New Franchise, Better Service? Have Your Say

“Services on the South Eastern rail network have been unacceptably poor for far too long.” A sentiment all regular passengers on the service running through Blackheath will no doubt agree with. The implication of this statement in the consultation for the new South Eastern franchise due in 2019 is that things will change. And they should. The Revolt has, on occasion (okay, quite a bit), commented on the issues with the current service. Now time to shift the moaning – for despite everyone, including the Dept for Transport, recognising things are not good enough, little came of the many complaints – and push for change. The Revolt encourages everyone with a view to take the time to respond to the consultation to ensure the voice of passengers is heard. It is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/future-of-south-eastern-rail-services

The consultation also highlights some existing improvement plans to be delivered that the Revolt has been pushing for: more flexible season ticket options (including Oyster-style smart cards); on train wi-fi (due to be fitted across the network by end of 2018, although we’d like to see this done faster); compensation for delays of 15mins rather than the current 30mins – on a journey from Blackheath of 20-25mins, being 30mins late only occurred when things went very wrong, whereas 15mins delays are more regular occurrences. But also a very concerning suggestion (Q17 below) that trains from Blackheath could be limited to just running to Cannon St.

The consultation sets out the challenges and asks a range of questions. The Revolt has some thoughts. If you agree or disagree, don’t use up all your enthusiasm or ire on the comments here but respond to the consultation!

Q2) Introducing longer trains – although it requires the infrastructure to be in place across the network, platforms have already been extended at Blackheath and a default of 12 car trains at peak time (up from the current eight or ten) would be most welcome.

Q3) Better designed trains to handle capacity – a contentious point based on some of the comments on the Twittersphere. The Radicals would love seating for all but this is unrealistic. Anyone getting on at Blackheath should realise that even with 12 car trains there will not be seating utopia. For those of us who do regularly stand, the yellow door trains (the Electrostar – not donning the anorak, the consultation describes the train types) are much better than the trains with the small vestibule (the Networker) for capacity. Many will take umbrage at the suggestion that more standing areas are the solution but the Revolt prefers to be pragmatic and realistic – and no, this does not mean support for all standing trains, sitting on the roof etc. The existing yellow door trains seem to have the right balance.

Q5&6) Improving customer service – The Revolt has written about this before… A Treatise on Customer Service ; Service? No, we’re Southeastern et al. In short, less automated crap, more relevant info provided quickly, more info on the train (hit and miss as to whether the driver is feeling chatty at present), more visible station staff (Blackheath is nominally a staffed station). As already noted, reducing the delay-repay to 15mins and making it easier to claim is a good thing. Data should be available to South Eastern on actual timings of services and this should be quickly and pro-actively publicised – passengers shouldn’t have to work out if their train was 14 or 16mins late.

Q7&8) Fares and ticketing – more flexible season tickets to take account of how people work and travel (e.g. working from home, not using the service regularly on a weekend etc.).

Q9&10) Access and improvements to stations – the not-so recent update to Blackheath makes it pretty accessible but more cycle racks would be welcome.

Q14&15) New services – Support additional trains in the evening and weekends. Blackheath doesn’t do too badly on this but as an example on paper there are four an hour to Charing Cross on Saturday but they come in pairs about 7mins apart leaving gaps of 23mins between services.

Q16) Effective timetabling – Blackheath is a bit beholden to services coming in but as noted above, sometimes services can end up clumped together. So options for having trains at ‘clockface’ intervals would be good.

Q17) Single Terminal option – Certainly not as the example suggested of all Metro services on our lines only going to Cannon St. This would represent a marked reduction in service and increase costs for many who do the point-to-point tickets to Charing Cross and Victoria.  A Zone 3 travel card is £500 more than a Blackheath to London terminals ticket. This would also increase journey times for all those that don’t currently use Cannon St.

In addition this would have a knock-on effect on the Underground with additional large numbers of passengers accessing the Tube at London Bridge and Cannon St. Over-crowding is already an issue at London Bridge at peak times and this would make it a regular occurrence there and for the Circle/District line connection at Cannon St. Revolt experience is that routes to Charing Cross, Cannon St, and Victoria are almost equally popular. And the suspicion is that a single terminal option would lead to fewer trains and less capacity as one station has fewer platforms than three. So, No.

It would not benefit the occasional and weekend passengers as arguably Cannon St is the least of the ‘destination’ stations for theatre-goers, shoppers, cultural activities, etc.

Q18&19) Better partnership between operator and Network Rail – Revolt recognises that the franchise runs on a network that struggles (historic lack of investment, running at capacity). Closer working and greater incentives to deliver a reliable service for both the operator and infrastructure would be welcomed.

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