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:
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).
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.
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.