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17 November 2008

Oystergate continued - Letter to Southern Railway

Southern Railway once again have plans to close the Perry Vale exit after 8pm and to install ticket barriers close to the foot of the stairs at this exit. The Forest Hill Society has written to object to these plans, see below:


To: ian.rashbrook@southernrailway.com
Cc: Cllr John Russell, Cllr John Paschoud, Steve Bullock, Jim Dowd MP, Passenger Focus, London TravelWatch, Lewisham Head of Transport.

Dear Ian,

I was hoping that in the last two weeks you may have had an opportunity to respond to my previous email. As you will know the planning committee accepted the plans for the new ticket barriers at Forest Hill Station as they believed there were no planning grounds on which to object to this application.

However, the Forest Hill Society continue to have significant concerns about the plans for the new barriers at Perry Vale, specifically on the grounds of passenger safety and access to the station outside peak hours.

As I mentioned below the previous closure of this exit, the main exit during the evenings, prompted an outcry from local people, Jim Dowd raised the issue in Parliament, a council motion was raise by Councillor Russell which was passed, and a meeting at Forest Hill station with Mayor Sir Steve Bullock, Jim Dowd, representatives of the Forest Hill Society, London TravelWatch, Southern Railway, and London Rail.

It was confirmed by Southern Railway's representatives at the planning committee meeting that the gates will be shuttered and locked from around 8pm every evening causing major inconvenience to people living in Forest Hill. Already many less able-bodied people are unwilling to use Forest Hill station for their journeys from London Bridge, preferring to alight at Sydenham and get the bus back again (not a quick journey). For half of rail users who live on the east of the station they will be forced to go up a flight of steps, across the footbridge, down another flight of steps, out of the station and round WHSmith, down another flight of steps, though a badly lit underpass, and then up another small flights of steps, when they can currently use the single set of steps that you will be locking up in the evenings.

The planning officer responsible for the case has confirmed that a risk assessment has been undertaken, including a passenger count, but that details could not be provided to him "as it is an internal Network Rail document". I do not believe any such headcounts have been undertaken since the plans for barriers on platform 1, when headcounts and passenger flows were calculated by closing this exit. I believe that any modelling that was done based on this research cannot be used to apply to the Perry Vale exit, which gets more than 50% of the traffic from mid afternoon until after midnight. I would urge you to make any such documents available so that everybody can understand why you believe there is no safety risk - I am sure that there are ways to obtain these documents (at least by some of those copied on this email).

During rush hour the barriers present a danger to passengers due to the distance of the gates to the bottom of the steep stairs, going round a corner, and all in poor lighting conditions. In the event of one or two Oyster or paper tickets failing to function quickly this will lead to a rapid backlog of people round the corner and up the steps. In wet or icy conditions, passengers all have umbrellas open - blocking the dim light available, and restricting access to the furthest ticket barriers from the stairs. These conditions will inevitably lead to slips and injuries to rail passengers, something which should be a major concern when making such changes to access.

I have already noticed that there are rarely staff at the Perry Vale exit after 6pm during the height of rush hour services. Your argument that these plans are about revenue protect simply do not match with the service that you currently provide. The level of manning by revenue protection officers would suggest that when ticket barriers are installed we can expect closure of these gates during the main evening rush hour.

I believe it is in the interest of Southern Rail to resolve this situation by changing the plans for gates at the station. There is space for you to install ticket barriers further from the steps, there is another option of placing level access ticket barriers to provide a new exit at the Perry Vale car park, where there is plenty of space for such a structure.

Barriers that are installed must be open during all hours of operation until TfL take over the running of the station in September 09, when they will provide this level of service. If this cannot be achieved with the gates locked then they should be left open or a temporary alternative exit provided at this side of the station.

I would ask that a meeting take place at Forest Hill Station, after 5pm on a weekday in the next couple of months, so that you and John Oliver can understand the difficulties presented by the scheme that has been drawn up for one of the busiest stations on your network, and I would welcome your suggestion on another busy station that I can visit during rush hours to see how the positioning of gates at the base of steps will work in practise. As far as I can recall there are no such barriers anywhere in central London on the overground or underground systems, but I have not personally visited them all.

I hope you understand that the Forest Hill Society does welcome the introduction of ticket barriers for revenue protection and for the advantages of using pre-pay Oyster cards in the future. However, safety and accessibility are our primary concerns and we hope that you also take these concerns seriously.

I can only apologise to all those I have copied in that I have once again had to involve you in this issue when we thought that we had resolved the situation back in July. I hope that we can continue to count on your support to maintain the safety and limited accessibility that we do have for passengers at Forest Hill.

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