Since I posted my last rail update in August, I have continued to press representatives from the rail industry, as well as Ministers at the Department for Transport, on the improvements we all want to see in Bromley and Chislehurst.
Following the particularly bad disruption many of us experienced on the Orpington line in October, I wrote to both David Statham, the Managing Director of Southeastern, and the Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, to reiterate my frustration with the substandard service – which was below the level of performance even those of us who travel on the network regularly are used to - and to seek answers for the long-suffering residents who have contacted me. I have attached copies of these at the bottom of this page, and as you will see, was keen to stress that these sort of problems have left many of us with no confidence in the franchise.
I subsequently met with Mr Statham on 23 October, and with John Halsall, Network Rail’s Route Managing Director for the South East, on 16 November to discuss the root causes of the disruption. I also raised my concerns with Mike Boden, the Bid Director for the Go-Ahead Group (who manage Southeastern, London Midland and GTR) in a meeting on 30 October.
The problems on the line have been made worse by a particularly faulty track circuit at Grove Park – which from what I understand has alone caused 3,000 delay minutes and 36 cancellations since June – as well as the speed restrictions through the Sevenoaks tunnel. Although ongoing repair work has repeatedly been carried out, I was assured, at all three meetings, that this circuit will be satisfactorily fixed by Christmas.
I have also been meeting with a number of the bidders shortlisted to run the next franchise, and have been setting out what I feel passengers in the Borough need over the coming years. With a number of competitors currently involved in this process, I believe we have a good opportunity to ensure that whoever takes over the service oversees genuine improvements in the day-to-day running of the network.
On top of the problems I have persistently raised around reliability, overcrowding and the failures in communication during periods of disruption, I wanted to use these meetings to push again on a number of other issues I know are of concern, including:
- Step-free access: although progress is being made, with plans now submitted for improvements at St Mary Cray station, I believe this should be replicated at all of our stations locally, and particularly Chislehurst, Elmstead Woods and Bickley, where station usage is increasing rapidly.
- Connections at Grove Park: the rigidity in timetabling means many people continue to miss connecting trains at the station. An increasingly joined up, common sense approach is needed, with some extra slack in the timetable.
- Increased engagement with local authorities and developers to plan for the future: passenger numbers have increased by 40% since Southeastern took over the running of the franchise, and Bromley and Chislehurst has the second highest number of commuters travelling by rail of any constituency. With a number of major developments in the pipeline, the rail industry should be doing more to ascertain where demand will be in the years to come, which is why I have redoubled efforts to reinstate the Bromley North line.
- Maintenance at stations: it is still frequently taking too long to repair minor, seemingly run of-the-mill problems at many of our local stations. We shouldn’t have to wait months for a door to be replaced because of a bureaucratic supply chain.
- Trespassers: a growing portion of disruption is being caused by trespassers on the line, and sadly, fatalities. The good campaigns being run need to be backed up with proactive, practical measures on the ground – like more patrols and intruder alarms – something I know Southeastern and Network Rail are looking at closely.
As many residents will have seen, the Department for Transport published last week its response to the consultation on the future of the South Eastern franchise, which it run earlier this year:
Although it includes a number of welcome proposals on increasing capacity and integrating Network Rail and the Train Operating Company (TOC) further, I remain unconvinced that Southeastern has the ability to implement the considerable improvements that are evidently required. I have written to the Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, setting out my concerns, and have again attached a copy below. I am hoping to set up a meeting with Ministers and Department officials on the back of this so that I can discuss these issues again in person.
There will be a number of closures and changes to services over the Christmas period, details of which can be found here: https://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/travel-information/thameslink-programme#christmas_closures
I will of course continue to press for meaningful improvements over the coming months, and as always, will post any updates on my website as often as time allows.