Government requirements reduce train services from Blackheath

From Spencer Drury, PPC for Greenwich & Woolwich

In response to enquiries from local resdients about problems with the changes to the train timetables at Blackheath Station, Parliamentary Candidate for Greenwich and Woolwich and Leader of Greenwich Conservatives Cllr Spencer Drury commented:
"Local Conservatives have been raising issues over these changes for some time, but South East Trains (SET) did their best to hide the true impact at Blackheath by distorting the amount of trains moving from one time (peak or off-peak) to another, which made it difficult to figure out exactly what the impact would be.
We have already raised it with Gareth Bacon (a London GLA member) and he has asked TfL about it, although I understand that they have no specific jurisdiction as this has been changed as a result of government requirements. I have been told that Mike Gibson, SET’s Public Affairs Manager when justifying the changes stated that:
‘A rail franchise is a form of contract set by the DfT specifying the service pattern, subsidy levels, performance targets and other determinants it (the DfT) wishes to see on the network to which the franchise relates.  The franchise is a legally binding document and any change has to be agreed by the DfT. Our draft timetable for December this year is based upon the Integrated Kent Franchise (IKF) draft service specification we inherited as a contractual commitment from the DfT when awarded the franchise in 2006.  The draft service specification was itself the outcome of a consultation exercise carried out by the DfT and the former Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) in 2003/04 and consultees included the former London Transport Users Committee, (now London TravelWatch), Transport for London and the London boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham. Included in this specification was a requirement to operate an all day Orpington to London Service via Lewisham.  
Lewisham is an interchange with the Docklands Light Railway and there is a demand for more stops at stations offering a DLR connection to meet the needs of those travelling on to Canary Wharf. As you may know over the last decade employment in London has been gradually shifting eastwards to Canary Wharf and in southeast London and north Kent demand for stops allowing interchange with the DLR has increased significantly. When we took over the franchise we commissioned an in depth demand validation study (the results of which were shared with stakeholders) to see if the assumptions on which the SRA/DfT had based the draft service specification were still operationally valid in light of revised demand forecasts and subsequent developments such as the Thameslink programme. The results revealed that as a result of infrastructure constraints, Lewisham station is at its maximum capacity for train movements during peak periods and the only way for the DfT’s specification for more peak DLR connecting services to be achieved was for some services to be re-routed away from Lewisham to Greenwich (which also has an interchange with the DLR). We consequently looked at all the routes which serve Lewisham, and the only trains which could be re-routed away are the North Kent semi fast trains from Charlton. So to meet the DfT’s objective our proposal is for these trains to run via Greenwich, so passengers for Lewisham can change onto the DLR.  Blackheath passengers can either do the same interchange as the Lewisham people or alight at Charlton and catch a bus to Blackheath.
Meeting this DfT specification obviously impacts on the number of North Kent line trains stopping at Blackheath.  At present during the morning peak period there are six North Kent trains and these are being reduced to three. However we are offering two additional Charing Cross trains at Blackheath which at present run past Blackheath non stop, these trains will be calling at London Bridge, thereby offering interchange opportunities for Cannon Street passengers. Therefore the actual reduction in trains at Blackheath during this period is just one. This was explained to the DfT nearly two years ago when we set out the operational implications of the IKF draft service speciation and all parties agreed that this was a necessary consequence of meeting the DfT’s aspiration for operating the Orpington service via Lewisham.  The specification detailing future services to London from Blackheath and elsewhere from December 2009 compared to what is on offer today was shared with stakeholders and posted on our website in December last year.
I accept that for Blackheath passengers travelling to Cannon Street, the new timetable may be inconvenient.  However, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that Blackheath passengers commuting to Charing Cross, Waterloo East and Victoria will have additional services.  For passengers travelling in off-peak periods, there will also be an uplift in service levels from four to six trains an hour’.
This appeared to me to be a lengthy and not very informative response, but at the December Council meeting, Cllr Geoff Brighty (Blackheath Westcombe) raised the issue in Council and received a similar reply to that one laid out above. However, in a supplementary, I did raise the fact that I was aware that there had been a Transport Liason Committee meeting in December and the Deputy Leader of the Council agreed to send me the minutes of that meeting. The relevant bits are laid out below:
"Southeastern Trains
MG:           Train performance was back up to 93% following the four week ‘leaf drop’ period.
From 2nd January, Pay As You Go Oyster would be live on the network allowing passengers the cheapest fare option for journey. There will be a fare increase freeze in Jan 2010, although Kent will unfortunately experience a 1.6% fare increase. 
The new timetable comes into operation on 13th December and although the borough has a net increase in services SET were still receiving complaints form customers, especially in the Blackheath area, about a reduction in local services
SET had given an undertaking that from January they would monitor overcrowding on services and if levels were unacceptable they would use the information to renegotiate the local element of the service specification with the DfT
KS:            Requested information on SET’s publicity on the time table changes, and Andrew Stern in GC’s Comms could place all changes on the LBG web site.
Action:      Kim to send e-mail to MG re Andrew Stern contact details so that MG can liaise).
MG:           Said publicity on the timetable changes included:
    • announcements on their current train services
    • a leafleting campaign at stations
    • posters at stations
    • on Monday 14th December they will have all available frontline and back office staff out on the network to offer advice and information

There had been site meetings regarding additional station access at Maze Hill station, which formed part of a Section 106 obligation. Assurances had now been given to SET by the developer and they were now hopeful of a way forward in the New Year.
The installation of new lifts at Blackheath station was scheduled to commence in early 2010 following the resolution of a long term tenancy dispute.”
(Kim Smith (LBG) [KS]
Mike Gibson (South Eastern Trains) [MG])
I understand that the next major timetable change is for December 2010, so it is absolutely essential that the Council lobbies to achieve a better deal for the users of Blackheath Station. In addition, those users of Westcombe Park, Maze Hill and Greenwich who have lost direct services to Charing Cross need to have their strongly represented. 
As a Parliamentary Candidate for Greenwich and Woolwich and Leader of the Conservative Group, I will be campaigning to reverse these changes which seem to be a side-effect of a set of central government requirements to run an all day Orpington service via Lewisham. In the short term, the more feedback that we have about people’s difficulties, the more we can use to sort out the problems, so please encourage everyone to feedback their problems and we will use this to back up our views during the timetable review next year.
I do hope that this sums up the position adequately – as you can see we have been active on this, but please do let me know if you think there is more we can be doing."