SRTA calls for more line capacity and all 12-car peak hour trains

Sevenoaks-Station-Platform-3-Nigel-ChadwickThe 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.

Specific Issues

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Next steps

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.


SRTA calls for more line capacity and all 12-car peak hour trains — 7 Comments

  1. I strongly agree with the suggestions made for rail improvements. However, I do feel that a stronger call to move the Sevenoaks Metro services to TFL along with the introduction of Oyster ticketing needs to be made. As you rightly point out, the rolling stock used on both the fast and slow trains is not really suitable for future requirements – an urgent upgrade / replacement of all SE rolling stock is required. Moving Metro routes to TFL would guarantee this.

    The recommendation for a direct Gatwick service would also be great. However, as Gatwick is joining the Oyster system, the route would need to be integrated into that ticketing regime.

  2. Many thanks. These are great points, although in the “Balkanised” railway system ticketing is not strictly an issue for Network Rail.

  3. I agree with all the comments and recommendations made, particularly with regard to the introduction of an all day/evening Thameslink service on the Maidstone East line. It is noticeable that the peak Blackfriars service for example, leaving Borough Green at 07.12, has become markedly more busy in the 5 years that I have been using it, and particularly since the start of the London Bridge works with passengers seeking an alternative direct service into the City. However the demand has become such that customers boarding at Otford, for example, are having to stand because of lack of seating which is not acceptable when you consider that it is a 40 min journey into London. The extra evening service from Blackfriars introduced in the January timetable change this year was very welcome, and from personal experience of using it, it has proved a very popular alternative for those of us in the City rather than having to tube it to Victoria. More of the same please!

  4. I would like to add the following points for consideration for inclusion in the design of any new rolling stock for our rail services and service improvements: –
    1. All new mainline stock should be 2+2 seating, the 375/9 series trains demonstrate how unsuitable the 3+2 seating layout with a narrow walking route through the carriage does not accommodate the larger and taller population that is becoming the norm in the Country. On busy services the centre seat of the three seat bench is frequently empty because not many passengers can fit into it both ends of the bench are occupied.
    2. Air conditioning in all new build stock.
    3. Consider designing trains with fixed formation of articulated coaches open from one end of the train to the other to maximise capacity; no ends of carriages and the wasted space between two coaches.
    4.Any new rolling stock used by TFL for metro services if they take these over to have 2+2 seating with toilets on all trains. The class 376 that Southeastern use on some metro services or TFL London Overground stock would not be suitable for services between Sevenoaks and London.
    5. Earlier and later services in both directions between Sevenoaks and London on both routes; Southeastern via Orpington and Thameslink via Bat & Ball.
    6. Better connections between Thameslink and Southeastern services at Sevenoaks.
    7. As a quick way of increasing capacity before any major improvements are introduced is it possible to increase the three coach Class 375 trains to four carriages by building an additional coach to add to the current trains formation.

  5. These are good points for future lobbying as we move forward. On lengthening the 3-car 375s I believe that currently some 11 car services are needed due to platform lengths.

  6. If the problem is platform lengths then 375s can surely use 12-car trains with Selective Door Operation?

    There used to be a problem at Tunbridge Wells with infrastructure as well, but I thought that that had been sorted. In any case, the Kent Route Study is sufficiently long-term that Network Rail could sort out any track or other infrastructure issues within its planning horizon.

  7. Looking forward to a Lewisham Junction station – it would be of huge benefit to west Kent commuters. I hear that the Bakerloo Tube will now be extended to Lewisham via Old Kent Road and Burgess Park; part of inner south London that up until now has been largely ignored for rail transport improvements.
    More information on Lewisham Junction proposals can be found here…

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