Agenda item


Purpose of the report:


To inform the Committee of the South Western Railways Consultation for proposed rail services in the county from December 2022 and to agree a response to this consultation.





Matt Furniss, Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure

Lucy Monie, Director, Highways and Transport

David Ligertwood, Passenger Transport Projects Team Manager


The Chairman welcomed the public question and a timely petition about the South Western Railways Consultation.


The Chairman invited the Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure to respond. In his response, the Cabinet Member stated that he appreciated the concerns raised by the petitioners. He informed the Select Committee that he had raised similar concerns, along with the local MP, Chris Grayling, in a frank exchange with the train operator.


The Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure added that he would formally be responding to the South Western Railway (SWR) consultation and that he had similar concerns to the ones raised in the public question and the petition before this Select Committee on this topic.


Key points raised during the discussion:


  1. The report presented to the Committee outlined South Western Railway (SWR) undertaking a strategic review of their rail timetable with the aim of providing reliable train services to meet forecast future passenger demands and to offer value for money.


  1. This review would consider service frequencies and train capacity, with changes planned to be introduced in December 2022. The proposed new timetable would, SWR stated, reflect the predicted changes to travel pattern because of the pandemic.


  1. A consultation was launched on 31 July 2021 and would close on 19 September 2021. Ahead of any changes to services SWR were seeking the views of stakeholders. The SWR December 2022 Timetable Consultation was appended as Annexe 1 of the report.


  1. Surrey County Council as a key stakeholder had been invited to comment but did not have any direct control of the service.


  1. Transport for the South East (TfSE), the sub-national transport body for the South East of England, had published a Transport Strategy. This focussed on economic, environmental, and social priorities and identifies the need for sustainable and attractive alternatives to the car, placing the passenger at the heart of the local public transport network, including more frequent rail services.


  1. On 30 March 2021 the County Council’s Cabinet adopted a New Rail Strategy for Surrey. This set out its future ambition and priorities for rail across the county. The New Rail Strategy supported the Council’s objective of growing a sustainable economy, how it might help residents and businesses respond to changing demands, and also supported the Council’s priority objective of enabling a greener future with net zero carbon a strong feature throughout.


  1. The emerging Surrey Transport Plan set out a bold ambition on how to achieve a future-ready transport system that would allow Surrey to lead the UK with a low-carbon, economically prosperous, healthy, and inclusive county. The Surrey Transport Plan proposed a hierarchy of modes and the ambition to shift journeys from the private car to other more sustainable modes, including active travel and public transport.


  1. SWR was seeking views on their proposals, particularly the proposed service reduction articulated in paragraph 17 and thereafter conclusions listed in paragraphs 18 to 20 of the report, for the rail network from December 2022. This December 2022 timetable had been informed by the experiences gained running the railway during the pandemic, customer feedback and the arrival of new rolling stock (90 new high capacity Arterio trains).


  1. The Select Committee, in formulating their feedback and response to the proposals, considered the following key points:


·         The robustness and relevance of the data SWR had used to inform the draft December 2022 timetable service specification;


·         The impact on the communities affected by the proposed rail service reductions, particularly those where off-peak service would only be hourly;


·         The ability and flexibility within the rail network and SWR to respond to increased capacity needs should this be necessary, noting the historically long planning and implementation timescales for timetable changes; and


·         How these proposals align (or otherwise) with local and regional transport strategies and policies, the climate change and sustainable transport agendas, and housing growth.


  1. In its deliberation to formulate its recommendations, the Select Committee carefully considered the public representations made to the Committee on this topic, responses provided at the meeting, and the key points listed in the report.




The Select Committee recommends that the following key points are reflected in Surrey County Council’s formal response to the South Western Railway (SWR) consultation:


  1. The Council challenges the rigour of the prediction of 60% pre-pandemic levels at peak periods in the proposed timetable. Should this prove too low, the prospect of the passenger over-crowding across the network (with health implications with continuing COVID) is alarming for Surrey residents.


  1. Therefore, it is imperative that SWR develop a high level of flexibility to adjust the timetable at short notice in such circumstances.


  1. The cuts to services run counter to the Council’s emerging Local Transport Plan and its Climate Change Strategy, both of which actively seek to encourage people to use public transport at all times of the day.


  1. At individual level, the extensive peak and off-peak reductions affecting stations in Epsom and Ewell and Mole Valley will cause considerable inconvenience and act as a perverse disincentive to rail travel in favour of the car. The Council also asks whether liaison has taken place with Southern who also serves this route. The County Council would like the service to remain at pre pandemic level and abandon this change.


  1. The Council welcomes the new rolling stock of ten car trains but notes that, despite this, peak hour seats in December 2022 will only be 86% of May 2019 levels. The Council would be disappointed if this results in even more passengers having to stand.


  1. The Council has strong reservations as this proposal runs contrary to Surrey County Council’s Climate Change targets and sustainable travel policies. In addition, there are serious concerns about fewer trains on Sundays, which hampers the service’s ability to support the leisure provision and reduces availability during the peak time.

Supporting documents: