Calls to remove train timetable restrictions

COMMUTERS’ groups are lobbying the Government to have restrictions on train companies removed so faster services to London can be introduced.

Under the Department for Transport (DfT) train firms have to follow a Service Level Commitment (SLC) which dictates how the timetable should be and where trains must stop.

A document outlining this has been unearthed by East Sussex Rail Alliance (ESRA), which said it went a long way to explaining why train journeys between Hastings and London Victoria took more than two hours.

The document is for the May to December 2010 timetable for Southern, which runs trains between Hastings, Bexhill, Brighton and London Victoria. Campaigners say little has changed in the length of journey time to the capital.

Martin Woodfine, from St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement Programme (SHRIMP), said: “This is an eye-opener and shows the complexities involved in setting up the timetables. We call upon Hastings’ representatives to discuss the micro-management and rules with the DfT with a view to removing some constrictions from the train operating company.

“This would go some way to resolving this unsatisfactory situation which is against the town’s interest and its hopes for regeneration. The key objective is to get the rules on changes to SLCs relaxed so as to give train operators more room to both develop and amend timetables to reflect alterations in demand and to assist in their advance planning. The onus for this lies fully within the DfT and it is there that the focus of lobbying needs to be centred.”

Ray Chapman, from East Sussex Rail Alliance, said: “We will work with all the Sussex MPs to lobby the DfT to remedy this. We cannot continue to allow our railways to be run by companies that are restricted in their ability to provide a more flexible service that meets existing and changing local demands.”

Hastings MP Amber Rudd said: “Ray Chapman at ESRA should be thanked for finding this very complex and worrying document. It is clear that there are too many restrictions within the process and I shall be making efforts through the DfT to get these relaxed.

“On a positive note Southern has confirmed that, with effect from its December 2012 timetable, the Sunday journey times to London Victoria will be reduced by around 14 minutes. This has been enabled by Southern reworking its engineering timetable arrangements with Network Rail.

“However, it has also been necessary to retime the weekday evening peak services and users of these are strongly advised to check the timings when the timetable is issued.”

The document can be viewed at www.1066shrimprail.org.uk then clinking on the link http://assets.dft.gov.uk/publications/rail-passenger-franchise-agreement-southern/southerncommitment2a.pdf.