After recent issues with Southeastern more than a few MPs and local politicians have had a say on Southeastern and the rail service. Conservative MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup James Brokenshire has revealed details of a response from the DfT to questions regarding extra trains to help with crowding. There’s some warm words but much is non-committal:
“We received a detailed report from Southeastern in June  regarding late 2016 and early 2018 capacity relief options and we continue to develop these options in collaboration.
We are planning to take a phased approach to the investment decisions, splitting the project into capacity relief from late 2016 and capacity relief from early 2018. This approach should allow us to make an investment decision on the 2016 capacity relief in the spring. For the 2018 capacity relief, we expect to make an investment decision in the summer. Both separate investments will be subject to establishing a viable business case and gaining the necessary approvals.
It is too early to say which services are intended to be strengthened, but the earlier capacity intervention will likely target the Metro services.”
This does again highlight that the ball is 100% in the DfT’s court on this. The Government makes the decision. Southeastern sent their report six months ago requesting more stock. The DfT have yet to confirm. Pressure needs to remain on them until the spring at least.
But if anyone in SE London can influence the Department for Transport and its ministers, then James Brokenshire is likely to be near the top, being a minister himself. It’s also welcome to see him stating that the DfT need to take action. Other MPs have also been clear on the need for pressure on the DfT. Some other politicians have simply blamed Southeastern alone. That’ll never change anything.
Where extra trains will go
If more trains are approved, those arriving in late 2016 would go onto the line from Victoria to Orpington, freeing up many other carriages to lengthen services from Cannon Street and Charing Cross to Hayes, Dartford, Medway etc. And the Victoria to Orpington line does need it. It’s seeing high growth but often only has 6 carriage trains in the rush hour, and 4 is not uncommon. Looking at station usage figures recently released and the need is clear with strong growth on the Orpington line last year, though of course some stations have more than one route serving them:
The increase at Brixton is no surprise. It’s something of an undiscovered gem, with services taking only 7 minutes to Victoria. Though looks like a fair few are finding out about it. Last week the Victoria line was suspended and Southeastern were tweeting about congestion at their station.
Getting back to the need for pressure on the Department for Transport, and its been sadly common for some politicians to not question them, revealing a lack of understanding about how the modern system works, with fragmented ownership and various elements coming under varied control. Many were happy to criticise Southeastern but didn’t acknowledge that all they pretty much do is what the Department for Transport tell them. As I’ve often said, they could be booted out tomorrow, but if the next operator were to follow weak DfT instructions, whereby there was no specification for more stock or minimum staffing levels, to name but two, then little would change.
It’s the DfT who will decide whether TfL should take over suburban routes in 2018 under the London Overground banner. Given the improvements TfL have specified for operators under lines they now control, in contrast to the DfT, that must be the hope for the region.
Since taking over lines in East London last summer they have placed orders for new trains, more staff have been hired and stations improved. Of course, improvements are slow and its not a miracle cure. They still have 30+ year old trains, but do have a solid plan that’s worked elsewhere that should come good in 5-10 years. A lot more than can be said for Southeastern metro right now.