All hell has broken loose in Chelsfield. Where’s Chelsfield? It’s a small rail station, just part Orpington – a commuter village where almost all the population rely on the train to link them to their work in Central London.
But the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) has put out to consultation their plans to make the railways more “efficient”. In real terms they are proposing large cuts to the peak hour services.
As I travelled down to chair a meeting with local residents, I have to stand all the way. The driver announces that there are seats down the front of the train – so I make my way from the back towards the front. Three carriages on, I give up.
There are packed carriages with standing passengers everywhere and it is, in the end, impassable. If this is what it is like with 6 trains – no wonder life as Chelsfield has known it will end if they cut the numbers.
The meeting is packed with over 150 people. Simon Hughes (as LibDem spokesperson for London) is there, as is Chris Maines, the Leader of the Opposition on the local council, and Duncan Borrowman – the LibDem GLA candidate. We all agree, despite the fact that the LibDems have organised the meeting and form the panel – that all political parties need to act and stand together to fight these proposals.
A couple of hours later the meeting agrees to take it forward in a variety of ways. My role is to champion it at GLA level and respond to the SRA from the LibDem GLA group. There will be people counts at the station and representations at all levels.
The SRA are an outrageous body who seem to care nothing for regional needs and support unquestioningly the Train Operating Companies whose only interest is the profit from long-haul journeys. That’s why it is vital that London has its own Commuter Rail Authority. Peoples’ lives and life choices are based on the ability to travel into central London – but the SRA couldn’t care less. Given their constant failure to make any headway with our rail industry – their days must be numbered.
What’s more, Mayor Livingstone has singularly failed to get anything out of them with what powers he does have. We had all the players into a scrutiny of the Assembly Transport Committee last year and they assured us that the best way forward was to rely on the very good working relationship between the Mayor and the SRA.
But the ‘working relationship’ has delivered nothing but reduced rail services for London. Time the Mayor used his teeth and issued directions rather than guidance – which are the two powers he has under the GLA act – but he won’t!