by Phil Marsh

Department for Transport award 7th franchise extension promising tough targets and an end to high fares’ increases

Published: 18th September 2014

Major improvements promised with South Eastern franchise extension

The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced what it calls ‘tough performance targets to ensure Southeastern rail passengers see real improvements to their journeys’ which underpins the new arrangements expiring in June 2018.

They will therefore continue to operate trains serving London, Kent and East Sussex until the Thameslink project is completed in 2018. The DfT has brokered the agreement promising that Southeastern will make major improvements to customer service, passenger satisfaction and train punctuality. These will be delivered with a £70 million investment to provide improved customer information systems, more staff and station and train maintenance.

High annual fares’ increase ended with new agreement

When the current franchise was let in 2006, it allowed annual fares’ increases of RPI + 3% but the new deal only allows RPI increases. It also contains what the DfT says is significantly reduced subsidies paid by all of us as taxpayers.

Either way, the Rail Minister saw fit to write a letter to existing Southeastern passengers explaining why the extension was awarded given she admitted that services had been less than good at some times.

She has promised that over 95,000 extra seats will be available across the network including 1,000 extra seats daily on Southeastern’s high speed services. These will be expanded with an hourly service linking London, North Kent and East Kent running via Gillingham, Ramsgate, Dover and Ashford. These ‘Javelin;’ trains will also call at Snodland, Martin Mill and Walmer for the first time along with extra high speed services for Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. More ticket gates will also be fitted at some stations.

A new peak-time Hastings Business Express will reduce travel time by 10 minutes and new direct services will be provided linking Maidstone East and Blackfriars, and between Sheerness-on-Sea and London Victoria.

They said:

Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “I know passengers on this route haven’t always received the service that they deserve, which is why I am absolutely determined that today marks a fresh start for the South Eastern franchise. This decision has been taken after careful work by the Department for Transport with Go-Ahead Plc, to ensure that the franchise can genuinely improve its services.

Given these challenges, we believe that continuing the franchise rather than entering into a new one at this point will provide passengers with the best service for the next 3 years as well as offering the best value to all of us who help fund the railway through our taxes.

But I am determined that through this contract passengers will get more seats on improved trains, better journey connections and upgraded stations starting from today. My job, and the job of the department, is now to make sure that Southeastern delivers.

New destinations and more seats – but is this new or just another announcement?

The announcement says that thousands of extra seats will be made available and new services between key destinations and that Oyster card facilities will be expanded. But when the deal is looked at with the benefit of hindsight, the extra seats and destinations are all part of the hugely beneficial Thameslink upgrade project.

So the benefits extolled as because of the franchise extension would surely have been included in any franchise award concerning Southeastern routes.

The fundamental rebuild of London Bridge station will bring service alterations for the next few years and it could be argued that it is better to award a franchise extension which encompasses these alterations and to retender the franchise to start once the new services are up and running.

They said;

David Brown, Chief Executive of Go-Ahead, which runs Southeastern said:

We’re looking forward to delivering these plans and are wholly committed to improving performance and services for customers and our local communities. New managing director David Statham will be joining next week and will lead the company through this mission.

In order to improve satisfaction and security for passengers, Southeastern will invest in new digital display screens at key stations. There will also be more passenger facing staff who will be equipped with tablets so they can pass on service updates and journey planning advice as required. CCTV monitoring will be extended and The EyeWitness service, which allows customers to instantly report anti-social behaviour, will also be improved.

In addition, more than 300 trains will be refreshed, including toilet upgrades and accessibility improvements on some trains.

The minister wrote:

Dear Southeastern Rail Passengers,

Today, my Department has announced that London & South Eastern Railway Limited (LSER, trading as Southeastern), a subsidiary of Govia, will continue to provide services in the South Eastern rail franchise area until June 2018. I am writing to you to explain why we have granted this contract and, crucially, what benefits I want this to deliver for you and your fellow passengers.

In granting this extension, I am very aware that the performance of trains on the Southeastern network has not always been what you expect and deserve. Part of this stems from the huge amount of engineering work that is going on – a reference to the Thameslink project.

The Minister also wrote that her first priority in awarding the extension was that the chosen operator understands the Thameslink network well enough to manage the impact the upgrade works will have and be able to minimise disruption to services. This is why it was decided to retain the incumbent operator to manage the changes.

I am also clear that Southeastern has, at times, failed to meet expectations and satisfy you as passengers, and before letting this award my team has done a huge amount of work with passengers into where changes needs to happen.

Ask the Minister

We have also totally changed the contract terms to make sure they deliver on their promises. In fact, this is a completely new contract. I would welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have about this award and encourage you to get in touch with me at or at claire4devizes on Twitter.

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