MEETING OF RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE FOR SOUTHERN ENGLAND: FOLKESTONE, 15 OCTOBER 2002
The meeting had little focus on Hampshire / SWT and this summary is accordingly brief. It was difficult to avoid the impression that SWT Managing Director, Andrew Haines, was rather quieter than usual. He admitted that he did not now expect to get a 20-year franchise.
New rolling stock will provide a 14% increase in capacity overall. Space for cycles would have reduced this to 7%. The Committee favours folding bikes but, as these cost about £300, they would like a concession from the Government, eg on VAT.
Channel Tunnel Rail Link
Project running to time. Stage 1 (now 90% complete) due to open on 28/9/2003, and stage 2 (now 30% complete) on 1/1/2007. 4 paths per hour for domestic trains from both Ashford and Ebbsfleet in peaktime, and 2 paths off-peak. Consultation on service options by end of this year.
International stations at Ashford, Ebbsfleet and St Pancras. Future of Stratford being considered – was intended primarily for North of England Eurostars [which were not introduced].
Options for domestic services when Stage 1 opens are being developed. Trains need in-cab signalling. No room for additional services across Rochester bridge. Eurostars will save 20 minutes and Connex sevices will need remodelling to fit in.
Very high engineering standards on new line. 280kmh running on Stage 1, and 230kmh on Stage 2. Reversible working. No closures for engineering. 8 international trains per hour in the peaks. Any off-peak daytime freight will need to be high speed. Engineering work will be at night, which will restrict capacity for freight.
Connex intends to co-operate fully in global service planning. Current franchise expires in 2011. May need to end sooner.
Committee concerned that fares on the link not regulated. However, subsidy agreed by Government to 2022, whoever operates the domestic services.
Work in East Kent will be needed to ensure that trains which run on the link are reliable. Pathing critical for such a high speed service. Hub concept being developed (easy interchange between ordinary and link services at Ashford and Ebbsfleet).
Shepway Council would like Folkestone Central (currently half-disused) developed as a hub, with expresses to St Pancras and interchange with Kent Coast services. Folkestone West ideally situated for park and ride (600 parking spaces envisaged). Site of former Folkestone East station could be used for a depot.
Former Committee member expressed strong view that the link should contribute to the regeneration of East Kent. High speed trains need to run through to the coastal route. Canterbury couldn’t be a hub because of severe road traffic congestion. Trains need to have corridor exits at ends to allow working through the single track cliff tunnels between Folkestone and Dover. Overall journeys won’t be faster if people drive to hubs.
SRA comments were not encouraging – thought benefits of high-speed service would be lost if trains extended all over Kent [Not clear what this means – acceptance that trains unable to operate reliably off high-speed line?]
Performance had improved since post-Hatfield disruption, but was on a 10%-lower plateau than before it. A Member of the Committee who had studied the official charts noted that, overall,SWT WAS UNAMBIGUOUSLY THE WORST PERFORMER.
Andrew Haines noted some improvements over past 8 weeks. Timetable precarious because of increased off-peak frequencies, problems with signalling at Woking, new safety practices following deaths of two track workers. He would like to give ‘heavyweight presentation’ on causes of delays.
‘Railtrack’ [Network Rail?] is now working more closely with operators.
Concerns about the time it can take to buy a ticket, and Network Card reductions being removed from ticket machines. Revenue Protection Inspectors on SouthCentral no longer sell tickets.
South Central say they will be investing in better machines. RPIs brought in from agencies and not trained to sell tickets.
Connex said most quickfare machines not very productive.
Committee considers that performance-related formula in the South East has not worked because performance still poor. Would rather see better compensation when things go wrong. Fares basket concept means some fares go down because travelcards go up.
SWT and Connex getting the biggest penalties and these are increasing.
Sees no case for fare rises above RPI – passenger journeys in the South East generally have much lower subsidy than elsewhere. Companies should collect lost revenue and look at commercial opportunities for new products before asking for higher fares. Rail fare from Folkestone to Canterbury is twice the bus fare. No weekend fares for people visiting relatives.
Today’s passengers shouldn’t pay for tomorrow’s. Investment backlog not fault of passengers. Neither are spiralling infrastructure costs – incredible that estimates for Ashford-Hastings and Uckfield-Hurst Green electrification schemes have increased by 150% over a couple of years.
Connex noted that subsidy adjusts with fares, so fare levels of limited concern. Would like an increase because railway running short of funds. Money from extra fares in Kent should be invested in Kent.
SWT also thought money from increased rail fares should go to the industry. Doesn’t trust Treasury to fund long-term plans. [The plans they presented as ‘real benefits’ when they were only secondary aspirations?]
Industry generally considered that funding was fragile. Committee thought people should lobby their MPs about rail investment.
One view from industry was that additional fraud measures wouldn’t produce a pot of gold. About £2 saved for every pound spent, but not cost-effective to pursue every penny. Connex had a 30% staff turnover at ticket barriers.
Committee wants a National Network Card and regulated day return fares.
At the public question session, Denis put the point that new trains should not be a reason for increased fares. Wessex Electrics had brought some increased comfort in return for a phased 30% real terms fare increase. Service so dreadful in early Summer, with stops between Southampton and Bournemouth omitted from the delayed 17.15 and 17.45 from Waterloo on a succession of occasions, that he now works 4 days a week and travels on late evening trains which do not split. This means higher fares for fewer miles and, often, old rolling stock.
Replacement of slam-door trains
Committee concerned that, following introduction of new Connex Metro trains, Networkers were to be put on longer distance services (eg, London – Ashford / Faversham). Trains had poor reliability, no corridors between units and only one toilet per unit.
Connex said 1.03% chance of failure on an inner-suburban Networker service, compared with 0.4% for slam-door trains. On average, however, Networker casualties can be remedied in 15 minutes. Also envisaged that performance would be enhanced on services without very frequent stops. Modifications being applied across the fleet.
No toilets on new Metro trains. Connex was leaning towards no first class on the modified Networkers.Connex conductors currently declassify parts of first class when standard class over-full [Would that SWT were so passenger-focused!!!] The 75% mph maximum speed of these trains would meet timetable requirements.
It is comparatively simple to bolt on a new cab with corridor connection, or replace the cab. Question of funding, of course.
The Chairman noted that the long-distance Networkers are less reliable than the inner-suburban units. Connex said the units had different equipment. On the inner-suburban units, problems were always with doors or traction. Long-distance units had wide-ranging defects.
Turning to the insufficient power in the live rail for new trains, it was explained that this is because the equipment needs continuous draw; older trains draw less once they have accelerated from a stop.
Problems relatively minor in Kent because of changes made for the Eurostars. Substantial problem on South Central and, more especially, SWT areas. Current supply problems South of Guildford and West of Basingstoke. Problems mean that first new trains on South Central will be on the Seaford-Littlehampton/Portsmouth route.
Connex expects to have most of its new Electrostar trains in service by Christmas [They can be seen already on a few trains in and out of Charing Cross]
Considerable concerns about overcrowding. SRA thought what constitutes overcrowding is mainly a matter of perception. [We thought it was a matter of standing!] The SRA’s formula allows 0.55 square metres per passenger.
On Ashford-Hastings and Uckfield-Hurst Green routes, replacement diesels will be brand new, but on a like-for-like basis. South Central is proposing additional trains to SRA, to allow a Brighton-Ashford service.
SWT thinks long-term franchises extremely unlikely, because SRA can’t afford them [and on past Stagecoach performance, long-term on SWT would be politically unacceptable?]
Isle of Wight franchise due for renewal in October 2003. Coaches older than those on the IOW Steam Railway! SRA announcement expected within two weeks.
Richard Bowker is due to make a statement on future franchising policy later this Autumn.
The Chairman said the Committee was depressed. Huge sums of money being swallowed up. Rail industry must bring costs under control and be more entrepreneurial.
There had been a general forum for local people the previous evening, so this session was limited and largely on points from the meeting. It was noted that the SRA representative had already left and was presumably not interested in views from the public.
Huge numbers of trains from the London Termini were not full length. In addition the SRA should take a firmer line with Eurostar; many reserved paths never used. SRA should sort out the problems rather than whinge about capacity.
Through corridors important. People tend to crowd on to the rear of trains at London terminals at the last minute, and need to be able to walk through.
Disgusting state of some station toilets. Confirmed that there was a particular problem at Ashford International, where the drains could not cope. Dreadful impression given to people from Continent.
Committee suggested that Users Groups should get a copy of the Capacity Utilisation Project consultation document from the SRA.
Virgin had not ruled out running Cross-Country services to Ashford in the longer-term.
SWT’s Passengers Panel is aimed at:
(1) improving communications;
(2) commenting on total travel experience, eg security, ticketing, buffet facilities; and
(3) being the eyes and ears of management [which, as we know, often doesn't listen – eg, on deliberate omission of stops]. Performance already covered by official statistics.