SHRUG response to Network Rail's Wessex Route Study
"I attach a response on behalf of the South Hampshire Rail Users' Group. We are grateful for the opportunity to comment.
The proposals are commendably detailed and will no doubt be subject to further development over time. We have therefore arranged our comments under broad headings, and hope they will be helpful.
* Wessex is increasingly populous, a driver of the national economy, and one of the most heavily-trafficked sectors of the national rail network. Investment should be proportionate for economic, environmental, health and social reasons.
* Crossrail 2 raises issues about passenger flows around Waterloo and when there is disruption in the suburban area.
* It is doubtful whether some of the other proposed infrastructure improvements are sufficient to sustain the suggested level of traffic increases, particularly around Southampton and Portsmouth, and between Basingstoke and Reading.
* Illustrative timetables showing how communities outside the London suburban area would be affected by service development options would be helpful.
* The Southampton area could benefit from a local 'metro' service of the kind being developed for Bristol.
* There are far-reaching benefits from maximising the movement of containers by rail.
* Rolling stock should be fit for purpose, and simply cramming passengers to increase profits when fares are often uncompetitive should not be an option.
* Poor passenger satisfaction scorings could result in future governments diverting investment to road-building programmes or being distracted by previously discredited ideas such as converting commuter rail routes to intensively-operated busways.
Need for a strategic vision
The demand for commuting to London already outstrips capacity. The inevitable overcrowding can only be exacerbated by the rate of house-building in the area. Much of this is concentrated along the already overcrowded routes between Waterloo, Portsmouth and Southampton. There appears to be a lack of joined-up thinking which allows blocks of new flats, advertised as commuter-friendly, to mushroom close to severely overstretched rail services at places such as Basingstoke and Woking. Dense populations mean good profits for house builders and rail operators, but ever greater discomfort for commuters. In addition, the recent revival of the nineteen sixties' concept of merging Southampton and Portsmouth into a Solent City is likely to increase the market for local transport within that area as well as for commuting to London.
Southampton is the second largest container port in Britain, and its success has strategic importance nationally as well as locally. Creditably, the proportion of container movements in the area which travels by rail has increased to some 36 per cent. However, the area around the container terminals is seriously affected by road traffic congestion and pollution. The latter has been monitored and health warnings issued at times of greatest risk. As with passenger traffic, the case for investment in rail freight seems clear-cut. Movement of containers by rail should be maximised.
Passenger capacity in the suburban area
Commuters pay considerable sums to travel to work in London yet often have to stand for an hour or longer even when the service is fully operated, which it virtually never has been in the past year. In addition, it is extraordinary that SWT is allowed to design for more severe overcrowding (4 standing passengers per square metre) than other train operators. In conjunction these factors have social consequences (impact on health and family life) and economic consequences (a tired work force).
Part of the capacity shortfall is hidden in statistics. It is clear that punctuality is abysmal. For the 4 weeks to 6 December 2014, SWT mainline punctuality was just 77.6%, with a moving annual average of 87.1%, against the charter standard of 89%. For suburban services, punctuality was 80.4%, with a moving annual average of 89.5%, against the charter standard of 92%. The proportion of scheduled trains actually operated is purportedly within charter standards. However, our monitoring of live running data shows that, every month, up to around 1,000 SWT services haven't been running their full route or making all scheduled stops, and the loss of capacity through short formations has been equating to some 200-400 full-length trains.
Basing passenger satisfaction solely on the NRPS data is misleading, since passengers are asked to rate the journey they have just made. This has no relevance for commuters who need a satisfactory journey every day. There is also little point in making comparisons with the ratings of other operators. SWT consistently performs poorly and it is no consolation to its passengers if some of their counterparts on other networks are marginally even less satisfied.
Whether or not the service is fully operated at a particular time, delays are endemic, leading to an unreliable workforce and lost working hours. In total the social and economic costs of performance shortcomings in the Wessex area must be enormous. It would be useful if these could be quantified both for illustrative purposes and to strengthen the case for investment even more.
Capacity enhancements - general
The options for infrastructure enhancements such as additional tracks and a Woking flyover (discussed for decades) are clearly essential to meet passenger growth. Additional turn-back facilities can be useful for increasing services over parts of routes with particularly high passenger demand, but can disadvantage passengers by encouraging operators to turn back delayed trains short of their scheduled destinations. For example, the revised layout through Havant station was presented as making services more reliable, but seems only to facilitate turning back trains before they reach Portsmouth, worsening reliability for the dumped passengers.
Capacity enhancements - Crossrail 2
Crossrail 2 would obviously help to address capacity issues, both across central London and by diverting some SWT suburban branch services away from Waterloo. Two strategic considerations appear paramount:
(1) Huge numbers of passengers change at Clapham Junction between Victoria and Waterloo services. Crossrail 2 would increase the proportion of trains heading to or through Victoria and decrease the proportion heading to Waterloo. This raises issues about capacity between Clapham Junction and Waterloo, particularly given the regeneration of the South Bank and ease of transferring by foot between Waterloo and the southern entrance to Blackfriars station for Thameslink services towards Bedford, Peterborough and Cambridge.
(2) The concentration of services between New Malden/Raynes Park and Waterloo means that any major incident on this section can lead to SWT services collapsing over a wide area, with additional adverse, social and economic consequences. This contrasts, for example, with services through Croydon, which head to Victoria, London Bridge and Thameslink's London stations; and with services through Dartford which have three separate routes to Cannon Street and Charing Cross.
Suppose the Crossrail 2 tunnels could extend to west of New Malden, with Crossrail trains taking over services to Hampton Court, Woking, and Guildford via Hinchley Wood. This would he
lp meet both the strategic considerations outlined above: (1) Clapham Junction should be left with capacity to accommodate stops by mainline peak SWT trains, which are a longstanding major commuter aspiration. This in turn would increase capacity between Clapham Junction and Waterloo by removing the need for many commuters to travel to or from Waterloo on mainline services and then retrace their journeys on suburban trains.
(2) When there is major disruption on the New Malden-Waterloo section, long-distance trains are often turned at Guildford or Woking or diverted over the circuitous route via Staines. The latter option would appear virtually impossible to operate after the introduction of additional scheduled services through Staines. However, with the Crossrail service pattern outlined above, passengers could switch to Crossrail services at Woking or Guildford, whilst the Hampton Court Crossrail services would be left with capacity for passengers from Surbiton and stations eastwards.
The proposal for further deployment of carriages with 2+3 seating on long-distance main line services to help address capacity shortfall on suburban services is shocking. Fifty years ago, BR introduced the prototype XP64 carriage which was designed on ergonomic principles for passenger comfort and has influenced the design of long-distance carriages ever since. At a recent meeting with Haslemere rail users, the current rail minister accepted that the outer-suburban units operating between Waterloo and Portsmouth were not designed for that route and one of her officials undertook to raise the issue in the context of the extension of the SWT franchise from 2017 to 2019. However, history suggests that there will be no satisfactory outcome under the current operator. There are other means of increasing capacity, such as converting first class coaches to standard class, and reducing off-peak fares to increase incentives to travel outside the peak. When the current SWT franchise was awarded, the government announcement "expected" reduced season ticket fares in the shoulder peak. This was ignored in the quest for increased profits.
Double-decker trains also merit consideration. However, these are always considered to need longer station dwell times for loading and unloading. Twitter regularly exposes an already unacceptable situation on SWT whereby doors are shut in the faces of boarding, and even alighting, commuters to allow trains to depart punctually. Double-decker trains would therefore seem more suited to outer-suburban limited-stop services. Some routes, such as Waterloo-Basingstoke, have no tunnels, though there are some lesser impediments such as an aqueduct.
The proposed AC electrification of the lines from Basingstoke to Salisbury via both Andover and Salisbury is welcome for environmental reasons, including eradication of diesel trains under the Waterloo roof.
With longer, electric, trains operating between Waterloo and Salisbury, the less-populous Salisbury-Exeter route would presumably retain diesel operation long-term. This could be advantageous in terms of connectivity. The West Country now has no direct services to anywhere south of the Salisbury-Waterloo route. Some journeys, such as Bournemouth-Plymouth are remarkably circuitous or involve multiple changes. The routes west of Salisbury might therefore be served by a raft of services between Brighton/Portsmouth/Bournemouth, via Southampton and Salisbury, to Bristol/Cardiff/Plymouth (potentially via Okehampton if that route is reinstated), so that most journeys in that regional axis could be made with no more than one change of train.
The longstanding idea of running Weymouth-Bristol services in and out of Yeovil Junction, providing connections with Salisbury-Exeter line services also appears worthy of further consideration, since it could create a rail hub for a wide rural area.
Turning to freight, it is clearly sensible to have two electrified routes available between the Southampton container terminals and Basingstoke, but there appears to be no alternative route available between Basingstoke and Reading. Are the freight operators expected to maintain their modern fleets of diesel locomotives just for when Basingstoke-Reading is closed through train or infrastructure failures or for routine engineering work, or could Network Rail provide a small contingency diesel fleet? The alternatives might be dual-voltage electric locomotives operating via Chertsey and Kew, providing the live rail could provide sufficient power, or early infill electrification between Salisbury and Chippenham/Bath. The latter would also enable electric passenger train operation between the South Coast and Bristol/Cardiff.
Traffic from Fawley is already negligible as oil is now transferred by pipeline.
Clarity of outcomes
The clarity of the projected medium and long-term outcomes is noticeably uneven. Residents in the London suburban area can expect improved capacity and reasonable service levels in any event. Outside this area, choice of infrastructure enhancements and timetable options could have widely varying effects and rail users cannot guess how far particular options might meet their travel needs. For example, how would "high-speed" services to Bournemouth impact on the remainder of the passenger network? It would therefore be useful to append some illustrative hourly service patterns based on a range of assumptions.
This problem can be illustrated historically. The final British Rail timetable had weekday departures from Waterloo to Southampton every 20 minutes, the three services per hour taking 69, 79 and 84 minutes. Current times are 74, 77 and 93 minutes. Although one of the three trains is now two minutes faster, this involved removing a stop at the important town of Eastleigh, a focus for prospective further housing developments. A similar service pattern on the Waterloo-Portsmouth route had trains taking 81, 85 and 98 minutes. They now take 88, 92 and 119 minutes. The current impoverished services appear to be a by-product of re-organising the SWT mainline timetable to provide a 15-minute shuttle from Waterloo to serve the significant first class market at Haslemere.
>From the 2007 timetable, the standard-hour service at Totton, the fourth largest town between Southampton and Weymouth, was cut by 60%. The 'standard-hour' journey time from Waterloo to Totton increased by 25 minutes, and from Totton to New Milton and Christchurch it roughly doubled. Data from the Office of Rail Regulation show that entries and exits at Totton station increased by almost 118,000 (71.7%) in the five years before the change, more than at any other station between Southampton and Weymouth except Bournemouth, Poole and Brockenhurst. In the following five years it broadly stagnated while growth continued apace elsewhere. It is vital to avoid wasting resources on such unattractive and disadvantageous scheduling if rail use is to be maximised.
Short-term timetable development outside the suburban area
Long-distance timetable development needs to take better account of demographic change. South Hampshire, in particular, is becoming increasingly suburbanised. For many decades there has been a tendency for residents to move out of the established urban areas to medium-sized population centres such as Eastleigh, Chandlers Ford, Hedge End, Fareham, Totton and New Milton. At the same time, the larger towns and cities are seeing big influxes both of students and of workers from other EU member states. There is also a trend towards constructing luxury accommodation within city centres.
Overall, therefore, the demand for rail travel in the region is, and is likely to remain, considerable but neither concentrated nor uniform. Faster inter-urban journeys have been achieved in the past and should be restored and improved even further, though not beyond a point where other significant markets are neglected or disadvantaged.
As the study confirms, there is already a serious capacity deficit in the region. To a considerable extent this arises from failure or delay in implementing objectives identified in the Strategic Rail Authority's Strategic Plan of January 2002. Such objectives included:
* Longer platforms developed at Waterloo and 60 other stations between 2002 and 2005 to accommodate 10-car trains. This was purported to have been agreed between the SRA and SWT, so was presumably delayed when the second SWT franchise was reduced from twenty years to just three through unacceptable performance. The operator's promises of 'gold plating' of track in the London area where the infrastructure, and hence the service, now collapses day after day similarly disappeared. There is at a last a programme to bring in second-hand carriages to provide longer trains, but even that is running a year late.
* The west bay (formerly platform 5) at Southampton Central to be returned to use in 2004-05.
* A half-hourly service seven days a week between Portsmouth Harbour and Bristol Temple Meads by 2005-06.
* Infrastructure changes at Worthing Central to allow fast trains to overtake slow trains (potentially facilitating the acceleration and increase of services from Brighton to Hampshire and beyond).
In addition, the original specification for the current SWT franchise included electrification of the down loop west of Totton station, which would have afforded greater flexibility in timetable planning.
Quite apart from the capacity deficit on Waterloo commuter services, the Southampton-Portsmouth area desperately needs a more attractive pattern of passenger services now. A report commissioned by the previous Minister for Portsmouth identified rail connectivity in the Solent area as a prime aspiration, yet no proposals evolved, and timetables which improved incrementally during half a century of post-steam operation now appear set in stone.
Given past delays and current shortcomings, some quick wins, alongside longer-term objectives, are highly desirable. A few suggestions:
* Longer trains on the Portsmouth Harbour-Cardiff Central service which can suffer from severe overcrowding. A new fleet of four-car units was in prospect a few years ago but never materialised. Proposals to convert the class 442 Wessex Electric trains to diesel sets with class 43 power cars could provide an economic solution.
* Just one train unit is required to allow the Southampton-Newcastle service to increase from two-hourly to hourly (the trains already run as far south as Reading). These trains have an advantage over the Bournemouth-Manchester service in that they provide good 'same-platform' connections to and from Portsmouth Harbour at Winchester. If necessary, a few additional container trains might be diverted via Westbury to provide the paths.
* Other possible deployments for diesel Wessex Electrics, or stock displaced by electrification schemes, might be more Brighton-Bristol trains (as proposed in the current study) or Bournemouth-Bristol services (Great Western was reportedly given running rights from Southampton Central to Poole from 2017) allowing Bournemouth passengers to travel to the West Country with a single change at Salisbury or Westbury.
* Southern's Victoria-Gatwick Airport-Southampton service could be restored through to Bournemouth, one of Britain's few resorts of international status. The SRA cut the service back from Bournemouth to Southampton (causing further congestion at Southampton Central during turnarounds), despite proven demand for the through service, in order to help SWT gain an acceptable level of performance.
* The routeing of Brighton-Southampton services via Southampton Airport should be regular instead of token, given that some 20% of airport users reportedly come from that geographical axis.
* The Portsmouth-Southampton line currently has about the worst inter-urban service in the South East, with fast and stopping services arriving and departing at Portsmouth a few minutes apart in each hour. It is hard to believe that an additional hourly service could not be incorporated. Observation suggests that passenger traffic on Southern train services from Southampton is heavily concentrated on Havant, Chichester and Gatwick, so an additional Southampton-Portsmouth hourly service would seem to deserve priority over more Brighton-Bristol through services. In addition, both the Botley and Netley routes already accommodate extra trains during planned and ad hoc diversions arising from infrastructure failures or maintenance, suggesting that there is already available capacity.
* Stopping services between Southampton and Bournemouth could be served by portions off faster services to/from Waterloo as currently happens in the commuting peak. This would provide a much more attractive service than the ludicrously slow Waterloo-Poole off-peak service, with its long layovers at Southampton Central and Brockenhurst.
* Some minor changes are urgently needed, such as closing the gap in Southampton-Eastleigh services between 07.38 and 08.35 on Mondays to Fridays. Imagine the outcry if such a poor service ran between Brighton and Worthing.
Government needs to modify the franchising regime so that passenger train operators (four in the case of southern Hampshire) meet periodically to develop optimum timetable patterns in relation to public aspirations. The current lethargy poses risks for the rail industry, particularly on SWT with its abysmal passenger satisfaction scoring on the value for money of its tickets. Already, one think-tank has raised the old chestnut of converting railways to busways. The danger is not that this is ever likely to materialise on any big scale - the hurdles are enormous - but that a future government may feel obliged to undertake a root-and-branch review of transport expenditure, slowing down the investment which the railways need. In addition, improvements to the road network will mean rail has to become more attractive to maintain demand.
2043 passenger service specification
The Wessex Route Study's proposals for operation through Southampton Airport Parkway (3-5 trains per hour to Waterloo; an hourly service to both Manchester and Hull; an hourly service to Paddington via Heathrow; the Salisbury-Romsey local service; plus 4 freight trains) is ambitious, even with the proposed lengths of extra track.
The Government's strategies for airports are not yet final, but in principle the proposed direct service to Heathrow would be a particularly welcome enhancement. There are also possibilities of providing better connectivity with Stansted via either Crossrail or Crossrail 2.
It is unclear why the current two-hourly weekday service between Southampton and Newcastle (with a token daily extension to Edinburgh) via Doncaster and York would be replaced by an hourly service to Hull. Is there evidence to support the case for concentrating services on Hull, when York / Newcastle / Edinburgh are all major rail hubs and high-demand destinations and Hull is a terminus?
Some Cross Country services have already had their journey times extended by one hour through re-routeing via Newcastle instead of Preston to protect revenue on the West Coast franchise. Has re-routeing Southampton trains off the East Coast main line at Doncaster been conceived simply to protect revenue on the East Coast franchise?
The total of four freight trains, two Cross Country trains, two local services and one Paddington via Heathrow train every hour between Basingstoke and Reading looks unrealistic, even with a flyover at Basingstoke. These services will mix with Paddington services from Newbury and the West of England at Reading West, creating a substantial bottleneck. A further flyover at Reading West or additional tracks look highly desirable, and probably essential.
Rather oddly, proposals for services on the regional route through Fareham, Southampton and Salisbury appear much more detailed than those for the main line, yet more-intensive timetabling in the area as a whole would suggest that all services will need to mesh very tightly.
Portsmouth and Southampton - grasping the nettle on capacity
The proposed capacity improvements, such as additional tracks and flyovers, are clearly essential for realising the level of growth anticipated in the Study. An expanded Southampton Central station would also help operationally. In any case, this station is in a very poor state and generally has poor facilities relative to its importance.
That said, the current congestion, conflicting movements and delays in the Southampton and Portsmouth areas suggest that, notwithstanding such enhancements, the very substantial increase in passenger services envisaged in the Study needs something more radical.
In addition, what about further potential growth in freight traffic, given that container ships are getting ever larger? Health and environmental considerations suggest that every container which can travel reasonably economically by rail from Southampton should do so, further increasing capacity pressures.
Portsmouth suffers not only from rail congestion, but can be cut off from the national network for extensive periods by a single train failure. What is needed is a 4-track railway southwards from the triangular junction east of Cosham station, so that trains via Fareham can access Portsmouth & Southsea station independently of trains via Havant. Ideally the 4-tracks should extend through to Portsmouth Harbour station, given the ferry links to Gosport (Britain's largest rail-less town) and the Isle of Wight.
Proposals for service increases in the Southampton area seem to be based on funnelling a train through Southampton tunnel every three minutes. Given the mix of trains, stopping patterns and junctions around the city, this seems unrealistic. Southampton needs a 4-track railway westwards from Central station to Redbridge to facilitate the movement of container trains alongside the wide range of passenger services. Ideally, it needs a direct tunnel eastwards from Central station to Woolston. This would usefully shorten the route to Portsmouth via Netley. A rail line crossing the River Itchen to Woolston was discussed in the nineteen seventies when the Itchen road bridge was built, while abandoned proposals to convert the Netley line to rapid transport would have seen trams actually crossing the bridge. With a shortened route, the Woolston-St Denys line could be abandoned, or retained as a link to Northam train depot (use comparable with the old St Enoch approach lines in Glasgow).
Portsmouth already has reasonable services at local stations, but this radical expansion of capacity at Southampton could facilitate operation of a limited metro service such as is being developed in the Bristol area, covering such population centres as Romsey, Winchester, Fareham, Totton and Hythe."