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.