I am replying to the East Anglia Rail Passenger Franchise Consultation as County Councillor for Woodbridge, and as LibDem Spokesperson for Transport – on behalf of my constituents and all the rail travellers of Suffolk.
In addition I am a very regular rail traveller, using Abellio Greater Anglia rail services several times a week: generally using the East Suffolk line, the Ipswich to Cambridge line, the Ipswich to Peterborough line and the Ipswich to London line – though I also make fairly regular journeys on other portions of the network. I am therefore qualified to talk about the current rail provision with significant personal knowledge of the day-to-day running of the services.
Firstly I would like to make special reference to questions 3, 4 and 5 which all link together:
“Question 3 Are there any changes to the current passenger rail service which you feel should be considered? “
Currently the trains specified to and from Ipswich are: Hourly to Felixstowe . Hourly to Lowestoft . Hourly to Cambridge . Every two hours to Peterborough.
It is clear to all regular travellers that the Cambridge and Peterborough services need extending: Increasing the Ipswich- Cambridge service to twice an hour; Ipswich -Peterborough service – hourly would meet the needs of our developing community. An later extension to the Lowestoft service would be a huge benefit.
The current poor service to Peterborough means that Ipswich is already substantially cut off from rail connexions to the west and north unless one travels via London, putting unnecessary stress on passenger numbers on that line and a huge extra-time burden on Suffolk travellers. Cynically this might seem for no better reason than the privatised competitive operators seem reluctant to extend services beyond the Intercity route with the biggest gains (Norwich to London). This then causes a London bottleneck and a lack of flexibility in travel which seriously needs addressing:
☞ People in Suffolk need an hourly service to Peterborough as a bare minimum – both for their own convenience and benefit and, strategically, to take pressure off the London route.
☞ Similarly the Ipswich- Cambridge service needs to be improved from the once-an-hour service which is all that it currently merits – bearing in mind that the Ipswich-Cambridge line is not only the gateway from Suffolk to the west but to Stansted.
☞ Although we are hugely grateful for an hourly service, people in Woodbridge and further along the East Suffolk line could do with at least one later train in the evening to allow them to enjoy a night out in London – or even Ipswich. The last London train to meet the last existing Lowestoft service leaves at 21.00. The last Lowestoft service leaves Ipswich at 10.17.
“Question 4:Results indicate that rail is not the preferred mode of transport when travelling to Stansted Airport. What improvements do you believe should be made to the rail service in order to make this your first choice of travel?”
See answer to Q 3. Try to get to Stansted from anywhere in Suffolk – especially east Suffolk and the answer is simple. Currently Abellio runs a slow hourly service that is far from reliable. The last train from Ipswich goes at 21.19 and takes just under an hour and a half if all goes well. Reliability being an issue (and I personally have been given as little as 30 seconds notice of this train stopping dead at Newmarket an turning around rather than continuing to Cambridge, although it was clear the guard had known in advance!) means that no sensible person would rely on this service if they have a plane to catch.
☞ A frequent, fast, reliable service to Cambridge from Ipswich, starting early and finishing late and costing a reasonable amount is what is required if you wish to support rail transport from Suffolk to Stansted. This is a simple strategic decision that has been beyond every planner since Stansted became a functioning civil airport.
“Question 5 If you have a view on or would be affected by the proposal set below, please provide it: In order to improve connectivity between Cambridge and the north of England, Rail Executive is currently assessing the case for the diversion of the current Liverpool Lime Street to Norwich East Midlands Trains to Cambridge and a new hourly East Anglia operated service between Norwich and Peterborough providing good connections to the East Coast Mainline services to Yorkshire, North East England and Scotland. The assessment will equally include a sub-option where the current Ipswich to Peterborough service would be limited to Ely and connections would be provided with the new Norwich to Peterborough service. The option to retain the current Norwich through service to Liverpool Lime Street will be included within this assessment.”
My view is simple, and relates to my answer to Q3.
☞ Suffolk needs an direct hourly service between Ipswich and Peterborough. If you elect to link the service to anything that carries on further, that is up to you, however it MUST NOT be any less (eg to Ely). Anything else will be selling the residents in Suffolk short, and limiting our transport choices further than they are already limited.
The Peterborough – Ipswich service is already the poor relation of Abellio’s services. The last time I travelled on it, it compared very unfavourably to several rail trips I had recently made in rural China! As planning legislation requires more and more housing in the Suffolk countryside we Suffolk residents deserve rail services that are better, not worse – and that will allow us to move around the region to employment and education choices that do not funnel us automatically through the already overly congested unreliable bottleneck that is Liverpool Street Station. By removing the direct Peterborough train you will be doing just that!
“Question 8a How can the franchise operator help you better during planned disruption, such as engineering works?”
Let us rephrase this question: “How (excuse my bluntness, but I am put beyond patience) can the franchise operator best get off its backside and consider providing the service that the farepaying public are paying for when they cynically ‘plan’ their disruption during weekends and public holidays?”
☞ The current franchise operator appears to consider the needs of the distance city commuter first and foremost when it comes to ‘planned disruption’ I suggest that it is time that this should be queried as a priority. As Woodbridge county councillor I represent a huge tranche of travellers and business people who would like to travel – or to service the needs of travellers able to arrive by rail – at the weekends and on public holidays. The next rail franchise operator needs to consider that leisure and tourism is an important part of Suffolk business and understand that supporting the travel of a wider range of passengers should be a significant part of their operation.
Yet, because Abellio concentrates on the Norwich-London commuter traffic , the company has shown itself totally cavalier to the requirements of internal Suffolk travel and travellers and specifically weekend and holiday travellers. Why should it be so difficult for travellers to travel at the times most people want to travel? And for that matter why on earth should travellers be paying the same fare for this substandard and shoddy service? Most of all – if people can carry a bicycle on the train why can they not carry their bicycle on these replacement buses? It is not beyond the wit of man to make adequate provision for the people the operator is so ready to discommode while they continue to charge them full fare for this poor apology for ‘service’ in a wholly ‘Jesting Pilate’ spirit! Our expectations from the next franchise operator should be of a reasonable level – and I am expecting them to be able to commit to do a lot better! (Incidentally, I travel around the world on trains and have yet to find another country which grinds to a halt the way the UK does on Sundays and public holidays. Perhaps a new franchise operator would like to investigate that?)
“Question 9 …However, we are confined by limited timetabling and infrastructure constraints and are therefore looking for other innovative ways to resolve the issue of excess capacity. When travelling on a service where capacity is stretched, what opportunities do you see which would improve your on board experience?”
First and foremost I go back my answers to Q3 and 5 and to the simple notion of not allowing the franchise operator to neglect the minor routes and produce these bottlenecks in the first place – which is pretty much what you are proposing to do by eg removing the Ipswich to Peterborough service! It is not rocket science to see that you need to be reducing the pressure on these trains. So, simple solutions are:
☞ Ensuring that as many competing rail services are across the area running efficiently and well and at as full capacity as possible by funding them appropriately and not allowing franchise operators and their shareholders to cherrypick the lucrative Intercity routes for short-term profits!
☞ Investing in double-decker carriages which are standard in Europe and China (and don’t give me that spiel of amazingly long and impossible time-scales for commission and delivery that I have been given by UK rail operaters! They built an entire monorail across Chongqing: rail, stations, carriages and all in two years. In this global marketplace a rail company could source and build new carriages fast if it was in any way motivated to do so).
☞ Biting the bullet and giving up the spacious first-class carriages and replacing them with the much more intensively occupied standard seating which is what the current franchise holder has provided for the rest of the passengers! My view of first class is that if there is no pressure on space, I have no issue with provision of first class seating – should people wish to pay for it. If however we have limited room and no chance of extra carriages, I’m afraid they stand in the way of efficiency and progress and are doomed to extinction
Question 15 mentions facilities:
☞ There is a continuing diminution of cycle, buggy and luggage storage on current Greater Anglia trains, and the situation is getting worse. On some Abellio trains (eg Cambridge – Ely and beyond) there is none at all within the carriages although they are also without a guard’s van (and now resemble tube train carriages). This means there is nowhere at all to carry luggage. So what then is a traveller? Someone who only carries themselves? On these trains this lack of storage has a dreadful effect on the travel experience – cyclists and passengers with heavy luggage standing at the exits and getting in the way of people wanting to get on and off, and often with guards and passengers shouting at them. This is not appropriate reasonable or fair. Even on, say the Ipswich – Cambridge or East Suffolk Line trains there is limited space for cycles and it means that travelling is fraught with anxiety that one might be denied access. On several occasions in recent years I’ve been denied access onto a Greater Anglia train with a prebooked ticket because there was no space for my bicycle. More commonly, however, I’ve suffered great anxiety that I might be denied access, which has diminished my travelling experience. The East Suffolk Line is rural and there are no connecting buses so this is a particular handicap.
☞ Babychanging facilities are important and not very noticeable on trains (though, to be fair, I don’t carry babies any more and have had no complaints). It must always be included in carriages.
☞ Staff presence is essential – particularly to protect the vulnerable. It must not be reduced
☞ Tables on trains are useful for those of us who work as we travel, while plug sockets are very useful – and so is free WiFi which every FirstBus in Suffolk provides for its passengers included in the price of their average £3.50 ticket – but which Abellio does not include in the eg £50.70 standard second-class single ticket it charges Ipswich to London!
“Question 16 What areas of customer service within your end-to-end journey would you expect to see monitored and reported on in the new franchise, in order to improve the service quality for passengers?”
☞ Price of tickets
☞ Punctuality and reliability
☞ Provision of sufficient capacity in terms of a) train frequency b) availability of seating on board the train and c) provision of services to required destinations;
☞ Adequacy of cycle, buggy and luggage storage;
☞ management of disruption: information provision and outcome;
☞ ease of buying the most appropriate ticket for the journey at ticket office, online, AND via ticket machine;
☞ The ease of access for disabled passengers and those with young children
In Summary – which is what question 18 asks from me – I ask for my constituents from the new franchise, as top three priorities:
☞ 1 More and better evening/weekend /holiday rail services without disruptions, so that we business people, residents and travellers in Suffolk can benefit as well as the Intercity commuters from the franchise.
☞ 2 More services to Peterborough/Cambridge (1 an hour to Peterborough; 2 an hour to Cambridge, a further evening service along the East Suffolk Line). NO REDUCTION OF EXISTING SERVICES
☞ 3 Better design of carriages to allow for more passengers to travel with bicycles and luggage and buggies (in other words – to travel) – and the fast commissioning and provision of these carriages.
Finally, I must point out – once again – that I take great issue with the first question in this Franchise consultation. I have already responded personally, and face-to-face, as a county councillor in a public consultation, to this – but I cannot emphasise how improper and dismissive it is to ask the poor passengers who travel on the current Greater Anglia trains your Question 1 (which asks them to prioritise only three of the following list which they consider require particular attention in order to improve an end to end journey:
Delivering value for money; Providing a punctual and reliable service;Provision of sufficient capacity, both in terms of train frequency and the availability of seating on board the train;Effective management of disruption, especially through information to passengers;The availability of accurate information about trains and platforms;The comfort and adequacy of accommodation on the train, especially on longer distance journeys;The availability of train and station staff;The ease of buying the most appropriate ticket for the journey at a ticket office, online, or via a ticket machine;The ease of access to services for passengers with reduced mobility; and Free wi-fi available on trains)
I wish to put it on record for a third time that this question is deeply inappropriate considering the current levels of service provision. Are we expected to make a choice? Yet as any person filling in an electronic version will be unable to continue UNLESS they tick three boxes and three only, it will completely distort the problems that exist with the current provision given that:
*The train tickets are expensive (£50.70 each way standard fare Ipswich to London) * the trains are often not punctual or reliable, * they are often not of a suitable capacity (at least for second class passengers) * management of disruption is perfunctory and kneejerk with conflicting advice being given and the poor staff on the ground left without support to deal with enraged passengers*The availability of accurate information about trains and platforms is such that I am often reminded of the comic film M Hulot’s Holiday; *space – particularly for people with luggage or bicycles and most particularly at peak or holiday times is unreliable – the stock being variable; trying to travel with a bicycle on the ‘tube-style- carriages north of Cambridge is a particular challenge * one cannot buy the popular Day Ranger ticket either online or from a ticket machine because -although I have repeatedly asked Abellio to do so – they do not provide it online or via a ticket machine machine, presumably because it is rather too good value (!) * reduced mobility covers a multitude of problems some of which are dealt with better than others* Finally, as I travel around Suffolk on First Eastern Counties buses who all provide free wifi in the price of their ticket – I am at a loss to understand why Abellio should decide it is a First Class perk!
☞ Given, as I say, all these factors , I would absolutely refuse to prioritise three of these recommendations ‘that would make my journey better’. Why on earth should anyone imagine that passengers should not need them ALL to make our journeys better, if all are lacking?