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Bonkers Blog January 2019

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21 January - Faster trains, slower buses

There was more to last week’s Transport Sub-Committee meeting last week than joy riding cyclists and about four members of the public had made their way to the Civic Centre to witness what was going on.

Councillor Val Clark welcomed them to her meeting and set about Chairing it in her usual easy going way. Transport CommitteeRail issues were discussed first and George Paterson spoke on behalf of Southeastern. The Network Rail delegate failed to show up, signal failure at Lewisham perhaps?

Mr. Paterson gave a few details about the May 2019 timetable. The changes are relatively minor; service gaps will be reduced where possible and journey times will be reduced “by a minute or two”. Junction use will be shared more efficiently.

“The service change that Councillors were concerned about will not go ahead.” What it is nobody knows, Mr. Paterson kept all details under wraps. Maybe it is the 07:10 from Sidcup to Cannon Street via Slade Green which the Agenda shows as diverted via Lewisham to Charing Cross from May 2019 and take four minutes longer to get into London. Probably, but no one said.

Southeastern will commence a review of the Autumn Leaf timetable on 1st February which my own observations suggest does nothing obvious apart from trains arriving at Abbey Wood four minutes early and inconveniencing passengers to and from Erith, Belvedere and Plumstead.

Nothing was known about any plans to further extend Southeastern’s franchise except that “some time this year” had been stated in Parliament earlier on the same day as the meeting.

Councillor Louie French (Conservative, Welling & Falconwood), a daily train commuter, was not happy about the service provided by Southeastern but recognised that nearly all failures can be laid at the door of Network Rail. Chairman Val Clark suggested that train drivers receive training on the use of the public address system as too often they cannot be heard. Few of us will argue with that.

Councillor Clark was also concerned about the choice of stations to have their disabled access improved through lift installation. Sidcup which already has step free access to both platforms is getting lifts. She reminded us that the same was done at Bexleyheath station a few years ago but it is still quicker to use the old step free access than use the new lift. “The biggest waste of money ever.”

It would appear that spending decisions are based almost entirely on footfall which as a Committee coopted clergyman (the man on the left of the picture) pointed out is a bit of a nonsense because the inaccessible stations will almost by definition have artificially reduced footfall and the nearby stations with full access will gain more, leading to Councillor Clark’s “biggest waste of money ever”.

Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, Slade Green & Northend) was concerned about aspects of the Autumn timetable station skipping. In some places there is a reasonable bus alternative but not everywhere. A 30 minute service gap at Bexley is not nice at all for anyone attempting to get to Crayford. Bexleyheath to Falconwood is another problematic route exacerbated by wheel chair accessibility problems.

He thought trains “took far too long to get to London” and “the dwell times at stations are ridiculous, it is quite frankly just padding”. He is not wrong is he? Southeastern regularly announces that trains doors will close 45 seconds before advertised departure times and that alone puts ten minutes on the journey from London to Dartford.

Within 45 seconds a DLR train will stop, disgorge its passengers, pack in more and be away. Southeastern are simply useless and appear to run their trains for their own benefit, not ours.

Referring perhaps to my 1988 timetable he said he simply didn’t understand why trains take seven or eight minutes longer that they did 30 years ago. Back then the fastest rush hour train from Cannon Street to Abbey Wood train took 21 minutes to do the eleven miles but now the best is timetabled at 32 minutes with most between 34 and 41.

Mr. Paterson denied Councillor Borella’s suggestion that skimped maintenance was the cause of short formed trains and the timetable padding was caused by congestion on the network.

Councillor French called for statistics on stations which had completely lost services (due to planned engineering work) at weekends last year so that he could analyse the extent to which season tickets are no longer value for money.

The discussion moved on to buses, principally the performance of the B14 to Orpington which leaves on time only two times out of three and is between five and 15 minutes late on one journey out of four. Worse are the cancellations on what is already an infrequent service. Councillor June Slaughter described it as “appalling”. It is frequently causing pupils at Cleve Park School, it is the only bus to serve it, to be late.

Councillor Borella said the B14 frequently drops off the arrivals display because it has been terminated early and he has known it to skip the terminal stop in Bexleyheath. The drivers came in for some criticism for their surly behaviour too.

Referring to the late and sporadic running, Councillor Richard Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) said that there was “no sign that TfL was doing anything about it”.

The TfL man said that the B14 performance was poor due to road diversions, an excuse that did not go down well with the Committee. The real reason for the deteriorating service would appear to be that there are simply not enough buses allocated to the service and every additional vehicle would cost £250,000 a year. Where would the cuts to allow that fall?

Councillor Clark complained that bus announcements did not always mention closed stops. The TfL representative said they were programmed in but procedures sometimes created “a few days” of delay. The system “relies heavily on customer complaints”.

The Chairman was also unhappy about buses not pulling forward within their spaces causing any following bus to block the road which struck me as a little ironic because there are many instances in Bexley of the Council deliberately building pedestrian refuges next to bus stops such that it doesn’t need two buses to block the road.

The clergyman related how he encountered a 90 minute delay while waiting for a 229 bus and how he failed totally to get his complaint through to TfL. I have given up on the 229 because whilst it is usually frequent I too have encountered intervals of more than an hour.

Councillor Borella wanted to know about route 428 rumoured to have its Crayford to Bluewater section removed. He was told that there should be a public consultation next month.

The proposals will likely be that the 428 terminates in either Crayford or Dartford. The 492 could also terminate at either Crayford or Dartford, the latter being the TfL preference. Without help from Kent County Council the service to Bluewater is in jeopardy.

The 96 duplicates much of the 428’s route before carrying on to Bluewater and the 96 is much more frequent. Councillor Clark said that school pupils go from Bexley to Dartford and changing buses in Crayford would introduce serious delays to their journeys. TfL noted her concerns. Councillor Borella was not aware of suitable bus standing space in Crayford. He would prefer it carried on to Darenth Valley Hospital.

Councillor Clark had met with the London Road Safety Council earlier in the day and was very pleased to announce that in the near future London buses would not be able to exceed speed limits. A start would be made with modifying 7,000 Volvo buses this year “making it impossible for any bus to speed”.

I have known this was coming for a long time and what Councillor Clark said is not technically correct. Buses will not be able to accelerate beyond the speed limit but upon entering a 20 m.p.h. zone from a 30 would not be forced to slow down. The driver will be in total control and could if he was so inclined continue to speed all the way through a 20 zone. In practice of course he will probably have to stop for passengers after which he couldn’t exceed 20 m.p.h. So slower bus rides which TfL already acknowledge has been a factor in declining revenues with the bonus of longer traffic queues.

The other scheme was improving vision for drivers of Large Goods Vehicles. The solution adopted must be six or seven years old to my knowledge but at the time not enough people had died beneath lorry wheels for it to be taken seriously.

 

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