15 June 2008

Access to Forest Hill Station gets worse

We all know how difficult it is to use our busy station if you’re disabled or pushing a pram. But the situation is getting a lot worse for all of us. Southern Railways is closing the gate on the Perry Vale side of the station for much of the day.

Southern Railway’s original plan was to close the gates in early June, opening them only between 3pm and 8pm when ticket inspectors would manually check everybody's ticket as they left the station. Outside of these hours, the gate would be locked to prevent people evading their fare.

The Forest Hill Society has managed to get a small concession from Southern which will allow the gate to remain open after 8pm when the station is unmanned. But this failed to appease people at the General Meeting who were shocked that anyone from the Perry Vale side travelling southbound in the morning would need to use four sets of stairs to get to the platform!

The Chairman of the Forest Hill Society, Michael Abrahams, has written to Southern Railways (the letter was copied to Len Dowd MP, Len Duvall MLA, London Travel watch and local councillors) to draw attention to the problems caused by their plans.

Extract of letter to Southern Railways

At a recent General Meeting of the Forest Hill Society, we listened to views of local people who make use of Forest Hill station and, while they were pleased that the gates would continue to be open after 3pm, there was an overwhelming feeling that shutting the Perry Vale entrance before 3pm was not in the interests of passengers. For many passengers heading south, towards Croydon and Victoria before 3pm this will mean they will need to use four sets of stairs to access platform 2, at a time when we are meant to be seeing improvements in accessibility. This retrograde step goes against accessibility improvements that are more widely planned on the railway.

Until a new exit can be built to the Perry Vale Car Park, the best solution for the accessibility and safety of passengers at Forest Hill is to leave the gate open on the southbound platform, as it is at present.

There are similar gate closures at Sydenham Station so, once again, we shall be joining forces to campaign against this reduced access.

Michael and the new Chair of the Sydenham Society, Tim Lund, have written jointly to Jim Dowd MP asking him to raise the matter at the Department for Transport, urging ministers to recognise that access to stations is a vital element of renewing franchises.

There is some discussion of opening up a new exit into Perry Vale Car Park which would avoid the steps completely. One of the problems with this plan, however, is the gradient which is, apparently, too steep for wheelchairs. It is, however, an option which the Forest Hill Society would like to see fully explored.

Perhaps ironically, the 'ACCESS FOR ALL' footbridge at Forest Hill Station has got beyond the planning stage and will most likely be built and operable in the next eighteen months. There will then be a lift at both ends of the bridge. But constraints of, for example, platform width, mean that the new bridge will be in the same general area as the current bridge.

Our campaign to save our train services was a huge success thanks to your support. Let’s see if we can do it again by backing the Forest Hill Society’s campaign to keep the gates open.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why do we have to be so apologetic about this and hide our concerns behind a special needs accessibility agendum? – has it really reached the point in Britain today that the only way we can expect to get an efficient, practical, useful result from bodies such as TfL is by either being over 80 or in a wheelchair? Yes, indeed, for such users accessibility is a serious issue on which FH station falls seriously behind acceptable standards (acceptable in this case meaning that there is a set up that actually works), but why does this have to be our entire argument? For ANYBODY who used the station and who lives on the Perry Vale side, the closure of the Perry Vale gate entrance for most of the day will be an inconvenience. And why shouldn’t we oppose inconvenience simply for its own sake?

The argument here should be about levels of service. This year we’ve seen train fares rise considerably (far in excess of the rate of inflation) and yet have received no visible increase in the quality of service. Shutting the gate increases our inconvenience (and therefore diminishes the service provided) with no refund or rebate. In the private sector we wouldn’t stand for this – and so, for a regulated monopolist we in effect face here, it is to the regulator that we should complain.

This move, to deny us the use of the gate, reduces the quality of service provided to us, purely to save the cost of someone to monitor the gate outside of fixed limited hours. This then is a service provider who is happy to provide a reduced quality of service without reducing cost.

What a total joke.