Since 2010 I have noticed a marked increase in the number of people travelling, both during the week and at weekends, particularly in the last couple of years. I do not know the reason for this, but certainly extra travellers due to increased housing development, such as at Kings Hill, is a possibility.
Morning Peak Services
I catch the 0712 service (or 0709 depending on what timetable change is in place!) to Blackfriars. Over the last 9-12 months it is become increasingly difficult to get a seat on the morning service: people are regularly standing from Borough Green and also from Otford. Standing from either of these stations to London is over and above the 20 minute maximum set in the Southeastern franchise agreement. By the time the train leaves Bromley South it is packed to the rafters. Very rarely does the conductor declassify First Class so that people can sit down – indeed the announcements about First Class seats being solely for First Class passengers seem to increase the more packed the train gets! (adding insult to injury). I understand from a friend who travels on the 0619 early morning service from Borough Green to Blackfriars that that train is also busier than it used to be.
After standing all the way to Blackfriars on a couple of occasions recently, my husband and I left earlier and caught the 0704 Victoria service, changing at Otford for the 0716 Thameslink service to Kentish Town. Whilst not ideal, as this stops at all stations, at least it means that you can get a seat as it starts from Sevenoaks.
The introduction of an additional service at 0859 to Blackfriars is, quite frankly, no use for regular commuters who need to be at the office by 0930 as it doesn’t arrive into Blackfriars until 1000!
Evening Peak Services
Returning home, thankfully it is a little easier on the 1747 from Blackfriars – I can get to the station early enough to ensure that I get a seat. However it is usually packed when it leaves Blackfriars; those boarding at Elephant & Castle have no chance of a seat. The introduction of a 1904 service from Blackfriars to BRG was welcomed by a lot of people that I spoke to – so that is a good point in Southeastern’s favour!
The introduction of a regular half-hourly service from Victoria in the evenings up until 2322, and then the last train at 0022 was a welcome upgrade from the previous hourly service. However the four coach formations have been insufficient and passengers have often been crammed in. The news that Southeastern have recognised the need for extra capacity and are turning most of these into 8-car trains is welcome – up to now the spare coaches have presumably just been sitting in a siding!
However the services are vulnerable to any disruption: recently passengers had to wait 1½ hours at Victoria. Southeastern seemed to think that this was acceptable; I, needless to say, did not.
Sunday services should be the same as the half-hourly Saturday service. With a full sporting programme on both Saturday and Sunday, combined with Sunday shopping and people generally wanting to move around whether for work or leisure, Southeastern need to enable passengers to travel in a timely manner. I know from personal experience that the weekend services are sometimes as packed as the daily commuter services and an increase in capacity combined with a half-hourly Sunday service is, I think, a must.
The regular “minor” delays question needs to be addressed also. Five to 15 minute delays are a regular occurrence; not enough to claim Delay Repay, but enough for people to arrive late to their offices or return home late. These minor delays can add up to an hour or more delay over a working week – do we get the money back for that? No, we don’t!
The total lack of information when there are delays is another bugbear. Being delayed is one thing but adding insult to injury by not telling you anything is quite another.
In summary, the general consensus amongst people I speak to, is that the Maidstone East line is treated as the poor relation. There needs to be increased capacity and frequency, particularly to/from Blackfriars in peak hours; this would avoid the need for people to travel to Sevenoaks for more frequent services.