Timetable changes from 11 December

There are significant changes to the timetable for services from Sevenoaks, Dunton Green and Otford from 11 December. The detailed timetables have been published at https://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/travel-information/live-travel-information/december-timetables and Southeastern kindly gave us a briefing on the concepts behind the new timetable and the main features. We have looked at the timetable in detail and these are our main observations.

West Kent Mainline  

The new timetable retains the number and frequency of trains from Sevenoaks station  through the day. If it helps improve resilience and timekeeping that is a plus. We have concerns that there are too few trains arriving at Cannon Street between 6.00 and 8.00 in the morning. If one could be added that would reduce the need for changes across platforms at London Bridge  

However, we note that the structure of the timetable is still based on the irregular pattern of  trains (leaving 20+ minute gaps off peak twice each hour) which came in during the  disruption caused by the London Bridge rebuild. This was adopted – probably by mistake –  in DfT’s 2018 specification for the new Southeastern franchise, rather than the pattern used up to 2014 which was designed to maximise platform efficiency at London termini.  

It is not clear why the more efficient pattern has not been readopted. It may not matter while the line is operating below capacity, but the new timetable structure may not  be best for the long term  

Metro services starting from Sevenoaks  

The redesign of services will make Dunton Green, Knockholt, and Chelsfield services significant less attractive to users, and it is not clear why they have been  downgraded. The peak service is reduced from 3tph to 2tph. In addition they lose the  same platform change at Chelsfield. 150+ pre-Covid commuters who boarded each train  to London Bridge at Chelsfield now face a journey of 42/43 minutes every 30 minutes  instead of a 29/30 minute journey every 20 minutes. This is a huge adverse impact.  

The few High Brooms “fasts” will stop at Chelsfield but will run about 6 minutes AHEAD of the slow and so there is no easy onward connection to London from Chelsfield for Dunton Green and Knockholt. Any change from the slow at Orpington would involve a platform change so will probably lose connections. The lack of clockface timings suggests these services have been treated as an afterthought.  

We consider that it would be better to reverse the timings of the High Brooms fast and the Sevenoaks slow to re-instate the connection, possibly having a longer stop at Orpington for the slow service to  leave timings in the London area unchanged?  

Maidstone East – Darenth Valley  

The addition of a service from Maidstone East, via Otford and Swanley fast to London Bridge is a step forward. We hope that it will improve access from Otford, and calculate that access from Bat & Ball to London Bridge should be 44 or 45 minutes, once an hour.

This service was originally planned to run twice an hour, through City ThamesLink to interchange  with CrossRail (the Elizabeth Line) and on via St Pancras to Cambridge, which would have  made it a competitive commuting service for users from Kings Hill and Borough Green.  These commuters currently drive to Sevenoaks, competing for car parking and for seats on peak trains. A service once an hour running to Charing  Cross will not deliver the same gains, or reduction in vehicle miles / CO2.  

It is important that the original objective for this service is maintained. That means ensuring that the ThamesLink paths are reserved for Kent users, and not released for others. We realise this is beyond South Eastern’s remit, but it is in the remit of DfT which  specifies and pays for all rail operators services and which funded the Thameslink project partly on the basis of gains for Kent commuters.  

From the point of view of Otford rail users, there is real concern that the level of services  has declined, and that even the new service will not restore it. 

Our return for the disrupted years of “London Bridge rebuilding” and £7 billion spent the  promised off-peak service was to be:  

  • 2 “fast” trains an hour to the Thameslink core (Otford to Farringdon for the Elizabeth  line in 40 minutes) via London Bridge and on to Cambridge  
  • 2 “fast” trains an hour Otford to Victoria (as we had until 2020)  
  • 2 stopping trains an hour to the Thameslink core (starting at Sevenoaks, extending  to Welwyn Garden City)  

Now, we are offered:  

  • 1 “fast” train an hour to Charing Cross. (The Thameslink core can be accessed by  changing at London Bridge but Otford to Farringdon will be around 50 minutes)
  • 1 “fast” train an hour to Victoria (half the previous off-peak service – pre COVID) 
  • 2 stopping trains an hour to Blackfriars (starting at Sevenoaks some extending to  Welwyn Garden City)  

Splitting the “fast” services between Victoria and Charing Cross will provide a less user friendly service for passengers starting in London who will need to know which of two  stations – four tube stops apart – to travel to. In times of disruption it will produce extra delays. SRTA recommend moving both services to a single terminus based on popularity  amongst commuters.  

Many of the other promises to other destinations from the Thameslink rebuilding were kept. Kent should not be disadvantaged by failure to keep the promises to us. We  understand that delivering the full promised Thameslink service for Kent requires proving  the train operating and path setting systems to deliver train precisely on time at London  Bridge. The service from this December must be used to develop that proof.  

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