Further Thameslink upgrade delay puts Sevenoaks passengers to back of queue
By Alan Bullion
After years of disruption to Kent commuters and £6.5 billion of taxpayers' money, rail industry bosses have concluded that the refurbished Thameslink line between Blackfriars and St Pancras will only be able to handle 75% of the planned services in 2018 and 2019.
Their answer: postpone the planned Maidstone East service and stop trains from Sevenoaks via Bat & Ball at Blackfriars.
Thameslink announced that the start of the new Maidstone East to Cambridge service will be delayed from December 2018 until December 2019 at the earliest, and that Sevenoaks via Bat & Ball peak-hour trains will terminate at Blackfriars from May 2018 until May 2019 at the earliest.
Thameslink say that 2018 will nevertheless see "the full implementation of a new Southern timetable" and "70% of the programme's overall benefits".
However for west Kent and Maidstone 2018 and 2019 will see no implementation of new services and 0% of the overall benefits.
The basic reason seems to be that, having taken £6.5 billion of taxpayers' money for the project including its "sophisticated" signalling, the rail industry now do not think that the "Thameslink Core" between Blackfriars and St Pancras can handle the planned 24 trains an hour in each direction.
Instead the lines will be limited to 18 trains an hour, with the hope that with operational experience more capacity could be achieved by the end of 2019.
However if the rail industry cannot deliver more than 18 trains an hour after a decade to prepare what confidence can there be that they will manage 24 trains an hour after a further year?
The possibility of a delay to the new Maidstone East service was not even mentioned in the extensive consultations on the new Thameslink timetable in autumn 2016 and summer 2017.
Instead the decision seems to have been taken in secret and without consultation with passengers by the so-called "Thameslink Industry Readiness Board" - which represents the same rail industry that have failed to deliver "readiness" on time.
It's not clear whether even the inadequate peak hour service from Maidstone East to Blackfriars will be maintained after December 2018 - that would require an amendment to the new and separate Southeastern franchise specification for which the new Franchisee could be expected to charge an arm and a leg.
The implementation of the capacity reduction shows a bias against Kent - four new direct Sussex routes are being implemented from May 2018 between Cambridge and Brighton, Horsham and Peterborough, Littlehampton and Bedford and East Grinstead and Bedford.
And for Kent the only new service being implemented is the Rainham via Dartford to Luton service.
It's only the new Maidstone East service that is being delayed and it is only the Sevenoaks via Bat & Ball service that is being reduced.
Once again it seems that west Kent is at the back of the queue when it comes to improvement in rail services.