Things can only get better!

Overground_roundel-with-exclamation-markThe Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association has long been campaigning to bring TfL’s standards of service and integrated ticketing to the Sevenoaks area.

TfL’s Overground service has consistently achieved better performance and better customer satisfaction ratings. For instance the dreary old Silverlink trains and stations on the North London line have been transformed beyond all recognition. All that is despite TfL suffering some of the same infrastructure issues that Southeastern blame for their abysmal performance.

It’s clear that TfL’s concession model produces superior results: that’s because TfL plan services to maximise the benefits to the local economy, TfL set fares and standards of service to attract more fare-paying customers, and TfL then actively manage operators hard to make sure they deliver to agreed standards. In addition they offer integrated ticketing (Oyster) and all stations are manned from the first train to the last – which would greatly benefit the much neglected Dunton Green. What’s more, TfL would bring much-needed competition and new thinking to rail services in the South-East.

So we are pleased that the first steps have been taken with this morning’s announcement from the Secretary of State for Transport and the Mayor of London about proposals to create a better integrated rail network in London and the South East.

An important move is the partnership to give a new, joined-up, strategic direction for the specification and management of rail passenger services, with consistently high standards of service. We hope that this will not only bring benefits to the Metro services but will also treat Mainline services as an important part of the London and South-East economy in the way suggested last week by the Centre for London. The statement rightly stresses that frequent and reliable rail services are vital to enhancing people’s quality of life and ensuring the region’s towns remain attractive places to visit and do business.

The proposals will also include the transfer of responsibility from the DfT to TfL for inner suburban rail services that operate mostly or wholly within Greater London. This includes some services from Cannon Street, Charing Cross and London Bridge. So we expect the current Southeastern Metro service to transfer when their franchise ends in 2018. One vital unfinished piece of work is to define the boundary of the area controlled by TfL – but we are clear that that natural boundary point in our area is Sevenoaks itself where the Southeastern Metro trains already stop. The proposals are also unclear about what will happen to the Darenth Valley line Thameslink services once the franchise ends (in 2021-23).

The proposals say that the DfT will continue to be responsible for the Mainline services, but it is said that “the partnership will ensure that all the region’s passengers benefit from a joined-up approach and none are disadvantaged”. There is a pledge that “high standards of customer service should be common to all services, regardless of whether they are specified by TfL or DfT. This includes, where possible, integrated fares and information, plus an improved travel environment, better accessibility and staff available to help”. We hope that this means that DfT has recognised that the Southeastern “franchise” model has failed commuters and that in future the partnership for both Mainline and Metro services will be based on the proven TfL approach to delivering consistently higher standards and with the potential for lower fares.

Commenting on the proposals SRTA Chairman Tony Clayton said:

“This is a breakthrough for the Sevenoaks area and its long-suffering rail passengers. The Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association has long supported bringing the TfL model and integrated ticketing to Sevenoaks, and our lobbying has helped local government recognise that this is the best way to go. We will be working with TfL, DfT and local government to ensure that these proposals are developed and implemented so that rail travellers see a real difference in quality of service and value for money. What should make a real difference is that TfL’s strategic approach is based on growing services rather than accepting old constraints.”

There is a 21-page document that gives more details and invites responses. We will be analysing it and giving our response shortly. In doing so we would like to hear your views: please tell us here.


Things can only get better! — 17 Comments

  1. This is wonderful news and has made my day.

    Do we now start the campaign to have TFL take over before 2018?

    I’d also be interested in what safeguards have been put in place to stop Southeastern not just “giving up” for the next 2 years and milking as much cash out of the system as possible.

  2. Completely agree with what Susan said! We must keep up the pressure or Southeastern may find ways of getting even worse! But it’s excellent news.

  3. The joint DfT and TfL document “A New Approach to Rail Passenger Services in London and the South East” proposes a transfer of control over suburban services operating mainly in Greater London from the Department for Transport to Transport for London. It aims to improve service frequencies, passenger facilities and information, co-operation between providers and standardised fare structures…. all very worthy aims, but considering rail services in the Sevenoaks area in particular, how much benefit is likely to be gained? There are practical difficulties to increasing the frequency of “metro” services without adversely affecting the longer distance routes.

    One of the main constraints is the double track section between Sevenoaks and Orpington. Off Peak services over this section amount to 6 fast t.p.h (trains per hour) and 2 slow t.p.h. The fast services are timed at between 8 and 9 minutes from Sevenoaks to Orpington while slow trains take on average about 16 minutes. At off peak times this is not a problem but during the peak hours between 10 and 12 fast trains an hour use this stretch of track and only between 2 and 3 slow trains can be fitted in.

    The cost of quadrupling this length of track would be prohibitive with two tunnels and a long embankment near Orpington. An alternative might be to run additional semi-fast trains using the line through Bat & Ball, re-joining the line to London Bridge at Chislehurst junction. There is more than enough capacity to run such trains both off peak and up to 4 additional trains per hour during peak hours stopping at, say, Bat & Ball, Otford, Swanley, Hither Green, London Bridge (when fully open again)and either Cannon Street or Waterloo and Charing Cross. Not only would these fulfil the ambition to run 4 t.p.h on all “metro” routes, but would provide an opportunity for direct services from Bat & Ball, Otford, and Swanley to Cannon Street, without building any new track. This may also encourage passengers from these areas as well as those living in Borough Green, and West Malling to reach the City with one change of train at Otford or Swanley, rather than drive to Sevenoaks to use Cannon Street trains as many do at present.

    While this might create one or two additional train paths at peak times for longer distance trains through Sevenoaks, it would not result in any reduction in their services nor, unfortunately, any major benefit. To achieve that, something more far-reaching might be required. South Eastern Trains point to the popularity of their High Speed trains from the Medway Towns, Ashford, Canterbury and the Kent Coast to London, but many commuters from these areas continue to use the “classic” routes as these take them direct to the City (Cannon Street or Blackfriars), whereas the “High Speed” line takes them to St Pancras where the cost and time needed to take the Underground back to the City negates any time advantage and adds further to the premium cost charged for using the “High Speed” service.

    Once Crossrail is linked to the Shenfield and East London commuter lines presently terminating at Liverpool Street, creating room at Liverpool Street to handle additional trains, how much more popular would be the high speed services if a chord were built at Stratford to allow High Speed commuter services from Kent to terminate at Liverpool Street. That in a stroke would dramatically reduce the demand for more long distance commuter services from Ashford and the Kent Coast terminating at Cannon Street and allow the paths to be used by other services. Just a thought, but this one would cost a chunk of money to build a short length of track, much of which would need to be underground, in the Stratford area.

  4. Interesting thought David but I believe there are already plans for the paths freed up into Liverpool Street, and the good burghers of Essex might resist a grab from Kent for them….
    A better plan could be improved connectivity one way or another into Crossrail. If it isn’t full within a couple of years.

  5. Who is going to pay for these promised improvements? Isn’t TFL much more heavily subsidised than South Eastern? They are also going to have the benefit of taking over once the London Bridge works are complete, so will have had none of the pain. Be interesting to see how it pans out but it may not be how everyone thinks.

  6. Critical here is actually the delivery of contingency and flexibility, so that travellers can re-route (either on the same train or by transfer to an alternative route) and combine this with the boost to efficient use of track, trains and platforms, which can be achieved by elimination of all terminal platforms for London commuter trains. Terminating means a train standing idle for 5-15 minutes taking up valuable platform space and blocking the incoming trains when it has to go back out, reducing the capacity of the railway to move trains.

    Thameslink saw an entire 6-platform station closed and developed as a prime commercial site with a 2 platform station in the basement carrying more trains/hour than the old station. 4 platforms at St Pancras were released, and more trains now use 4 platforms at Blackfriars than the previous 5. The downside and serious weakness is that there is no rapid diversion route. This could be delivered by the East London Line from New Cross to West Hampstead (or a new connection at Maiden Lane (where the East/North London routes go past the end of the platforms at St Pancras, and thus handle the closure of the ‘central core’ and the impact that has in Thameslink services.

    Key projects planned or which should be planned should include the Barking-Barking Riverside extension taken under the Thames to deliver a rail service to Thamesmead, and a connection at Abbey Wood.

    A Battersea to Bermondsey railway like Paris RER following the Thames and mirroring the District Railway on the North (Victoria Embankment) and delivered as a combined infrastructure project, taking say a 400Kv power grid cable (cooled by the River Thames) an trunk gas main, a trunk communications cable, plus a railway with stations at Bermonsey, London Bridge. Blackfriars, Waterloo, Vauxhall, Nine Elms and Battersea (Grosvenor Bridge/Battersea Park Station). Trains from Kent and Sussex that currently alternate between Victoria and London Bridge could thus run in a loop through the core of London, and eliminate the need for many to use bus, taxi or Tube for the short but massively overloaded journeys in to Central London from where their commuter trains terminate.

    A Waterloo-Euston link might include Charing Cross (converted to an amazing public space as happened with la Gare d’Orsay sending trains underground on fewer platforms and creating a art museum in the old train shed. The local trains from Watford and semi fast services from Milton Keynes would be cleared from Euston’s terminal tracks, and the ‘metro’ stops between Waterloo and Putney could use the trains from Watford removing the stops from longer distance services out of Waterloo. Dartford-Milton Keynes anyone (and an alternative route to Bedford (via Bletchley) as well?)

    Ultimately a way to connect that 1 Km between Moorgate (GN) and Cannon Street could resolve the issue of where to put morning trains coming back out of Cannon Street against the flow of inbound ones and vice verse at night. At the South end trains could loop around via Dartford, and at the North end the extra capacity could be a welcome boost between say Gordon Hill and Moorgate. That connection is however a big challenge given the congested space under the City and topography at Cannon Street.

  7. I’m not sure most Sevenoaks passengers will be as keen as the SRTA are with this change bar the introduction of Oyster cards and even this has problems for off peak passengers travelling back in the evening peak.

    While they seem to give a commitment to not interfere with fast services to Kent, their stated aim is have a min 15 minute frequency on TfL services – running empty stoppers between Orpington and Sevenoaks is not a good use of resources.

    When TfL purchase new stock such as Crossrail they are buying carriages with fewer seats and sideways seating and no toilets – not great if you are travelling all the way from Dunton Green to London. Networkers were specifially designed for inner suburban use and are better than the Overground trains now in use.

    Come 2018 there are likely to be three operators running out of Sevenoaks – TfL, South Eastern and Thameslink – not great for integration of services. I travel from Otford to London 3 times a week and while South Eastern trains are generally very good the Thameslink service is at best unreliable and sometimes non existent which must cause problems for Bat and Ball, Shoreham and Eynsford passengers. In the past Southeastern would often stop at Shoreham and Eynsford if the local train was cancelled but this is now a rare event as the trains are run by different operators.

  8. Be prepared to be bombarded with almost continuous automated announcements about buying and ticket, security and about the rear doors not opening at stations with short platforms. Travel by London Overground is not a particularly pleasant way to travel because of this.

  9. My daily journey is from Borough Green to Blackfriars / Farringdon; an erratic and frustrating experience, due in large part to the extent and complexity of the services needed being beyond the management capability of Southeastern and Thameslink.

    Transfer of the metro routes to TfL could play out positively by allowing these two to concentrate on improving their longer distance services.

    Then my pessimistic persona takes over, suggesting that, with a large part of its revenue stream removed, the two protagonists (antagonists?) would embark on a two-pronged round of fare increases and service reductions.

  10. London Overground trains have minimal seating and no toilets. It would be a step backwards if this rolling stock was introduced at Sevenoaks.

    Also a question: would the introduction of Oyster mean that Sevenoaks gets moved into a London travel zone and would we therefore see reduced season ticket prices for those traveling on the TfL services?

  11. @TrainDrain Some of the existing slow trains from Sevenoaks do not have toilets. This is one of the issues on which we will be pressing TfL when it comes to the specification of new rolling stock.

    We are drawing together some analysis of what might happen to fares under Oyster and will be putting that on the website shortly.

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