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South Western Railway Timetable Consultation

Below is the response submitted by the Residents' Association.  The consultation runs until Sunday 19th September.
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Response to SWR Timetable Consultation December 2022
By Email to: dec22consultation@swrailway.com


1.  Which category would best describe your organisation?

Elected representative.

I write in my role of the Honorary Secretary of the Thames Ditton & Weston Green Residents’ Association which has a paid-up membership of 1,200 households representing over 2,400 residents. Founded in 1934 our Association is non-party political association with four elected councillors on Elmbridge Borough Council (Karen Randolph, Caroline James, Alex Batchelor and Gill Coates) and one elected councillor on Surrey County Council (Nick Darby).  We represent residents and businesses in the communities of Thames Ditton, Weston Green and East Molesey.

2.  Do you have an interest in a particular station or route? If so, which one?

We focus our response on:-

a) Hampton Court to London Waterloo branch, and in particular Thames Ditton and Hampton Court stations; and

b) Mainland Suburban Woking – Surbiton – London Waterloo line, and in particular Esher station.

3.  Overall, what do you think of our proposed specification for the Main Suburban routes?

a) Hampton Court to London Waterloo branch (Thames Ditton and Hampton Court)

We recognise the need to adapt and anticipate changes to the way the SWR network is used by commuters and leisure travellers following the COVID-19 pandemic. Maintaining rail services during the various lockdowns was essential, but the level of subsidies that were required are unsustainable. We are concerned, however, that your proposal under the SWR Consultation to cut both peak and off-peak service frequencies will deter both regular commuters as well as leisure travellers from using trains. This will result in reducing revenue rather than saving cost in the long term. We urge SWR to improve rail services by maintaining or even increasing service frequencies whilst ensuring that the timetable is sufficiently robust to be resilient even when interruptions occur. Only a high frequency service will ensure that train services remain attractive and an environmentally better solution to cars.

We welcome your proposal to maintain the two trains per hour frequency throughout the day. We however invite you to consider improving the frequency to four trains per hour at least during peak travel. This would certainly attract additional passengers not only in the local communities that we represent, but also improve the service from stations closer to London, for example from Surbiton.

One of the issues that you have mentioned in the consultation document is the track change from the slow to the fast line at Surbiton. We believe that there are two resolutions available to that problem: You could either consider running four stopping services from Hampton Court to London Waterloo, or you could ease the bottleneck at Surbiton by running two of the proposed four services originating from Hampton Court fast after Surbiton, albeit at different time slots than the mainline services would currently allow.

We note that trains to and from Hampton Court are regularly the first ones to be cancelled when problems occur on the main suburban routes. We do not believe that this is acceptable. Whilst we recognise that you need to have contingency plans in place to get service back up running after a disruption, cancelling services on the Hampton Court branch often leaves local commuters without alternatives (in the absence of a frequent bus service from Thames Ditton, for example).

Finally, whilst this consultation is about the 2022 timetable change, we should not forget that the current timetable represents a significant reduction in services to the area. We note, for example, that the fast services from Waterloo to Surbiton in the afternoon peak hours have been reduced. We urge you to reintroduce services that are attractive to local commuters and travellers, for example the 19:23 service from Waterloo fast to Surbiton and from there running to Thames Ditton and Hampton Court.

b) Mainland Suburban (Esher)

You are proposing to cut one of the five previous Woking to Surbiton stopping services (and then fast to Waterloo) per hour during peak hours. Whilst you are recognising in your consultation document that these were popular services, you are proposing to introduce two additional stopping services from Surbiton to Waterloo as mitigating factor. The problem is, however, that these additional services from Surbiton will neither benefit commuters from Esher, nor commuters from Hampton Court and Thames Ditton. We are very concerned that the proposed cuts will constitute a particular problem for commuters from Esher: The remaining services from Woking will be very busy, and commuters from Esher are unlikely to get a seat or even get on the carriages, particularly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays when commuter numbers are expected to be at their highest level.

We therefore urge that you consider making improvements for commuters from Esher, either by reinstating the same number of services during peak hours like before the pandemic, or even better by introducing additional services that may start from Walton, Hersham or Esher towards Waterloo.

You talk about “building back a better railway for the future”, however increasing capacity by introducing longer trains is not the only answer. The frequency of services both during peak and off-peak hours is a significant factor for the attractiveness of rail services, and we therefore believe that a high frequency of trains is key.

4.  Overall, what do you think of our proposed specification for the Mainline routes?

These routes are outside our local community, and we therefore refrain from making comments on the proposed specification for the Mainline routes.

5.  Overall, what do you think of our proposed specification for the Windsor routes?

These routes are outside our local community, and we therefore refrain from making comments on the proposed specification for the Windsor routes.

6.  Overall, what do you think of our proposed specification for the West of England routes?

These routes are outside our local community, and we therefore refrain from making comments on the proposed specification for the West of England routes.

7.  Do you agree with our strategic approach that seeks to balance future performance with cost control?

As we have mentioned in our response under section 3 above, we recognise the need to balance your timetable with cost control measures. We believe however that any attempt to reduce cost by cutting services is shortsighted. It will deter passengers from returning to the railway and therefore lead to a bigger deficit, not less cost.

8.  Do you agree that a return to capacity at 93% of pre-Covid levels is an appropriate target?

We do not have access to the relevant data to validate the proposed % number. In any event, part-time and flexible working will bring midweek peaks with a Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday pattern emerging. We are therefore concerned that the proposed cut in services, which supposedly would be introduced to reflect lower capacity numbers, will lead to overcrowded services during the midweek peak.

9.  Do you agree with our approach of maximising capacity while running a slightly reduced frequency of service, if that results in better reliability?

We respectfully disagree. We do not believe that maximising capacity is the only answer here. As explained in our response, a high frequency of trains is of equal importance. We therefore believe that better reliability must and can be achieved by other measures.

10.  Do you have concerns at what we are proposing? If so, what are they?

We have expressed our concerns in our answers throughout the document.

Conclusion

We thank you for considering our comments and proposals and ask that the suggested improvements are taken into account.

Yours sincerely,

Florian Traub

Hon. Secretary
Thames Ditton & Weston Green Residents' Association
Timbercroft, 33 Portsmouth Avenue
Thames Ditton  KT7 0RU
Email:  secretary@residents-association.com