Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Day 2: What you get for £6,144.00 per annum

The previous evening’s commute which had lacked any information or staff guidance from Southeastern had resulted in me waiting at Folkestone Central for a bus replacement service which never turned up. Possibly because it was in fact waiting at Folkestone West!

I left the office at 6pm with very low expectations for the commute home but was pleasantly surprised that the display boards clearly said that an express bus connection to DEAL from Folkestone West would form part of the 18:37 HS1 St Pancras departure. Alas this service was delayed by 20 minutes, but fortunately through the magic of Twitter I was advised not to worry.

There was good communication from the onboard manger on the late running 18:37 up to Ashford regarding the express bus connections but once we departed Ashford no information was given at all. My anxiety level went up a few notches when I read the following tweet from someone who got the earlier 17:37 St Pancras departure.

I alighted at Folkestone West and it was clear there were quite a few fellow passengers wondering where they should go for the express bus connection. There was no Southeastern station staff about or signs but I was pretty sure I had seen a bus in the new car park the night before, so we headed over there. There was approximately 30-40 people heading to DEAL and it was absolutely chucking it down with rain. There was one bus with the words Rail Replacement on its display.

"Is this the express bus to DEAL?"....

Conductor: "DEAL? That left a while back, there are no more buses to DEAL"...

Things got a bit ugly, a little bit aggressive. I am not going to elaborate because I am presuming the rail replacement operator is not part of Southeastern and it is very clear they are under pressure with a clear lack of information or planning from Southeastern.

The situation had escalated to a point where the bus was going to be commandeered by commuters but fortunately a driver was found for a bus parked in the other Folkestone West car park. We headed off to DEAL, hoorah... the driver got lost a bit and we headed back to Folkestone, booo... then we headed off to DEAL again, hoorah...

We arrived at DEAL station just before 9pm.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Monday Morning Commute (4th January 2016)

Ironically it was this time last year that DEAL was looking forward to the introduction of a full high-speed rail timetable. The economic benefit has been tremendous with between 5-10% of the working population now commuting to London and a large increase of visitors to the town. So the devastating closure of the rail line between Dover and Folkestone will cause real economic damage to DEAL as well as the wider East Kent area.

I think Charlie Elphicke's assessment covers a lot of the questions people are asking so it’s worth a read: Working hard to get our railway back on track

For the past few days I have been in contact with other commuters through social media who have similarly struggled with the information from Southeastern on alternative routes. I knew I could park at Folkestone West for free but it is a long drive from DEAL and the direct high-speed service starting from Folkestone Central has been reduced, so Ramsgate seemed the best option.

I got to DEAL station an hour earlier than usual (6.30am) and it looked like there was a rail replacement bus in the car park but as there was no staff around to give information I headed to platform 2 where there was already a sizeable amount of commuters.

The Dover to Ramsgate 'shuttle service' arrived promptly at 6.34am but only had four carriages. This service has a really good connection arriving at Ramsgate at 6.53am with a high-speed service departing at 6.58am. Many of the regular DEAL and Dover commuters opted for this route and the staff at Ramsgate seemed surprised at the volume of people. Staggeringly this seems to be the only peak morning or evening service with a connection time wait of less than 15 minutes.

During my journey on the high-speed service from Ramsgate to St Pancras I couldn't help but think how lucky commuters on this line are to have twelve carriages rather six and do not have to stop at Ebbsfleet.

Apparently the peak evening high-speed service I would normally get will have an express bus connection service from Folkestone to DEAL so I might try that tonight.

If any good comes from the potential months of disruption, I hope that it's a more resilient and connected rail network for East Kent for people that need to get to work, school children to get to school and visitors to boost our economy.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

DEAL station usage increase is the highest in the district

The latest in the series of Estimates of Station Usage for all stations in Great Britain, was published by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) on 15 December 2015. This is available on the ORR website at

DEAL station has seen an increase of 24,990 passengers over the past year which is the highest increase in the district. Other increases were recorded at Dover 17,758 and Sandwich 6,372.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Successful first year of all day highspeed rail services for DEAL

For the last year (January 2015 to 2016) highspeed rail services have been arriving and departing every day and twice an hour at DEAL, WALMER and Sandwich stations (albeit a few cancellations and delays). The sight of those once elusive BR class 395 (Javelin) trains frequenting DEAL so often is a wonderful sight and asset to our town. The current economic resurgence in DEAL is entwined with the reduction of journey times to the capital to just 80 minutes.

Recently Southeastern have installed real time display panels at DEAL station and this is a very welcome investment. A shelter on platform 1 is something I am still pushing for.

The current franchise runs until 2018 and I suspect any changes to the timetable will be very minor if any at all. Peak services continue to be very popular and latest government data has revealed 10% of the workforce in DEAL now commutes to London, the highest in the district and I suspect many of those use HS. The indications from Southeastern management are that they are very happy with the number of peak passengers, quite amazing considering one of the original excuses for not including DEAL in the HS network was because "no one would use it".

Implementation of all day services was achieved by running a coastal loop service via Ashford and Faversham but poor promotion and greed of getting passengers onto the more expensive route by Southeastern has limited its success and particularly off-peak services. The political decision of removing Ebbsfleet stopping patterns from Thanet services and including them on Sandwich services has also caused unnecessary overcrowding and is also impacting Dover and Folkestone commuters.

With the current fleet of HS units already at operational capacity and political desire to include Hastings within the HS network we will need to keep an eye on post 2018 off peak proposals nearer the time. Sadly unsprisingly the continual lack of DEAL being acknowkledged equally by proposals from Dover District Councils' Joint Transportation Board is also a threat.

Do please remember that any delay over 30 minutes can now be claimed for a refund. You can do this online very easily and you will be sent a voucher which can be used to buy subsequent tickets or exchanged for cash within 28 days at any Southeastern ticket office.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Open Letter to David Statham, MD Southeastern, DEAL station improvements

As I am sure you know, the introduction of high-speed(HS) services to DEAL has been a huge success and the imminent introduction of an all day service from January 2015 is highly anticipated. I have no doubt that passenger numbers will continue to grow from and to DEAL station.

However although the introduction of HS services has turned DEAL into the South East's newest commuter town we have not seen any investment from higher fares returned into station improvements. In fact we have lost our main station clock which became faulty and has never been replaced.

Therefore I would like you to consider the following improvements which I think are very reasonable.

New Shelter (platform 1)

During bad weather most passengers congregate in the station building or its canopy however a shelter further down the platform would be extremely beneficial and I suspect could pay for itself with advertising sales.

New Passenger Information Displays

The exisiting two displays are just not adequate and very difficult to read. Most stations have new led displays however DEAL has lacked any modernisation.

Blue Station Lighting

LED efficient blue lighting has dramatically reduced crime in areas where it has been trialled, such as Glasgow. This simple change would make DEAL station much more welcoming in the evening and help reduce crime and anti social behaviour.

DEAL station

Friday, 5 December 2014

DEAL HS Services (Q&A Southeastern & Network Rail)

Yesterday I spoke to Southeastern and Network Rail managers at St Pancras at their 'Meet the Manager’ event and I thought you might like to read some of the main points we discussed.

Q: High-speed (HS) services from DEAL have dramatically reduced the journey time to London but line speed is still fairly slow up to Folkestone, can it be improved?

A: The track between Dover to Folkestone is built on chalk and clay next to cliffs which often have landslides, in fact the track actually moves slightly because of its geographical location. It would be incredibly difficult to improve line speed but we are improving land slide defences. The track between DEAL to Dover is a different matter and we could do something there to increase line speed, a decision would need to be made whether there is enough usage to make it commercially viable.

Q: HS services to DEAL often get delayed near Martin Mill due to late running mainline services, would upgrading signalling rectify this.

A: Over the next two years DEAL will lose its signal box and the existing signals will be modernised however the gap we need to maintain between trains will still be the same, so unfortunately it won't solve the problem. DEAL has become a commuter town in recent years however the infrastructure we are working with was built a long time ago.

Q: HS services will serve DEAL until 2018 but what happens after that? There has been a lot of speculation about a Manston Parkway station and Westenhager Parkway station.

A: Westenhanger Parkway station is unrealistic however Manston Parkway is still feasible. The good news for DEAL is now that HS services have been secured it would be very difficult to take them away post 2018 regardless of who runs the franchise.

Q: From January most peak services from DEAL will be additionally stopping at Ebbsfleet however they are often standing room only already from Ashford. Is this a wise decision?

A: If you look at the existing peak shuttle services to Ebbsfleet from St Pancras in the evening they are often very lightly used. We will be using more carriages on peak morning services via Canterbury West so I don’t think it will be a problem. However the sheer volume of passengers who want to get into London on these peak services does mean we have very little spare capacity. Ideally we need a few more class 395 units (HS trains) and that is a discussion we will be having with the Department for Transport.

Monday, 17 November 2014

New January 2015 timetable (All day HS for DEAL)

The new Southeastern January 2015 timetable is now available and there are significant changes for DEAL which includes an all day and every day HS loop service which will also provide direct services to Faversham and the Medway towns.

You can download the timetables here.

HS journey times on average are DEAL to St Pancras (via Ashford) 1hr 23mins, DEAL to St Pancras (via Faversham 2hrs 6mins). Fares on the HS Faversham route should be at a discounted rate for DEAL, WALMER, Martin Mill and Sandwich passengers, however I am still waiting for confirmation from Southeastern on this.

The new timetable will give DEAL a huge opportunity to capitalise on tourism, enable greater scope for leisure trips to London and new route opportunities to North Kent. The reduction in off peak mainline services should also reduce signalling delays.

The last weekday HS service from St Pancras will be 23:37 which gets into DEAL at 00:59.