After one of the worst weeks for Southeastern trains in years they really didn’t need to be caught putting out inaccurate posters on how their services are performing. A Dartford passenger group spotted inaccuracies in statistics regarding ‘on time’ train arrivals. After a couple of weeks run around and denials they finally managed to achieve recognition of the problem.
Mistakes happen. What this does again show is Southeastern’s poor communications. Most issues they are slated for are not their fault, but when you have a user group contacting you with credible claims it’s best to not fob them off.
Southeastern had a horrible week, with a landslide at Barnehurst closing the entire Bexleyheath line. Nothing they could do about that, but it raised some questions. Why no 12-car trains on other lines to help alleviate the issues? I’ve wrote a few times how millions were spent over the past five years on extending almost all platforms and the electricity supply to run longer trains. Then the DfT failed to specify additional stock, unlike most franchises in London, so barely any extended 12-carriage trains can run. Southeastern have been trying to obtain more but not getting very far. This is what they wrote to local authorities:
OK, so there’s a lack of stock on a normal day. However, it does beg the question as to why last week, with some stock in sidings with the closure of one line, other lines were not extended to 12 car trains? On the Greenwich line trains could’ve skipped Woolwich Dockyard with its short platforms. I was told on twitter that Southeastern sidings can’t take 12-car trains except Grove Park so only a limited number can be sent out. I know Plumstead was extended recently but that’s a very minor siding.
If true then it begs other questions of Network Rail. Isn’t it odd to spend millions on infrastructure and not complete the job? If it isn’t complete then what’s the plan to do so, if there is one?
The main fault lies elsewhere
And this raises another point. As unpopular as it is to state, most problems with Southeastern’s network emanate elsewhere. The fragmented modern railway has Network Rail in charge of infrastructure and central London station. And ultimately, it’s Whitehall and the Department for Transport that runs the UK’s railways. They decide on rolling stock allocation, the vast majority of fares, plus most timetables and frequencies.
Southeastern do what they’re told, pick up an enormous amount of criticism which helpfully distracts attention from those in real charge – Government and Department for Transport – and get rewarded with decent profits. In Southeastern’s case it was an increase to £26.8m last year. That would’ve been useful in providing 12 car train services. Revenue was up sharply, which again shows just how high increases in passenger numbers across the region is.
I fully agree any company making such profit should have cleaner trains, more staff and better communications. But if not specified by the DfT, why would they? TfL do specify staffing from first to last trains for London Overground operators. They know this increases safety enticing more to use the service plus reduces fare evasion. Though sadly this is now being eroded though nowhere near the levels of Southeastern
But the DfT havn’t to any great degree, so Southeastern won’t. They aren’t a charity. Making money is their reason for being there. The owners know there’s every chance they won’t be running it in two and a half years. Why invest? The system is far more to blame than a company doing what companies do.
And it’s not as if people have much alternative. Southeastern know it. Buses are atrocious and traffic congestion the worst I’ve ever seen. Off peak or peak – it’s now gridlock across much of SE London. High house prices and rents are forcing many way out to the suburbs or surrounding counties whilst employment is increasingly centralised in certain areas of zone 1 and 2. Greenwich borough is projected to see a 40% increase in population from 2011 to 2014 – the highest in London – whilst seeing a 21% drop in employment within its boundaries. Again, the highest in London. It’s becoming a town of commuters.
So with all the petitions and MP’s statements flying around the past week, it’s not clear the right people or groups are being targeted. No one will miss Southeastern but until the Department for Transport feel the heat, nothing will change. The petition has at least gained some press attention, but the DfT will likely still brush it off. Its an online petition – these things have little credibility in government.
North of the river
Just over the Thames, c2c trains have also had a very bad couple of weeks. However, the DfT have specified new trains in their recent franchise award and compensation if trains are even five minutes late. A comprehensive internal train refurb is also underway. Something that should have happened with Southeastern’s extremely tatty 25 year old Networker trains 5-10 years ago. Guess who didn’t specify that happen?
Despite the c2c improvements planned, it’s not imminent and recent problems led to people protesting at Fenchurch Street. Only around 100 people, but it gained far more media attention than petitions do. It was prominent in ITV’s London evening news, amongst others.
On the same day c2c put out a press release stating they will obtain a couple of extra trains to help with crowding and also offer season ticket holder two days compensation up to £30, in addition to normal levels of compensation. The difference with SE is pretty stark.
At least the problems this week saw a group established to push for better across the Southeastern region in coming years. The people behind it know what they’re doing and will no doubt be lobbying for imminent improvements, asking questions of the right people, plus pushing for real improvements when the franchise is re-let in 2018. And hopefully it will see overall control move from an apathetic DfT to TfL.
There’s so much potential going unrealised. A better network would help with traffic congestion and more tolerable journeys for commuters. I just can’t see it coming from the DfT, nor any company they chose to run it in the short run on their terms.