Transport Watch - April 2011


The Transport Minister, Theresa Villiers, was full of praise for First Great Western when she met their management team and passenger group representatives at Paddington on Tuesday. First Great Western’s Chief Executive, Mark Hopwood, told the assembled group that FGW were now nearing the end of a complete refurbishment of the Turbo fleet at a cost to the company of more than £8m, well in excess of the amount they had contracted to do by the terms of their franchise agreement. Mark was particularly proud of his team for performing the work in-house rather than sending the trains away to outside contractors thus enabling the trains to be returned to service in a faster time.


Ms Villiers took the opportunity to tell the group present that in spite of the difficult financial situation facing the Government, investment in the railways was still being made and she reminded everyone that Crossrail and the electrification of the lines to Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff, plus the redoubling of the line to Kemble were still going ahead. She also indicated that it might be possible to allocate additional rolling stock to FGW but would not give details nor make a firm commitment. Later she spoke to the EPTUG representative present at the ceremony and confirmed that she had taken full note of the many points raised by EPTUG at their earlier meeting.  She also took the opportunity to talk to Nick O’Donnell, a key member of Ealing’s strategic planning team and he was able to emphasise how important the railway line was to Ealing’s regeneration plans.


Mayor Boris Johnson has also been announcing plans to improve transport. This week he unveiled a massive investment plan, said to be the biggest transport improvement plan for 80 years. Improvements to three tube lines and extensions to the Barclays Cycle Scheme have been promised plus a cable car across the Thames and more electric car re-charging points. Sadly Ealing does not fare well in the plan, nor will it benefit from his earlier announcement that 90 more hybrid buses had been ordered for London. None of these had been allocated to routes passing through the Borough even though we have some of the Capital’s most polluted air.


750,000 Oyster Cards marking the Royal Wedding go on sale in time for the big day joining the 43 million already issued since the scheme started. Over 80% of journeys in London are made using Oyster, the world’s most popular travel card. TfL have also issued travel advice to passengers travelling into Central London for the wedding and this is on their website.


Many bus routes in central Harrow including those from Ealing Borough, were diverted and given new stopping places in the town centre at the end of March causing temporary confusion to many. Changes were proposed by Harrow Council in order to improve the look of the town centre and to improve the benefits to people arriving in the centre by bus and train. But not all the Council's suggestions have been adopted by London Buses. It may be therefore that further changes might take place giving users of the 140 and other cross border routes the opportunity to let EPTUG know of any concerns they might have.


Taxi fares across London go up today, (April 2nd), by 2.7% following an agreement made with TfL in February. Wages have, since the last fares increase, risen by 2% and the rise in fuel prices has been well reported in newspapers and journals, so TfL feel that the rise of 2.7% is well justified.


Transport for London reckons it is losing almost £75 million per annum in fare evasion, including around a £40m loss on the bus network. 500 Revenue Protection Inspectors are being deployed working as both uniform and plain clothes inspectors. They are being supported by more than 2,500 TfL funded police officers. Avoiding paying a fare can lead to a fine of up to £1,000 in addition to gaining a criminal record.


Continual pressure by EPTUG and Brent and Harrow councils has at last caused Chiltern to propose an improved service along the line as it passes through Ealing to Marylebone. If approved, from the 22nd May, services from Sudbury Hill will rise from 14 trains per day to 17. Return services from Marylebone remain 14 in number with a last service leaving central London at 20.40. From Sudbury & Harrow Road there will now be 4 trains up to Marylebone in the morning and 5 back in the evening. Many of the peak hour trains will be all-stations trains during the morning, a first step towards the Metro service EPTUG has battled for since it was set up. Alterations to timetables have to be approved by the regulator who must consult with other operators, including freight companies. Though the “London End” remains fairly free of other operator interests, as the timetable stretches West it conflicts with important North South routes and much freight traffic.


Kensington and Chelsea Council’s decision announced last week that it was prepared to underwrite the estimated £33m cost of a Crossrail station between Paddington and Acton Mainline has thrown yet another spanner in the works for Crossrail’s planning team. Already the news of a possible major interchange with the planned HS2 at Old Oak has led to a re-think of plans and causing residents in the eastern end of this borough to keep a close watch on plans for their area.


Though Crossrail’s budget survived the 2010 round of government spending cuts, overspending by the project management is now believed to be leading to the scaling back on several parts of the original planning. Plans to provide three escalators at Tottenham Court Road are believed to have been reduced to two escalators in order to save money. Detailed plans for stations across Ealing have yet to be revealed in detail but rumours suggest that scaling back in the designs may be necessary. EPTUG is concerned that scaling back may mean that adequate lifts might not be provided at Ealing Broadway and is urging residents to write to both Ealing Council and the Gazette stressing the need for lifts at this busy station. You should also copy EPTUG at 3 Gordon Road, W5 2AD.


Yet more delays to the upgrade of passenger information signs on both FGW and the Tube. First Great Western are providing much of the infrastructure to enable Network Rail’s contractors to finish the job and it seems to EPTUG as casual observers that liaison between the interested parties is not working as well as it should. Meanwhile there are no plans, through lack of funds, to upgrade the Underground’s information services but later this month members of the EPTUG committee are due to meet with the general manager to see what interim steps can be taken.


Informed industry sources have advised EPTUG that First Great Western will not apply to extend its franchise when it runs out in 2013. If so this will leave the DfT with a major headache because the new franchisee, if one can be found, will have to contend with major disruptions to services including the complete upgrade of the region’s signalling system, electrification of the lines from Paddington to Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff, and the construction of Crossrail to Maidenhead. Add to those headaches, the notorious overcrowding and the absence of any new rolling stock to resolve those issues and provide flexibility in the timetable and it is easy to understand why FGW might take that decision.