MLAG carries Out Survey of Passengers

Readers of Rye News will be all too aware of discussion of the service provided by Southern Railway – especially timetabling and reliability – over recent months.

MarshLink Action Group (MLAG) exists to represent the views and interests of all users of the line. The timetable changes of May this year seemed a good opportunity for us to conduct a survey of passengers to find out more about their views on the new timetable, and other questions too. In the fortnight following the introduction of the May timetable, we surveyed over 450 passengers, and their helpful responses have given us detailed information to continue representing their concerns to Southern and other stakeholders. We are grateful to Southern for facilitating the research, and to the patient On-Board Supervisors who gave us a courteous welcome on their trains.

Here we give a summary of the results, as presented in the MLAG public meeting in Rye Town Hall on November 29. We will post a more detailed analysis and discussion of the data on the MLAG website (mlag.org.uk) in due course. And we very much welcome input from rail users who were not canvassed in the survey – please do send us your thoughts by email to info@mlag.org.uk.

As MLAG represents all users of the line, we surveyed roughly equal numbers of passengers making journeys in the weekday peak, weekday off-peak and at weekends. Mindful of the impact of the timetable changes on commuters, we surveyed every evening peak departure from Ashford to Rye, and most peak morning departures from Rye to Ashford as well.

 

A main objective of the survey was to find whether passengers felt that changes to the timetable had made their journey better or worse (or unchanged). As readers will probably recall, the key changes made in May were as follows:

Termination of service at Eastbourne, with connection to Brighton at Hampden Park (westbound) or Eastbourne (eastbound) with extended journey times.

Additional stops and extended journey times between Hastings and Eastbourne.

Retimed connections at Ashford, bringing off-peak journey times to St. Pancras down to 67 minutes, all day and at weekends (previously 85 minutes).

Retimed services in the weekday peak, with some journeys connecting to shuttles that previously connected to Hastings trains, and creating issues with connections to 6-car Javelin trains.

Additional late-night train in each direction – latest departure to return to Rye from London is now 22:37 (previously 21:37).

 

 

Passengers were asked ‘Has the new timing of this train made this particular journey Better / Worse / No difference?’ to which we had the following responses:

All respondents Weekday off-peak Weekday peak Weekend
Better 16% 16% 19% 14%
Worse 21% 19% 35% 10%
No Difference 52% 52% 36% 65%
No Response / Don’t Know 11% 13% 9% 11%

 

(Note: We also asked passengers the same questions in respect of all the journeys they would normally make on the line, for which the figures were broadly similar).

 

The figures show what is clear from debate and comment in Rye News – that the changes have been more problematic for peak-hours travellers (including commuters to London) than for other groups of users – although, for those groups too, there were roughly equal numbers finding the journey better or worse. We asked those whose journeys were better or worse, why that was, and as might be expected, the most numerous responses were in terms of connection times to St. Pancras and the loss of the through Brighton service:

Connection to Javelin Better / Worse: 18% / 13%

Changing trains for Brighton Worse: 15%

The free text comments provided us with very full and precise documentation of the issues, including the difficulty of the Hampden Park interchange, and problematic connections for commuters to London. Having carefully reviewed these, MLAG lobbied (together with our partners in the Hastings and Rother Rail User Groups) for the retiming of the 06:46 Rye departure to 06:38, re-establishing the connection to the 07:06 12-car Javelin from Ashford. This change was introduced in the December timetable, addressing one of the most frequently raised issues. MLAG is keenly aware of other issues mentioned by peak users, especially the reliability of the Rye shuttle. Indeed a main purpose of our recent public meeting was for Southern to give an account to rail users of the performance of the shuttle, and how they plan to address it.

As the changes were controversial, we wanted to see whether users had been aware of Southern’s consultation exercise in 2016-17 about the new timetable. Only 21% of all respondents said they had been aware of it, and 6% had submitted a comment, but among those whose journeys were better or worse, the figures were higher: 31% had been aware of the exercise, and 17% had submitted a comment.

The additional late-night train (Monday – Saturday) is a change MLAG has long campaigned for, and improves journeys back to Rye not only from London, but from airports and destinations North of London, and from West of Hastings. The uptake of new rail services can sometimes be slow to materialise, and we wanted to know if users expected it to be useful for them. The responses were:

Yes: 38%

No: 29%

Maybe: 29%

(no preference expressed): 4%

There were some favourable free text comments about the later train from residents in Ham Street as well as Rye, some asking for a train that would run later still.

We asked for views on the long-term proposals for direct trains from St. Pancras along the MarshLink to Rye and Hastings. As has featured already in Rye News, this idea has some prominent detractors; we wished simply to establish what users of the line preferred. Asked to choose from In Favour / Not In Favour / No Preference, the balance of opinion was fairly clear cut:

In Favour: 71%

Not In Favour: 4%

No Preference: 25%

Finally we asked for any other comments about the service or timetable. Issues that featured prominently included overcrowding and the need for longer or more frequent trains, and the problem of single-track sections. There were also some important comments on mobility issues (in particular concerning Hampden Park), while other aspects mentioned included the new stopping patterns (both positively and negatively), and the need for a better interface between trains and buses at Rye. All of the issues raised will be kept under review by MLAG.

Overall the survey exercise has given MLAG data and insights that will be useful both as a snapshot of opinion and journey patterns now, and as a comparison point for the future. We have presented the findings in meetings with Southern managers, and shared them in a meeting with other User Groups and with the local MPs.

 

Stuart Harland

Chairman

MarshLink Action Group