Gale's View (February 18th 2009)
"From December" the Secretary of State for Transport told the House of Commons "commuters will be able to travel from London to Kent by high speed train". That is, of course, literally correct.
If you happen to want to travel to St. Pancras and you live between Ashford and London then, for a premium price that is over and above the already exorbitant fare increase you may experience a faster journey time. If, however, you live in East Kent then the journey to London will take longer than it did by steam train in 1936 and you will still pay the premium!
The Secretary of State, Mr. Hoon, failed to give any helpful information when I asked him what plans his department had to improve the service between East Kent and Ashford and it is plain that, as things stand, the "commuters" to which he referred will be worse off rather than better off both in travelling times and financially. In a statement designed to demonstrate how this Government was planning to spend more billions on new (made in Japan) trains and infrastructure to improve the East Coast and West Coast mainline services that, coincidentally, reach out to the marginal Labour constituencies in the Midlands and the North there was cold comfort for Kent and nothing to justify his boast.
"Bullet" trains are of no value if the track and the signalling and bridges and level crossings slow the service down to such an extent that the capacity of the locomotive cannot be exploited. Once again it would seem that the Government, Network Rail and South Eastern Trains have united to do part of a job and to try to "spin" the facts to pretend that the task is complete.
For the record, this "120 miles per hour train" will deliver less than sixty miles per hour between London and Margate and less than 70 miles per hour between London and Canterbury!
I raised with the junior Transport Minister, Lord Adonis, the matters of poor journey times and increased costs and the cuts in services to Victoria, Charing Cross, London Bridge and Cannon Street that my constituents will face when the "fast" service is introduced in December. I do not know what ministerially chauffeur-driven universe Lord Adonis inhabits but the facts contained in his response were, to a large extent, plain wrong!
For instance, I was told that there are currently two peak-time trains between East Kent and Victoria and that there will still be two in December. There are, in fact, currently seven trains stopping at Margate, Birchington and Herne Bay and Victoria during the morning peak, not two. The services to Cannon Street and London Bridge will also be reduced.
Lord Adonis has again tried to claim that "fare increases are capped at RPI plus 3%" when he knows perfectly well that that increase is a network average and that in East Kent travellers have faced, for the third year in succession, a higher than average rise.
We are told that journey times will be faster. They will not. Taking the most common London destinations for business and tourism, the Bank of England, Lord Adonis` own Department of Transport, The London Eye, the Odeon Leicester Square, the House of Commons and the Tower of London the extended journey via St. Pancras and London Underground is appreciably longer that that using the appropriate London terminus and much more expensive. Where, Lord Adonis, is the benefit in that?
The Department of Transport, in cahoots with the train operating company, South Eastern (Govia) is trying to sell this package as an improvement offering "greater choice" I challenge South Eastern Trains and the Department to publish, now, its full December train timetable, to justify the increased cost of its fares over those experienced in other regions that have received similar investment in new rolling stock, to demonstrate how longer journey times and mileage (the distance between London and Margate has been significantly increased by the CTRL) constitutes an "improvement" and how cutting the non-CTRL "classic" services offers "greater choice". I think that once again the commuters of East Kent are being taken for a ride!