Response letter to the SWR consultation - Ed Davey MP

Response to SWR Consultation on timetable changes from 9th December 2018

from Edward Davey MP

Kingston and Surbiton

(Liberal Democrat)

 

1. Introduction

This is my formal response to this train timetable consultation, as the local Member of Parliament for Kingston and Surbiton.

I am making a detailed response because commuter rail services are so essential to the lives of a very large number of my constituents. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting this right, and for SWR to listen to my constituents, many of whom are juggling demanding work lives with their family responsibilities, making local train services and their timetabling crucial to daily routines.

I suppose I should also declare an interest as a heavy user of train services, primarily from Surbiton station. While many of the comments do refer to Surbiton, this submission does cover every one of the 10 train stations in my constituency at different points. Even in this introduction, I would particularly highlight the lack of significant improvements, and the consultation’s omissions for extra services to Berrylands, Chessington South, Chessington North, Tolworth and Malden Manor.

While I have a number of criticisms and changes I would like to see to the proposed timetable, including a further and better consultation of local commuters, I would like to recognise that an attempt has been made to improve services. This attempt has partly been hindered by poor presentation of the proposals – though I should stress not all the proposals are welcome, whilst others have pluses and minuses.  

This response follows clarifications received from SWR following my questions on various aspects - though I remain a little confused! I hope your response to my submission will clarify things further. If I’ve misunderstood this complex consultation or what I’ve been told, I apologise in advance.

My response also follows a significant number of representations made to me by many constituents, and some analysis I asked to be completed by a local expert.

I would be happy to have further meetings and devote significant time to this, as SWR must get this right for my constituents.

2. The Consultation Process

SWR’s consultation on the timetable change has been poor, in my view. The consultation has:

  • been confusing
  • lacked explanations and evidence
  • failed to engage the public properly

The confusion has primarily stemmed from the way proposals have been presented – in several separate online timetables, which the passenger was supposed to somehow combine to analyse.

Surbiton Councillor and Liberal Democrat Council Group Leader, Liz Green, specifically requested a station by station presentation of the changes in early November, but no such public presentation of the changes has yet been provided to my knowledge. I had myself to request that information – using both SWR and local experts in order to make any sense of the proposals.

My evidence for this confusion is also in a number of emails I have received from local people who have really tried to engage with the consultation but have ended up confused, angry and frustrated – plus a number of conversations with local people. They have interpreted the proposals differently from what I now understand the proposals to be. Ironically, if SWR had presented their proposals better, I think the public’s reaction might have been better.

The lack of explanation and evidence is also alarming.

It seems SWR’s timetable modellers have tried to “space out” trains across the peaks, to avoid “bunching” and shorten “gaps”, for laudable aims such as making the service more reliable and reducing platform overcrowding. Implicit in this, is that local commuters will change their behaviour.

Yet nowhere is this properly explained, justified or evidence provided. Indeed, I am told the modelling of the changes will not be made public. Why is this?

The next stage of consultation with the public must address all these omissions and errors, and has to recognise that people build their lives round things like train timetables – from dropping their children off at nurseries to the choice of schools for their children. This suggests we should avoid change for change’s sake – and only make change if there are significant and real benefits for those same commuters.

SWR’s failure to engage the public partly flows from the above two points – it is difficult to consult people, when the consultation is confusing and there are no real explanations.

However, the failure to engage didn’t end there.

For my constituents, originally, there was NO face-to-face consultation planned at all, and Kingston Council failed to insist on one. It was only when Surbiton’s Liberal Democrat Councillor and Leader of the Opposition on Kingston Council, Liz Green, requested such an event, that one was held. Local experts who kindly agreed to attend and ask detailed questions found the staff at the event helpful but with no written evidence to justify the proposals.

I am also told that the many emails sent to the consultation seeking clarification have, in general, not been replied to, and that SWR has no plans to answer them. Hardly engagement.

In conclusion on the consultation, I would urge SWR to explain to the public – at the earliest possible opportunity – what will happen to this consultation and what the next steps are.

I would above all urge SWR to commit now to holding another and better consultation before any changes are finalised in the timetable from December 9th 2018. This could be a significantly shorter consultation, if proposals are much better presented. This would enable it to be linked to the final proposals SWR puts forward to Network Rail and the Department for Transport.

 

3. The proposed timetable – detailed response, station by station

In this response, I am trying to do what SWR did not do, and that is to respond station by station. The formal document looks at the changes service by service, not station by station, when in my view it should have done both. If I therefore make mistakes on the proposals, I apologise both to the reader and to SWR. However, this rather backs up my case that this is a poor consultation!

Kingston-Norbiton-New Malden

Kingston

I have received no complaints about the proposals from Kingston. I guess that is because a lot of the improvements to the overall local timetable are from Kingston station and because the mixture of fast, semi-fast and stopping services is less complex than at stations like Surbiton. So, based on the analysis SWR sent me:-

  • I welcome the 3 additional services in the morning peak from Kingston to Waterloo, via Wimbledon (Monday to Friday) – though my own reading of the document suggests only 1 extra peak service;
  • I welcome the 5 additional services in the evening peak from Waterloo to Kingston, via Wimbledon (Monday to Friday);
  • On Sundays, I welcome the increased frequency after lunchtime, in both directions, from 2 trains per hour (tph) to 4 tph.

I am not aware of any major “smoothing” of the timetable to reduce “bunching” of trains and reduce “gaps” for trains to and from Kingston.

However, if there have been any which I have missed, please specifically inform me and local commuters of them, so we can give our views. Equally, if there is any such changes to any of the other 9 stations in my constituency, please confirm.

Norbiton

I believe the changes to Kingston’s services also apply at Norbiton, i.e., there have been some service improvements and no reductions.

Please confirm this is the case.

New Malden

The situation at New Malden seems a little confusing, and I have not fully squared them with the claimed improvements at Kingston and Norbiton – perhaps you can for me.

There seem to be 3 changes in the morning peak – 1 negative, 2 positive.

The proposed timetable between 08:00 and 08:59 sees a REDUCTION is the number of trains by one, from 9 trains down to 8. However, the proposed timetable between 09:00 and 09:59 sees an INCREASE in the number of trains by two, from 6 up to 8.

Given I was told both that Kingston and Norbiton are seeing a net increase of THREE across the morning peak, and New Malden is seeing a net increase of ONE, you can see I remain confused after your clarifications. I can guess at possible explanations (Kingston/Norbiton actually only getting 1 addition in the morning peak? changes to NM trains from Surbiton?), but I would prefer you to tell me what’s going on!

In the evening peak, there seems to be a net increase of FIVE trains, just as for Kingston and Norbiton.

Chessington South-Chessington North-Tolworth-Malden Manor

All the service changes appear to affect these 4 stations identically, as you would expect on the branch line.

A major concern for commuters from these stations about the proposals – and I have been specifically contacted by parents using Malden Manor and the Chessington stations – is the proposed shift in timings of the 2 trains per hour (tph). Currently the trains are at every half hour at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour (Malden Manor example). The proposal is a shift to every half an hour, on the hour and 30 minutes past the hour. Local working parents note that this change will cause havoc with their childcare arrangements. The parents contacting me do not want the current timings changed. I stress this is a point echoed by parents in Chessington.

Moreover, regrettably, the long argued for increase from 2tph to 3tph or 4tph for this Branch line has not happened. I think this is a huge missed opportunity and I would urge SWR to revisit this before the timetable is finalised.

While there are no service reductions, the only proposed improvements appear to be in the late evening, when between Monday and Friday, and on the weekends, after 21:00, the current hourly service (1 tph) will be increased to half-hourly (2tph), as in the rest of the day. While I can welcome this small improvement, the overall proposals offer little to local people from these stations. This should be reviewed urgently.

Berrylands

While there are no service reductions it seems, the only proposed improvements appear to be similar to the Chessington South branch line – namely that in the late evening, when between Monday and Friday, and on the weekends, after 21:00, the current hourly service (1 tph) will be increased to half-hourly (2tph), as in the rest of the day.

Like the Chessington South branch line, this also falls short of what local people have been asking for, for some time. We would like to see 3tph or even 4tph stopping at Berrylands. Has any thought been given to this level of improvement to train services to Berrylands?

So while I can welcome the small improvement in the late evening service, the overall proposals offer little extra to local people using these stations. This timetable offer should be reviewed urgently.

Worcester Park

While there are no service reductions that SWR have informed me about, and while I have had no complaints from constituents, the only service improvement appears to be on Sundays, when the Waterloo to Epsom service (and vice versa) increases after lunchtime from 2tph to 4tph.

I would ask SWR if they have sought the views of local people on this line, as to what service improvements they would have liked to see.

 

Surbiton

SWR have told me that there are no major services changes to trains to and from Waterloo.

SWR say that Surbiton’s train frequencies, and the current ratio of fast, semi-fast and slow trains remains the same – at 29 in the morning peak and 35 in the afternoon peak.

SWR say that, during 2018, on all suburban routes, they will start to run more 10 car trains, and during late 2019, the new Aventra trains will start to appear, allowing further services to be lengthen. All these longer trains should address capacity issues.

If the above is the case, then some of the concerns of local passengers will be allayed. Please confirm my understanding set out above is correct, and please respond to every local person who has raised these concerns with the evidence that my understanding clarified with you is correct.

Please also specifically confirm the number of fast, non-stopping trains from Surbiton in both the morning and evening peaks will not be reduced, under your proposals.

Given the number of local people who have thought SWR were significantly reducing the Surbiton services, it does suggest the consultation has slightly shot itself in the foot!

The “big” changes at Surbiton seem to relate to the vexed question of “smoothing” volumes of passengers at the peak, by spacing the fast trains, and trains in the evening peak.

My constituents have particular concerns about the spacing of Surbiton’s fast trains just before 08:00 – where there will now be a considerable gap between 07:45 and 08:00. SWR’s thinking behind these plans has not been fully shared – and the proposals have yet to convince a number of local people. I would urge SWR to review these changes very carefully, and engage properly with the large number of local people using these services, before the proposals are finalised.

I am concerned about the possibility that this “smoothing” could produce dangerous over-crowding on platforms 1 and 2 in the morning peak. While I’m sure timetable modellers believe local people will change behaviour, e.g., by catching earlier trains, i the next stage of analysis must include viewing current volumes of passengers on the platforms, either at first hand or using video evidence.

SWR say the new evening timetable will reduce the risk of overcrowding on Surbiton’s platforms 3 and 4, during the evening peak, caused by the simultaneous arrival of fast and semi-fast trains. I think this could be the case, but believe this is so important, that the modelling is made available.

I also hope neither SWR nor Network Rail will now go even slower on the planning, consultation and construction of a second staircase for platforms 3 and 4, which many of us deem essential for improving safety on these platforms in the evening peak, regardless of timetable tweaks.

Conclusion

It is a pity that an attempt to improve services has been communicated so poorly that some people believe services are being cut. SWR must improve its communications.

While there are some changes that look like they can be wholeheartedly welcomed, there are some that need further explanation and justification before people can judge them properly and some that need to be withdrawn. There are also missed opportunities which need to be looked at again.

Rt Hon Sir Edward Davey MP, Kingston & Surbiton

14th December 2017


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