The latest proposals for the Redhill to Tonbridge line feel like a kick in the teeth for hard working folk commuting in Nutfield, Godstone, Edenbridge, Penshurst and Leigh.
We have previously reported on GTR’s (Southern) attempts to stop direct services to London.
A brief recap of the proposals:
- Redhill to Tonbridge becomes a shuttle – At peak times, the service will be half hourly, and 1 an hour during the off-peak
- Reigate (who already have a direct service to London) gain additional services
GTR clearly do not value your need for travel as highly as those living in Reigate. TLC, GTR and a representative of Tom Tugendhat MBE MP, met last week to discuss the proposals. GTR were unrepentant in justifying that their measures are due to passenger numbers and a need for a simpler, more reliable timetable. Well blow me down with a feather, there are fewer people living in rural villages compared to a suburban town. Who would have thought it?
TLC analysis of the passenger numbers show that around 1 in 5 journeys, currently require a change of trains. Under the proposals, this increases to more than 1 in 2. We understand that the connecting services are also likely to be slower ‘stopper’ services. The only mitigation that GTR are offering is to increase services on the Uckfield line (in which to benefit, passengers will need to use the other Edenbridge station).
We feel the proposal of a shuttle that runs between Redhill and Tonbridge to be wholly unsatisfactory for people living on the line. Some people will have chosen to live there because of the direct services to London and will now face longer journeys. Some users of this service have posed the question as to whether their property values will decline. We have heard countless tales of ‘rail heading’ (where people already deem the local service so bad that they drive to a different station) and can only see that increasing now. Our understanding is that the car park at Redhill (which is likely to be prime destination for many),
is already at capacity and will struggle to accept many more cars. Whilst it is unfortunate that people would be driven to take these measures, it is understandable in terms of maintaining a family life. Please spare a thought for those unable to drive or cannot afford to park as well as purchase a rail ticket. Clearly GTR thinks it is your fault for not living in a town like Reigate.
There is also the injustice that Reigate already has direct services to London and so is effectively stealing these extra lines from Redhill-Tonbridge passengers. You can currently get a bus from Reigate to Redhill, it is not so easy to travel from Penshurst or Leigh to Redhill via bus. As a compromise TLC have called for alternate trains to London. One from Reigate, one from Tonbridge etc.
We were told that GTR see this a short-term measure as an expansion at Reigate could see services restored. We support the expansion and development of Reigate station on the basis that the disruption to Redhill-Tonbridge users should be kept to a minimum and direct services resumed as soon as possible. The problem is that the platforms at Reigate can only take 4 coach trains and the minimum Thameslink formation possible is 8 coaches. Plans are afoot to extend the platforms to take 8 or 12 coaches. Nobody could tell us quite what stage these plans are at, but we understand that Network Rail are currently ‘costing’ the exercise. TLC recently attended a meeting with Network Rail where we were told that funding infrastructure is currently incredibly difficult, with the austere times we live in. The current trend and pressure from Government is for ‘third party’ funding, meaning someone else like a local council or a local economic partnership pay for it.
Assuming this project is built, GTR can terminate a Thameslink train at Reigate, which opens up journey possibilities. Our fear is that at this point, GTR will forget that Tonbridge to Redhill used to be Tonbridge to London Bridge and other lines (with greater populations) will have louder voices in demanding services. We feel that if extending the platforms were that simple, it would have been done years ago. Reigate has not suddenly discovered train services and so we are sceptical that this shuttle will be a short-term situation.
TLC have long felt that the Redhill-Tonbridge line is the poor relation of the Southern network and is probably an inconvenience to GTR. Given how strategically important this line is (between Kent and Surrey) and TLC’s long-term goal of achieving a working Kent-Gatwick service, we call for four things:
- Our alternative proposal is for Trains to run alternately from Redhill. Reigate should not get all the direct services and Tonbridge none. Alternate trains at least open up different journey possibilities and will mean fewer people have to change.
- For the short term shuttle trains between Tonbridge and Redhill, the service should be at least 2 trains per hour. At the moment, why would you risk going to the airport by train? If you miss one, an hour wait could be the difference between catching the plane or missing your holiday. It drives traffic away from the railway and onto the roads. Two trains an hour may sow the seeds for improved passenger numbers on this line.
- Given the lack of interest and investment from Southern, we call for the transfer the stewardship of the line from Southern to Southeastern. The train drivers on this line are Southeastern staff and if the train is not going to go to London then why should Southern keep it? We see the transfer to Southeastern as the best way of kick starting a Kent to Gatwick service. A large number of people travel from Kent to Gatwick each year and this is a natural market for Southeastern to tap into. Services could be extended from Tonbridge to Ashford and beyond.
- On the basis that the curtailment of direct services is a short-term solution and that direct services will be resumed, then we call for passengers on this line to receive a commensurate discount on their fares to reflect the inconvenience and reduction in service. TLC called for this with GTR but it is the Department for Transport that set prices and so we will take our fight to them.