New Southeastern franchise: big cuts planned

Whilst Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was today announcing unfunded plans to re-open long-closed lines across the UK (spoiler: it’s a PR exercise with no money alongside), the Department for Transport slipped out details of the next Southeastern franchise.

As you may remember, Chris Grayling blocked previously agreed plans made by his predecessor Patrick McLoughlin to devolve responsibility of Southeastern Metro routes to Transport for London. This left power in the hands of the Department for Transport which have done little for Metro routes for over a decade.

Cuts on the Greenwich line

And today we see the DfT’s plans. The first big stand out is a cut on Woolwich line services from eight Southeastern trains an hour at present to six. Presumably this is because they expect many to switch to Crossrail.

On the Greenwich line, two of the six will run via Lewisham but instead head towards Cannon Street cutting the link to Charing Cross. These trains would possibly stop at St Johns and New Cross which slows them down but would offer a link to the London Overground.

The reduction leaves stations such as Greenwich and Deptford with a drop to four South Eastern trains an hour instead of six at present. This is despite many new homes now underway.

Thameslink trains are planned along the line though doubts remain over reliability and under current timetables they will skip some stations meaning permanent cuts at places such as Erith.

DfT control

The plans show just how micro-managed private railways are. The government has more power, and uses it to intervene in the network, than happened with British Rail before privatisation.

The specify most fares, timetables, rolling stock and service levels. In this invitation to tender they propose a minimum of four trains per hour to Belvedere and Erith. Presumably they aren’t aware of massive housing growth planned in these areas under Bexley’s growth strategy, though they have been told.

Bexley Council are planning 8,000 new homes and an outlet shopping village in Belvedere alone, with 6,000 new homes in Erith and 8,000 in Slade Green.

One perennial issue with power remaining at the DfT is they’ve demonstrated many times how they lack local knowledge to the same extent as TfL.

They also specify just two trains running round the loop from Barnehurst and two from Crayford to Abbey Wood. Better than now, but that level of frequency from each line won’t result in many passengers using Southeastern to reach Abbey Wood Crossrail. The loop trains are always the first to be cancelled if late too. It just won’t be reliable. Bexley Council have asked about this but it appears the DfT have done something, but is it enough?

Other Metro Lines

This is a brief overview and I will add more in time but one stand out is that the Victoria to Dartford service is now altered to run via Sidcup and not Bexleyheath.

The Bexleyheath line must see a minimum of six trains an hour which is a cut from current levels (with four planned from Charing Cross and two from Cannon Street) though they leave the option open for 10 trains an hour during the peak at the expense of the Greenwich line.

If that did happen, then six would run from Charing Cross and four from Cannon Street. It was suspected the earlier claim to send all trains to one terminal was a massive red herring to distract from blocking TfL taking over lines and implementing improvements planned such as all-day station staffing to man barriers and increase safety. It distracted many politicians and media outlets though so from Grayling’s perspective it was job done.

As stated, the Sidcup line would gain the Victoria service from the Bexleyheath line and be the biggest winner though it’s the line with lowest passenger growth and the lowest number of new homes planned under local authorities’ planning documents. Good old DfT at work again.

Trains from Victoria to Lewisham increase to four an hour – the other two aside from the Sidcup line is via the Hayes line. Good news there.

They want to speed up Metro journey times by 10-15%. Again, welcome given they’ve been progressively slowed over the past 10-20 years (often by much more than 15%) and the London Bridge rebuild has increased lines through the station.

Other changes

There’s the usual stuff about wifi which is not specific to this franchise as every operator has to provide it based upon a government announcement back in February 2015.

In terms of new trains they are leaving it up to bidders to replace or renovate Networkers.

Grayling’s other big idea is closer working between Network Rail and Southeastern. This was attempted before with South West Trains and Network Rail and it fell apart. It’s a good idea in theory but whether it will work any better in future is another story.

There’s a lot more to trawl through and I’ll be looking through it shortly. On first impressions it doesn’t look good for many. Many improvements TFL proposed are absent. Many of the existing issues remain.

Many had little faith in Chris Grayling to deliver. Some said he’s want to make amends for blocking TfL running London-area services to Dartford. Based on what’s been seen so far the former and not the latter is the case.

EDIT: Some more snippets – there’ll still be no boxing day services. No word yet on extra staffing into the evenings which has transformed London Overground and which TfL proposed for Southeastern to increase safety. In addition, stations with barriers left open losing revenue could well continue.

In many ways it’s those areas where TfL had the chance to be transformative. The tracks and signalling only allow so many trains. Issues around the service like staffing, safety, lower prices (TfL have frozen many fares whilst the DfT insists on RPI inflation increases above 3% for season tickets and 5%+ for pay as you go) and housing around stations that look to be lost with the DfT still calling the shots.

If anything here is incorrect or I’ve missed something leave a comment below. There’s a lot of documents.

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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

    21 thoughts on “New Southeastern franchise: big cuts planned

    • Really does smack of pettiness, of not letting TfL improve the routes at any price. How can we vote him out – he can control our railways but we have no say in the matter.

    • He was Teresa May’s campaign manager so seems secure no matter what damage he does to the Tories in London and other cities (he’s also blocked devolution in Northern cities recently). Considering the Tories lost big in urban areas you’d think they’d focus on issues affecting urban areas such as transport but apparently not.

    • Do those train frequencies include the 2 Thameslink trains per hour planned?

      If they do not, then presumably the service levels through Greenwich remain the same at 6tph to London Bridge – 2 Thameslink and 4 Southeastern per hour?

      • I added in a bit about Thameslink. Those 2 trains per hour should be in addition but there’s big questions at the moment over planned services being able to be fulfilled effectively (it was announced last week that a year’s delay is occurring in full implementation) so whether it’s running in 2022 is not certain, particularly via Greenwich as to do so means adding to congestion before London Bridge.

        Assuming it is running, it will maintain 6 tph at stations like Greenwich but not all stations on the line as Thameslink plan is to skip stations, presumably as they are worried about reliability.

        And if it is running in 2022 it still means a reduction in service levels from 2018 so it’ll be three to four years of higher frequencies which could do much to boost patronage before a cut in 2022 back to previous levels.

        • Indeed, it remains to be seen whether it’s a sustainable service.

          Not sure I see what you mean about 2018 levels – my reading of Southeastern’s May 2018 draft timetable is that they’re only planning 4tph through Greenwich, and letting Thameslink fill the gap to maintain a 10 minute service

          • The May 2018 service is:

            Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill, Westcombe Park
            – 6tph (4 to Cannon Street, 2 to Thameslink)
            – Frequency remains the same, although fewer trains at Cannon Street.

            Charlton, Woolwich Arsenal, Plumstead, Abbey Wood, Slade Green
            – 8tph (4 to Cannon Street, 2 to Thameslink, 2 to Charing Cross)
            – Frequency upgrade for Plumstead and Slade Green

            Woolwich Dockyard, Belvedere, Erith
            – 6tph (4 to Cannon street, 2 to Charing Cross)
            – Frequency remains the same

            This is quite a good timetable in that it keeps every station at 6tph or more, and preserves a choice of terminus for everyone. Greenwich loses out from its previous peak service, although the carriages per hour could be maintained if long trains are used throughout the peak. Plumstead sees a welcome increase.

            The 2022 timetable is:

            Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill, Westcombe Park
            – As above

            Charlton, Woolwich Arsenal, Plumstead, Abbey Wood
            – 8tph (6 to Cannon Street, 2 to Thameslink)
            – Trains to Charing Cross lost
            – 2 Cannon Street services slowed down

            Woolwich Dockyard, Belvedere, Erith
            – 4tph (4 to Cannon Street)
            – Frequency downgraded from current timetable unless bidders voluntarily propose an improved service

            Slade Green
            – 6tph (4 to Cannon Street, 2 to Thameslink)
            – Frequency same as current service but downgrade from May 2018 timetable

            • Woolwich Dockyard, Belvedere, Erith
              – 4tph (4 to Cannon Street)
              – Frequency downgraded from current timetable unless bidders voluntarily propose an improved service

              So no trains from Woolwich Dockyard to Charing X from 2022?

              And, is Dockyard not part of Thameslink also?

    • No Charing Cross trains on the entire line.

      Dockyard isn’t part of Thameslink, for the altogether unconvincing reason that its platforms are only 10 cars long. The Thameslink trains will be 8 cars long…

      • Can you understand anything about their reason for removing Charing Cross services by 2022?

        It says it’s so that they can fit the Thameslinks in. I can’t think of any reason why the Charing X trains via Lewisham would give TL an issue. Especially as the TL services are due to start in May, when the Charing X trains will still be running…?

        • I think it is to reduce the crossing movements at Lewisham – same reason why Victoria trains move to the Sidcup/Hayes platforms there.

          • Bexleyheath line Victoria services will be replaced by Charing Cross services which will still have to cross at Lewisham

            • Russ

              Yes, that’s right.

              North Kent Charing Cross services have seemingly been sacrificed to allow for more Bexleyheath Charing Cross services.

    • A few points. I’ve only looked at the attachment so far, but the plans there refer to minimum train services from December 2022 which is five years away. Secondly Crossrail will transform travel for people who use the North Kent line, I accept that those towards the Greenwich end don’t gain directly – although I envisage many travelling westwards to catch Crossrail at Abbey Wood which will whizz them to the City, West End or Heathrow. Thirdly it’s worth pointing out that the Sidcup line makes big gains, with four CHX trains per hour off peak (currently two), plus the Victoria trains. Finally let’s not forget that from January 2018 anyone on Cannon Street trains will be able to interchange at London Bridge again to CHX services, plus from May 2018 they’ll be able to change to Thameslink too, which will see trains roughly every three or four minutes via Blackfriars and St Pancras Kings Cross and further north. So it’s not all gloom and doom.

    • I don’t want to ‘inter-change’ at London Bridge to go to Charing Cross. I want to get on the train at Charlton and stay on. Southeastern have inflicted inflation+ fare increases on us for years and now they propose I can’t get a direct train to Charing Cross any more. But I can go to bloody Luton.

      Wonderful. Thanks.

      • Fare increases and these plans aren’t coming from Southeastern but the Department for Transport

      • Most tube commuters I know have to interchange at least once. It’s certainly a pain losing direct services to Charing Cross, but – if your ultimate destination is in that area – there are numerous ways to get there. For example, Charlton to Cannon Street then District line (which by 2022 will be running a much more frequent service due to the sub-surface signalling upgrade).

        Also note a caveat in the DfT specification : the capacity requirements are a minimum not an absolute requirement, although line / signalling / terminal capacity may well preclude anything above the minimum).

        • Unfortunately this is hardly a tube level service though. For a start, changing lines on the tube incurs no extra cost and in 99% of cases, no physical barriers, just a short walk down a tunnel for a connecting train a few minutes later. Not a drafty 14min wait on an uncovered platform. Entering the tube from a Southeastern train instantly costs more and can easily add 10/15 minutes to your journey once everyone has squeezed out of ticket barriers at mainline stations, then back into them in Underground stations. Also, with services only every half hour to Lewisham for example, you have to hope the interchange timings work out very well for your start time at work, no exactly a turn up and go service. The one slight advantage against the poor journey times and extra cost of SE services, was the choice of destinations. I would also be very very suprised if anything above the minimum is run due to limited train paths and profit margins. I would love to see Charing Cross trains every 15mins on the Hayes line outside the peak (in the evenings and on Saturdays) but there’s probably more hope of Crossrail 7 reaching us first, than that happening.

    • Those of us on the Hayes line have lost the Cannon Street connection which also means less London Bridge connections. Having put up with the rebuilding work for years and finally getting the CST London Bridge stop back in January, it’s now taken away from us again. We have the Kent House/Beckenham Junction line in the area for trains to Victoria so replacing with connections to that area offer no added value. Now we face a long-term future of trains only every half hour to the nearest tube access at LBG. Even if and when the Bakerloo line arrives in Lewisham in 2030, there’ll only be trains every half hour there too. I didn’t think they’d quite manage it, but they’ve ensured worse connections for decades to come, quite an achievement. If Lewisham crossovers is the real problem here, surely rebuilding the junction to sort it out would be far favourable. Even something radical like a flyunder or extra track/platforms on the land currently earmarked for bus parking or something, anything! Plus a rebuild of the terrible station there with all it’s ticket gate bottlenecks, poor platform changes and lack of facilities. The sort of thing a combined NR and SE manager would be able to do as one owns it and one is responsible for running it?

    • I agree 100% with Chris when I board a train at Charlton Station I want to stay on the train until I arrive at Charing Cross. I do not want to have to interchange between trains,

      Also for the elderly and disabled passengers travelling by train will become even more difficult for them than it already is.

      Not Good for people living in Bexley Dartford Greenwich or Lewisham Boroughs who are set for further cuts to our transport system at time the area is seeing massive housing developments and growth in the local population.

    • My industry insider contacts advised that it was TfL who initially wanted to remove the direct link to Charing Cross, as that made delivering their frequency proposals achievable. Now it seems that DfT is determined to persue the same objective, albeit from 2022. People in the industry seem oblivious to the wants and needs of real users, especially those that have specific requirements such as mobility impairments, and who find direct services far preferable or even essential. It seems we are faced with having to fight yet another campaign to preserve rail services that meet the needs of users rather than those of the operators and their government masters.

      The issue at Woolwich Dockyard is indeed that the platforms can only accommodate 10-car sets and cannot easily be extended for 12-car ones , and the current carriages do not have selective door control. Until that issue is resolved the only option is for 12-car trains to skip Woolwich Dockyard. Not a satisfactory situation.

      The invitation to tender (ITT) is a very large document, with numerous appendices, which need careful analysis. Thanks to all those who have given us an initial view. Look out for an unashamedly Charlton-centric analysis and update in the coming days and weeks on the Transport for Charlton website:


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