Ministers are proposing to create more room for passengers on the next South Eastern rail franchise by removing first class seats, as well as running longer, more spacious trains.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has published a consultation on its plans for the controversial re-letting of the franchise, after transport secretary Chris Grayling backtracked on plans to give Transport for London (TfL) control of suburban services.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling
The consultation states that while first class tickets remain popular on certain routes, removing first class seats ‘would create more room for passengers, which would be important during peak hours’.
The DfT said its ‘ambitions’ for the franchise include creating more space for passengers by running longer trains and upgrading or replacing older trains.
It is considering new high capacity Metro style carriages on the busiest routes to deliver a ‘better balance of seating and room for standing passengers’.
Other ambitions are a simple automated system for compensation and a smarter payment system, including mobile phones.
Mr Grayling said: ‘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.’
In a suggestion that it is looking for a similar change in the role of guards to the one that has been at the centre of the Southern dispute, the DfT said another ambition was ‘improving customer service with staff able to respond quickly and effectively to passenger’s needs’.
Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, described the plans as ‘tinkering around the edges’.
He said: ‘Despite TfL having a track record of improving passenger services when given the responsibility, the transport secretary reneged on a deal for suburban rail services, including Southeastern, to come under public control because he wanted to keep “rail services out of the clutches of any future Labour mayor”.
‘If Chris Grayling is serious about improving suburban services, he should stop playing politics, act in the interests of passengers and honour his predecessor’s agreement with Boris Johnson to bring those services into TfL control.’