leading to the sort of overcrowding reminiscent of the weekday morning peak.
Southeastern have recently consulted on the timetable from August 2016 to 2018 to cover the second phase of the rebuilding of the southeastern platforms at London Bridge. This will mean that offpeak fast trains will stop at London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross, and that peak Cannon Street fast services will not stop at London Bridge. The Association has responded to the consultation, expressing concern about gaps in early morning Cannon Street services, about travel between Cannon Street and Sevenoaks offpeak and about the failure once again to plan TfL ticket acceptance as part of the rail service planning.
The other major development during the year was the re-emergence of Transport for London’s interest in taking over the “metro” part of the “Integrated Kent Franchise” and providing Overground-style services, including the slow service from Sevenoaks via Dunton Green. Overground services receive much better ratings from passengers than Southeastern and Thameslink services, and for Dunton Green and Sevenoaks this would also mean the acceptance of Oyster cards. The Association has been supporting this initiative – not only for the provision of better metro services and the introduction of Oyster but also to bring much needed competition to buck up the operator’s ideas for the fast service. This time Kent County Council, Sevenoaks District Council and Sevenoaks Town Council are backing TfL’s plans, and TfL have given strong guarantees about the protection of fast train “paths” between Sevenoaks and Orpington that should meet any reasonable concerns from Tonbridge and other Kent rail users.
The Stations Group has continued to press issues of ticket queues, ticket vending machines, graffiti and station information and announcements with SER. We had the opportunity to walk David Statham, the Managing Director of Southeastern, around Sevenoaks station – including a demonstration of the hazards of the unsuitably designed bicycle racks. As a result of the Association ensuring continued attention to the problem at the highest level in the company new racks of a safer and more suitable design have been installed over the summer. Progress has also been made on agreeing the installation of a second ticket vending machine on the Kippington side.
At Bat & Ball the Association has been a major partner under the co-ordination of Sevenoaks Town Council in setting up the Friends of Bat & Ball group and SRTA has ensured that senior Southeastern managers have become personally involved in plans for restoring the station and allowing community use of the station building. We have also helped in more practical ways in tidying up the station, and we have been working with local politicians, Knole Academy and the railway companies to deal with problems of school children at the station.
Passenger Information issues
The Association pressed railway companies to comply with new legislation on the use of potentially expensive 0845 numbers. As a result both Network Rail and most recently National Rail Enquiries changed their policy nationally and opened an 0345 number equivalent (charged at standard geographical rates), and Southeastern have given precedence on posters and online to their 01732 alternative number.
At the end of June 2015 the Association’s membership was 74 Life Members and 16 current 2-year Members (2014: 59 and 15)
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 18,031 visits to the website (2014: 4,554) with a total of 31,123 pageviews (2014: 9,884). The early weeks of the London Bridge rebuilding period cause some clear peaks of interest in the website. 25% of visits to the website come from mobile phones and a further 10% from tablets. Our website won the top Gold Award for Best Website in the national 2014 Railfuture Awards with the judges commenting that the site was “easy to navigate, relevant and engaging with latest news, a rail user’s one-stop shop”.
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. Keith Alderman (Bat & Ball), Paul Malyon (Dunton Green) and Karen Harding (Borough Green) deserve special thanks for their many contributions throughout the year.
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 14 October at 8.00pm 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)
A C Stott (Secretary)
PO Box 191
Kent, TN13 2AW