Ditching First Class and extending high-speed services: Transport secretary Chris Grayling unveils plans to improve Southeastern

Rebecca Smith
An Ascot race-goer carries train tickets
First Class tickets could become a thing of the past (Source: Getty)

First Class could be ditched and high-speed services extended in new plans unveiled by the government to improve London's commuter trains.

The Department for Transport has proposed substantial changes in its proposals for the next Southeastern franchise, currently one of the nation's worst performing rail services.

Read more: Auto delay repay? No way, says the company bidding to run Southeastern

The DfT has launched a consultation setting out "what we expect the next operator to deliver for passengers".

The contract for the current operator, Govia, expires in December 2018, and among the DfT's proposed changes for the new operator, is "removing First Class seating on the busiest routes" to provide more space; particularly important "during peak hours".

The government is also mulling the extension of high-speed services from St Pancras to Hastings, Bexhill and Rye.

Other proposals include:

  • Creating more space for passengers by running longer trains and upgrading older trains
  • Metro-style carriages with fewer seats to make more space as passenger numbers rise
  • Increasing reliability and reducing delays by upping cooperation between the train operator and Network Rail
  • Revamping the compensations arrangement by bringing in an automated system for passengers when they suffer delays of more than 15 minutes
  • Bringing in a "smarter payment system" including mobile phones
  • Cutting the number of central London stations served from some locations at certain times e.g. all Metro services on the north Kent, Greenwich and Bexleyheath lines to terminate at Cannon Street only
  • Running high-speed services between St Pancras, Hastings, Bexhill and Rye via Ashford International

Read more: Sadiq Khan dealt blow by Grayling: TfL won't take over Southeastern in 2018

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said:

Passengers on a new Southeastern franchise from 2018 will enjoy modern trains with more space and a more punctual and reliable service.

This consultation sets out what we expect the next operator to deliver for passengers, including working more closely with Network Rail to ensure a focus on performance, and innovative use of technology to improve both ticket buying and compensation if things do go wrong.

The Southeastern franchise handles 640,000 passenger journeys on 1,900 train services every weekday.

The DfT's consultation, which is gauging support for the assortment of proposals, will run for 10 weeks, closing on 23 May.

The new franchise comes after Sadiq Khan's efforts to take the reins of inner London services failed. Grayling rejected the plans for Transport for London to take over suburban rail services in December.

A spokesman at Southeastern said: “We’re focused on delivering our current franchise and will continue to invest over £70m in improvements in the areas that matter most to our passengers.

“We operate one of the busiest networks in the UK with passenger numbers rising 40 per cent in the past decade. We welcome any changes to the franchise specifications that will improve the services our passengers receive and will continue to work with the Department for Transport on this.”

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