November 11th 2009
You will soon be able to expose yourself to South Eastern Trains new winter timetable. I wish you joy!
Away from the PR hype and the champagne launches I have now travelled on the "high speed" link between Ramsgate and London. On the plus side the staff on the train are most helpful and courteous and, on the up train forty minutes from Ashford to northern London can reasonably claim to be fast. But there, I fear, the good news ends.
Those travelling from Ashford and wishing to end their journeys in the vicinity of St. Pancras and those wishing to travel on to some north eastern destinations may regard this as "the happy train" and they may gain "more time in bed" in the morning but the additional extra forty minutes between Ramsgate and Ashford is plain, bog-standard, slow.
From St. Pancras to Kings Cross, if you are journeying on to Newcastle, is a relatively short walk. The design of the new service, however, means that it is a good fifteen minutes on foot from the Javelin platform to Euston to take trains to the West Midlands or, as I wished to, to the North West. And because the platform is a five-minute walk to the underground station before catching the tube train to Euston or anywhere else the transfer time is no shorter by London Underground than on foot.
I was told that "it is only ten minutes by tube to Victoria". No, it is not! First, there is the aforementioned hike to the underground station, then the dive under ground, then the wait for the train and then the travelling time and that adds between twenty and twenty-five minutes to the overall "fast" journey time from Ramsgate or Ashford, via St. Pancras, to where you really want to be and to where the "slower" trains to Victoria or Cannon Street would have taken you in the first place!
For the privilege of travelling on this service the customer pays an additional £4.40 premium each way and a further £2.50 (at least) in underground fares making a round-trip additional cost for a working day return journey of £13.80. that is for a total journey time of one hour and forty five minutes train-to-door or about the same as the current Margate/Victoria rail service!
On the return journey the train rattled out of St. Pancras towards Ebbsfleet with such ferocious velocity that many passengers, myself included, were visibly and literally shaken and downright scared. Quite clearly this section of line has not been re-engineered to take the strain of the train and the only reason that the same vibration is not experienced on the inbound journey is because the engine is slowing down on the approach to the City. For my £4.40 premium I was afforded the wrong recorded announcement which caused much confusion and confirmation by informing passengers, wrongly, that the train would divide and that only the front four coaches would travel through to Ramsgate. And those gasping for an early morning cuppa or a late-evening drink on the way home will find that there is no trolley service on this magnificent train!
No doubt some of the teething problems will be ironed out and maybe in ten years or so Network Rail and the successor to a failed South Eastern Trains will upgrade the line between Ashford and Ramsgate and provide a truly fast service to East Kent and, if it manages to survive, to Manston Airport.
In the meantime those needing to travel to work on the Kent Coast line will find that they are paying more for less and taking longer to get from home to their actual place of work. Dick Turpin is alive and well and in charge of Govia, South Eastern’s parent company!