Wednesday, 4 December 2013

DEAL to London St Pancras in 81 minutes (Dec 2013 timetable)

Southeastern's new train timetable will commence Sunday (8th December 2013). The new timetable includes minor changes and a couple of morning services from DEAL to London St Pancras will reduce to 81 minutes.

(HS1 weekdays only)

Monday, 7 October 2013

Leader of KCC response on future of High Speed (HS) rail services to Deal & Sandwich

The present position in respect of HS to Deal and Sandwich is as follows:

Kent County Council's (KCC) financial support for this service ends - as it was always planned to  – on 31 March 2014, by which date the Council will have invested £430,000 in revenue support.  KCC has already urged the Department for Transport (DfT) to include at least this peak period service in the Direct Award specification which will determine the operation of the franchise between November 2014 and June 2018. We have also requested confirmation that Southeastern Railway Ltd (SER), if this were specified for the Direct Award by the DfT, to continue to operate this service, without any further revenue support from this Council, for the 28-week extension period of their existing franchise between April and November 2014.

KCC also supports in principle the aspiration of Trains4Deal for an extension of the HS service to operate off-peak and weekends. Any extension of the operating period, at least during the day on Monday to Friday, would have KCC’s strong support, and we shall urge the DfT to include at least a Monday to Friday off-peak service within the specification for the Direct Award.

Just to be clear about one point though: it is not that KCC has withdrawn the funding, but rather that the period of the current franchise has been extended, as a result of the DfT's revised franchise timetable.

So to summarise the present position: the most constructive way forward now would be for the DfT to agree to include these valuable HS services within the service specification of the Direct Award from November 2014, and then for SER to operate them without additional revenue support (and also without any requirement to forward additional revenue receipts to the DfT) between April and November 2014. That would ensure the continuation of these services right up to the end of the Direct Award in June 2018.

KCC is very well aware that many work/life choices have been made by residents of the Deal and Sandwich area predicated on the existence of these HS services. KCC will therefore continue to influence both the DfT and SER in the ways I have outlined above, until at least the existing peak period service - and preferably an enhanced off-peak service - is secured right up to June 2018.

That would be good news for East Kent - not just for the towns of Deal and Sandwich but especially for the Discovery Park Enterprise Zone and the essential economic growth which it supports. We shall not give up on this goal until we know that these vital HS services to Deal and Sandwich are secured.

I am monitoring development very closely alongside the MP for Dover and Deal, Charlie Elphicke. We are working hard in finding a long term solution.

Thank you again for writing to me about this important matter for East Kent.

With very best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Carter
Leader of Kent County Council

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

What's the DEAL Charlie Elphicke?

I had envisaged this post would be composed of many detailed paragraphs but I am going to try and use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

The previous Labour Government decided not to include DEAL in the HS1 rail service which they launched in December 2009, furthermore they reduced the existing classic service and increased journey times.

Good rail links are vital to DEAL.

Prompted by the Pfizer closure at Sandwich, Kent County Council (KCC) put their money where their mouth was and funded a peak high-speed (HS) service for DEAL & Sandwich until the expiry of the existing Southeastern franchise agreement in March 2014. The service has been a huge success and exceeded everyone’s expectations. Furthermore KCC agreed to promote all-day HS services for DEAL & Sandwich as their top priority additional requirement for the new franchise specification.

So what's gone wrong?

The coalition government had a "franchise fiasco" at the Department for Transport (DfT) which has resulted in delaying new rail franchises and subsequently potentially means DEAL & Sandwich will have no HS services from March 2014.

Whose fault is it?

It is the fault of the Government and the DfT and as local representatives of the Government; ultimately the blame must lie with Charlie Elphicke MP (Dover & Deal) and Laura Sandys MP (Thanet South).

Regardless of the existing 'franchise' in 2011 Helen Grant MP (Maidstone and the Weald) secured HS services to Maidstone West which as far as I am aware is not under threat from March 2014.

Charlie Elphicke has spent a considerable amount of his political time on securing the 'Peoples Port' of Dover and a new Buckland Hospital. But in DEAL we have lost a high school, our hospital and a children’s centre is under threat and now rail services.

The potential of Betteshanger Business Park has still not been realised nor has a North DEAL access road. In fact I am struggling to think of any direct positives Mr Elphicke has brought to DEAL.

So come on Charlie, now is your opportunity to actually make a difference and secure all day HS services to DEAL. It’s quite simple... all the DfT have to do is tell Southeastern to stop HS services at DEAL.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Public meeting announced over growing HS service concerns

The Southeastern stakeholder rail group Trains4Deal have announced an emergency public meeting to rally support in the face of  "real and growing concerns that neither Kent County Council, the Department for Transport nor Southeastern has yet committed HS services for DEAL & Sandwich when KCC's subsidy ends in March 2014." 

In addition to maintaining the existing service, Trains4Deal are urging the Department for Transport, Kent County Council & Southeastern to commit to vital improvements which are needed to local rail infrastructure and station facilities. Furthermore, the promise of an all-day timetable is still desperately needed to ensure East Kent fully benefits economically from the HS service.

Tom Rowland from Trains4Deal said, "Now Discovery Park needs a similar HS service down from London, timed so a visitor can spend a working day in Sandwich. This will also benefit other local businesses and tourism, for which the service also needs to run at weekends. The train company admits that it has spare HS rolling stock that could be used for this, but there is suspicion that funds are being set aside to create a new £10m Manston Parkway station instead of maintaining and expanding services we have today."

The longest train delay in history

Thursday 19th September 2013 8pm
The Bohemian (1st floor)
Beach Street

I encourage people to go and show strength in numbers.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

DfT have final say on full HS service for DEAL from Oct 2014

PRESS RELEASE from Southeastern:

The current Southeastern franchise expires on 12 October 2014. Between then and June 2018 we’ll be entering what’s called a Direct Award period with the Department for Transport (DfT).

The DfT is responsible for specifying what services will operate and to help with their planning, Southeastern will prepare a proposal to submit to its officials which meets their requirements for service, access, station quality, ticketing and other improvements. The DfT will have the final say, but we want to ask anyone who travels with us or is any way affected by our services what they wish to see in the coming four years so we can factor these in to our submission to the DfT.

Full press release and details how you can send your views to Southeastern


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Southeastern to lose high-speed franchise from September 2014?

Following the shambolic handling of the West Coast mainline franchise by the Department for Transport, the Southeastern franchise due to end in March 2014 has been formally extended by six months (such provision already existed in the current franchise agreement). After six months, continuation would depend on a series of direct awards by the Department for Transport.

The assumption is that these direct awards would be given to Southeastern however there is a serious political and economic issue over the franchise specification of high-speed services. The current peak extension to Deal & Sandwich is funded by Kent County Council until March 2014 which should have then allowed the new franchise specification to integrate all day services to Deal & Sandwich.

Due to the complexity of the current franchise specification all day services can only become profitable if they are integrated into the service agreement. The lack of basic working station facilities at Deal suggests Southeastern are unwilling to make any financial commitment without a guaranteed immediate profit return. The political and economic impact of shelving all day services to Deal and Sandwich however is a risky one and as such the Department for Transport may decide to award the high-speed continuation to another more accommodating train operating company.

Charles Horton, Managing Director of Southeastern "The extension to Deal and Sandwich had been funded by Kent County Council. Passenger numbers have increased and Southeastern has no indication that KCC intend withdrawing funding."

Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council "As service use grows the potential to extend it to provide a full timetable throughout the day will be a real possibility which will boost local business prospects still further."

James Conway, Department for Transport "We are talking about the High Speed services; the Classic services are fully funded. The HS extensions at peak have been a fantastic success story, and the government has to be honest about that"

Charles Horton, Managing Director of Southeastern "We're very active, and we recognise the benefits delivered by the Deal and Sandwich service. We'd like to talk to the DfT about how the services go forward in the direct award period, and whether they become integrated (in the franchise specification) or not."

Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover & Deal "I thank the Secretary of State for Transport for being so open with the House about this matter. It is an issue not just about the cost to the public purse, but about the potential for franchises to be delayed. In my constituency in Deal, we want a hard-won commuting high-speed service to be made an all-day high-speed service."

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Believe in a better DEAL

"HS extensions at peak have been a fantastic success story, and the government has to be honest about that." James Conway, Department for Transport

"Indicators are that it's a phenomenal success" Paul Crick, Kent County Council
Three years ago this week I started working in London after being made redundant and unable to find a suitable job in Kent. At the time the commute by rail was difficult and lonely from DEAL up to Ashford where I could then get onto a quicker and more reliable high-speed (HS) service. The morning commute seemed bearable, but the many nights I spent waiting for a connecting mainline service to DEAL from Dover Priory which inferably would be cancelled or severely delayed became sole destroying.

One afternoon in December 2010 I was sitting at my desk when a colleague shouted over "hey you live in Kent... it's snowing! you better leave as Southeastern are notorious in the snow". Naively I thought he was joking so it was quite a shock when I left work at 6pm and entered St Pancras to see chaos and scenes reminiscent of people fleeing for their lives in a disaster movie. I was lucky to squeeze onto one of the last HS services departing from St Pancras but when I arrived at Dover Priory I was advised there would be no mainline services to DEAL.

As I stood on the platform at Dover Priory wondering how I would get home I watched the now empty HS train depart and carry on to its depot via DEAL. Three Southeastern staff were chatting to themselves nearby and I shouted over "hey, they should make those trains stop at DEAL" ... the response was "don't be stupid no one would use it".

The following day I started researching and found out there was a campaign group called Trains4Deal but it didn't seem to be getting much notice so I started my own blog, a twitter account and started annoying some important people. But the thing that really surprised me was the fact that DEAL had one of the lowest ratios of jobs per working population in Kent which prompted the question; why wouldn't people use a HS train service for DEAL?

Fast forward three years and my daily commute from DEAL to St Pancras via the Southeastern HS service is quicker, easier, more reliable and now shared with hundreds of other Dealites. Even Southeastern staff seem genuinely supportive of the service. But I am still often taken aback by the hundreds of visitors that alight at DEAL on a Friday evening.

Change is often subtle and unapparent without reflection but I personally believe DEAL has benefitted enormously from the HS service which has brought confidence and purpose to the town and its inhabitants. But we need off peak and weekend services.

Many of us were anticipating a full HS service for DEAL & Sandwich to commence next year but the Government franchising fiasco has put this aspiration on hold for potentially many years. The recent Rail Summit attended by Trains4Deal seems to indicate gridlock in the process.

We need to pile on the pressure once again for more HS services and I would urge everyone to not only send comments to Trains4Deal but also email the following people directly. Thank you.

James Conway (Department for Transport)

Paul Crick (KCC Director for Planning and Environment)

Charlie Elphicke (MP for Deal)

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

How many Southeastern staff does it take to fix a clock

The continued increase of HS1 commuters, weekend visitors and excursions like the Orient Express has resulted in DEAL train station becoming a central transport hub for the town. The transformation has been helped by the thriving retro cafe 'Platform 1' and recently a community garden project has started to breathe new life into the station.
However even though DEAL commuters have seen their fares increase higher than any other part of the country the investment from Southeastern into basic station services has been pitiful. The dilapidated station sign has still not been replaced and several months ago the platform clock completely stopped functioning. In these difficult times some may say there are more pressing matters, but I personally think first impressions count and DEAL station is often the first impression people see of our town. Let's face it if the clock was in St Pancras it would be fixed within hours. So here is the current state of play:
Southeastern Customer Relations 12/02/2013
I'm sorry that you're unhappy with the condition of station clock at Deal. Our stations form an important part of the overall travel experience. They’re people's first point of entry and very often form the first and last impression of our company. It's important that they're regularly maintained to a good standard. I'm sorry that this wasn't your experience.
I'll ask our station manager to investigate the position as soon as possible and see how we can remedy the situation. 
Once again, please accept my apologies. I hope that you'll notice an improvement soon.

Latest Update
I understand that you'd like more information regarding the maintenance of the station clock on platform 1 at Deal station.

As you're aware this clock has not been working for some time. I've been in contact with the station manager and our facilities team regarding this matter. I can inform you that we're currently looking into ways to repair this. However, we're also looking at replacing the clock altogether and a decision about this should be made in the near future. Therefore, I hope you notice an improvement with the clock soon.

I hope this is helpful and thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Customer Relations Officer