Passenger numbers using Sevenoaks have risen around 20% since 1997-98 and commuters are travelling earlier and returning later. In the Sevenoaks area there is new demand from the Ryewood development at Dunton Green and further demand will come from developments such as that proposed for Fort Halstead.
The Kent Route Utilisation Study in January 2010 recognised that some peak service from Sevenoaks were amongst the most heavily overcrowded services on the South East Mainline. The massive investment in HS1 – and the above-average increases in fares to pay for it – has not brought any significant benefit to the Sevenoaks area. Similarly much of the capacity benefit of the London Bridge rebuilding will benefit south and south-west London rather than south-east London and Kent.
Over the years, a number of SRTA proposals to optimise the use of available train capacity (that is both ‘paths’ and rolling stock) have either been adopted by the train operators or have encouraged them to come up with alternatives. These efforts have helped to alleviate overcrowding somewhat. But further changes are needed. So at a strategic level SRTA’s Trains Group continues to press for sustained and innovative investment in the railway serving the Sevenoaks area to provide the service that passenger expect for their high fares and to meet the increasing demand.
In addition, at the operational level SRTA’s Trains Group keeps a close watch on service performance, timetabling and overcrowding issues and is in frequent contact with Southeastern Railway and Network Rail.
For 2016 our agenda includes:
- ensuring that the timetable during the second phase of the rebuilding of the south-eastern side of London Bridge (August 2016 to 2018) provides adequate and regular services for Sevenoaks rail travellers.
- supporting Transport for London’s proposals to take responsibility for south-east Metro services from 2018 onwards, while protecting mainline services as already agreed. This should bring major train service and station improvements for the increasing number of passengers from Dunton Green, and should also extend the Oyster integrated ticketing system to the Sevenoaks area as a whole. TfL’s higher standards and higher customer satisfaction ratings should also bring some welcome competitive pressure to the monopolistic train operating companies.
- pressing for service improvements to be included in the specification for the new franchise for mainline services for 2018 onwards – the procurement of which will be getting under way in 2016. For instance, we would like to see 12-car mainline trains throughout, with Electrostar stock replacing the ageing and unsuitable Networkers (which cannot operate in 12-car configurations on our lines).
- ensuring that the Sevenoaks area get some dividends from the Thameslink investment – including not only the protection of Bat & Ball services but also that the Thameslink service on the Maidstone East line should run for the whole day from early morning to late evening rather than the currently proposed peak-only service.
Our longer term objectives, set out in our initial response to Network Rail’s Kent Route Study, include:
- increased line capacity, for instance by examining options to modify the signaling to provide 24 paths per hour
- all trains to be 12 cars in the peak and capable of 100mph. This requires that all “Wealden” networkers, limited to 75mph, are returned to the SER Metro area (as planned to lengthen Metro services to 12 cars) and their replacement with additional Class 375 Electrostar type units.
- faster journey times, with a study of SE Mainline stopping patterns at the London terminal area including the through platforms at London Bridge to optimize journey times.
- a new southeast London interchange. Many of City jobs have migrated to Docklands in recent years. This had led to severe pressure on the Jubilee line at London Bridge. So SRTA strongly supports an investigation for a new major interchange in the Hither Green/Lewisham area, as suggested by TfL, to include an upgraded interchange between existing SER Metro, SER Mainline and DLR services with the potential to add links with London Overground via New Cross and a new Crossrail type route into Docklands.
- direct trains from Kent to Gatwick airport. Kent remains the only county in all of SE England without a direct rail link to Gatwick Airport. As a result, many residents of Kent are forced to travel by train to Gatwick via London. This is the quickest way from Sevenoaks but is relatively expensive since any return trip to the airport requires two single tickets unless it is a day return trip. Consequently most people use a taxi along the overcrowded M25/M23 motorways. So SRTA members strongly support Kent County Council’s call for an hourly service between Ashford via Tonbridge and Gatwick.