Thursday, 14 May 2015

ERUF Manifesto




The current rail operator is Abellio Greater Anglia, which started its second short franchise in July 2014.  A new 10 to 15 year franchise is planned to be let in October 2016.  This document sets out longer term aspirations because the rail operator that obtains the next franchise could still be in position in 2031.

The Current situation

This has not been a happy period for East Anglian rail users with fares increasing at a faster rate than inflation without any serious investment being seen in the route.   No new rolling stock has been introduced to the franchise for over 10 years, due to first of all the seven year plain vanilla National Express franchise, followed by the two short franchises run by Abellio Greater Anglia.  Therefore all trains on the line are looking tired; there has not been funding available in any of these franchises to upgrade the fleet.  East Anglian trains have an internal appearance and comfort which is markedly inferior to those operated by almost every other franchise that serves London.  Passenger satisfaction figures show that the Greater Anglia franchise to be one of the least popular in the whole country, though part of the problem here is that the infrastructure in the area is particularly unreliable.

Rolling stock

At present, Abellio Greater Anglia operates six types of electric rolling stock, which are the class 315 inner suburban units, the class 317, 321, 360 and 379 outer suburban fleet and the main line sets of locomotives and coaches used on the Great Eastern main line to Norwich.  The diesel fleet mainly operates north of Ipswich and the only regular diesel workings in Essex are those between Marks Tey and Sudbury.

The class 315 inner suburban units will be transferred to the new Crossrail and London Overground franchises in May 2015.  They will be replaced on the Shenfield route by new class 345 trains by the time that Crossrail opens in 2019, and on the West Anglia Metro services by new stock being purchased by TfL, as these routes will join the London Overground franchise.

The classes 317, 321 and 360 outer suburban fleet all look shabby and in need of heavy internal overhaul. 

The class 317 fleet is based in West Anglia and is approaching the end of its design life; the earliest units were introduced to the Bedford to St. Pancras line in 1982.  One last internal refurbishment is needed soon before the units are phased out in probably less than 10 years’ time.

The class 321 fleet is divided into two; the 300 series were delivered new to Essex in 1990; the 400 series were delivered new to the suburban end of the West Coast main line in 1989.  Most of the 400 series have since been transferred to Essex.  All have the original seats, which were designed prior to ergonomics being an important consideration in train seat design.  By today’s standards they are uncomfortable for even medium distances and are seriously substandard.  All units get very heavy wear, and the whole fleet is looking tired.    In our opinion, the class 321 units need to be replaced.  They are incapable of being modified to run at the new line speed of 110mph, and even the refurbished prototype lacks the acceleration and comfort which is now generally available on most other lines into London.  They also lack corridor connections between units, which has implications for revenue collection and precludes economic catering facilities.  Some could be retained for local branch line and Southend line services where the lower top speed is not a problem.
The class 360 fleet was delivered new in 2002.  Since then, it has been worked hard so that the interiors are tired looking.  Only cosmetic work has been done on the interiors of these vehicles, such as replacing seat covers and carpets.  These trains should be upgraded to run at 110mph, the new line speed north of Shenfield.

The class 379 fleet was new in 2012 and is being used on West Anglia lines to Stansted Airport, Cambridge and Kings Lynn.  Trains similar to these would be ideal for Great Eastern main line semi-fast services, having excellent acceleration and a good ride.  The latest versions of this train type (class 387) are capable of 110mph, the new line speed after the necessary line speed improvements have been made.   We do however have reservations about the seats used in some new trains, which seem to be designed to cram as many people into the train as possible at the expense of passenger comfort.

The main line (London to Norwich) stock was previously based on the West Coast main line, where it had been roundly condemned by Richard Branson for being out-of-date and unreliable; it was transferred to East Anglia ten years ago.  Successive train operators have spent a lot of effort to improve the reliability of the class 90 engines.  The coaching stock is currently being refurbished, but this is largely cosmetic and the fact remains that these are now 40 year old coaches, albeit some of the best coaches ever produced.  Reliability is still an issue with the fleet, with class 321 outer suburban units being occasionally used for main line diagrams when these trains fail.   Ultimately, these trains will have to be replaced, and, due to the status of Norwich as a city, these trains should be main line standard.   We have had several discussions with the train operator, and a vision for two types of main line train was agreed.  The first is for express services only, which should be state of the art main line standard.  The second, for semi-fast services is for trains similar to the class 387 being introduced on Thameslink, with 110mph capability, 2+2 seating and catering facilities. 

National Express introduced a new timetable for the Great Eastern lines from December 2010, which is still in place today, though modified somewhat from the original.  We were pleased that our Federation was consulted extensively when this timetable was prepared.  However this timetable relies heavily on main line trains making connections with branch line shuttle trains; in times of disruption connections are missed causing long delays of up to an hour for passengers to branch line stations.  

It should be stressed that this timetable seeks to maximise the use of the infrastructure and the trains that are available.  Any further timetable improvements can only come by improving the infrastructure, in particular south of Colchester on what is one of the busiest two track sections of line in the country.

ERUF would ultimately like to see every station in Essex have a train serving it every half an hour throughout the day, including weekends.  We believe that the demand is there for such a service and that this would pay for itself fairly quickly.   People do not want to wait for an hour if they just miss a train, but most will tolerate a wait of half an hour.  At all times, it is important to recognise that the rival to the train is the car, and one good way of easing the heavily congested Essex roads is to improve the rail service, particularly to the major towns of Chelmsford and Colchester.   Controversially, Colchester Town station still does not have a Sunday train service despite its central location and popular Sunday trading.

Also, there has been reluctance since rail privatisation to run late trains.  For example, the last train to Manningtree and Ipswich now runs half an hour earlier than it did 30 years ago when both stations had a tenth of the use they have now.   Anyone seeing a West End show or a concert at Wembley currently has to leave early or rush to catch the last train on many routes.  This failure encourages people to use their cars for at least part of their journey to London.

A developer funded station is planned at Beaulieu Park, north of Chelmsford.  This is planned to have four platforms which will enable trains to terminate there, rather than at Chelmsford where the restricted layout makes terminating trains there difficult.   This station should be served by most semi-fast train services.  However, there is no sign of the development that will fund this station being started. 

A recent desperate shortage of diesel multiple unit vehicles has inhibited us from actively campaigning for the reinstatement of two very useful rail services that existed until 1990.  The Sudbury to Marks Tey rail service used to run between Sudbury and Colchester Town station (then known as St. Botolphs).  The Cambridge to Ipswich train service used to run through to Colchester.  Both services would be of considerable value to Colchester, but both may have to wait until electrification of these lines, as the shortage of diesel units is unlikely to change in the near future.

Information systems

The information system on the Great Eastern main line and branches has been a source of frustration to rail users.  The Departure board at Liverpool Street was replaced with a new LED type display some years ago.  Unfortunately, the new board is much less legible than the old one, leading to people standing close to the board craning their necks and blocking the main concourse.  Another frequent complaint is that a train disappears from the indicator a minute before the train leaves.  In times of disruption, the board can bear no relationship to the trains standing in the station.

The outdated TV style indicators on the GE lines have always been a source of frustration, because they are often illegible when the sun shines on the screens.  These are obsolete and overdue for replacement; some have been replaced by LED style ones that are a great improvement, this updating process must be completed as soon as possible.  LED station clocks are a great improvement as they can be seen even at 100 metres distance.

Car parking

Car parking charges rose massively under the stewardship of National Express, in many cases by 140%. This has been heavily counterproductive, because charges are so high that people are deserting trains and using cars instead for journeys to destinations outside of the London area.  Annual car parking charges at Manningtree station are now £6.50 a day or £1,200 per annum.  In comparison, two multi-storey car parks in Colchester Town centre offer all day parking at less than £4. 

It is not surprising to see every available car parking space within a mile radius of stations filled with commuters’ cars.   The use of NCP to manage car parking has been deeply unpopular.  We have heard several horror stories of heavy handed treatment of elderly people visiting stations and inadvertently falling foul of the parking regulations.  Car parking charges should be no more than £500 per annum on today’s prices; more than this is a penalty as it actively discourages rail travel.

Long term aspirations

The Great Eastern main line has only two tracks north of Shenfield.  This is one of the busiest two track sections in the country.  There is no satisfactory diversionary route if the lines get blocked.  Four tracking to at least Witham has to be a medium to long term aspiration.  This investment would benefit Norfolk and Suffolk rail users too, enabling faster journey times.  Long dynamic loops could be an interim solution.
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.  
Chelmsford is a City and the second busiest station in East Anglia after Cambridge.  It is also the administrative headquarters of Essex, so it would make far more sense to extend Crossrail services to make this the north east terminus for Crossrail trains.   Chelmsford is closer to London than Crossrail’s western terminus, Reading.  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 as it is planned to have four platforms there.
In order to provide an half hourly train service off peak on all lines in Essex, some infrastructure improvements will be needed to make the train services robust: -

·      A passing loop at or near Cressing on the Braintree branch
·      A passing loop at Great Cornard on the Sudbury branch
·      Reconstructing Colchester Town station to provide two platform faces
·      A third platform at Thorpe-le-Soken station
·      A second platform at Walton-on-the-Naze station.
·      A second tunnel at Stansted Airport to eliminate single track on the branch.

Southend Airport station was the third new developer funded station in Essex to be built in the last 20 years.  There is scope to open other new stations to open too.  One of the most likely to pay for itself would be at Clacton North, situated at Gorse Lane.  This would be convenient for residents of Great Clacton and Holland –on-Sea.  Another possible station site would be Great Cornard on the Sudbury branch line.
One big disappointment has been the failure of successive franchises to exploit the station at Colchester Town.  Colchester has terrible traffic jams in the rush hour.  Situated near the main shopping centre, this station does not currently even have a Sunday train service.  The layout of the station prevents a decent rail service (maximum six trains an hour) because it only has one platform at which trains terminate and reverse even though the approaches are double track.  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.  Having spoken to train planners, the ideal layout would be a central island platform with two platform faces.  This would allow a train from London to connect with a local train by simple cross platform interchange.

Summary of Conclusions
 Most of the problems associated with the current situation have been caused by long term failure to properly invest in the trains and infrastructure of the area.  This has been recognised by the “Norwich in Ninety” campaign, which we fully support provided that improvements are designed to benefit all rail users, not just those in Norfolk and Suffolk.  Urgent action is needed to stop the decline, investing heavily in new rolling stock and in new train interiors where trains are retained.  In the longer term, and certainly within the currency of a 15 year franchise, major targeted infrastructure improvements are required to cope with increasing congestion and the continuing rise in passenger numbers.  Failure to deal with the expected congestion would lead to economic decline in Essex with the relocation of businesses and rail passengers to parts of South East England with better and more reliable transport links.



Appendix A – List of infrastructure improvements needed

Small schemes

Works to allow the progressive introduction of “Access for all” to all stations starting with interchange stations, such as Manningtree, Wivenhoe and Thorpe-le-Soken, and then tackling the busiest ones.
Reopen the footbridge at Frinton-on-sea to give access to the station from the north side when the level crossing is closed.
Tendring village stations: - Lengthening platforms to take 12 car trains, raising platforms where necessary and improving car parking facilities

Medium schemes

Progressive infrastructure upgrades to enable robust half hourly services on all lines in Essex, starting with the Cressing loop on the Braintree branch line, rebuilding Colchester Town station so that it has a central island platform serving two lines.
Provide a new station at Clacton Common (Gorse Lane) which would serve the Great Clacton housing and industrial estates, and Holland-on-Sea.
Provide a new station at Great Cornard to serve new housing estates in the area.
Electrification of the Sudbury branch so that services can be integrated with other lines (Sudbury trains served Colchester Town until the mid-1980s).
Alterations at Thorpe-le-Soken and between Kirby and Frinton to improve reliability of branch line services and connections.
Reopen Wivenhoe to Brightlingsea, as existing road access cannot cope with traffic.

Large schemes

Works to provide additional relief lines or dynamic loops between Shenfield and Witham to improve capacity and to allow extension of Crossrail services to Beaulieu Park, the new developer funded station planned for north of Chelmsford.
Works to provide improved infrastructure, in order that the speed limits on the main lines can be raised and journey times to and from London decreased.
Major rebuilding is required at Colchester (North) station to provide a seamless interchange with other public transport modes.  Connectivity is currently poor, particularly with local buses.  Ideally there should be a new bus station built there.
Electrify the line to Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge and Peterborough.   This scheme will mainly benefit cross-country freight, but would greatly improve passenger rail service opportunities too, such as reinstating the Colchester to Cambridge link, and a robust hourly train service to Peterborough.



Appendix B – Explanatory notes


London Mayor Boris Johnson has a stated aim that every train/tube/DLR/tram line in Greater London should have a train at least every fifteen minutes throughout the day.   Essex is well populated, but not as densely as Greater London.  We think that for all lines in Essex there is potential business for a minimum train service of one every thirty minutes.

This is not the only justification for this frequency of service.   We must always bear in mind that the competition is the car, and unless train services are reasonably frequent, people will give up on trains and use the car or other alternatives.   Most people will tolerate a short wait for public transport, particularly if they can wait in a shelter.   In my experience, a half hour’s wait is just about tolerable; an hour’s wait is intolerable.     It is therefore essential that we extend half hourly train services to as many lines as possible, as soon as possible if we are to have any chance of attracting additional passengers to the Essex rail network.
Most stations on the main line and on the line to Southend Victoria have had at least half-hourly services since December 2010.  Some branch lines could accommodate half-hourly train services without any modification (such as Colchester to Clacton, Manningtree to Harwich).   Others will require additional infrastructure in the form of passing loops or additional platforms (Witham to Braintree, Thorpe-le-Soken to Walton, and Marks Tey to Sudbury). 


We believe that Colchester Town station will need a second platform to satisfactorily handle half hourly train services on lines that serve the station.   It is our opinion, endorsed by train 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 drive it out from the other end cab of the train.


Trains ran from Sudbury to Colchester Town station until around 1990.   We believe that there remains a strong potential demand to extend the Sudbury to Marks Tey train service back to Colchester Town.   This would require electrification of the Sudbury branch line.  As this is the only non-electrified branch line in Essex, it would make sense from an operational point of view to have this line integrated with the rest of the Essex rail system.


The “Sunshine Coast” covers the coastline from Walton-on-the-Naze to Clacton-on-Sea.  This area has the highest population in the Tendring Peninsula.  There are pockets of deprivation along the coast, but public transport along the coast is poor, involving either slow buses or a difficult rail connection at Thorpe-le-Soken.  We believe that connectivity would be much improved if there was a direct Walton to Clacton rail service.  At present trains would have to reverse at Thorpe-le-Soken, but a direct rail connection could be built in the medium to long term, forming a triangular junction east of Thorpe (like the one that serves Colchester Town station).  The route could even be operated by tram/trains, and extended beyond Clacton towards Jaywick.  Our proposed new station at Clacton Common would greatly benefit from this service.



Appendix C – “Norwich in Ninety” campaign

This campaign was started after the May 2010 General Election by three local MPs, Chloe Smith from Norfolk, Ben Gummer from Suffolk and Priti Patel from Essex*, all newly elected MPs based in the area.  The aim is to persuade the government that the severe lack of investment in railways in the area needs to be reversed and a comprehensive plan of improvements instituted.

We at ERUF have always supported this campaign, with the obvious proviso that any improvements made should benefit all rail users, never benefiting Norfolk and Suffolk at the expense of Essex.

One example of where rail improvements would benefit Norfolk and Suffolk rail users at the expense of Essex are proposals in the recently published “Network Rail’s Draft Route Study”.   A report produced about three years ago by the consultants Atkins suggested the addition of long dynamic loops between the new Beaulieu Park station 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 at speed.  Rather than follow this advice, Network Rail proposes to extend existing loops at Witham station.

The problem with the Witham loops (even if extended) is that are 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.   

Essex Rail Users Federation
January 2015

(*now replaced by Simon Burns, MP for Chelmsford, as Priti has joined the government)

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