One of my photos

All aboard the Tex Express!

November 14th, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 2 Comments · Politics

According to the Argus “A councillor has won a battle to secure better public transport links between West Sussex and the new Eurostar station in London.” Well done to him… except he hasn’t. We already had perfectly good ones and he has persuaded TfL to provide the option of a worse one for anyone foolish enough to want to use it.

The story explains that the moving of Eurostar services from Waterloo to the new St Pancras station causes a problem because while Waterloo is South of the river, St Pancras is in North London and thus further away and harder to get to for those of us in West Sussex, which all sounds perfectly reasonable – if you know bugger all about London’s rail services.

After spending 6 years working at Waterloo I can confirm that getting to Kings Cross/St Pancras from there is a pain in the arse. Waterloo is, I think, the only London terminus without a direct main line or underground connection to Kings Cross. You can take a tube to Euston then change for one stop on the Vic line, or you can take a train from Waterloo East to London Bridge to get a Northern line tube, or several other unappealing options. My colleagues would often walk part of the way or even walk all the way there just to avoid the tortuous rail journey.

After lots of lobbying, TfL have agreed to run a shuttle bus from Waterloo to St Pancras, and Cllr Tex Pemberton of West Sussex county council said:

“When a contact at Transport for London wrote to tell me about the decision he joked they were going to call the bus the ‘Tex Express’, in recognition of my lobbying activity.”

Or maybe they thought it should be called that because it will be expensive and do nothing for railway passengers from West Sussex?

For the benefit of anyone who is as unfamiliar with public transport as Mr Pemberton appears to be, trains from West Sussex go to Victoria station, which has a direct link by tube to Kings Cross/St Pancras, except for a few which go to London Bridge which also has a direct tube link to Kings Cross/St Pancras, and the erstwhile Thameslink service which goes directly to, er, Kings Cross and will soon stop at the new St Pancras International instead.

In fact, getting to St Pancras or a station which is directly linked to it is as easy as just not getting off your train from West Sussex until you get to central London. Getting to Waterloo, on the other hand, involves changing at Clapham Junction, where there are no lifts, no escalators, no trolleys, and wheelchair users are advised to allow one hour to get from one platform to another. And don’t get me started on the crowds and how you can wait on platform 10 for ages, watching packed trains pull in before you find one you can just squeeze onto – and that is without luggage.

If I wanted to get a train from Crawley to France I could travel to Victoria, get a Vic line train to St Pancras and hop on a Eurostar. or I could travel from Three Bridges station and catch a train directly to Kings Cross. OK, there is a walk from there to St Pancras but its shorter than the walk from the Waterloo platforms to the bus stops. Or I could catch a train from Crawley, Ifield, Horsham, Chichester or wherever and change at Three Bridges, East Croydon or Gatwick onto a Kings Cross-bound train. (Gatwick would be better with luggage because of the lifts)

For some reason Tex thinks I would rather change at Clapham Junction, fight to get on an SWT train to Waterloo, try to find which of the 30 bus stops around the station the shuttle leaves from and take a bus through London’s crowded streets. And there was no mention of it being a free shuttle either was there?

Another consideration is that visitors to London really do not like taking buses if they can take a train or tube instead, they just feel uncomfortable and worry that they will not know where to get off. Personally I prefer the buses to the trains, but I am in a minority and as an ex-Londoner then an ex-commuter I am not a casual visitor.

I feel in the mood for some proper fisking of the article…

He became concerned when the move was announced that there would be no provision for passengers who travel from Sussex and use Waterloo as their main port of call in London.

ie stupid people. People who would get off a train which is going where they want to go and change onto a train which is going somewhere awkward instead.

He claimed passengers faced having to make several changes on the underground, change buses, take a taxi or face a walk from King’s Cross station to St Pancras.

Only if they are such a nimrod that they went to Waterloo in the first place. The walk from Kings Cross tube to St Pancras is not far. Possibly not as far as the walk from platform 12 to platform 10 at Clapham Junction or the walk from Waterloo to the bus stops. The walk from Kings cross Thameslink station is a little further, but within weeks that will be moved to St Pancras anyway. And its not several changes on the underground anyway: its only one change unless you go a really silly way.

He said: “I contacted Transport for London about this issue because for most people from Sussex getting to Waterloo to catch Eurostar trains has been comparatively easy

Compared to what? Not compared to getting a tube from Victoria or not having to change at all on Thameslink.

“However, getting to the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras from Waterloo is not as easy. It currently involves making several changes on the bus and underground or having to use a taxi, which is certainly not suitable for everyone.”

By which he might mean not suitable for anyone who is not on expenses. But this whole argument is based on a false premise. You might as well say that getting to St Pancras from the Isle of Wight is not as easy – its true but there is no good reason to go via the Isle of Wight. And I am still wondering how it takes ‘several’ changes on the underground.

Anyway, well done to Tex. He has managed to get an unappealing solution to a problem that did not exist in the first place. About the best that can be said for it is that it will be cheaper than Fastway and in any case will not be paid for by West Sussex. It is not totally useless though: it will be very handy for anyone in the South West or in South West London whose train services all do go to Waterloo.

Just a thought though. Is it more worrying that out of all the 70-odd Tory councillors on WSCC they decided Tex was the expert on transport, or that Transport for London didn’t have anyone familiar enough with main line rail routes to point any of the above out to Tex in the first place to save him all that lobbying? Are they so wrapped up in their tubes and buses that they don’t know what happens on the big railway?

And for once I know I am not alone. Between reading that Argus story this afternoon and bothering to write about it tonight lots of people have added comments saying much the same thing, including:

  • He has not got any idea about our train system
  • He is an embarrassment to the smooth running of local government.
  • Am I missing something here? Sussex trains don’t go to Waterloo they go to Victoria…
  • No doubt Tex has actually never been on a train
  • Tex Pemberton and WSCC transport are a waste space.

And, amazingly, none of those comments is even from RWS!

Tags: ·····

2 Comments so far ↓

  • Michael Jones

    Hi Andrew,

    Great blogs – keep ’em coming. You’re spot on about a transport link from Waterloo to St Pancras being utterly irrelevant to virtually all Sussex commuters. The only ones it is relevant to are those few residents of West Sussex who live in the villages in and around the Downs about 15 miles north of Chichester – Midhurst, Fernhurst and the like. Because they can all drive to Haslemere quite easily (which of course the terminus station is… Waterloo).

    That this represents a tiny minority of West Sussex residents is beyond dispute.

    However, what you may not have picked up is that of course the County Council member for most of the area identified above is – you guessed it – our Tex himself. Naturally, that is only a co-incidence!

    I must admit there have been times when I have wished all of West Sussex benefited from the sort of attention that is so clearly lavished on particular areas from time to time, in examples such as this one you have described.

  • Skuds

    Priceless! Thanks for that Michael. I didn’t realise that any W.Sussex lines went into Waterloo, much less who represents them.

    The implication is that either Tex was using the full might of his cabinet position to the benefit of only those few who can vote for him OR that he only knows about the little bit of W.Sussex. Would he rather be seen as stupid or devious…