The HS1 lessons for commuters

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link – now called HS1 – was meant to benefit people all over Kent. However, yesterday in the Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan described the miserable experience of Kent commuters and wondered whether HS2 will also be a let down for commuters.

The 1998 brochure I mentioned previously said cheerily that “new, much faster trains would be able to run between Kent and St Pancras”.

However, as yesterday’s Telegraph article described, numerous Kent commuters find nothing cheery about the train services they now endure. John Nicholson said graphically “High-speed rail has been a total nightmare for us.” His train journey to work has increased from 70 minutes to 90 minutes.

While the CTRL brochure does not suggest train times from Herne Bay, it does give a figure for the service from Margate, a seaside resort a few miles further along the coast from Herne Bay. After HS1 was built, their trains to London, in the new high speed world, was supposed to be 80 minutes.

The Network Rail website will produce personalised time table for specific journeys.  So I created one for morning services between Margate and London.

Margate to London morning timetable

Morning timetable, Margate to London

The results are clear. The very fastest morning service is 88 minutes, 10% longer then the glossy brochure said. But it doesn’t get to London until 10.21: no good for commuters.

The rush-hour services from Margate to St Pancras take between 91 minutes and 95 minutes. These services are up to 20% longer then the Channel Tunnel Rail Link brochure said they would be.

Like the Telegraph says”Instead of speculating about the high-speed future, we can go and see it for ourselves. For any supporter of high-speed rail, it should be a sobering experience.”

6 comments to “The HS1 lessons for commuters”
  1. To John from Kent – I am the John Nicholson from the Sunday Telegraph article in question. HS1 services on the North Kent Line are misguided. The train cannot travel faster than existing services due to the infrastructure not being able to cope. So, I say to you what is the point? It only goes fast between Ebbsfleet & Stratford International (A journey time of 10 minutes). The train is used as a shuttle service between the station it serves on this line and not many passengers use it for the full distance.

    I used this service to ensure I understand the nature of my complaints. I got the 06:19 service from Herne Bay to St Pancras and arrived at my desk 20 minutes after I would have if I’d taken my usual 06:41 service to Cannon Street. Now, this is a real example of what over 2000 people signed our petition for. I also had to pay for the tube journey from St Pancras to St Paul’s (where I work).

  2. So some people think Andrew Gilligan has got it wrong. Why were questions asked in the House about train services in Kent by an MP representing his disgruntled constituents? Why then did more than 2000 people sign a petition on the PM’s website last year? Perhaps the attached article originally published just over a year ago may help:
    It may be worth having a read of some of the comments which are at the foot of this article. If you think I have my 2000 figure wrong, please follow the link within the article.

  3. Penny

    Thanks for your reply. Just to add further light to the matter:

    Margate is served by the High Speed service that runs along the North Kent line, joining HS1 at Ebbsfleet. This is essentially the Faversham service extended to cater for stations between Faversham and Broadstairs in peak hours. Ramsgate, on the other hand, is served by the other High Speed service that joins HS1 at Ashford. Although Margate has the same number of services each hour as Ramsgate, they are in fact two different services operated by different train sets. It therefore does not at all follow that Ramsgate has an “equally poor service”.

    The earliest 76 minute journey may well arrive in London at 10:21, but the earliest 78 minute journey arrives at 07:18 (it takes two minutes longer because the train couples with another train from Dover at Ashford). There is also a service leaving Ramsgate at 05:00, which arrives at St Pancras at 06:23.

    I rather doubt that commuters will be deterred by the extra two minutes journey time in peak hours – especially given that the journey is around 45 minutes faster than it was pre-HS1.

    For more info on pre-HS1 and post HS1 journeys this may be useful:

  4. I am sorry to say it, but this is very sloppy journalism indeed.

    Just to set the record straight for readers who may not be familiar with Kent’s HS1 services: High Speed 1 has slashed journey times between London and Ashford from 90 minutes to 35-38 minutes. Two thirds of passengers travelling from Canterbury, Dover, Folkstone and Ashford to London now choose HS1 services over existing services. Patronage is pretty high on High-Speed services between the Medway Towns and London as well (40% of passengers travelling from Strood to London use this service). If HS1 is such a failure, then why do I struggle to find a seat when I use the service in peak hours? Surely the 7.2 million customers who used the service in its inaugural year can’t all be wrong?

    Southeastern continue to run fast non HS1 services to London Bridge serving the North Kent towns. Thanks to HS1 we now have more choice. In addition to Victoria and London Bridge Services, passengers from North Kent can also now travel directly to Ebbsfleet (for Paris/Brussels), Stratford (for Canary Wharf, the Olympic Park and the under-construction Crossrail line) and St Pancras (for Thameslink and the three major north-south intercity lines). Last Christmas I travelled from Birmingham to the Medway Towns in just over two hours – a journey that would have taken much longer had I not benefitted from the HS1 connection at St Pancras. HS1 does more than just shrink journey times between Kent and London – it also connects Kent to the rest of Britain.

    In choosing Margate as your case study (which is only served by a handful of peak hour HS1 trains), you are presenting a highly selective and, I would say, unfair picture. Why didn’t you choose neighbouring Ramsgate instead? It’s only 76 minutes from Ramsgate to London using HS1 – before HS1 was built this journey took around two hours.

    And at any rate, what on earth has a hybrid high-speed commuter service in Kent, which runs mostly runs on classic lines and only uses HS1 for 18 minutes in some cases, got to do with HS2? As far as I’m aware there are no proposals to use HS2 to run hybrid commuter trains to the likes of Oxford or Milton Keynes using the lower section of HS2, so what’s the problem? Is it really fair to compare HS1 against HS2 in this manner?

    By all means complain that HS2 is running through your back yard. I would too if I was affected in the same way. But please don’t bring HS1 – a hugely successful project that has transformed the lives of many people living and working in Kent – into your dispute with the government.

    • Andrew Gilligan’s article did provoke a lot of comments on the Telegraph website.

      If you are correct in your view that Margate has only a handful of peak hour HS1 services, then Ramsgate has an equally poor service. According to the Network Rail website both towns have have the same number of HS1 services in the morning. And the earliest 76 minute service from Ramsgate does not get into 10.21 – hardly very useful for the typical commuter who has to be in their office long before that.

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