We Can Improve Kent's Rail Services; But it Needs a New Approach

June 26, 2018 6:10 PM
By Tony Clayton and Merilyn Canet

In 2017 Sevenoaks commuters were promised big improvements to rail services: transfer of Metro services starting from Sevenoaks to Transport for London, to give us Oyster / contactless fares, staff at minor stations, better customer service and information completing the four year London

/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/SevStation-298x300.pngBridge rebuild with more reliable trains, and a regular timetable, new fast services from Otford to London and Maidstone, providing extra capacity by December 2018.

Then Chris Grayling turned up. All the promises were broken. He told TfL they couldn't run a railway, stopping the Metro transfer. No service improvements arrived after spending £6.5 billion at London Bridge. He put new trains from Otford on hold. Then there was the Thameslink fiasco; timetable changes coordinated by Department for Transport simply fell apart.

The franchise system government uses to run our railway is broken. There are no real penalties when rail companies fail. The customer comes last in much of the thinking by government and rail operators. Decisions on services are taken in Whitehall for political reasons. Halving our trains to Tunbridge Wells to cut 3 minutes off the journey time from Amber Rudd's marginal seat in Hastings is one example

To fix this we need ministers out of the way. People who run successful railways should take responsibility, with local accountabilty.

TfL should supervise short distance services into London. Their approach of paying operators to run trains based on performance for customers works well. They design services to get travellers where they need to go in a joined up system.

A similar body should oversee the long distance trains in the same way. Covering Kent, Sussex and Surrey - perhaps beyond. We could call it Transport South. It should pay operators when trains run well, and be democratically accountable like the Mayor in London. Then the trains could work.