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.