Wednesday, 25 April 2018

New Committee Members

At a committee meeting on 24th April, we welcomed Thomas Rowe (representing Colchester) and Derek Cox (representing Witham) to our committee.  This should enable us to more accurately represent the views of rail users on the Great Eastern main line when lobbying to get improvements to our train services.

Friday, 13 January 2017

New Year Message

2016 was a difficult year for rail travellers, with far too many incidents including infrastructure and train failures, causing major disruption to family life of the regular commuters to London.  
Over the Christmas and New Year holiday, Network Rail started to remodel the tracks at Shenfield, and replaced the overhead wires in the Gidea Park area.  This is all part of major works to upgrade the slow (or Metro) lines from Shenfield to London ready to receive new Crossrail trains that will start to enter service next May.  Sharp eyed travellers will have noticed the first of these new trains has already been delivered to Ilford depot.  Unfortunately, the Shenfield works have isolated the Metro lines north of Gidea Park, meaning that trains are unable to pass a failed train on the main line.  This caused delays of several hours one evening in November.

The first of 30 refurbished class 321 trains has entered service.  These can be distinguished externally because they have an red and grey horizontal strip on them below the windows.  Internally, they have new seats, air conditioning, wi-fi, and power sockets, so are a substantial improvement on what they were.  All the main line trains have already been refurbished.

New trains will be delivered to replace all the existing fleet between 2019 and 2021, including all refurbished units.    The operator has promised to make the existing fleet more reliable in the interim; we will be monitoring the situation to ensure this occurs.  There can be a real temptation to cut back on maintenance of old trains that are shortly going to be removed from service.

We were expecting the latest fare increase, as this is government inspired, with the train operator obliged to follow their instructions.   What we were not expecting was the sharp increase in car parking charges; this is totally unnecessary, and a real penalty for those already struggling to pay the rail fare increases.  It seems that the authorities are doing everything possible to discourage rail travel, as motoring costs are frozen (apart from oil prices) while all costs associated with rail travel continue to increase disproportionately.  We now have train fares that are six times the European average. 

We will continue to fight for a fairer deal for rail travellers in 2017.  We are pleased to announce that our Chairman, Derek Monnery, has been appointed to represent East Anglia on the new Greater Anglia Stakeholder Board, so will have three meetings a year with senior Greater Anglia managers.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

New Franchise

At long last we, the long suffering rail users of East Anglia have got a proper long term deal for our rail services.  Abellio (Dutch Railways) has won a nine year franchise in which they promise to replace the entire train fleet, Suburban, Main Line, Stansted Express, and Regional.

There will be essentially five types of unit supplied by two manufacturers, Bombardier and Stadler.  All trains will have free wi-fi.

The Bombardier units will be built in Derby and will have a lot of similarities to the Crossrail trains already being built there.  These will be used on all suburban services where class 317, 321 and 360 trains are used now.  There will be two different types, 5 car and 10 car, with the former used on branch lines and the latter on the main line.  These will be delivered in 2020.

There will be three different types of Stadler units, 10 car, 5 car and 4 car.  The 10 car units will be electric and replace InterCity sets and Stansted Express class 379 units.   The 5 car and 4 car units will be bi-mode (able to operate both on diesel and electric power) and will be used on Regional Services to replace existing class 153, 156, and 170 diesel railcars.  These will be delivered in 2019.

Of course regular rail users will know that many of the problems on the line relate to infrastructure faults, so we will be putting pressure on Network Rail to eliminate the string of signal, point and other failures that wreck our timetables on a regular basis.  New trains will only solve half our existing problems.

We also need to know that the existing train fleet will not be allowed to deteriorate further while we wait for the new trains.  Again we will be putting pressure on Abellio to ensure that we do not suffer a poorer service before new trains arrive. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

End of Year

It's been a pretty tough year for rail users in our area with far too many "incidents" occurring that have caused severe delays to journeys.  The majority of these have been infrastructure related (Network Rail responsibility), but we are getting increasing numbers of train faults, caused by the age of the trains, and in some cases by inadequate maintenance.

The new Greater Anglia rail franchise starts in October 2016.   Bids have just gone into the Department for Transport from three rail companies; Abellio (the current operator), National Express (the previous operator) and First Group (who ran the First Great Eastern rail franchise immediately after rail privatisation).   Based on the track record of these companies, there is one that is best qualified of the three by quite a margin, and indeed this company has been a lot more proactive in researching what is needed.   So we are hopeful that common sense will prevail, and we will get a step change in improvement.

We have certainly been very proactive ourselves in lobbying MPs, DfT, and other interested parties to ensure that this takes place.  In December, there have been debates in the House of Commons about the poor condition of our rail services, with promises made of new trains and other improvements.  Ministers have been left in no doubt that things need to improve and fast.

So we are left with lots of promises, but being realistic, it will be 2020 before new trains arrive in sufficient quantities to make our train service what it should be.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Norwich in 90

In case you haven't seen it there is a very good article in the latest Rail magazine (issue 779) about the Norwich in 90 Campaign. Worth a look.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

ERUF Meeting with AGA and Bernard Jenkin MP

The ERUF has met with Jamie Burles, MD of Abellio Greater Anglia and Bernard Jenkin MP.  Subjects discussed were many a varied but included:

  • Train Reliability
  • Fares
  • Communication
  • Car parking
  • Station Approach at Manningtree
  • A137 Underpass
  • Rail track funding issues
  • Mark 3 (Inter City)  coach refurbishment
  • New Franchise
  • New Trains
  • Crossrail Ticketing
  • GE Mainline Capacity
  • Freight Loops

Thursday, 14 May 2015

ERUF Response To Network Rail Consultation




This paper is a response to the Network Rail Anglia Route Study Draft, which was issued for consultation in November 2014; references in brackets are to this document.  Although we support many of the findings in the report, we believe that the Study has not addressed the main problems associated with the rail services in the area because these are potentially very expensive to rectify.  As such we feel that the Study is not credible as it has not been ambitious enough in its approach.

Journey time improvements on Great Eastern main line (GEC03)

This is one of the primary recommendations of the “Norwich in Ninety” campaign supported by MPs, local authorities, rail user groups and other interested parties in the area.  ERUF has been a strong supporter of this campaign with the proviso that any improvements should benefit all rail users, not just those in Norfolk and Suffolk.  Increasing line speed to 110mph would do this (0.4.2), but another measure proposed would be potentially very detrimental to Essex rail users.

A report produced about three years ago by the consultants Atkins suggested the addition of long dynamic loops between the new Beaulieu Park station north of Chelmsford  (which is planned to have four platforms) and Witham; these loops would be ideally located mid-way between Colchester and Shenfield, and would enable slower trains to be overtaken by fast ones while both trains were travelling at speed.  Rather than follow this advice, Network Rail proposes a much cheaper option, to extend existing loops at Witham station (0.4.2).

The problem with the Witham loops (even if extended) is that they would be too short to be dynamic, and too far north to be of real benefit.  Short loops mean that slow trains must be brought to a halt in order for faster ones to overtake.  This could add a time penalty of five or six minutes to the journey time of the slower train being overtaken.   This is precisely the sort of proposal that we find totally unacceptable.  

The Network Rail document should propose loops where they are needed, not where it is financially expedient to construct them. Money has been found for other schemes in recent years for “too expensive to consider” schemes such as the Reading station rebuild and Crossrail. What we need in East Anglia is a railway that works well rather than one that is bodged, and regretfully providing loops north of Witham would be a bodge, a far from ideal solution to increasing capacity on the line..

Half hourly rail services (GEC 06 to 16)
We warmly welcome the recommendation that all train services on Great Eastern branch lines should be increased to two trains per hour.   Of course the new rail franchise operator has to agree this and include this in his bid.   Some branches can accommodate this now, but others may require substantial works to achieve this.  In (0.5.6) this is acknowledged, and again lack of ambition in the document simply pushes any route where this is going to be difficult into the long grass by stating that a business case would have to be made for improvements.  This may be true, but in some cases there are other interested parties that could be persuaded to contribute to enable the improvements to take place.

One such branch is that to Colchester Town.  We believe that Colchester Town station would need a second platform to satisfactorily handle 2 tph on all the services that currently serve the station.   It is our opinion, endorsed by highly competent train and timetable planners, that the station should be rebuilt with a central island platform enabling cross platform interchange between London services and local services to the Tendring Peninsula. The current station, with a single terminal platform, can only cope with six trains an hour, due to the fact that once the driver has arrived, he has to walk the length of the train to the other end cab of the train to drive it out.

Colchester has terrible traffic jams in the rush hour.  Situated near the main shopping centre, Colchester Town station does not currently even have a Sunday train service.   We have been campaigning for years to get a second platform constructed at the station, but have been frustrated by road orientated councils and complete lack of vision to make this happen.  Section 106 funding was allocated to build the platform, but this was later spent elsewhere improving Hythe station.  This may have been good for regeneration of the Hythe area, but this work has done nothing to improve traffic congestion in the town centre.

A major shopping centre redevelopment is planned in the area near Colchester Town station, and section 106 funding could be available to help pay for a rebuild of the station.  We believe that once the improvements are in place, together with half hourly train services, use of the station should improve massively by between five and ten fold.

Chelmsford and Crossrail
The Crossrail scheme now under construction will have four terminal stations; Reading and Heathrow in the west, Abbey Wood in the south east and Shenfield in the north east.  As part of the future planning for the Crossrail scheme, extensions have been planned and land safeguarded to allow Crossrail trains to run beyond the south eastern terminus of Abbey Wood to Gravesend and Ebbsfleet.  However, no such extension has been planned beyond the north eastern terminus of Shenfield, which seems odd, because Chelmsford is closer to London than Reading.  
Chelmsford is a City and the second busiest station in East Anglia after Cambridge.  Yet unlike Cambridge, it only has one double track route serving it (Cambridge can be reached either from Liverpool Street or from Kings Cross).  Chelmsford is the administrative headquarters of Essex, so it would make sense to plan long term to extend Crossrail services to make this the north east terminus for Crossrail trains.   This would probably require two extra tracks between Shenfield and Chelmsford, which almost certainly will be needed in any case due to the continuing increase in use of train services on the Great Eastern main line.  As there are operational difficulties in turning trains round at Chelmsford, Beaulieu Park, the new developer funded station planned for north east Chelmsford, would make a better terminus, particularly as it is planned to have four platforms there.

New stations
There is potential for extra stations in the East Anglia region, as population growth has led to new locations where stations could be viable.  Here are some station sites in our area which we feel should be investigated further: -

(a)Clacton North – A station site near Gorse Lane is proposed, as the existing station is well to the south of the centre of population.  The new station would serve Great Clacton, Holland-on-Sea and the new developments on the north side of Clacton.

(b) Great Cornard  - New housing developments to the south of Sudbury town centre at Great Cornard are poorly located for the existing Sudbury station site.  A passing loop is proposed for Great Cornard to enable, as proposed, an half-hourly service to be instigated on the line.  The station could be built with one island platform and two platform faces, so that when trains stopped to pass each other they could pick up passengers as well.

(c) Great Blakenham - A ski slope was planned for this location together with a large housing development.  It would appear that the ski slope has not progressed, but the fact remains that a station could be well used if located there, midway between Ipswich and Needham Market.

Regretfully, the Network Rail Anglia Route Study Draft does not address the principal problems that are present in the infrastructure of the Anglia lines.   We suspect that the reason for this is that most of these problems are going to cost serious money to put right. Funding of this scale seems to be readily available for road improvement projects, but it is only in recent years that some rail projects have been funded to this scale.   
Under investment in the Great Eastern main line over many years has been the cause of much of these problems.  The infrastructure cannot cope with the massive increase in number of rail passengers using the Great Eastern main line.  For example those using Manningtree station have increased from 100 in 1985 to 1,500 now, a 1400% increase.  A further 500 to 1,000 houses are planned near the station which we know will be marketed to the London commuter market.  Massive housing developments are also planned north of Chelmsford and in and to the east of Colchester.  This is a problem that cannot be avoided, and must be addressed urgently.

Essex Rail Users Federation
February 2015