Public consultation halts train operator's propsals

"POWERFUL public consultation" has been stated as the main reason why Southern Railway has decided NOT to implement proposed East Coastway timetable changes.

The changes, due to come into force when new timetables are published in May, were included as an option in the Southern franchise contract.

Southern claim the changes were, "designed to provide better connections at Ashford International, additional capacity on the Ukfield route into London, extra capacity between Brighton and Eastbourne, and additional stops at Winchelsea and Three Oaks."

However, the compromise was that some direct journeys were reduced, with the Brighton to Ashford service cut entirely.

Analysis of Southern's extensive passenger consultation - which received one hundred and sixty four responses - showed some key stakeholders had serious reservations about the merits of the scheme, and that a significant overall net benefit could not be demonstrated.

Following the analysis Southern said they, "felt it only right to recommend that the changes not be implemented."

The Secretary of State for Transport Lord Adonis has agreed with this view.

Southern say that whilst the potential passenger gains from the changes will be lost, the direct coastway link from Brighton, Lewes, Eastbourne and Hastings to Ashford, and the high-speed and international services, will be maintained.

The train operator claim they are also delivering improvements to the services between London and the east coastway by lengthening two key evening commuter trains when the new timetable comes into effect in May.

The 16.17 Victoria to Eastbourne/Littlehampton and the 17.23 London Bridge to Eastbourne will have twelve carriages (compared with eight currently) providing commuters with an extra 450 seats.

In addition, as part of its new franchise agreement with the Department for Transport (DfT), Southern plans to deliver a 50% increase in capacity at peak times between East Grinstead and London, benefiting passengers on the Uckfield route, especially those travelling as far as Oxted.

This extra capacity is planned from the December 2011 timetable change when the current eight carriage services at peak times will be lengthened to twelve carriages.

Southern is also talking to the DfT about plans to deliver additional stops for Three Oaks and Winchelsea as part of the December 2010 timetable change and say:

"This was one proposal within the consultation that may be delivered with minimal effect on others."

Richard Madge, publicity officer for Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) who, along other local rail action groups campaign tirelessly for improvement along south eastern routes, say they believe this is the right decision:

"Although the proposals contained some improvements in terms of seating capacity, they also offered a number of dis-benefits, with long gaps between trains on the Marshlink, an effective downgrade of the line back to a local rather than a regional coastal service,as well aslonger journey times on Hastings/Bexhill to Victoria services.

"BRAG is nonetheless hopeful that it will still be possible to restore a regular service to the small rural stations within the existing timetable."

David Scorey, Southern's Franchise Improvement Director, said: "I would like to thank people for their help with this consultation. Although the outcome is not the one we envisaged, I think it shows how powerful public consultation can be.

"I know some people will be disappointed with this outcome, but having consulted with stakeholders and passengers we felt it was only right to take all views into account when making our final recommendation.

"Some of the most ardent supporters of the changes were the residents of Three Oaks and Winchelsea, and we hope to still deliver them an improved service."

For further information visit the websites at: www.southernrailway.com and www.bexhillrailaction.org.uk