As you know, the HS1 high speed route has a lot of importance for me.
Not only is it my route to Brussels – vital for work – but also to London. So with HS1 in the news today, some thoughts…
1) Commuter Routes
HS1 covers both Eurostar services to the continent (not “to Europe” please, rail spokesperson on the radio earlier, the UK is in Europe geographically as well as politically), and high speed train services to the Kent coast.
At present there is overcapacity on the North Kent route, but by contrast at rush hour standing room only on some Ashford trains. With the number of Ashford households due to grow by 20,000 in the next 15 years, this is a ridiculous situation.
It is also deeply annoying the frequency with which the trains are late leaving Ashford in the morning due to the coupling up of two train sections coming from two different places – if one half if late, or the coupling technology fails, everyone’s journey is affected.
And it is not obvious why there’s an Ebbsfleet only service running during the rush hour with very few passengers.
Similarly, not all of Kent is served by the high speed service, and the most obvious loser is Maidstone.
So – deep breath – here’s some ideas for solutions to these issues…
Firstly, stop the pretence that the North Kent route is ok – a six-car train would probably suffice at most times of day.
Then, stop pretending that Ebbsfleet needs the level of dedicated service it currently receives. The “build it and they will come” approach is very noble, and the potential catchment area may be wide, but the demand is just not there at present – was the station really just built to attract more public transport visitors to Bluewater shopping centre?
So that gives us potential carriages free, and a train pathway that is not full.
So let’s address the Ashford problem.
Why not have that random Ebbsfleet train go through to Ashford at rush hour?
If this service were available, it would make the frequency of trains to Ashford comparable to that of Guildford and with a similar journey time – and thus really attractive to commuters, bringing more money into the area.
It would also mean another train starting at Ashford, neatly avoiding the coupling problems experienced at present.
And if the two halves of the current train could run separately, 10 minutes apart, it should be possible to have 6 trains an hour in the rush hour rather that one every half hour.
Now that’s a good commuter service.
And what about Maidstone?
With the regeneration and redevelopment work there, there are more households expected there too – but the commmute is now inferior to Ashford’s current service. So, build a Maidstone Parkway station on the high speed line.
Yes, I know, recession, no public spending, austerity, hard times, etc. but if we don’t use the public sector money that remains, in partnership with the private sector, then
I pay a vast amount each year for a Gold Card season ticket even though I work part-time. It only costs a little more to do that than to buy individual tickets each day for the days a week I work and means I can use it on non-working days or at the weekend if I need to. But this is still a silly situation.
Another silly situation is that this super-fast high speed line issue paper season tickets which fail on a regular basis. Sometimes on the day of issue. It’s not keeping the tickets with mobile phones or BlackBerries that does it, it’s the ticket gates, at Ashford, St Pancras and mainly on London Underground. Reissuing costs me time, and staff time. Letting me through the gates instead takes queuing time and staff time, and if no one’s there I might miss my trains.
Both of these have an easy solution – use Oyster, or an Oyster-compatible system. The technology is already in place and in use for much of my journey. My experience as an Oyster user in London was that failure was rare, replacement speedy and generally a much more pleasant experience than the current one.
And electronic ticketing (with a paper receipt) would surely allow me to by an annual ticket valid on certain days only.
3) Attitude to ticket holders
A month or so ago, I had a week in which on the Wednesday, my train suffered birdstrike. I was in work about 4 hours late. That same week, on the Friday, my train suffered electrical failure and eventually, after threats of being shunted etc. we made it at a crawl to Ebbsfleet where we “detrained” (at last, a useful for that station!)
Forms to reclaim the cost of the journey as compensation were pressed upon us. But when trying to do so, my husband was informed hat as a season ticket holder, no compensation was due. So for the privilege of spending several thousand pounds a year, they bank your money and assume your goodwill in the case of delays? That’s not on.
If the majority of commuters have a season ticket, then the financial incentive to run on time is greater if those passengers are also due compensation in case of delay. That’s basic economics…
4) The Stratford problem
The problem of Stratford has been covered in other blogs. Merely calling a station Stratford international is not enough to guarantee that international trains will stop there.
We know that having a private company operating transport links can be problematic for local populations when the commercial interests of the operator and the socially and economically necessary for the area supposedly served do not necessarily directly coincide.
But essentially, the problem of Strateford is that it’s not quite enough in Canary Wharf to be convenient for the city gents based there, and again, as with Ebbsfleet it seems to have its success or otherwise linked to a shopping centre wit the suggestion that the shopping centre’s owners might be instrumental in its success or otherwise.
But there’s the possibility that a rival to Eurostar, say ICE from Germany, might stop trains there and at Ashford rather than St Pancras and Ebbsfleet?
5) High Speed 1’s infrastructure
If it is true that Network Rail is the most expensive track and infrastructure maintainer in the civilised world, and a competitor might be invited in with HS1 as the guinea pig, then it’d be great to know that the contracts for all this were genuinely the best, and not simply to the lowest bidder. In fact, I’d like to see the Maidstone Parkway idea built in from the beginning…
I cannot pretend that these ideas are mine alone. But if Ashford’s Future, the borough or county council, or anyone with an influence on these things is looking for a more detailed view on any of this, there’s a contact form on my blog here, please do get in touch…