SRTA responds to “Rail passenger services in London and the south east: a new approach”

20160121-prospectus-coverThe Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association strongly welcomes the broad proposals in the Rail Prospectus (PDF), the devolution of Metro services to TfL (including, in due course, Thameslink services as well as Southeastern ones), the prospect of similar improvements in customer service on mainline routes, and the inclusion of the Sevenoaks area into an interoperable and integrated Oyster fare system.

The Association represents commuters and other rail travellers from the Sevenoaks area. The area generates 4.8m passenger journeys a year, with substantial growth coming from new developments at Dunton Green and, in the future, Fort Halstead. The area is on the boundary of the London Rail Area and so both mainline and metro trains are important services to many of our members as part of their journeys to work in the London area – many of which journeys also involve the use of TfL services to reach their destinations. It is currently served by Southeastern and Thameslink train operating companies, who vie with one another to come bottom in successive independent customer satisfaction surveys.

The consultation sought our views on some specific issues, and our responses are as follows:

Q. Do you agree with the principle of a partnership to better integrate the specification of rail passenger services across London and the South East?

A. Yes

Q. Do you agree with the principles that the partnership will work to? Are there any specific issues that have not been captured?

A. Yes, the principles are fine as far as they go, but more clarity is needed.

What is unclear is the independence the partnership will have from government and its ability to advocate change in the interests of service to transport users which requires investment.

The TfL system has an important relationship with the London Mayor and the Greater London Assembly. It is therefore accountable to rail users both as customers and through the political system, and is mandated to run and develop transport services for the economic and social benefit of London (rather than with narrow, rail-only, objectives like current franchisees).

It is essential that the principles for the non-Metro services have a similar mandate, including the contribution that they make to the economic and social development both to the counties served and to London, and include not only excellence in operator management but also real and effective democratic input.

Q. Do you agree with the proposed governance arrangements?

A. There is a large gap in the structure. It focuses almost entirely in London metro services and treats the hundreds of thousands of London workers who travel on longer-distance services as having a fixed set of needs to be protected rather than as customers whose distinct, diverse and changing needs must be met. It is essential that the governance arrangements take account of all workers who contribute to London’s success.

There needs to be a parallel ‘Rail South’ organisation covering (at least) Kent, Surrey and Sussex which can work as commissioner for the longer distance services, which is mandated to address wider economic and social objectives, and which has the necessary expertise to commission services and actively ensure that contractors deliver what they have promised. This should operate alongside TFL as it commissions metro services, and should work with TfL to build the extra capacity needed to accommodate growth in commuting from both inside and outside the metro area.

“Rail South” and TfL should be mandated to ensure that passengers see an integrated service (including connections) and interoperable tickets within an integrated, comprehensible and economical fare system.

Performance improvement, control of cost and innovative investment on the part of Network Rail will be essential to the delivery of major improvements in capacity and reliability. This means that TfL and “Rail South” must be able directly to hold Network Rail to account and to actively manage Network Rail’s costs and delivery – not just indirectly through DfT. This means that Network Rail will need to be part of the structure and that decisions on the Shaw review will need to be taken with this in mind.

Q. What form do you propose the input from local authorities could take?

A. There is a real issue that must be addressed in developing effective input on behalf of travellers from outside London both to the London partnership and in influencing services beyond the metro area. TfL is a powerful and competent organisation with deep expertise in planning, commissioning and delivering transport services. This expertise shows in the effectiveness of TfL service delivery and in the ability and ambition of its strategic planning. In contrast DfT have failed to ensure that franchisees deliver quality services and County and District Councils have very limited existing capacity. What is required is (a) a strategic transport management capability for ‘Public Transport South’ which can deal with TfL on equal terms, to develop services for the passengers which – in Kent at least – contribute 60% of the farebox from mainline services from outside the metro area and (b) a strategic partnership engaging Kent, East Sussex and Surrey County Councils (and, later, others), relevant District Councils, and the Greater London Assembly in a single “Joint Board” for the oversight of transport services for London and the South East quadrant.

Q. Do you agree with the safeguards for transfer of inner suburban services to TfL, as set out here?

A. Yes the safeguards are sufficient in themselves. However it is important that they are seen as the minimum to protect the volume and quality of existing services and that there is a joint commitment to the future planning and improvement of all services, including both inner suburban, outer suburban and longer-distance commuter routes. Integrated services and interoperable fares must be written into the safeguards

Q. Are there other outcomes you might expect to see achieved?

A. We need to see how capacity for growth in passenger demand from within and beyond the metro area will be dealt with in the new structure. The additional demands will require additional capacity at main London termini, which must be planned for, and also new routes to and from developing origins and destinations (such as Docklands) as the economic and social geography of London and the South East changes. This means that current proposals to sell off London termini and remove them from Network Rail control must be reviewed so that short term financial gains from station property development do not block future ability to expand the carrying capacity of the rail system.

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