When A Cinderella Line met Thameslink & Network Rail Directors
Image courtesy of Nico Hogg
On Wednesday 9th March, our campaign met with directors from Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail together with Vicky Foxcroft, local MP for Lewisham borough to push for some answers about the issues that local residents are facing using the railway service. We took 5 key topics to be discussed at the meeting:
Severe overcrowding on the trains
Chronically poor reliability
Longer term improvements to the service
Poor communication and lack of information
Condition of stations on the route
Both GTR and Network Rail were happy to answer our questions and gave some useful details about what has been going on and what the future plans are:
What about the ridiculous overcrowding issues? Thameslink are well aware that this is a serious problem for us and that its can't continue and that this is only going to increase with more homes being built and people moving into the area. They have a few plans in place to tackle this and we also put forward a few suggestions of our own for them to look at. Will we get more train services per hour? There is good news for this. Thameslink told us that this is something they definitely want to do. They are keen to run 4 trains an hour for us, especially in peak times as they know there is the demand. They have to apply to the Department for Transport to be able to do this, and so we all need to support them with this to make sure it happens. When are we getting new trains on our route? There is good news for this too - Thameslink are rolling out the new trains from spring this year. The Brighton - Bedford mainline will see these first, and then we should expect to see on our route from autumn of this year. They were understandably not willing to commit to a date, but did say that the whole route should be upgraded by spring 2017. That's all well and good but we need more capacity now? We pushed Thameslink to see what could be done now to improve the overcrowding and have given them two suggestions to look at:
Could some of the Southeastern Victoria bound trains stop at some of the Catford Loop stations to pick up passengers (as passengers often change at Denmark Hill for Victoria anyway) ?
Are there any other spare trains that are better designed to cope with larger numbers of passengers that could be used for us until we get the new trains?
If Thameslink can source any other trains to use, they will need public support for this, so if it's an option we are counting on you to support them and us push for this!
What about reliability and communication? Both of these are problems even if we get more trains? Thameslink acknowledged that communication is bad and it's an area that they are currently focussing on. Currently Sevenoaks Thameslink services are controlled by decisions made by the Kent control centre (Southeastern), in the short term they have recently brought on board a full time employee who is responsible to feed information directly to Kent control from the control centre at Three Bridges to ensure decisions are more integrated and passenger information is accurate. In the longer term control of these services will be brought into Three Bridges later this year, ensuring consistency of decisions being made in line with the rest of Thameslink services. We have also told them they need to use plain english when communicating with customers as this is something that could be improved. Issues with reliability will continue while the wider Thameslink Upgrade project is taking place, and currently any issue that we experience with reliability currently is amplified by up to four times due to the upgrade project. What about the lack of drivers? This has been an ongoing problem for us? Currently Thameslink have around 300 drivers and they are looking to more than double this to 640 by 2018 to account for new services. All of these 300 drivers will need to be trained to drive the new trains, this additional training requirement will place some services at risk. However from the start of this year, they are seeing new drivers complete their training at a rate of between 10 and 12 per month, so we should now be seeing less and less driver shortages.
In terms of the current driver shortage, they expect to have resolved this by August 2016 and have enough drivers in place to run all scheduled services. What about the station conditions and facilities? Thameslink inherited the stations when they took over our route and know they need improvements. The good news for this is that they have a fund set aside to work on this and and are keen for our input on how this is used, and although it's not enough to put lifts and cafes in every station along the route, we can expect to see some key improvements.
So, what can I do to help the campaign now? As you can see, there are some bits of good news, but we need to keep pushing to make sure these things happen, so we need you to:
Keep signing and sharing our petition - if you all shared it just once we could double our signatures.
Come to our next public meeting - Thameslink and Network Rail have agreed that they will attend this as long as we give notice.
Check out our website for other ways to help
As always, that's to everyone that has supported the campaign already, and if you would like any more detail about our meeting with Thameslink and Network Rail please get in touch with us if you have any questions.