South West Trains
At Full Council last week I highlighted concerns about the pressure on capacity during the South West Trains peak service from Woking to London Waterloo. Demand is expected to substantially increase on what is already an overcrowded route over the next few decades. With the council facing a requirement to build an additional 5,000 new homes, and most of this development expected to take place in the town centre, I sought to gain clarification on what discussions have taken place between Woking Borough Council, South West Trains, the Department for Transport and Network Rail on improving the quality, accessibility, frequency and affordability of the rali link between Woking and London.
I was told by the Leader of the Council, Cllr John Kingsbury, that the local authority was consulted as part of Network Rail’s recent Wessex Route Study, which sets out the strategic vision for the future of this part of the rail network. The council provided information from our Core Strategy to help Network Rail ascertain the likely scale of future demand. The council has also drawn up a separate rail strategy along with Surrey County Council and South West Trains in relation to local rail infrastructure.
I went on to ask whether the council had a position on proposals published by Surrey County Council which could see the Crossrail 2 service extended to serve Woking and Guildford. In response, Cllr Kingsbury said that he supported the principle of Crossrail 2 coming to Woking if that were possible and that he was keen to see a direct rali link between Woking and Heathrow airport. Cllr Kingsbury said that he was working with the County Council to do everything they could to help bring Crossrail 2 to Woking.
I am often contacted by residents complaining about the quality of service from South West Trains. As a commuter I understand how frustrating the overcrowding can be on the early morning services, as well as the frequent disruption and ongoing signalling problems which have caused a lot of journeys to be delayed or cancelled since the New Year. A recent survey has shown that only 40% of rail users are happy with the performance of South West Trains, while the company’s management has admitted that more needs to be done to improve customer satisfaction.
With that in mind, I am pleased that Woking’s MP, Jonathan Lord, has taken up the issue of rail capacity with the Department of Transport. In a series of Parliamentary Questions, Jonathan has asked about the expected increase in passenger numbers from Woking to Waterloo over the next few years, and questioned Ministers on what additional capacity will be put in place to cope with the extra demand. Jonathan has also pressed the Government to examine in more detail some of the logistical questions that will need to be looked at if we are to increase capacity through the use of double decker trains.
The Government has said that the number of passengers on the route to London will almost double by 2050 and so serious investment is needed if our rail infrastructure is not become unaffordable or grind to a halt. The Overview & Scrutiny Committee has previously called in representatives from South West Trains to examine the barriers to bringing in extra capacity, including longer coaches and more frequent services during rush hour periods. There is some good news in that a further 100 refurbished carriages with 2,900 more seats are due to be introduced in the next few years.
Another frequent complaint involves passengers who take cycles onto peak hour trains and block seats for other rail users. Currently, passengers are forbidden from taking non-folding cycles onto trains due to arrive into London between 7am and 10am. However, this is often ignored and the guards are reluctant to challenge anyone who flouts the rules. I would encourage anyone who encounters a non-folding cycle taking up three or four seats on a crowded or peak service to report it directly to South West Trains through their Twitter account in the hope that it will encourage a more stringent enforcement of the policy.