Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Open Championship highspeed verdict

Following the incredibly successful completion of The Open, Southeastern has revealed that it carried 37,000 passengers to Sandwich to watch Darren Clarke win the claret jug.
This is a significant increase on the number who visited when The Open was last held at Royal St George’s when 30,000 came by train.

Vince Lucas, Southeastern service delivery director said, “We’re pleased with how smoothly The Open has been and our contribution in making the event a success. We were able to transport a large proportion of spectators and accommodate with the higher than expected numbers of people travelling. It is a testament to the hard work of local staff working together with other agencies in Kent. We hope many of those who came to Sandwich will take the opportunity to return to Kent, especially in the autumn when highspeed trains will begin operating from Deal and Sandwich on a permanent basis.”

I took the opportunity on the Friday morning of The Open to speak to some fans at St Pancras International station. They raised two issues which they were unhappy about, the first being that they felt Southeastern hadn't made it clear the service would make additional stops and not be direct to Sandwich.

The second point and this was also picked up by the national press was the walk from Sandwich station to Royal St George's. Many had expected a bus transfer service but Kent police prevented buses being laid on because of a lack of space around the station. This does raise the question did Southeastern management liaise with Kent police and if so why didn't they make an additional stop at Deal station where there is ample station space. Deal station was successfully used on each championship day as a coach transfer point for the Orient Express.

The new Southeastern highspeed commuter service for Deal & Sandwich will commence on the 3rd October, considering the huge additional profit gained from capitalising on The Open it seems unfair that any subsidy however small should be paid to Southeastern for the introduction of this new service.

I am also very concerned of reports that Southeastern plan more fare increases in January next year following on from this year's outrageous increases of 12.8% for East Kent. I hope Charlie Elphicke MP & Laura Sandys MP both stand up for East Kent against these potentially devastating fare increases to an area already under huge economic contraction.

The Open proved with a relatively small marketing budget that people enjoy visiting East Kent, perfectly summed up in the Telegraph as "party time for quaint corner of England as Sandwich and Deal welcome the golfing elite". The town's pubs, restaurants, hotels & attractions were in huge demand with many saying they were keen to return. The commercial viability of all day highspeed services to Deal are as valid as any other Kent coastal town and should be implemented as a priority.