REPORT ON MEETING ‘CYCLES AND TRAINS – THE NEXT DECADE ON THAMESLINK’
Tuesday 23 October 2018, Dagnall Street Baptist Church, St Albans
Presentation by Larry Heyman, Local Development Manager, Thameslink & Great Northern, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)
The meeting began with STACC’s AGM. STACC Chair John Metcalf then introduced Larry Heyman.
Larry began his presentation by apologising for the severe disruption to services since May when the new timetable was introduced. This was primarily caused by the planning being concentrated into a far shorter period than was needed for the biggest timetable change ever. The interim report by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), which he said was fair and balanced, was critical of GTR, Network Rail, the Department for Transport, and the Office of Rail and Road. A National Programme Management office is being established to oversee all Train Operating Companies’ timetable changes in future.
An interim timetable was introduced on 15 July to stabilise the service, and further changes will be made on 10 December to bring services to the point where they should have been in May.
He paid tribute to the front-line staff and station managers who had been under immense pressure, and advised anyone who had been affected to claim compensation.
Turning to the main topic of cycles and trains, Larry then outlined the planning being developed for Harpenden Station. There are currently 548 cycle parking spaces (compared to 182 in 2006). There is no space on the Western side of the station for more cycle parking so extra space will have to be provided on the Eastern side. A two-storey car parking deck for 220 cars is currently being planned for the Eastern side, primarily to relieve pressure on nearby Council-operated car parks where may commuters park at present, as the Station car park is full every day by about 8.15am. Discussions are underway between GTR, Network Rail and St Albans District Council. Better access to the Eastern side, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, is part of the package. It is also hoped to provide pedestrian and cycle access to Aysgarth Close, and GTR, Network Rail and St Albans City & District Council will be working with local residents on this.
St Albans City Station has also seen a massive increase in cycle parking, from 396 spaces in 2006 to the current 1116, second only to Cambridge, which has over 3000 spaces. Up to 800 cyclists use these spaces every day, making up about 6% of commuters. The total number of cycling commuters is closer to 6.5% thanks to those using Bromptons and other folding bikes. Larry and STACC’s John Metcalf had carried out a walk-over survey a few weeks ago, which Larry had appreciated – he wants to work with STACC.
Larry then outlined the £5m+ redevelopment of the Station, currently submitted for Planning Approval. Work would take 12 months. On the Ridgmont Road side of the Station the existing glazed entrance would be replaced by much larger structure with 50% more ticket gates, public toilets, and a secure cycle hub. There would also be a new train drivers’ depot, allowing more efficient rostering with drivers based at St Albans (and also Cricklewood). The structure currently being built in the car park is the prefabricated drivers’ depot.
Discussions are underway between GTR and Herts County Council (Herts County Council) on improving access for pedestrians and cyclists using this entrance, which is the gateway for the city centre.
On the island platform between platforms 2 and 3, the existing toilets and waiting room will be demolished (these cause significant congestion for arriving passengers in the evening queuing to climb the stairs) and a new waiting shelter will be built further down the platform. Provision is being made for a second footbridge to be added in the future, to further improve evening peak flows out of the station.
Larry then outlined plans for the Station Way side of the Station:
· more ticket gates, including two wide gates
· better toilet facilities
· more retail including a convenience store located between the ticket hall and the car park. This space is where Mike Narramore (CTH) has provided maintenance services to cycle commuters for more than six years – he is to be accommodated on a new pitch. Likewise the coffee van.
· more / improved ticket machines.
Network Rail funding is divided into five-year ‘control periods’. In terms of the need to resolve safety-related congestion, Clapham Junction station has the highest national priority for upgrading during CP6, which begins on 1 April 2019, followed by St Albans.
He then explained how the Cycle Hub would provide secure and much improved storage for cycles. Access will be controlled by the Key smartcard (available with or without a season ticket), and will be free of charge. The hubs will be well-lit, with CCTV throughout, a bike pump and repair stand. Storage will be in two-tier stands. The first hub will be on the Ridgmont Road side of the Station, and two more are planned, firstly in the space alongside Platform 1 under the Victoria Street bridge, and secondly in the space beyond the taxi rank, though funding was not yet in place for the latter. Plenty of external Sheffield racks will be retained for casual use.
Security of the existing racks has been improved by installing Heras fencing around the main bank of cycle racks along Station Way, better lighting and CCTV. The number of cycles stolen has dropped significantly as a result of these measures. For the same 28-week periods in 2017 and 2018, reported thefts have been:
St Albans 41 this year compared to 53 last year, a 22% reduction
Harpenden 12 this year compared to 26 last year, a 54% reduction
His key message to commuters about security was to get a decent lock(!) and he paid tribute to the cooperation and effectiveness of British Transport Police in tackling cycle thefts.
He concluded with two other planned projects:
· recoating the Sheffield racks between the bus station and Station Way car park (and invited suggestions for suitable colours)
· providing more spaces for secure parking of motorbikes and scooters (possibly where the two-tier cycle racks are at present by Station Way) and also at Ridgmont Road. He emphasized that cycles would be prioritised.
Questions were then invited from the audience.
Exhaust fumes from taxis and cars waiting outside the station. The station is on Network Rail land so is not under St Albans City & District Council’s control. Nevertheless, St Albans District Council have taken some steps to encourage drivers to turn off engines while waiting, but a more concentrated effort is needed. Taxis are licensed to operate in the City by the Council so some degree of management or control may be possible. However, Councillor Gaygusuz said that the Council had debated this issue extensively, including the possibility of requiring taxis to be electric vehicles, but this was not possible under current legislation. Another speaker suggested that direct action (‘embarrass them’) might be an alternative.
The cycle route from the Alban Way is not clearly marked from the taxi rank to the Station building – could this be clarified?
The capacity of the cycle hubs was discussed. Simple racks can be used to well over their intended capacity, with bikes locked on to the shelter structure. Two-tier stands need space to allow for lowering of the upper tier. Thus simple Sheffield stands can provide the highest density of parking.
It is important to provide enough cycle parking so there is always spare capacity, otherwise commuters are discouraged from cycling. The redevelopment will lead to a reduction in spaces on the Ridgmont Road side, but an overall increase in provision. It is intended to continue to increase cycle parking provision year on year, and Larry will be seeking Hertfordshire County Council and Department for Transport funding for additional cycle parking.
There may be a temporary reduction in cycle spaces during redevelopment, but it is hoped that careful phasing of the work eg installing Station Way additional parking first would avoid that.
Improved access through St Albans to the Station is needed as well as better cycle parking at the Station. The Hatfield Road bridge is narrow and dangerous for cyclists, with very restricted space, and the recently installed traffic light where Station Way joins Hatfield Road have not been adjusted to provide the early release for cyclists that they are designed for, even though Herts County Council has been informed about this. GTR are also aware that HCC has a budget for improvements to Victoria Street, but no details of the proposals.
Providing extra car parking at Harpenden seems counter-intuitive – surely this will attract more cars, making congestion worse? Larry emphasized that the intention is to stop commuters parking in the Council-owned and operated car parks, as shoppers and other visitors to the town are discouraged from coming by the lack of parking.
Security in the existing cycle racks was questioned. One audience member had had his bike stolen from the open racks beside the Victoria Street bridge, but the CCTV recording had been of too poor quality for the thief to be identified. Larry said he would investigate.
Would the number of available spaces in the cycle hubs be displayed so cyclists could be sure of getting in? Larry said that at Brighton, displays showed where the available spaces were and this may be possible on an App.
At least six cycles can be parked in the space taken by one parked car. Could a revenue-sharing scheme be devised so that some of the 200 new car parking spaces at Harpenden could be allocated to cycles? Larry mentioned that cycle hubs have to be free, as otherwise the cost of admin exceeds revenue
Larry was thanked for his most informative and interesting talk and for answering the questions so fully.