Your Questions on the New Timetable Answered
Many of you having been asking, understandably, lots of questions around the New Timetable change. We have been listening to your concerns and queries and hope that we are able to answer many of your most frequently asked questions here.
1) Why not adjust the old timetable by adding in the East London stops rather than making wholesale changes?
Providing more stops in east London was just one part of the intended improvements from introducing the new timetable. It is certainly an important element, because the new timetable provides much stronger connections to important and growing parts of London. That makes a big difference to a lot of people, many of whom live in London but others who live in South Essex but work in the capital.
Simply adding additional stops wouldn’t have helped with other issues though. We wanted to help more people at stations like Basildon and Benfleet to get a seat, which is why a number of the old Laindon starter trains now start from Leigh-on-Sea instead. And we wanted to increase the frequency of trains on the Chafford Hundred line, to match the number of trains from other stations on the Tilbury Line. None of this would have been possible by simply adding extra stops into the old timetable.
Going back to the old timetable wouldn’t provide the extra capacity which we are committed to provide under our franchise agreement with the Government.
2) c2c were awarded the new franchise at in 2014, so why weren’t new trains ordered then to cope with the projected increase in passenger numbers?
The new franchise set out our plan, agreed with the Government, for addressing the expected growth in passenger numbers over coming years. Our first step was to make maximum use of the existing fleet we currently have, through two changes: converting around 20% of our trains to the new metro-style layout, where each carriage has 15 fewer seats but for every 4 carriages there will be room for 150 more people onboard; and secondly by introducing this new timetable with more carriages and extra seats at peak time.
What has taken us by surprise is the scale of growth in passengers, particularly leaving Fenchurch Street in the evening peak, which has far exceeded expectations. We are in urgent negotiations to source further new carriages to add to the busiest trains, hopefully within months.
In the longer term we will still have additional brand-new trains on order, which will start arriving in stages from 2019, to meet the future growth in passenger numbers on c2c.
3) Why can’t the old timetable be brought back?
Put simply, the old timetable was not working for a large number of passengers and if we reinstated it then it would represent a return to those problems. Five years ago 66% of passengers were satisfied with seat availability and standing space, but in the most recent survey it was only 57%.
We understand that some people prefer the old timetable. But for others it had real problems. There was not a single seat avilable at Basildon on any train arriving in London between 07.45 and 09.15. There were gaps of up to 40 minutes for direct trains from the Southend area to West Ham for anyone who wanted to use the Jubilee line. Passengers were standing on the most popular trains from Leigh-on-Sea, with 1,000+ people on the fastest services.
The new timetable is maintaining the punctuality record our customers are used to, and opening up new connections. Where it has struggled is with the surge of demand in the evening peak in particular. The old timetable could not have coped with this growth either. The old timetable was not perfect, and the new timetable is not perfect, but it is working. Going back to the old timetable wouldn’t provide the extra capacity which we are committed to provide under our franchise agreement with the Government. Our duty is to serve the growing numbers of passengers, not to turn them away. Our focus is on building the capacity to carry everybody in as much comfort as possible. We underestimated the exceptional surge in numbers which we have seen in recent weeks, and we have made significant changes.
4) I don’t think the consultation was advertised as much as the implementation, but why were the results ignored when 88% of respondents did not agree?
This was the first time we have ever consulted on a timetable change, and we did so because we genuinely wanted to hear what issues our customers thought.
The three-month consultation was heavily advertised. There were posters at every station, we handed out thousands of leaflets, and it was promoted heavily online – plus several articles in the Echo. Overall more than 2,200 people responded to the consultation, which I consider to be a very welcome response rate given it was a year until the changes were to take effect.
The consultation was not a referendum on the proposals. We were not asking people to vote yes or no, but asking instead what issues need to be addressed. Overwhelmingly, the two biggest issues were regarding Laindon starter trains, and journey times from the Southend area. As a result we made changes to our original proposed timetable on both of these issues.
Since then we have been examining these issues closely, and have made further changes since. As recently as Monday we amended one of the morning fast trains to provide extra seats, and reduce the journey time again to just 58 minutes from Shoeburyness to London – which is faster than any train was in the old timetable.
5) If you could go back to the beginning, what would you do differently about introducing the new TT?
From the start, we knew that we would have to make adjustments to our services once they were in operation. That process of adjustments started on the second day of the new timetable, and the latest wave of amendments came into effect on Monday this week. That means the timetable we have in operation today, and in particular the distribution of carriages on individual services, is better now than it was on Day One of the timetable. So with the benefit of hindsight I wish we had been able to start with the version of the timetable we have in operation today.
6) How can you justify putting in a timetable that requires additional rolling stock when you don't have that rolling stock?
The new timetable has added extra services, operates more carriages at peak times, and provides more seats into and out of London compared to the old timetable. In the mornings the new timetable has handled the growth in passenger numbers: we are carrying 1,000 more passengers into Fenchurch Street but have created 1,400 extra seats. There are some key individual services which are busier than we would like, but the overall picture has settled.
The story in the evening is different, and that did take us by surprise. While we provided 5% more seats across the evening peak, the number of people travelling from Fenchurch Street has shot up by 20%.
This is why we need more carriages. It is also why we have adjusted the evening peak timetable to pull over 1,000 more seats into the busiest hour, and reduced the number of trains that call at some of the London stations to ensure they don’t become overcrowded. We are in urgent negotiations to source further new carriages to add to the busiest trains, hopefully within months.
7) Why do passengers on the Tilbury line have fewer carriages per hour than anywhere else?
We aim to provide the number of services required, based on the demand from that station. Grays has more services than any other Tilbury station because it is the only one in our top 10 busiest stations. Chafford Hundred is the second-busiest station on the Tilbury line, yet in the old timetable there were only eight peak-time services. Now there are 12 peak services at Chafford, in line with the other Thurrock stations.
One area where the Tilbury line differs to the line via Basildon is with our use of metro-style carriages. Our rolling stock can only run in sets of four-, eight-, or twelve-carriage trains. If we have around 500 passengers travelling on board a service, this is too many for a four-carriage train – yet an eight-carriage train means we are carrying a lot of empty space. Because trains that run on the Rainham branch have the shortest journeys into London, with many passengers only travelling for around 20 minutes, our new metro-train with capacity for 550 people onboard is the right answer. They free up the other four carriages from this train which can be added to busy services elsewhere, where other passengers are standing for longer.
8) Why are there now fewer peak-time trains on the Tilbury line in the evening following the latest changes?
The changes we have made to the evening peak have been based on how many passengers are on each train, using all the data we have collected in the last few weeks. We have added carriages to the busiest services at the height of the peak. These extra carriages have come from the quietest services, most of which leave Fenchurch Street before 17.00 or from 18.30 onwards. They have not only been taken from Tilbury line trains.
For example, the 17.25 from Fenchurch Street to Grays is busier than either the 16.40 to Grays or the 18.37 to Grays, and this has proved to be the case consistently in recent weeks. That’s why we have extended the 17.25 to be an 8-carriage train instead of four, instead of using those four carriages twice on the earlier and later trains instead.
9) What complaints did you have about overcrowding before the timetable change, and how does it compare to now?
We take our data on passenger feedback from a variety of sources – social media, the number of complaints we receive into our Customer Relations team, and from independent passenger surveys. In recent years we have had hundreds of complaints into our Customer Relations team about overcrowding. And it’s absolutely fair to say we have had hundreds since the new timetable went live too. That’s why we’ve made a series of adjustments since the start, and why we gave thousands of season ticket holders a cash apology for the initial disruption.
The passenger watchdog Transport Focus undertakes independent surveys twice a year, examining the views of over 1,000 of our passengers. This includes a specific question about satisfaction with seat availability and standing room. This question has been consistently both among our lowest scores and was declining. Five years ago 66% of passengers were happy. In the latest survey it was 57%. Once the new timetable has settled, and we are in urgent negotiations to source further new carriages to add to the busiest trains, hopefully within months.
10) Did c2c offer to increase services to Barking and West Ham or was it requirement of the franchise tender?
When the Government ran the competition for the new franchise, they included a set of requirements that every train operator bidding for the contract must meet. They also asked for additional proposals, which if they supported they would add to the final contract.
The Government’s original requirements included a reduction in the level of crowding west of Barking into Fenchurch Street, using the London-wide “Passengers in Excess of Capacity” measure. Our proposal to meet this requirement was the new timetable, which included stopping additional trains at Barking, West Ham and Limehouse to cater for the demand.
This is why stopping 95% of services at these stations became a contractual part of our Franchise Agreement, and why it is supported by both c2c and the Government.
11) How can you be so assured that you will be able to source trains in 2019 when Crossrail is clogging the order books?
Taking an industry-wide view, there are now more new trains being built for the UK market than has been the case for a long time. This is of course very welcome news for passengers as well as railway professionals.
Crossrail is one example of the new trains that are on order, as is the new rolling stock for the Great Western Railway, and extra carriages for the Thameslink service. We will be procuring new trains for c2c, and likewise I expect as other new franchises are awarded they will be in the market for new trains too.
This means that the train manufacturers can plan their business on the basis of there being a lot of demand in the years to come. We know we will need our extra trains from 2019, we have a contractual requirement to hit this date, and we have full confidence we will deliver.
12) How will the future growth in passengers fit on the trains when they are currently crowded?
We know that both south Essex and east London have surging economies, and we have seen some of the impact of that already.
We are in urgent negotiations to source further new carriages to add to the busiest trains, hopefully within months, and we will be watching the level of passenger demand closely over the coming months and years.
I hope that the last few weeks has underlined how we’ve listened and made tweaks to our timetable where we are allowed, also relieving pressure points, particularly at London interchanges, and that we are willing to invest extra money as necessary to make sure we are providing an effective service.
13) Where have all the extra passengers arrived from so suddenly?
The honest answer is we don’t yet know 100%. The surge in evening demand surprised us, and this is why we have had to make alterations to the timetable and to lease additional carriages from another train operator.
Last autumn, we were carrying on average over 20,800 passengers out of Fenchurch Street each evening. Last week, that average was over 24,900 – up 20%. This growth is very real, and very unexpected. It has not been matched by the growth in the morning peak, which is why we have made more changes to our evening services this week.
We do know some of the factors. We are running more trains now at peak times, particularly at the busiest stations, and this extra frequency creates its own additional demand. We have attracted extra passengers in London. We expected some of this due to the pent-up demand, but have taken on more than we expected – and so we’re managing that by adjusting the number of trains that call at all the London stations. There has of course been a natural growth in passenger numbers over time as well. Since the last timetable change in 2006 there has been a 45% increase in passenger numbers and we needed to make changes to make the service fit for the future. But we are continuing to analyse all the data to understand where all the extra passengers are coming from on trains as they leave Fenchurch Street each evening.
14) I think health concerns are being ignored and more people are being taken ill than last year?
Running a service that gets our customers to and from work safely always has been and remains our top priority, and suggestions that travelling with c2c is not safe are completely wrong. 90,000 passengers journey with us every day, and almost all of them pass off without incident. However it is a sad reality that people are taken ill while travelling every day across the capital. Last year, it happened 199 times on c2c services. So far this year, that figure stands at ten cases.
In 2013 we put out some basic advice to our customers in an effort to reduce the number of times people fall ill because it was causing so many delays, which shows this has been an issue for a long time. This included travelling with a bottle of water, getting off the train if you don’t feel well, and making sure you don’t skip breakfast. Some people criticised us at the time for making these suggestions, but the reality is that if more people followed this advice then fewer people would be taken ill.
15) I thought you already had agreement for some new carriages, so are they still coming?
Unfortunately the other train operator has had to withdraw from our agreement in principle to supply some additional carriages. We are in active discussions with industry partners including the Department for Transport on other options for providing extra carriages to reflect the increased demand on the c2c route.