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Gale`s View 14/12/11

December 14th 2011

Southeastern trains` spokesperson, would like it to be known that, contrary to my assertion during a “live” TV interview with BBC Southeast, the station at Westgate on Sea is not “closed”.  Noting that Southeastern Trains have yet to respond to any of the many and varied criticisms of their dismal performance made during the BBC “Inside Out” programme I am pleased to concede that Ms. Boundy is, literally, correct and that Westgate on Sea station remains “open”.

Those of my constituents who have sought to use this virtually unmanned station, however, and who have found that two key trains no longer stop there do regard their local station as, for all useful purposes, closed.
The reason for the cancellation of the stopping trains has proved of considerable interest, also,  to those of my constituents who pay thousands of pounds a year to commute, on trains that are slow and frequently late, between Herne Bay and London.
In a letter to a Westgate constituent Mr. George Eustace, of Southeastern, says that “the changes was prompted by pressure from communities lower down the line for faster journey times from stations on the Kent Coast into London.  That is a bit rich coming from a company that has introduced more stops, cut services and lengthened journey times on the so-called “classic” services in order to accommodate a “high speed” service that is of little or no value to any time at all!

Southeastern have yet to acknowledge that they have increased journey times to avoid penalty payments arising from late trains – although they are happy to pocket the “fines” paid by Network Rail when delays are caused by track or signalling faults.  And skipping stops to make up lost time, again to avoid penalty payments, is reported too frequently to represent anything other than company policy.  A guard recently broadcast the apology  that “the severe delay was due to the signaller putting the stopping service in front of us”. That train took, I am told, over an hour to travel 30 miles.

Another regular traveller says that “I use the line to Sittingbourne, the Medway Towns and Victoria and I have noticed that journeys are taking much longer. The High Speed train has made this happen and of course it is no use to us.  I have also noticed how on the homeward journey trains just go to either Gillingham or Faversham and stop there. It is so annoying and very frustrating”. Comments from other constituents are not repeatable in a family newspaper.

Longer journey times, fewer and crowded trains, an unreliable service and much, much higher fares.  And yet in response to my suggestion that, in the light of the Chancellor`s Autumn Statement capping charges, Southeastern should reduce fares  the Company`s apologist, Ms Boundy, says only that “such a move would contradict our franchise agreement”.  Southeastern are fully aware that in three out of the last four years Kent Coast commuters have faced above average fare increases and there is no “franchise agreement” that justifies this disproportionate increase in charges for a worsening service.
“We have longer journeys than ever”  writes another traveller. “We do not have the luxury of starting services like Faversham or the Medway Towns, our stations are skipped, we do not get the conductor rails heated and for this we have had some well above formula fare increases”.
By the time that this article goes to print I shall have met with Southeastern`s Charles Horton. I hope that he will have understood why I so bitterly regret having supported his company in its bid to run the HS1 service as well as the “Classic” service and why I shall feel unable to back any proposal to extend or renew the Southeastern franchise past its fourteen year time span that ends in the now not-too-distant future.

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