Nearly four years ago Sevenoaks commuters, along with those in Hertfordshire and Essex just outside London, were offered a deal by the London Mayor. Hertford and Essex said yes – and since 2015 their commuters have been enjoying all the benefits of Overground trains – all stations staffed, fares integrated into the TfL system, Oyster, stronger service management, better reliability and new trains. Kent said no – so we didn’t get anything.
After strong pressure by local rail travellers, and reassurances from TfL, Kent changed its mind, and it looked this time last year as if Sevenoaks commuters would get the same benefits as their counterparts north of the Thames. The deal was agreed by the Mayor, the Minister and Kent. We were looking forward to some real improvements.
Then the Mayor and the Minister changed, and in January 2017 exactly the same deal was rejected by the Department for Transport in Whitehall. And Kent – without any evidence that things had changed – backed the minister rather than its own commuters. We still don’t have a satisfactory explanation why. The hatchet job prepared by consultants for DfT certainly doesn’t give one.
Then, to cap it all, Bob Neill, MP for Chislehurst, discovered a couple of weeks ago that Whitehall plans for new trains on the Metro services into London – on which part of the promises for 12 car operation of trains on lines into London are based – are on hold. The Department for Transport seems likely to let us down.
This list of let downs by Whitehall and Kent doesn’t give anyone confidence that the next franchise, due next year, will deliver what commuters north of London get. Nothing has yet been offered to break the cycle of poor performance.
If we don’t see some real progress in the next three months one question should be on everyone’s lips. What have they got against Sevenoaks commuters?
75, Bayham Road, Sevenoaks