Shake up on the railways promised by the government

Posted On 30 Nov 2017 at 9:17 am

The railways face a shake up as the government looks at ways to make the overcrowded network fit for the 21st century.

The Southern and Thameslink franchise may be broken up. It currently includes the Gatwick Express and Great Northern services.

They were brought together to try to deal with the challenges of the Thameslink upgrade which has, at times and among other things, been blamed for chaos at London Bridge.

The proposals include better wifi during journeys and the reopening of some lines closed after the Beeching review in the 1960s.

This has raised the hopes of those campaigning for the revival of a line between Lewes and Uckfield.

And a suggestion that private investors help pay for new capacity has encouraged supporters of the larger scale campaign for a second Brighton main line (BML2).

A significant first step would involve the costly and demanding challenge of creating extra capacity at Windmill Junction in Croydon – a key bottleneck for passengers from Brighton and Hove.

Given that big projects are planned years ahead, it is unclear when plans might be set out, let alone work start.

The government’s aims and ideas were set out in a policy document published yesterday (Wednesday 29 November) entitled Connecting People: A Strategic Vision for Rail.

It said: “In 2014 the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise brought together two different franchises under one management contract to support the delivery of the Thameslink programme.

“The current franchise will come up for renewal in 2021 and with the completion of the Thameslink programme the government’s intention is to split the franchise into two or more new franchises.

“In advance of competitions planned to start in 2019, the Department (for Transport) intends to review the future shape and size of the franchises that will replace the existing arrangements.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) may hand some routes to Transport for London although TfL looks more likely to run routes in west London than south London.

The strategy document said that ministers aimed to “introduce fast wifi on all services, making journeys more productive and enjoyable for passengers”.

Former Brighton councillor Maria Caulfield, now the Conservative MP for Lewes, renewing her calls for BML2 and the reopening of the Lewes to Uckfield line.
The line was closed in May 1969 but could potentially open up a new route from the south coast through Uckfield to London.
Miss Caulfield has long campaigned for the opening of a second Brighton main line to ease the pressure on the Brighton main line – an extremely overcrowded and busy route.
She has been working with the BML2 campaign group to lobby the government to back the scheme which could potentially be funded by private backers.
She said “I welcome the government’s plans to reopen rail lines that were previously closed as this will not only provide additional routes for passengers but provide an economic boost and potential for house building.
“I believe that BML2 is a perfect example of where the government’s strategy would work wonders.

“I will be calling on the Transport Secretary to back BML2 and the reopening of the Lewes to Uckfield line during his statement to the House of Commons on the rail strategy.”

The Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “Our investments will meet demand for more capacity on the network, adding new links, restoring lost capacity and connections, and supporting the government’s industrial and housing strategies.

“This will include continuing to look at opportunities to restore capacity lost under Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s where this enables new housing or economic development or eases congestion elsewhere on the transport system and offers value for money.

“We will also bring more private sector finance, funding and expertise on board to help provide capacity for the future.”

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: “We are investing in the biggest railway modernisation for over a century.

“Today marks a major step forward in giving passengers better journeys across the south east and beyond.

“We’ve listened carefully to passengers and have introduced innovative new plans that see smoother, more comfortable journeys for passengers, with new, longer trains and more space.

“South Eastern will be also – for the first time – be run by a joint team from the operator and Network Rail under a single director – responsible for day-to day performance and accountable to passengers.”

This follows a comparable initiative involving Southern and Network Rail during the long-running dispute over the introduction of driver-only operation on new trains.

The government said that South Eastern services carried 640,000 passenger journeys a day and would soon need to integrate seamlessly with future Thameslink and Crossrail services to transform the way people travel across London and the south east.

The government also said: “The next operator must also meet tough targets for improved wifi to increase the speed of data connection and coverage on trains.

“And when passengers are delayed, travellers must be able to claim compensation quickly and easily when their journey is delayed by more than 15 minutes under an improved Delay Repay scheme.”

This has been piloted this year by Southern’s parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) as the dispute with ASLEF (now resolved) and the RMT (still unresolved) entered a second year.

The government added: “More than 10,000 responses were received for the department’s consultation on the future of South Eastern.

“The department has listened closely to passengers and South Eastern trains will still travel to the same London stations as at present including Victoria, Charing Cross and Cannon Street.

“There will be some limited changes to services to deliver significant benefits for all suburban passengers including fewer delays and a regular ‘turn up and go’ timetable.

“The next train operator and Network Rail must also work closely together to make these transformative changes happen.

“Bidders must put forward plans for integrated joint teams between themselves and Network Rail to bring track and train closer together, cutting delays and improving operations.

“Following Chris Gibb’s report into the failure of Southern Rail to deliver an effective service in 2016, steps were clearly needed to transform joint working across the region.

“Although Chris Gibb identified trade union action as the main cause of the disruption, he also set out plans for much greater integration between Southern and the Network Rail team.

“The result was that the day-to-day operations of both organisations were brought together into a single control centre at Three Bridges.

“There is now joint planning of the peak every day to deal with any issues arising from problems on the route and more co-ordination of work on the line.

“The industry has also established joint oversight of the railway as it prepares for the launch of new services and fleets in 2018.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said yesterday: “We have seen no details of this so-called rail plan but it appears that Chris Grayling’s answer to the disaster of rail privatisation is yet more privatisation with the creation of a series of local versions of the failed and deadly Railtrack infrastructure model.

“From what we have heard this lethal plan could well spell the end for Network Rail as a national, strategic and publicly owned body.

“The planned breaking up of Great Western and GTR is a massive admission of failure by the government but still they rule out the highly popular option of public ownership. That is a scandal.

“RMT will fight any plans for more privatisation and fragmentation on Britain’s railways and will step up the campaign for public ownershi

  1. Barney Reply

    It all seems good in theory, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks the Beeching cuts were a big mistake, but could this government even be trusted to organise a booze-up in a brewery?

    We’ve had nothing but staff cuts, delays and cancellations caused by the DfT’s stubborn obsession with destroying trade unions and it’s attempts to automate a service that can’t ever be fully automated.

    As a disabled traveller, I find the lack of platform staff and uncertainty over whether I’ll be able to leave the train at my intended destination a constant source of stress. The automatic barriers and excessively large metal gates at minor stations are another obstacle, even when they’re working properly.

    They’re spending a fortune on fortifying the stations as they continue to destroy what was once a (fairly) good system.

    The franchise system means there’s no incentive for train operators to invest in either infrastructure or rolling stock, so they just cash in on what already exists and continually shed staff to cut costs and increase shareholder profits.

    The few remaining staff members, both on the trains and at the few remaining manned stations couldn’t be more helpful, and I have nothing but praise for these friendly, hardworking men and women, many of whom I think of as friends, but to the government, disabled people like me are just an unwanted and unwelcome nuisance.

    With taxi operators and individual taxi drivers, both private hire and Hackney, now refusing to carry disabled people, the trains are my only option, but how long will this last?

    Chaos on the trains. Roads disintegrating after years of neglect. No rural bus services. It seems politicians of ALL parties want to restrict the rights of ordinary people, able-bodied or otherwise, to travel.

    At this rate, it won’t be long before we have to apply for “internal passports”, or permits to travel, similar to what happened in Russia after the Communist invasion of 1917.

    Progress? What progress? It seems to me that we’re going backwards.

    Perhaps it’s time to try a radical experiment known as DEMOCRACY rather than the current system whereby the privileged few lord it over the rest of us, continually displaying their utter contempt for those they pretend to serve.

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