You might feel like one of the lucky few if you’ve got a reliable train commute to work. But what if the service has an uncertain future?
At the moment, I feel a bit like the Goldilocks of commuters. My journey into work isn’t too short to get stuck into a good book or have a nap, but it’s not intolerably long either. I use the high-speed trains from Maidstone into London, which, for me, are just right.
Of course, there are the usual gripes – overcrowding, occasionally being turfed off a broken-down train in the middle of nowhere, or herded onto a replacement bus that takes you on the scenic route. And I’ll never get used to handing over £40 a day in fares (including a railcard discount).
But all things considered, it’s a pretty reliable service that gets lots of people into work and then back home in time for tea.
Trouble down the line?
So, of course, it makes perfect sense to scrap it. The problem is that the south-eastern franchise is up for renewal, and the government has told bidding train companies they don’t have to keep running the fast link from Kent’s county town into London.
Transport Minister Chris Grayling has said ‘there is no intention to introduce degradation of today’s level of service’, but then he has also said he’s ‘not a specialist in rail matters’, so naturally I’m worried there’s trouble ahead.
The alternative (longer) route would apparently be to Abbey Wood in south-east London, where passengers could pick up the new Crossrail service and then Underground connections within central London. Or we could presumably squeeze on to the slower Maidstone East to Victoria stopping service. Both options sound unappealing.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that trains from Maidstone into the City of London were axed in 2009, and although a new City service has been promised, it keeps being delayed.
Is anyone listening?
Campaigners recently handed in a petition signed by more than 2,000 people, highlighting the impact that losing the high-speed service would have on working and family life. You can hear some of them talking about their concerns here.
There’s also a fair bit of anger out there about the perceived lack of consultation with the public. Campaigners say they’ve asked ministers from the Department for Transport to come and discuss the plans but have been repeatedly ‘fobbed off’, and the DfT has turned down a Freedom of Information request.
Once again, paying customers are being ignored and left to fight their own corner – which is why I’m shamelessly using Which? Conversation to highlight concerns and hopefully drum up some support for fellow commuters – and the Which? campaign to get trains working for passengers.
Wherever you are in the country, there’ll be winners and losers when rail services change and commuters are presented with ‘new journey opportunities’.
But more often than not, it feels like those in charge are the winners, while we’re left to make our way through the woods using whatever service is just right… for them.
Are you worried about your commuter service being scrapped or reduced? Or will you benefit from new services, such as Crossrail, in the near future?