The next Southeastern Franchise: fewer peak hour trains to London and 50% cut in trains to Tunbridge Wells

Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association are still working through the over 900 pages of small print of the Department for Transport’s specification for the new Southeastern franchise. Main points so far are:

  • A cut in peak hour fast commuter trains to London – from ten in 2013 to eight by 2022. So the £6.5 billion investment has meant less, not more, for Sevenoaks and will meant even more overcrowding.
  • A 50% cut in direct trains to and from Tunbridge Wells, our closest big town. Instead of the current direct service every 15 minutes, local commuters and school students will face 30 minute waits or having to change at Tonbridge.
  • No more direct trains from Sevenoaks to Hastings or to anywhere beyond Tunbridge Wells. “Battle, St Leonards Warrior Square and Hastings’” will no longer be announced at Sevenoaks. Hastings trains will run through Sevenoaks non stop, even off-peak. Passengers would have to change at Tunbridge Wells, and add 15 minutes to the journey each way.
  • No extension of the proven Tfl Oyster/Contactless payment system to Sevenoaks. (Instead DfT are directing the new franchise to develop their own, rival, system and trial it, but only in the Medway Towns.)
  • No extra seats for Sevenoaks commuters, from new train configurations or from abolishing first class. No attempt will be made to run more trains on the main line to London until 2024 or later

There are more trains from Ashford and Paddock Wood,  but those are less useful for Sevenoaks people travelling to/from  school, hospital or work.

The most immediate impact of the loss of connections on the Hastings line will be on schools. Sevenoaks students go to at least five Tunbridge Wells schools, and Sevenoaks schools take students from Tunbridge Wells and further south. A number of local schools collect students from Sevenoaks station. Their arrangements will be harder if students arrive every half hour instead of every 15 minutes. Sevenoaks students heading for schools in Tunbridge Wells will have the same problem.

We also know from experience in London that local travellers will use a  service every 15 minutes (which we now have between Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells) as a ‘turn up and go’ link. If it’s every 30 minutes they won’t. That will make life much harder for travellers between the two towns. It will also make it harder for whoever gets the new franchise to retain existing passengers and attract new ones to off peak direct services.

Overall the proposal will reduce revenue and cut the potential for growth, and the lost revenue will need to be made up with higher fares or cuts elsewhere. We cannot believe that shaving three minutes off the travel time between London and Hastings is worth that – especially as what Hastings people really want HS1 extended to them from Ashford, which would cut over 30 minutes off the journey time to London.

We have started pressing for flexibility on what is currently a Government-imposed explicit ban on all Hastings to London trains stopping at Sevenoaks after 2021. At the very least the train company must have the ability to stop at Sevenoaks and collect fare-paying passengers if it can make up the time to Hastings elsewhere. Otherwise commuters and students on Sevenoaks station platform will watch empty seats speeding through.


The next Southeastern Franchise: fewer peak hour trains to London and 50% cut in trains to Tunbridge Wells — 10 Comments

  1. As a regular rail commuter between Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and London, this certainly rings alarm bells as a highly retrograde cut in direct services. Thousands of school pupils who travel in both directions at peak hours will be affected. You only have to observe the arrival of pupils St High Brooms station on the morning for example to walk up the hill to school.
    High time to put more pressure on the local Tory MP Michael Fallon methinks, as well as Greg Clark in Tunbridge Wells, for an urgent joint response.

  2. @Oliver We’re in regular touch with his office, but the Invitation To Tender Grayling has already issued consciously trades off Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon, safe seat) for Hastings (Amber Rudd, marginal seat).

  3. What now? How can they consider fewer services and no new capacity when they’re trying to build thousands of new homes in the district? The DfT and DCLG clearly don’t speak.. Lack of Oyster again is a complete disgrace. Our MP has let us down big time.

  4. Cuts to direct Tunbridge Wells and Hastings services from Sevenoaks will also affect Otford commuters. There are around 400,000 interchanges annually at Sevenoaks, many of which are from Otford onto southbound services. Cutting out a relatively important interchange station such as Sevenoaks affects other stations directly causing inconvenience to passengers from Otford, Bat & Ball etc. not just Sevenoaks.

  5. @Gordon Good point. We’ll reflect this as we continue to make representations on this matter.

  6. Time to suggest a judicial review into how these decisions have been made? That might be enough to put the wind up them. Or some kind of data access request? Time to make their lives as uncomfortable as possible and make them realise that the underdog is not going down quietly.

  7. @Cheryl Freedom of Information Act request probably the first step. The economics of the Hastings train change looks very poor – little real value to Hastings, whereas real fares foregone on people who would have travelled to/from Sevenoaks.

  8. Why is the government imposing a ban on Hastings trains stopping at Sevenoaks?

  9. @Liz They think that it will make the trains from Hastings to London a couple of minutes faster – although congestion through London Bridge and the timetabling constraints of the single track stretches south of Tunbridge Wells may mean that the train simply speeds through Sevenoaks in order to wait elsewhere.

    This marginal change in journey times won’t make any material difference to the economy of Hastings (the alternative, of extending HS1 services from Ashford to Hastings, would be much better) – but it will enable Amber Rudd, the Hastings MP with a marginal constituency, to claim a success.

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