Since I retired and no longer possess an annual season ticket to London, when planning my days out to obtain the cheapest fare I usually need to buy Advance Purchase Single tickets from Bat & Ball to my destination rather than from London, and the same for my return journey. Many of these tickets, where Southeastern services are used, show that they are restricted to specific Southeastern services. On three occasions so far using the specified Southeastern services have resulted in me just making the departure of the train out of London to my ultimate destination and frequently sent me on not the most convenient route to London; via Otford and Victoria rather than Sevenoaks and London Bridge. On the return journey there has been a long wait for a train from London back home due to an excessive period being allowed between arrival in London and the advised departure time for the Southeastern train back towards Sevenoaks.
I have been concerned about making the connections in London on the outward journey and the long wait for a train back to Sevenoaks from London on the return journey. Accordingly, I contacted Southeastern Customer Services and asked if the Southeastern services shown on my tickets were compulsory to travel on or were they suggested services to use. I received an irrelevant generic reply. I tried to contact Southeastern management directly, but this attempt failed for reasons unknown. I then wrote to the Office for Road and Rail about this issue. They replied saying that this was not an area that they dealt with and suggested that I contacted Transport Focus. They were very helpful and contacted Southeastern on my behalf.
A summary of the reply I received is that where shown on Advance tickets the specific Southeastern services must be used for your journey. This is because the train operator is attempting to move demand on to more lightly used services to avoid overcrowding. The actual timings take in to consideration that enough time is allowed to change trains.
However, based on my experiences, the train operators seem to assume that they always run their services to time, never cancel trains or incur technical problems with their rolling stock, they do not experience staff shortages and that Network Rail never have point and signal failures, or problems associated with extreme weather conditions!
After considering the reply I had received, I went back to Transport Focus and asked if the Southeastern service that I was required to use with an Advance ticket failed to transport me to London in time to achieve a connection with the train to my ultimate destination would Southeastern be liable for any additional costs I incurred in completing my journey. In reply I was directed to section 9.4 of the National Rail Conditions of Travel, which is what Train Operating Companies are bound by:
“9.4. Where you are using a Ticket valid on a specific train service or train services (such as an ‘Advance’ Ticket) and you miss a service because a previous connecting train service was delayed, you will be able to travel on the next train service provided by the Train Company with whom you were booked without penalty.”
However, the Advance purchase ticket needs to be validated by the train operator so that you can use the next service. (This is not a requirement in the National Rail Conditions of Travel – Ed.)
The bottom line here is that if using an Advance ticket from this area and you must be at your ultimate destination by a specific time it is probably best travel from London on the service before the one that would get you there on time in case there is a problem with the part of the journey on Southeastern.
The issue of managing demand, moving Advance ticket holders on to more lightly used services interests me. Based on my forty odd years of commuting to London, most Southeastern trains serving Sevenoaks area stations in the peak periods heading towards London are usually very busy excepting some at the beginning and end of the peak period. Possibly the Tunbridge Well starters are the least busy when they arrive at Sevenoaks. Similarly, in the evening peak most Southeastern trains serving Sevenoaks area stations are busy. However, I would be very interested to know how many passengers are travelling on Southeastern’s services with Advance tickets compared to the total number of passengers carried in the peak periods. I would expect the actual number is negligible and “managing demand” is not necessary.