ESRA has been invited to respond to a consultation titled “A New Approach to Rail Passenger Services in London and the South East” which is looking at ways to build partnerships and to improve services and support growth in London and the South East region.
In the consultation the Secretary of State for Transport – Patrick Mcloughlin – and Mayor of London – Boris Johnson – propose to establish a partnership between the DfT and TfL that will provide joined-up strategic direction for the specification and management of rail passenger services across London and the South East.
New mechanisms will be established to enable LEPs and local authorities to input to the specification of these passenger services, providing a stronger voice for local people and helping to leverage local investment to drive growth.
This proposal includes the transfer of responsibility from the DfT to TfL for inner suburban rail services that operate mostly or wholly within Greater London, as current franchises fall due for renewal. The DfT will continue to be responsible for outer suburban services. The partnership hopes to ensure that the region’s passengers benefit from a joined-up approach.
Representing the strategic needs of travellers on the South Coast and the trunk routes into London from East Sussex, the East Sussex Rail Alliance (ESRA) has been invited to take part in this important industry consultation.
“ESRA’s primary concerns are in two sectors. The first is to move the policy makers to plan strategic investment in upgrading the reliability and capacity of the present Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to deliver reliable, timetabled capacity on the principal Coast-to Capital trunk routes and to reduce journey times as far is practical,” Ray Champan, Co Chairman of ESRA said.
The second is to press the infrastructure controller to invest a higher level of budget in current infrastructure reliability and capacity, to raise line speeds, to introduce higher capacity with improved control systems, to plan to remove flat junctions with grade separation where it is economic, and to invest in providing more flexibility.
There is concern that as Network Rail is already insufficiently accountable and tends to hide behind the train operators, the mechanism must be a priority if and when the proposed new governance proceeds. Major protective measures must be provided for the through traffic originating from outside London.
Infrastructure constraints, particularly on the Brighton Main Line (BML) and at some London termini during peak hours, currently limit opportunities to improve services to the South Coast. ESRA therefore calls for the extension of high speed ‘Javelin’ services to London St Pancras from Rye, Hastings and Bexhill via Ashford – and, if viable, from stations further West.
As a shorter-term measure to improve performance on the Brighton Main Line ESRA recommends the installation of European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) on this line, and in addition on both East and West Coastways, much sooner than is currently planned.
“This would allow reduced train separation and increased line capacity in the longer term as well as the conversion and upgrading of key flat to flying junctions as occurs on the SW lines from Waterloo,” Chapman said.
ESRA welcomes the proposals for higher quality services, but believes that very substantial infrastructure investment will be required if these goals are to be achieved. Passengers, particularly those outside London, currently have very poor daily experiences largely due to bottlenecks at key locations in the network, especially certain junctions on the Brighton Main Line.
ESRA recommends that the proposed new organisation should address removal of these bottlenecks as a critical priority in achieving its wider service aims, and should monitor the effectiveness of this work by setting transparent performance standards and measuring actual outcomes.
“ESRA is very concerned that the needs of longer distance travellers, who already experience excessive journey times and frequent disruption, are fully protected by the promised safeguards so far as frequency, journey times, and stopping patterns are concerned,” Chapman said.
More efficient and faster long distance services with adequate capacity are an opportunity to give more commuters the confidence to move out of London thereby reducing stresses on inner London services. Performance in this regard will be a key test of the Partnership’s success – Chapman concluded.