So another year has passed. It is some time since we issued a news round-up, but don’t be tempted to think we’ve been quiet without action. Far from it. Here is what we hope is a fair summary of events and standings.

There has been an IMMENSE amount of work going on behind the scenes at industry and political levels. The support for the planned extension of HS1 to Hastings & Bexhill is strong from within local & regional councils, politicians, the industry itself, the DfT, regional development funders, and local businesses.
This is NOT just about faster journey times TO London, although they will bring much needed regenerative boosts, but the opportunity to bring more people and businesses INTO the area.
The project is now split into three stages the first of which, to appraise the necessary work at Ashford Int’l, has been fully funded and has a working time-scale.
In the longer term the need to electrify the line between Ore & Ashford is fading because new train propulsion technology is moving apace. (see also: South Eastern)

It would have been tempting to say the lack of negative news = good news, but the Bulverhythe Depot tragedy casts a big shadow.
Local services seem to be doing well. However, the seemingly endless evening works between Wadhurst & Tonbridge do not look like going away – we STRONGLY believe that NetworkRail and SER need to up their publicity on what they are actually doing, what it will achieve, and when this will come to an end. (see also: Fare Increases)
We are also concerned about the ever-upwards creep of off-peak fares, which do little to encourage leisure travel. Whilst there are some special offers, these do not offer a continual narrative to try rail rather than private transport.
Of course this franchise is coming to a close. We have been invited to and have had constructive discussions with all three potential bidders; we all awaited the official Invitation to Tender (ITT) – the minimum service requirements and criteria etc.
It was recently released and we have to say that the Hastings zone does pretty well. Whilst the reference therein to HS1 is NOT a REQUIREMENT, there is very strong indication that bidders’ inclusion of it will be seen in a positive light. The day-time service pattern to Charing Cross will lose the stops at Sevenoaks and Orpington; the Cannon Street commuter services appear to be kept; there is much better connectivity at Tonbridge to the Medway Valley Line.
Once the bidders have ascertained the DfT requirements and formulated their respective ideas and plans, we will be keen to recommence our discussions with them to look towards getting the best potential outcomes for Hastings.

It has been VERY positive to note the plaudits given to local rail users groups (*SHRIMP, OTG, BRAG, MLAG, THWART, RailFuture) by senior executives of GTR and the Rail Minister. Our discussions with GTR iro their 2018 Timetables have been mutually constructive and well received. We all hope for early DfT approval. * A glossary of these was given in our recent article ‘A Potted History of SHRIMP’

Following a number of trials Southern have now settled on a new regional management strategy which seems to be a positive move, with East Coastway being an enclosed operational division.
We are also impressed by a new openness within the GTR senior management team, but we must note that there remains a tendency to evade awkward issues.
As has been well publicised there has been a mix of fortunes on industrial issues; one (hopefully) resolved, one spreading. We refuse to take sides and will only state that this is not and never has been a one-sided dispute.
What has been conceded by Southern is that the driver-assist CCTV is not fit for purpose on ANY of the (class 377) Electrostar trains that operate the Coastway routes – they need to be upgraded but Southern have not advise a time schedule on the project.
On a less positive note we are increasingly concerned at the number of service cancellations during non-industrial-issues working. The ‘official’ numbers of service cancellations may not always correlate to the industry’s own train-running data. There is a limit on how many times you can have the same conversation with GTR regarding the impacts when services within a one-hourly frequency are lost.
We are nothing short of incredulous at the new phenomenon of the Marshlink trains RUNNING OUT OF DIESEL, resulting in short notice cancellations. The next sentence is not a joke: we have been told (by Southern) that the units do not have fuel gauges – they have to GUESS the available fuel levels by mileage. There may however be guides on the actual fuel tanks.

The Dft has also confirmed that TSGN (Thameslink Southern Gt Northern) franchise – as operated by GTR – will be broken up at the end of the current franchise. To be honest this is probably the worst kept secret of modern times; we knew that from the outset because the DfT told us!
It is not a direct reflection of the troubled running of the franchise.
Ever since the original cobbling together of three franchises to form TSGN – to allow Thameslink to be delivered without any inter-franchise squabbling – DfT has been retaining its option to re-split it at the end of the franchise. The question to ponder is how the TSGN franchise should be segmented. We have our own thoughts, but it is too early to go into that.

GO-AHEAD (Don’t make by day….)
Yet again we must highlight that both Southern and SouthEastern are both fully owned subsidiaries of the same company. It is regularly difficult to believe. The lack of communication and cooperation between them is simply not in the public interest. Rail user groups have been having that discussion regularly since 2006 ie before SHRIMP. That fact alone suggests it is a corporate strategy issue, not a local one. NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

In spring 2017 SHRIMP was pleased to create Ore Transport Group (OTG) to look after the interests of that station and it’s rapidly increasing footfall. Under the brilliant handling of Trevor Davies this group has hit the ground running. Ore station has already been adopted into the Community Rail Partnership scheme. OTG is a recognised stakeholder and attends industry meetings.
A raft of station improvements are being discussed with Southern and potential local sponsors. We extend a MASSIVE thanks to Friary Gardens for their assistance to date and we look forward to further alliances. On a connected note, a big well-done to the volunteers who are transforming the banks at Warrior Square. It has been noticed and appreciated!

For too long the railways have been sensed as a no-go area for some sections of the public. The existing DDA has failed to address the complex issues surrounding AFA on the railways. But the DDA will start to impact the railways in 2020 so now is the time to examine the local issues.
SHRIMP/BRAG is developing a working sub-group to look into the issues that affect physically and sensory disabled travellers and the reasons why they may be discouraged from using the railways. The creep of services with no second member of crew to assist is unhelpful in this context.
We are very keen to have discussions with leaders of local groups who can assist.
Meanwhile but hopefully only in the short-term there is an intriguing question about the new London Bridge station and it’s apparent visual-only announcements. Is this DDA compliant for passengers with sight defects?
NWR have said they will investigate (3rd Dec).

Due to external circumstances we had to bid farewell to our IT whizz, Janos, to whom we tender our sincere gratitude. Most of our group communication is done via the Twitter-feed (@1066shrimprail),
Weird but true: on Friday 13th October our followers hit 666.
We are also starting to use the web-site as well – hopefully you are reading this from that source!
After a total shut-down for many years (don’t ask….) we are now using our communication e-mail address again as well.

However change for change sake is not always a progressive step. Some of the changes have been badly planned. It is worth noting that the ORR is still not fully convinced that Southern is totally ready for driver only trains (which, incidentally – as noted in the Gibb report – is what they put in their original tender to DfT).
But there are some positive signs for the future. It’s all a question of timing, funding and commitment.

Here we go again. Nobody likes them and we will not endorse them. But it is a cross-party political decision and equation that has been running for years. WHAT IS ESSENTIAL is for NWR and the service operators to be much more open about:
a) the nature of work being carried out
b) the timings of the works, especially the long or repetitive ones
c) what immediate and longer term improvements passengers will see and benefit from.

We must hope that you are aware that the festive period will bring another series of station blockades. If not, take the time to check with posters etc.
This is scheduled to be last significant closure associated with the Thameslink programme, with London Bridge station returning to full operation early in 2018.

So, we have an intriguing mix. There is a clear possibility of better and expanding services from the new South Eastern Franchise
Meanwhile Southern is trying to improve but not quite getting there, but DfT has indicated that this is going to be broken out of GTR/TSGN anyway, so this may just limp along as best it can…….

Wish all our followers a Merry Christmas. A Happy New Year. And Better Travelling.

SHRIMP, December 2017