The continuing decline of Southeastern trains

So then. Yet another trip on a “refurbished” Southeastern train and another filthy interior. Sorry if this is retreading covered ground after the “refurbishment” program was highlighted on here a few weeks ago. Yet every trip reminds once again how run-down and decrepit these trains are becoming.

On my latest trip the state of the carriage was something that wouldn’t be accepted in many places. Firstly, there was swastika etched on the back of a seat in front which despite an attempt to cover was clear to see. Given the state of these things it wasn’t even a surprise.

Poor attempt to disguise

Etched seats are not alone. The windows are the same. All over.

Commonly seen etched windows. Years ago they said plastic film would be applied

Maybe some station staffing and staff on-board would help prevent it. But there just aren’t staff at many stations and none on trains.

By the way, I’m not referencing the usual strewn copies of the Evening Standards but more embedded issues which get progressively worse. Every surface is scratched, scruffy, filthy  or damaged.

It’s all a massive missed opportunity. Southeastern Metro lines should be a far more appealing prospect, especially off-peak, to lessen the load on congested roads.

But many won’t travel on these given the mess they are. It isn’t going to tempt people from cars given the experience is miserable.

Leaving these carriages often induces a feeling of needing a shower, sharpish.

This isn’t some grass is greener rant. For my sins I frequently use many different trains in London (and across the UK) across many different franchises and these trains are down there with the very worst in terms of interior feel and appearance. Very few areas have been left to use carriages in such poor condition.

It was also using trains all over London that highlighted how Southeastern passengers are paying more for identical trips which adds insult to injury.

It’s quite common in most places for trains to get a thorough refurb after 10-20 years. These trains are now 25 years old and have never seen any of any real thoroughness.

Bumps cover the flooring

Routine work just seems absent. Chewing gum is stuck in panels for days as well as ground into many seats, and many of those same seats are loose and threadbare with interior parts filthy such as the floor mounted heaters.

The last trip taken had a swastika scratched in front, chewing gums stuck on seats to the left as well as in panels (as seen below) and many scratched windows. Yes, much of this is due to selfish passengers but with pretty much no staff at off-peak times either on trains or stations who is going to take action against it?

You can forget modal shift with internal appearance as bad as these trains. Yep, chewing gum can and does get left on all many of trains and buses, but the sheer amount is noticeable on seats and amongst scratched and badly fitted panels.

Its not just vandalism. Why have they been allowed to get so bad?

One fundamental reason is the mess of franchising. The very system that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has fought so hard to preserve.

Every heater has embedded dirt

The Department for Transport made serious errors with the West Coat franchise award back in 2012 that resulted in court action, which then meant other franchises awards were put on hold and granted a short-term extension to many franchises including Southeastern, then another, and then another. Each time there was no specification given to comprehensively refurbish these trains.

Don’t expect Southeastern to do it when any investment may not recoup returns, especially when they had no idea how long they were to be running the service. And they don’t own the trains as many believe. They lease, and whoever wins the next franchise will continue to lease them, either short or long term.

In a franchise system the operator is a private company. Their job is to make money. They can’t be blamed for not being a charity.

If they don’t know how long they will be running a service why would they pay to improve trains they don’t own and don’t even know how long they will be leasing? The blame is squarely with the Department for Transport and the nonsensical system.

Ultimately it has meant no real long term planning or investment. And the best anyone can now hope for? Maybe some new trains in about four to five years.


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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.

    16 thoughts on “The continuing decline of Southeastern trains

    • Please stop. We don’t want another price hike just for the trains to be marginally cleaner. They’re good enough.

      • Price increases have nothing to do with interior conditions. If they did other services in London would be more given they are smarter. They aren’t more expensive. SE is. SE passengers pay more for less.

    • No, keep raising this issue as South eastern are very poor and grotty inside. Price certainly has no correlation to interior quality as I paid less for rail travel in east London for much smarter c2c trains.

      It’s a great shame some people are now so fearful of fare rises that they accept clapped out conditions. No point being cowered into putting up with substandard conditions as that only leads to ever worse conditions.

      • Suspect the first commenter is little more than a tedious wind-up merchant.

        Of course, as you say, most others in London are paying less (much less in some cases) for cleaner and better trains.

    • Any refurbishment would obviously be welcome, but 90% of the SE rolling stock could also do with a thorough mechanical servicing. Noisy air con systems in some carriages are almost deafening whereas PA systems are mostly inaudible. A lot of the windows wont open anymore. The list goes on and on …

      • Agreed. Some of the PA systems on the older trains are a complete joke, surely there is a H&S requirement that a PA system should be heard in each carriage?

        I frequently see the internal doors between the carriages are broken. Some seats are missing.

        I blame the SE and the scummy people that vandalise trains and effectively fly tip on the train.

    • I’ve noticed a few trains (mainly 376s) have been vandalized on the outside.. The return of the Connex days where half the stock was covered in graffiti.

    • People are pigs.

      In my opinion thameslink and southern are crap also, at least until they got the new trains.

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    • The general public are partly to blame for the state these units get into in the first place. But there’s only so much we can do to deter the dregs of society. The DfT and TOCs do still have a lot to answer for.

      As for why the 465s are not given a more extensive clean or refit, the future of these trains is now uncertain. They will likely not meet capacity requirements of the next franchise, hence why the reluctance to do anything beyond PRM mods (required to meet accessibility requirements) and improvements to the plug door mechanisms (to eliminate door defects as a reason for delayed or cancelled services).

      We will likely see orders for new high-capacity metro stock accompany the next franchise. Some people might see this as a waste, but the Networkers are starting to fail the “high capacity” test and generally don’t have anywhere useful to go; at 25 years old, there are much newer units out there also looking for a new home (such as the 707s).

      Just more proof of collossal screw-ups by the DfT, who like to claim they’re not in charge, but in reality, are trying to micro-manage everything from the shadows.

    • During the final months of Connex, the trains were the same. When Go Ahead started running Southeastern, the trains were very good and clean. Since 2017 ive noticed a huge decline in the cleanliness and maintenance. This is a common trend when franchises are coming to an end.

      The toilet issue was rife on Connex.

      I believe that Govia/Go-ahead feel that they will not be successful this time round at getting the southeastern franchise and im sure Stagecoach or Abellio will get it which is could be worse.

      • It’s not just that – there’s also an issue where the cleaning company outsourced from Southeastern lost a court case after a cleaner was electrocuted after insufficient safety standards were found.

        Since then, the issue hasn’t been rectified so cleaning and toilet issues have increased hugely.

        • Wettons are still contracted by Southeastern and before they did a good job. Now its just awful. I dunno if they have come to an agreement to spend less but im going to be complaining to Southeastern again about this issue.

          Bare in mind this issue only seems to be effecting the older networker trains. The electrostar trains still partially in yellow Connex livery after 15 years of them losing the franchise seem to be much cleaner and in better condition.

          I am wondering if the Networker trains are planned to be soon phased out but I haven’t seen any information on that.

          Despite the Networker trains dating back to 1994, they are still useful and can be so much better if they were fixed and cleaned properly. The same trains but not electric ones operate on Chiltern and they are in so much better condition.

          If Govia/Go-ahead intend on winning the franchise again, they are certainly going the wrong way about it. They have already lost London Midland and im sure they will lose Southern and Thameslink.

          I was surprised to see that First Group did not bid for Southeastern. They did a good job running Thameslink and then they gave it back to Govia and standards have slipped again. Govia previously ran Thameslink from 1996 to 2007 and wasn’t good. The government then merged Southern,Great Northern and Thameslink into one franchise and gave it to Govia who do not have the best track record. By all means Govia did well improving Southern after Connex, but since the mega merger they simply cannot keep up and this has subsequently effected other areas of the business such as Southeastern and London Midland.

          Go-Ahead operate many bus services in London espscially South East London and around Abbey Wood. If these services start deturiating, TFL need to pull the plug on those. It seems the 401 bus has already been taken away from Go Ahead and given to Arriva.

          I will be watching closely and simply reporting any issues I come across and begin lobbying/petitioning.

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    • Yes, I agree with these comments. South-Eastern Trains attitude is often appalling. I’m very annoyed about staff at Stratford International Station, who are constantly rude to me, because of my disability.
      They should be sacked, if they don’t agree to amend their behaviour!!!!

    • The 244 bus at night is appalling… I’d like to expose an off duty driver who is an absolute homophobic nightmare. Also, a woman driver with a definite “chip on her shoulder”. Why do GoAhead Buses continue to employ such people????
      I’m on a low income and have hidden disability issues. But some drivers appear to have absolutely no diversity training, at all.
      London Transport should start revoking all contract licenses. Stagecoach are the worst of all.
      Stagecoach East Kent, truly don’t have a clue and regular cancel Evening services, without warning. It’s high time that the government’s National Transport Committee get their fingers out and stop making excuses, but continue doing nothing.


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