First class sections could be axed from Kent trains to ease overcrowding as government welcomes comments on rail franchise future
PUBLISHED: 16:46 14 March 2017 | UPDATED: 16:46 14 March 2017
However, first class seats are likely to remain on routes to affluent areas like Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells
First class sections could be removed from some of the Kent’s busiest commuter trains in a bid to ease overcrowding.
Services could be made fully standard class under a new franchise agreement for routes currently operated by Southeastern, according to a Department for Transport (DfT) consultation.
Some 640,000 journeys are made on 1,900 trains on the lines every weekday.
The DfT acknowledged that first class seats “remain popular on certain routes” such as the main line to Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, but said removing them would “create more room for passengers”.
Only 77 per cent of passengers are satisfied with Southeastern services according to the latest Transport Focus survey, the worst performance in Britain apart from Southern and Thameslink.
The new franchise, which will begin in December next year, could see the introduction of high capacity metro-style carriages on the busiest lines.
It is hoped they would enable a “better balance” of seating and room for standing passengers, space for wheelchairs and pushchairs on shorter journeys and quicker boarding and alighting at stations.
Extending the number of carriages on stopping services from eight or 10 to 12 carriages and providing more seats on high speed services is also being considered.
Government officials are examining a number of measures which could have a negative impact on some passengers.
They are proposing a reduction in the number of trains that call at some less well-used stations to cut journey times to key locations, and a limit in the choice of central London destinations from individual stations with the aim of providing a more regular and reliable service.
The operator which secures the franchise will be required to form an alliance with Network Rail, which is responsible for railway infrastructure.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “Services on the South Eastern rail network have been unacceptably poor for far too long.
“Passengers have endured disruption, overcrowding and delays, particularly during redevelopment work at London Bridge station, and they deserve better.
“That is why this consultation is so important. Appointing a new franchise operator from 2018 provides us with a great opportunity to sort out the problems which have plagued the South Eastern network, and deliver the high quality of service that customers expect.
“We are going to do things differently. I want passengers to enjoy more space and comfort, more and better communication with the operator, and a consistently reliable performance.”
Mr Grayling announced in December that he would not devolve responsibility for the South Eastern franchise to London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan.
He claimed Transport for London’s business plan did not offer extra capacity and was simply based on “a belief” that the organisation could run the system more effectively.
But Mr Grayling was accused of putting politics ahead of passengers over the issue after a leaked letter showed he opposed the policy in 2013 as he wanted to keep the network “out of the clutches” of any future Labour mayor.
The DfT consultation closes on May 23.