Memorandum by the Tonbridge and District
Railway Travellers Association (PRF 06)
On a day to day basis, the interest of members
of this Association is focussed on the franchise of Connex South
Eastern which provides the services that they use. The franchise
is not due to expire until 2011 but, nonetheless, there are aspects
of Government policy which will impinge upon that franchise.
Generally, it is a misconception that there
can be rapid improvements in rail services. However, there are
areas where management can effect short term improvements to meet
the aspirations of rail users and these are reliability and punctuality
but neither of them can be dictated by Government policy. It is
interesting to note that the response received to a passenger
survey organised by this Association that safety was low in the
priority of respondents.
To deal with the safety problem first. The members
of this Association exclusively travel in Mk. 1 rolling stock
which we are told is inherently dangerous because it has a separate
underframe and slam doors and has been described by the contemptible
unqualified clown who masquerades as Her Majesty's Chief Inspecting
Officer of Railways as "a Chicken coop on wheels". I
should explain that the gentleman in question has no railway background
nor professional training as a mechanical, electrical, signal
or civil engineer. Let us examine the reality. I would suggest
that if an estimate were made of the number of passengers who
have travelled in this rolling stock since it was introduced between
1956 and 1972 and divided that number by the number of people
killed or injured travelling in it, it would demonstrate the minuscule
riska quotient with at least four zeros after the decimal
point before any significant figure was reached. Despite this,
the Railways Inspectorate recommended to Ministers SI 1999 2244
which requires all such rolling stock to be scrapped by 1st January
Apart from the dubious question of the safety
of the Mk.1 rolling stock there is the question of its replacement.
In a normal situation the rolling stock introduced in 1972 would
last until 2012 and be phased out over a planned period during
which new rolling stock would be used off peak whilst the old
rolling stock would be used in the peaks bearing in mind that
the amount of rolling stock used in the peaks is greater by a
factor of three than that used off peak. This would be the normal
economic way of doing things. Another aspect of this is that the
1972 stock (Class 423) has high density seating whereas the replacement
rolling stock has 20 per cent fewer seats which means as far as
the members of this Association are concerned that, because Connex
cannot run anymore peak trains due to infrastructure constraints,
that large numbers will have to stand for up to one hour. Connex
simply will not be able to meet its Passengers in Excess of Capacity
(PIXC) limits to which it is committed.
The Committee should examine whether the SI
1999 2244 should be repealed or modified so far as it relates
to rolling stock. Apart from the considerations referred to above
there is the question of the provisions of para. 4(3) of the SI
which requires some form of override device to be fitted to Mk.1
rolling stock remaining in service after 31st December 2002. This
is a particularly unhelpful requirement that will require the
expenditure of not less than £10,000 for each modified vehicle
to reduce an almost non existent risk for 2 years. The device
will only be of value if trains collide in line on the same track.
Three recent incidents on the lines affecting members of this
Association would not have benefited from the contraption, two
were "side swipe" incidents and one, had it taken place,
would have been amidships. It also requires the abolition of inter
unit corridor connections. Only an inmate of bedlam would recommend
such a device.
Similarly, Class 423 rolling stock has a total
of 72 doors on each 4 car unit which would have to be fitted with
central door locking so that the trains can run a further two
years would be wholly unjustified. This proposed piece of ill
thought out nonsense has not been costed. A greater misuse of
resources could scarcely be imagined.
The Committee might also like to consider whether
the amounts to be spent to eliminate the minuscule risks associated
with the operation of the railways in the UK are justified. Is
it more important to bend to the emotional media rants aided and
abetted by "victim support groups" and a discredited
Prior to the introduction of SI 1999 2244 a
draft was circulated to interested parties for comment. However,
the civil servants only aim was to give the Minister the opportunity
of scoring a political point "Look what I am doing for rail
safety". Consequently, as usual, any sensible adverse comment
was totally ignored, as a result, this preposterous wasteful piece
of nonsense went through "on the nod"
Modern rolling stock has an unfortunate habit
of being unreliable. This is due largely to the fact that it has
more onboard systems which are all potential sources of failure.
Reliability is also not helped by the "Disabled Vehicle Access
Regulations" which prohibits the use of rolling stock when
a disabled aid has failed and has not been repaired within a specified
time. This is a factual comment which has nothing to do with whether
one agrees or disagrees with the DVAR.
On comfort, the Committee should note that generally
new rolling stock is less comfortable than the stock it replaces.
No regard is had to the fact that people are getting bigger in
fact, the space allowed per passenger is considerably reduced
and bus style seating is used to pack in as many seats as possible.
It is also interesting to note the comment of a senior railway
manager that "We cannot go back to the comfort of Mk.1 rolling
stockwe cannot afford it!"
This Association's experience of the SRA is
that it is particularly unhelpful as far as the passenger is concerned.
It has been pointed out to it that the design of rolling stock
leaves a lot to be desired. It will not even accept that it should
take steps to see that the provisions of the pamphlet "Aspirations
for Rolling Stock Design" published by the RPC should be
adhered to. It responds with the useless statement that it chooses
not to be overly prescriptive in these matters. To give but one
example, many classes of multiple unit train have been produced
without the facility of interunit corridor connections so that
when a unit is joined to one or more other units the train remains
corridor throughout. The SRA's response is that this is a matter
for the commercial judgement of operators that has nothing to
do with the safety or convenience of passengers.
It has also been pointed out that Connex will
not be able to meet the PIXC limits to which they are committed;
a situation that will only deteriorate if passenger traffic increases
to estimated future levels. The response is to ignore the question
or to hint that it is a problem for Connex to solve. Connex cannot
solve it because the solution depends on infrastructure improvements
none of which is foreseen other than Thameslink 2000 which is
receding into the ever distant future.
On the question of the award of new and extended
contracts for passenger services. It is assumed that this question
will include the variations to timetables. When Connex proposed
a major change to the services used by members of this Association
to be effective from May 2000 the SRA made no effort to consult
users of the services. The changes were based on the aspirations
of the Strategic Development and Economic Planning unit of Kent
County Council who labour under the false belief that improved
services to East Kent will aid its economic development. (Historical
evidence can be adduced to demonstrate the falseness of this belief).
The fact that 85 per cent of the traffic on the line originates
west of Ashford and that many through journeys became impossible
was totally ignored in a desire to provide slightly faster services
to destinations east of Ashford. Clearly, the SRA does not have
the resources to check the details of timetable changes which
do not infringe the PSR but, at least, it could consult the representatives
of those who use the services who might actually be able to demonstrate
the faults of the proposed changes. Also, in this case, the historical
fault in the assumptions of KCC. The Committee should enquire
into this important matter for whilst timetable planning should
encompass future development it should mainly be designed to serve
the interests of existing traffic in a robust and reliable manner.
The expenditure proposed by the Government or,
indeed, on works in progress, will have little impact on the services
used by members of this Association. It is claimed that the completion
of Stage 1 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in October 2003 will
free up capacity but it will have little or no effect on peak
working because the constraints are in the infrastructure eg lack
of terminal capacity. Apart from which, the prognosis is that
Connex will have insufficient rolling stock to provide any service
enhancements due to lack of investment in additional rolling stock
and the effect of SI 1999 2244. As noted above Thameslink 2000
will provide a small relief, assuming that rolling stock is available,
and the scheme has not receded into the ever distant future.
M J Whitson