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Plans to send Southeastern trains only to Cannon Street a red herring?

A curious thing has happened over the past couple of weeks since the Department for Transport released its consultation on the next South Eastern rail franchise.

Despite a slew of issues – major mistakes and errors in house-building forecasts (later admitted by the Department for Transport), a document by Network Rail which had very conservative figures in terms of extra capacity by 2024 and very little information about improving stations and staff numbers, only one issue was picked up by many local Conservative politicians.

What captured most attention was one sentence on possibly sending all trains on the Greenwich and Bexleyheath lines only to Cannon Street and axing links to Waterloo East and Charing Cross. But will it ever happen, on the Bexleyheath line at least? Is this a way to deflect prying eyes from all other deficiencies?

There’s no doubt Network Rail and any future winner of the franchise would like it to happen in order to simplify services, but what’s making me cynical is that the Tories have come out en-masse, around the same time, to oppose this plan put forward by their own Tory colleagues and Department for Transport Minister’s Chris Grayling and Paul Maynard.

Labour have barely come out with anything, in Greenwich at least, befitting a party that seems to neither know or care about crucial rail services. Some MPs like Teresa Pearce have done a great job but the local council’s response leaves a lot to be desired. It’s an open goal gone begging.

So whilst the Cannon Street issue kicks up a stink, all other issues have taken a backseat.

What raises my suspicion is that many Tory politicians and social media accounts begun campaigning against this all around the same time. My Twitter timeline became flooded with it, yet they’ve remained really quite quiet on a huge number of other flaws in the consultation.

If one was cynical it was as if a message went out to campaign against this, safe that it won’t happen, yet happy as it deflects attention. And when formally blocked the local politicians can say they succeeded. Yet other stuff slips through.

There’s little mention in the consultation of improvements TfL were planning that the DfT seem far less committal about. Staffing numbers, longer trains, later evening trains, more weekend services, refurbished stock etc. And crucially integrating housing plans with stations – something the DfT and Network Rail are traditionally poor at.

If you read that link they even try to portray other things in the consultation as positives. That’d be things like:

Staffing

TfL were proposing to have station staffing from first-to-last trains to increase safety, security, assist disabled passengers and prevent fare evasion by manning station barriers. Many Metro stations are unstaffed and unwelcoming in the evenings.

The DfT make no such promise with staffing, yet this is not being remarked upon as the Cannon Street plan takes all the limelight.

Now, TfL did cock up tube staffing levels badly the past few years, but levels are still night and day when compared to Southeastern Metro stations. How many Southeastern Metro stations have staff in the evening? Some stations, like Deptford, barely have any in the day despite growth from 300,000 to 1.2 million passengers in just a decade (and that’s counted numbers – no staff at stations or trains, nor barriers, mean many don’t pay).

Capacity

I’ve mentioned it in a fair few posts, but Tory politicians banging on about Cannon Street, especially those on the Bexleyheath-Welling-Eltham-Kidbrooke-Blackheath line have barely mentioned that there are plans for just a 5% increase in capacity by 2024 on that line with just four extra carriages alone to cover the entire peak. The Abbey Wood-Woolwich-Charlton-Greenwich line sees not a single additional carriage until 2044 in Network Rail’s document. This is from page 31:

It’s curious just how little local politicians have remarked upon these minimal plans for more capacity. They surely know about developments in places like Kidbrooke, Lewisham and the rest?

Just yesterday I covered how Berkeley Homes are now looking to increase flats in the next phase at Kidbrooke by 117 flats above previous plans to a new total of 1,350.

Fares

Conservatives in South East London have generally also said very little about how Southeastern passengers pay higher fares than most of London. Passengers must pay £1.50 extra when changing to the tube in central London whilst those north of the Thames using C2C trains and Great Western, to give two examples, do not. There’s silence on how trips that do not enter Zone 1 are two to three times more expensive for Southeastern passengers.

But the Cannon Street issue has silenced all this, and when asked about them some ignore it and revert straight back to the issue of only going to Cannon Street.

Here’s the Lewisham Tory Mayoral candidate:

That Facebook page with his statement? It only talks about the issue of trains to Cannon Street. Nothing else.

As for Labour, why are so many silent on all these issues especially in Greenwich borough? The party seems clueless. Tories threatening planned improvements should get votes and headlines but they’ve lost the initiative massively.

It follows a pattern of saying little when the Thameslink consultation first raised the issue six months ago. They said little when TfL devolution was blocked last December, and then again when the DfT blocked extra carriages.

They did well to get a Crossrail station in Woolwich but that was many years ago. Since then knowledge of needed transport improvements seems very limited. Where’s the push for more entrances at Crossrail stations in five years to aid Plumstead? Some seem content with a DLR extension that possibly (but probably wont) arrive in 2030! And that’s just to Thamesmead without a link to Abbey Wood.

If capitalising on the Cannon Street issue is an attempt to divert attention by some Tories from a slew of issues not being addressed it seems to be working pretty well so far. The press have lapped it up. Labour aren’t challenging.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope local Tories start fighting against the many other issues – the higher fares compared to other parts of London for identical trips, the lack of station staff, the lack of security, the poor stations, the minimal extra trains planned and much more. And I hope Labour raise their game too.

As for sending all trains to Cannon Street on the Bexleyheath line – I don’t see it happening. It could ease service conflicts but unless Lewisham is radically rebuilt as an interchange and Southeastern passengers aren’t forced to pay more when switching to the tube, then it’s a big ask. And it wont free up space for many more trains anyway, if any.

There’s a petition on the issue here.

18 Comments

  1. I often get the impression that not all, but a significant number of our councillors just assume that everyone drives to work in Greenwich. The trains seem surprisingly low on the list of priorities of the leadership.

    • I think this is probably right. Of those councillors on Twitter, a few do use Southeastern but many appear not to on a daily basis, if at all. Of course this shouldn’t matter given rail is a lifeline for many thousands in the borough and not only serves a social purpose but is just about the only way many can get to work. Given the silence on numerous issues though it appears not to matter too much.

      Has even one Greenwich councillor wrote anything online highlighting no extra capacity on the Greenwich line potentially to 2044, or just 4 extra carriages and a meagre 5% increase on the Eltham line by 2024, or no commitment to station staffing all day even at busy stations? I havn’t seen it.

      Higher fares than elsewhere should be a rallying cry – they could label it as Tories treating locals badly (ignoring that the Labour govt forced Souteastern to adopt annual rises of inflation + 3% each year on awarding the franchise in 2006) but they could ride that out and capitalise if they cared, or were even aware.

  2. I spoke to someone from Network Rail at one of the ‘Meet the Managers’-type events at Cannon Street last week.

    In terms of rolling stock/capacity it sounded like Southeastern services were at the mercy of other train services across the UK. Essentially the plan seemed to be wait for other franchises to get new rolling stock and then reprovision their old stock for Southeastern.

    I was also told DfT were considering how to standardise fares, but who knows how/if that will happen…

    The Cannon Street issue does seem something of a red herring, but without thoughtful responses from local politicians and without a functioning local press the agenda is easily manipulated.

    • Most other franchises get new stock upon changeover but Southeastern are supposed to wait for hand me downs. Not that that is even a problem as long as there’s a net increase in stock and capacity, but as the DfT have continually given short term extensions to the existing franchise without requesting more space to store trains, there’s little space to do so.

    • Render

      Goodness, that sounds unfair! Is there a good reason why Southeastern can’t get new stock from time to time?

  3. Maybe they will but if not it’ll possibly be for these reasons – 1) HS1 is a money sink with big fees to Network Rail meaning the whole franchise needs subsidy. Metro areas suffer due to something it doesn’t benefit from. 2) Crossrail will solve all problems apparently even on lines nowhere near. 3) Many passengers do not pay, and many weekend closures of all London terminals stifle official passenger growth figures

    • Adam

      I don’t get why HS1 is even part of the SouthEastern franchise anyway! It should be a separate franchise.

  4. Nicole

    I notice the Tories have gone quiet on this issue the past few days. Rumbled? It IS telling that they arent saying much about all the other lack of improvements.

    As for Labour – hapless. Locally and nationally. A mess. Something affecting many many people goes unremarked. They just seem to care for small sub-sets of the population these days. Long gone as a widespread party of working people. Sad to see.

  5. Bexley Council’s now launched a campaign against these possible changes, despite Theresa O’Neill appearing in the press release promoting the consultation.

    Like you, I think this a big dead cat to distract people from the TfL rejection. And true to form, local politicians have fallen for it.

  6. Joanne

    Excellent letter from Heidi Alexander, think Lewisham Labour were out on mass last weekend and Lib dems handed leaflets out on 31st March, certainly in Blackheath

    • She did a good job pushing for answers as did a few other Labour MPs. Did the leaflets cover all potential issues or just Cannon Street? Hopefully they’re not just campaigning on an issue that never happens but draws them away from other, more likely, problems with the new franchise. One issue I’d expect them to campaign on in Lewisham is re-opening platform 4’s recently closed entrance/exit now that many homes are being built around Tesco and at Hethbridge estate up the road.

  7. Lewisham Lib Dems have campaigned against the proposal re Cannon St from the start. We have handed out leaflets to raise awareness and lobbied DfT staff the Lewisham consultation. We responded to the consultation on a range of issues, including TfL taking over SouthEastern, reopening the platform 4 exit at Lewisham and increased disability access at Hither Green and Lewisham. We will continue to campaign on this at Blackheath, including this Sunday am and Tuesday evening. Emily Frith, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Lewisham East

  8. Chris

    Clive Efford (Labour Eltham) did ask a question in parliament.

    Petition needs to reach 100,000 by 3rd May.

    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/190894

    • Chris

      One major point – how will staff and patients from the Bexleyheath line get to the hospitals at Denmark Hill?

      • Hi Chris – a very good question. I asked at the consultation event and was told different things by different people. One said that people could change at Lewisham (not easy for patients with walking difficulties). Another said that the line may not run even from Lewisham. It’s all still very vague at this stage. I met an A&E consultant at the event who was very worried about it. The more people who respond to the consultation before 23 May the better. While they are there they can raise all the points in the article here too. Emily Frith, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Lewisham East.

  9. Patricia Somerset

    You are mistaken about the lack if action by Labour politicians in Greenwich. Our Eltham MP , Clive Efford, has worked hard to raise local awareness and get the now scrapped government petition signed (going to Eltham station some mornings to speak to commuters) and set up his own petition. He has also raised awareness of the consultation document.

    • I was referring to Labour councillors in Greenwich borough. Their counterparts in Bexley are far more on the ball, as are MPs like Matt Pennycook and Teresa Pearce.

      • AnneR

        You might add Lewisham Blackheath ward’s representatives to your list of councillors who simply cannot be bothered to engage with their constituents about the franchise issue. Or any other issue, for that matter. Kevin Bonavia, Amanda de Ryk and some other guy if you’re wondering.
        I would love to believe that the Cannon Street issue is a red herring, but if it’s not, and we do lose our Charing Cross and Victoria services, all those other problems (staffing, capacity. fares etc) are frankly irrelevant.

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