For a long time now Southeastern Railway have been asking the Department for Transport for additional stock to bolster overcrowded services. The DfT promised an imminent reply back in early 2016 with a decision by Spring 2016:
“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.”
None of that happened. But a year later the reply is in, snuck away in a written reply yesterday to a question from Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander, and it’s not good.
The plan, which was believed to involve around 25 trains and 100 carriages in total, is probably off. The answer doesn’t state that for certain, but given this is the DfT then this is probably a rejection. I wonder how those Tory MPs who supported the DfT blocking devolution feel now?
So depot costs are given for refusing the plan. Costs too much. Money that can be found for other franchises cannot be found for Southeastern. Why has no work on depots has been carried out for many years to expand depot capacity?
This again seems to show that blocking transfer of Southeastern control to TfL from the DfT was a sham. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has stood up in Parliament and said its because TfL could guarantee no extra capacity, and then shortly after his department blocks extra capacity.
He’s now asking Southeastern and GTR, which is Thameslink and Southern (who have a multitude of issues right now themselves to deal with) to work together. A very tall order. But a way to deflect blame and kick the can further down the road.
How will GTR, who have a massive program of new trains coming in find space to store Southeastern trains? How will Southeastern increase capacity in other ways when they’re already running trains that are short; they can hardly send them away to remove seats.
And how must Tory MPs feel who supported the DfT against TfL takeover recently, or at least kept very quiet, such as Conservative MP James Brokenshire (Old Bexley and Sidcup), David Evenett (Bexleyheath and Sidcup), Gareth Johnson (Dartford) as well as those on the GLA who seemed to gloat like Gareth Bacon (London Assembly member for Bexley and Bromley). He has been covered in the Newsshopper here and it’s well worth a read.
Only Tory Bob Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) stood up and said it was a rotten decision and Grayling should resign.
The others have supported Grayling and almost immediately seen their constituents let down as the DfT blocks improvements. No one can say it wasn’t expected.
Over in Kent
The leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter also appears to have confused himself again (or been told by Conservative Central office to back Grayling) as he’s said he again opposed devolution. And the reason given makes no sense – he appears to confuse off-peak and peak services. He doesn’t want TfL controlled routes harming long distance routes. That’s fair enough but TfL’s position on that never changed.
TfL said they would only increase services during off-peak times in London when it has no impact on long distance Kent trains as ample spare capacity exists. KCC chief Paul Carter has confused that with peak-time increases and blocking Kent trains, if you believe he hasn’t been lent upon.
But anyway, his actions have harmed his own county as those 100 carriages would’ve benefited long distance as well as suburban routes. Nice work. Go to bat for Grayling and that’s your pay off.
EDIT: Since writing this I’ve seen the annual Which Passenger Survey is out today (17/1/17). Click here to see. Another very poor showing for Southeastern – for commuters they come second bottom out of 21 train companies with just a 31% approval rate and third bottom for leisure passengers at 47%.
Although Southeastern are at fault for many things, ultimately it stems from the Department for Transport who set fares and train numbers, as we’ve seen again today. Instead of focusing all energy at Southeastern, it’d be better spent lobbying the DfT and those MP’s who support them. That’s the only way any change will happen.