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21 July 2008

South Central Network Franchise Consultation

On behalf of the Forest Hill Society, which represents passengers in the Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park areas, I would like to respond to the South Central Franchise Consultation document. Overall we are pleased with the recommendations of this document which recognises the high level of demand for services from our area and the need to increase the length of trains prior to any rebuilding at London Bridge station related to Thameslink services.


Summary of Recommendations:

  1. 12 car trains by the end of 2011
  2. Off-peak services to Charing Cross
  3. Improved access at Forest Hill station from both sides of the railway
  4. No more 2 car trains on the Crystal Palace loop
  5. Longer trains on evening and weekend services from London Bridge to Forest Hill
  6. Improved off-peak access to Gatwick and Brighton

Length of trains during peak hours

Page 5 refers to 10 car trains running through Sydenham (Forest Hill) from late 2011, whilst page 38 talks about 10 car trains from 2015 with reference to the possibility of 12 car trains being further investigated.

With the expected reduction in services to London Bridge on this line in 2012 it is vital that the 2011 date is confirmed in the final version of the franchise document and we believe that it would be best to introduce 12 car trains at this time rather than just 10 car trains. There are two reasons why this is the best course of action:

  1. Extending platforms to 12 car rather than 10 car will add little extra cost and avoid further extensions in the future, required for the Thameslink service and to meet ever increasing demand on the Forest Hill route. For this reason it makes economic sense to upgrade the platforms to 12 car trains rather than only to 10 car trains.
  2. The RUS recommends in sections 7.2.5 and 8.3.3 that services are increased to 12 car trains to account for passenger demand when train numbers are reduced in 2012.

We hope that the franchise agreement will take account of the recommendations of the South London RUS and provide 12 car services through Forest Hill at the earliest possible opportunity.

Off peak services to central London

Currently passengers in Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park benefit from direct services from Charing Cross during evenings and weekends. This service was recognised in the draft RUS as being a well utilised off-peak service and provides significant benefits from passengers travelling home from the West End during evenings and weekend.

At present plans are in place to stop running these off-peak services from the beginning of the new franchise. Whilst we understand that this may be the most convenient option for considering the franchising process, it is at the expense of passengers on this line who today benefit from this well utilised off-peak service.

The South London RUS does not go into details of off-peak services, but option 20.4 referred to continuing this off-peak service. Option 20.4 is not dealt with in chapter 5, but in appendix A (page 145) ‘Further investigation recommend regarding off peak services’. These investigations should be regarded as part of the franchising agreement if there is any hope to keep this well utilised service. Our recommendation is to keep this half-hourly service running to Charing Cross off-peak but not at peak times. During peak times we recognise that there is not capacity to take this service but at off-peak times there is capacity today and there will continue to be capacity for the full duration of the franchise period.

With or without the continued service from Charing Cross, the services from London Bridge are often overcrowded at weekends due to short trains (often 4 car). Accurate figures are hard for us to judge regarding the length of trains or the overcrowding on these services, but we would ask that the franchising process look at this issue and consider running longer trains during the off-peak periods – evenings and weekends.

Station Management and gating policy

We welcome the transfer of management for the stations at Forest Hill and Honor Oak Park to Transport for London and hope that this will result in improvements to the station.

In recent months Southern Railways, under instruction form TfL, have begun a gating programme that has already impeded access to stations at Sydenham and Forest Hill. It is an unhappy irony that these changes are being made at the same time as the rail industry is working to improve access to stations throughout the network, including Forest Hill station in 2009-2011.

In the case of Forest Hill station the southbound platform no longer has a direct entrance or exit before 3pm, forcing all passengers to cross over the footbridge. For customers with limited mobility living on the east side of the station they are now forced to use 4 sets of stairs (under the underpass and then over the footbridge) rather than the single set of stairs which they needed to negotiate until June 2008. For many people with limited mobility or with pushchairs this has significantly reduced accessibility at Forest Hill station and many now drive to Sydenham or Honor Oak Park with better accessibility.

We have asked for a number of different options to be considered, however, Southern Railways whilst recognising the value of these proposals have failed to take advantage of these suggestions. We hope that this attitude to customer service and public consultation will be reflected when considering any bid from this company.

Moving forward, this responsibility will pass directly to TfL rather than the franchise holder but we hope that in assigning this responsibility that the access to stations is made clear to TfL who have been complicit in the gating scheme that has been implemented. In the case of Forest Hill the importance of the Perry Vale exit must be recognised, an exit that is used by more customers in the evening peak than the main station. It has been recognised that an entrance in the Perry Vale car park would be the best solution to accessibility issues at Forest Hill, but until that can be implemented we believe that the gate must be available (either open or on a buzzer) at all times that trains are running.

Crystal Palace - Victoria Loop

We welcome morning peak services from London Bridge via Forest Hill to Victoria as bringing an important route into better use whilst avoiding the centre of London and congestion on the Jubilee and District Line.

At present some of the off-peak services from Victoria to London Bridge via Crystal Palace run as 2 car trains, but these can be very busy during early evenings. We would like to see a minimum of 4 car trains on this route during off-peak times, with a minimum of 8 car trains during peak period (rising to 10 or 12 car trains by 2012).

Services to Brighton and Gatwick from Forest Hill

Changes planned to services from Forest Hill will mean that there are no longer direct trains to East Croydon making travelling to Gatwick and Brighton from South London significantly harder. Passengers will have to change at Norwood Junction and again at East Croydon for trains south.

We would welcome solutions that would allow for some off-peak services to take customers to Gatwick airport without 2 changes of train, possibly by stopping more Gatwick services at Norwood Junction to allow for interchange or alternatively running services from Forest Hill to East Croydon during off-peak times. Without improvements to connections from South London to Gatwick airport, there will be more people travelling by road to Gatwick airport rather than by train. With the potential of the South Central and Gatwick Express franchise being run by a single company, it should be possible to provide better connections between various services.

For Gatwick the priority would be daytime, off-peak services, when most of the flights are leaving and arriving. For Brighton we would like to see weekend services that allow South Londoners to travel directly to the coast by train. With more flats in London being built car free, the rising cost of petrol, and warmer summers, a day out to the sea by train could become popular once again. However, it is important that these are fast/semi-fast services from Croydon to Brighton. These services would be popular with families, students, and anybody else looking for a chance to escape the city for a day or a weekend. Ticket deals including overnight accommodation, similar to those available to Eurostar customer would also make it easy for people to spend a night and benefit further from the extent of the South Central franchise area.

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