25 September 2007

Forest Hill Society Response to Rail Utilisation Strategy

Letter to Network Rail in response to the RUS consultation document:

The Forest Hill Society wish to provide some feedback on a number of aspects on the South London RUS. Overall we are disappointed that while the RUS recognises the existing overcrowding and suppressed demand on our line, it fails to deliver any significant improvements for passengers on the Forest Hill / Sydenham line. In many ways we will have a worse service as a result of the RUS than we do at present and we urge you to reconsider a number of key areas for the passengers from Forest Hill.

From the end of last year the Forest Hill Society, in conjunction with the Sydenham Society, has collected almost 1,000 signatures which can be viewed at http://fhpetition.notlong.com/. These are from local residents opposed to a reduction in services to London Bridge. The RUS provides no immediate solutions to the reduction in services that we take effect with the introduction of the East London Line.

Executive Summary of our recommendations:
  • No cuts to the existing peak services to London Bridge on the Sydenham line
  • Earliest possible introduction of 10-car or 12-car trains on the Sydenham line
  • No cuts to services on the Sydenham line to Charing Cross
  • We are pleased that the RUS recommends the continuation of direct services from Forest Hill to Victoria. We would like these to be extended to the morning peak [ed. - it is still not entirely clear that this service will continue but there is some evidence in the RUS document that it will still be run]
Option 2.3 – Increased am peak frequency on the Sydenham Line

We are disappointed that the recommendation to have an extra 2 tph refers to the East London Line rather than the London Bridge service. At present there are 8 tph on the services into London Bridge but this will be reduced to 6 tph in the current plans. Replacing these with trains on the East London Line will not make up for the loss of services to London Bridge as the trains will be shorter (4 carriages rather than 8 or 10 carriages) and the destination is wrong for the majority of commuters, who will continue to travel towards the centre of London via London Bridge and the Northern and Jubilee Lines.

The RUS (page 112) makes quite clear that the London Bridge service would be a preferable option to the East London Line option and would reduce crowding on the train services as well as at Canada Water station, which is barely able to cope with the expected increase in passengers changing platform via a single escalator.

Network Rail must look again at the capacity made available for services from Forest Hill to London Bridge and make sure that our existing capacity is not diminished. We do not request more trains than we currently have (although demand would support this), just the same level of service as is currently available on the line. The only issue here is capacity at London Bridge which appears to be being taken away from the people of Forest Hill and other stations in Lewisham.

Option 4.3 – 10-car or 12-car peak services on the Sydenham Line

We welcome the recommendation to run 10-car trains on the Forest Hill / Sydenham line. This will reduce some of the impacts of the proposed reduction in train numbers (option 2.3), but does not address the existing overcrowding and suppressed demand on this route into London Bridge. We would like to understand more about why 12-car trains would be impractical on this route as the phrase 'This is likely to lead to the conclusion that 12-car operation is impractical on this route due to constraints elsewhere limiting the suburban network to 10-car' (page 130, emphasis added). We do not believe that limitations on other parts of the network should hinder the necessary provision of services on a route with such high levels of suppressed demand.

It is disappointing to see that this increase in the lengths of trains shall not be delivered until the completion of the Thameslink Programme. We believe this is an excuse for inactivity and lack of development on our line which is not justified by any Cost Benefit Analysis. Many platforms at London Bridge low-level station are already capable of having 10-car or even 12-car trains, so it should be possible for at least some of the services on our line to be increased to 12-car trains, even if not all of them before the completion of the Thameslink Programme.

The biggest concern for us is that with the proposed reduction in services to London Bridge following the introduction of the East London Line services (and even before that with the closure of the ELL from this December), we will see an increase in overcrowding on the remaining services to London Bridge. The immediate effect of the East London Line for passengers from Forest Hill will be a reduction in services and increased overcrowding. The RUS does nothing to solve this problem until many years after the introduction of the East London Line Extension.

We recommend that work begins immediately to extend all the platforms on the Forest Hill / Sydenham line to allow for 12-car trains and that plans are built into the timetable from 2011 to allow for 10-car and at least some 12-car trains on this route. In terms of passenger demand and economics this plan is more effective than the short-term strategy of inaction outlined in the RUS.

Option 20.4 – Operation of trains from Sydenham line through to Charing Cross

The evening services from Charing Cross to Forest Hill are extremely beneficial for passengers coming home from the West End of London and are 'extremely well utilised' (page 176). Because these existing services operate outside peak times there should not be any issues with capacity beyond London Bridge. We recognise that it is not possible to run these services during peak hours, but consideration must be given to the continuation of these services into the evening off-peak hours.

Again we are not demanding any increase over our existing services (although demand would justify such an increase), but wish to see our existing services remaining during the evenings. There is no justification for the removal of this extremely well utilised service.

Existing Loop Line to Victoria

From the route map on page 203 of the RUS it appears that plans are in place to continue to run trains between London Bridge and Victoria via Forest Hill. This is already a useful service at off-peak times and enables services to run into London Bridge without using capacity south of Norwood Junction. We would like confirmation that the plan is to maintain this service in the short to medium term.

Ideally these services would run into Victoria or Clapham Junction in the morning peak to cater for the large number of commuters in the area heading for west and south west London.

Additional Options that have not been considered in the RUS:

Stopping some Thameslink trains at New Cross Gate

We propose that at least 2 tph on the Thameslink service stop at New Cross Gate after the introduction of the East London Line.

Passengers from the East London Line would then be able to change to these services to London Bridge, Kings Cross, Bedford , Gatwick and Brighton. This would reduce overcrowding on the remaining services from New Cross Gate to London Bridge by adding additional capacity, provide faster travel from Gatwick to Canary Wharf and City Airport, reduce passenger overcrowding at London Bridge station with customers changing platforms (this is recognised as a problem area in the RUS), and it would reduce overcrowding on the Northern Line for a significant number of passengers from South London wishing to continue beyond Kings Cross.

Additionally, there is a need for peak services on the Thameslink route through London Bridge. At present there are no Thameslink services before 9:30am , which adds to the inconvenience of travelling to Luton Airport, Kings Cross (for Eurostar), and other key destinations on this line. We recommend that consideration is given to running at least 2 tph on the Thameslink service via London Bridge.

We would also like to take this opportunity to make clear our opposition to the removal of terminating platforms at London Bridge which Forest Hill services currently use. It is clear from the current Thameslink plans that there will be a reduction from 9 terminating platforms to just 6, this is not enough platforms for all the South London services that make use of London Bridge. South Londoners seem to have been given little thought when developing plans for the Thameslink service.

ELL trains on the Loop Line to Victoria

There are many commuters from Forest Hill and Sydenham wishing to travel via Clapham Junction and Victoria in the morning peak. With the extension of the East London Line there will be greater interchange potential at Crystal Palace to other services to these destinations. However, we would like consideration to be given to the continuation of some of these East London Line or London Bridge service to Clapham Junction or Victoria. This would provide a useful loop for passengers from South East London travelling to South West and West London , reducing congestion at London Bridge and on Jubilee Line services from London Bridge to Westminster.

We understand that there are capacity issues at peak times around Victoria as well as London Bridge , so termination at Clapham Junction, or joining the 4-car ELL trains with other short services to Victoria may be viable options.

It is disappointing that no consideration was given to better use of this service as part of the RUS.

I hope that you will incorporate our feedback and suggestions in the future development of train services in South London.

17 September 2007

Autumn Dates for your Diary

Sunday 23rd September: Forest Hill Pub Crawl

Meet at The Capitol, London Road, 7:30pm

Members and non-members welcome

Forest Hill Ward Meeting (non-Society event)

Residents of Forest Hill Ward are cordially invited to the third Forest Hill Ward Meeting hosted by the ward councillors on Monday 24th September 2007, at 7.30pm, Christian Fellowship Centre on Honor Oak Road.

The Meeting is part of a regular series open meetings hosted by the ward councillors where issues of interest to local residents can be discussed.

On the agenda for this meeting are planning & development and how to spend this years' Localities Fund monies

Wednesday 3rd October: Forest Hill Society AGM

Christian Fellowship Centre, Honor Oak Road (opposite Fairlawn School)

Doors open 7pm (meeting starts 7:30pm)

Members and non-members welcome

Chairperson's Report

The Forest Hill Society is only one year old but for a one year old it is extremely active.

Over the last year we have been mentioned in parliament in a debate specifically about trains through Forest Hill, we have lobbied and worked with MPs, Assembly Members, Mayors, Councillors, and the rail industry, and we have made sure that the views of the people of Forest Hill have been heard. We do not want any cuts to train services to London Bridge.

We have worked to make Forest Hill more of a community through our activities over the last year, including two local pub crawls, a nature walk through Devonshire Road Nature Reserve, and 80 people braved the rain for an historical walking tour of Forest Hill.

We have worked with local residents to improve a footpath behind Sunderland Road and are helping to improve the top of Stanstead Road. People who use Forest Hill station will have noticed the removal of the graffiti from the footbridge earlier in the year as well as minor improvements to the Perry Vale entrance and the guttering in the underpass. Traffic calming has been put in place on Honor Oak Road and Honor Oak Park. All of these changes have made Forest Hill a slightly nicer and safer place to live, and would not have happened without the Forest Hill Society.

Concerns have been raised by the Forest Hill Society about a number of other issues, from the continuing closure of the swimming pool and the lack of use of Louise House, to the state of Sydenham Park / Dacres Road footbridge, as well as the need for traffic calming on Kirkdale, and further improvements to the underpass and Forest Hill station.

Forest Hill is lucky to be a lovely, friendly, and green place to live. On the whole things are continuing to look up for Forest Hill, with the East London Line arriving in a few years, the station being made disabled accessible, plans to reopen the swimming pools, and plenty of shops ready for new businesses to come into the area and join the many great businesses we already have.

After one year we have proved that the Forest Hill Society can make a difference and make Forest Hill an even better place to live. But we do need you help and support to keep campaigning, to keep you informed of our activities, and to listen to the opinions of all residents of Forest Hill. Click here to become a member of the Forest Hill Society. We already have 300 members but we would love to have you as a member as well. So please support us in supporting Forest Hill and join up for just £5 per year. And if you want to get more involved please come along to our AGM on 3rd October and tell us your views, or join the committee and get even more involved in transport, planning, leisure, events, or anything else that you think we should be doing for Forest Hill.

Michael Abrahams
Chairperson, Forest Hill Society

Rail Utilisation Strategy

This summer Network Rail published the Rail Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for South London. This official consultation document explores a number of options for improving rail transport in South London with mixed news for Forest Hill passengers.

Some positive recommendations from the RUS:

  • Longer trains through Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park to London Bridge (up to 10 carriage trains compared to the current average of 7 carriages per train during peak hours)
  • Need for increased trains even after the introduction of the new East London Line Services
  • Trains will continue to operate to Victoria from Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park
  • The East London Line Extension will provide an additional 6 trains per hour from Forest Hill through to Hoxton, finally putting Forest Hill on the 'tube' map

However there is also plenty of bad news:

  • Longer trains will not be introduced until the Thameslink service is upgraded and significant work is done to London Bridge station. Until then (which is at least 7 years away) they recommend running only 8 carriages trains during the peak
  • Direct services from Forest Hill to Charing Cross and Waterloo East will no longer be available
  • Trains service to London Bridge will be reduced (from 8 to 6 trains during the rush hour) with the introduction of the East London Line in 2011
  • East London Line trains will only have 4 carriages
  • With 'surplus demand' on our line and expected increases in passengers numbers, trains will become more overcrowded on our line

The Forest Hill Society have already expressed our concerns to MPs, our GLA member, local councillors, Lewisham Council officials, Transport for London, Network Rail, Southern Railways, and local radio. Jim Dowd MP has asked questions and even dedicated a debate to the future of our train services.

If you have not done so already, we urge you to sign our petition at http://fhpetition.notlong.com which already has over 900 signatures, and we will continue to fight to:

a) Keep our existing services to London Bridge
b) Call for 10 car trains at the earliest opportunity
c) Keep existing evening and weekend services from Charing Cross
to Forest Hill

According to Network Rail estimates, if there were space on the trains today there would be an extra 40% of people using our services to London Bridge
. We already have a poor quality train service and their proposals only make things worse for us. The Forest Hill Society shall be opposing the current recommendations and we hope you will support us, by joining the Society or by signing our petition.

Post Office Update

The current timetable is for the Post Office on Dartmouth Road to close and to move to the WHSmith (upstairs) in February 2008. There are many questions about posting facilities and access, particularly for the elderly and disabled, as well as the long term implications of this site if, and when, the station is redeveloped. Unfortunately the decision appears to have been taken without prior consultation, but the Forest Hill Society will make what representations it can to improve the plans.

Station Improvements

Working with local councillors, the Forest Hill Society has already helped to ensure that Network Rail will replace the bridge across the tracks to include lifts either end to allow better disabled access.

We are, however, still keen to allow direct access to the Southbound platforms for wheelchairs and prams. Our preferred solution is that the platform is widened and lengthened to allow direct access from the Perry Vale car park.

Along with increased disabled parking bays in the car park, this could have a dramatic effect on ease of access at what is already the UK’s 111th busiest railway station.

The Society has already got local councillors on board and hope to get the necessary support from Lewisham Council. Unfortunately convincing Network Rail to make such changes is a long and frustrating experience, but we feel this should be made a very high priority.

If you have strong feelings about this proposal, please contact the Forest Hill Society with your comments and we can share them with the interested parties.