Plans to send all trains to Cannon Street abandoned – a smokescreen all along?

Plans for all trains on the Bexleyheath line to head to Cannon Street alone have apparently been halted, as predicted here weeks ago. Was it a contrived plan to cover other serious issues in the consultation on capacity, train numbers, staffing and fares< If so, it worked pretty well. Many media outlets covered this to the detriment of other issues.

I wrote six week ago that the whole thing seemed an orchestrated red herring to distract from other issues and then enable local Tories to claim victory when it was stopped. Sure enough, that now seems to be the case just before the election.

Conservative MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford, David Evenett, tweeted a link this morning to his website to state that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling wrote to say: “To be clear, we are not proposing to reduce or change specific services”.


David Evenett’s tweet and website post makes no mention of other serious issues with the consultation that the Cannon Street plan conveniently masked, such as:

  • Minimal/no capacity increases or additional carriages. Just 5% more capacity is planned on the Bexleyheath and Crayford line by 2024 which is a grand total of four carriages for the entire rush hour period. That won’t bring many, if any, 12-car services. No extra capacity on the Woolwich line.
  • The fare premium of £1.50 that Southeastern passengers pay when changing to the tube or DLR, which many passengers in London do not pay.
  • No commitment for first-to-last station staffing which TfL brought to Overground routes to aid disabled passengers, man barriers and prevent fare evasion (which is very high on Southeastern) and increase safety at night (which helps increase passenger numbers and revenue)
  • Very little planned improvement in infrastructure. No firm plans for stations struggling to cope with growth.

As I wrote six weeks ago, Grayling blocking devolution over fares, services and staffing from the Department for Transport – who have long let down the area – to TfL who worked wonders where they’ve taken over private franchises from the DfT, threatened many improvements. The DfT were also caught out badly underestimating planned housebuilding in the area.

The DfT plan for improvements seem pretty paltry so the Cannon Street plan and subsequent campaign seemed very convenient, as did the way in which many Tories all started campaigning against it at exactly the same time and then neglected to mention the other flaws in the consultation as the one issue overwhelmed those other issues.

And now, six days before the consultation ends and before the election, it’s apparently ditched. Good timing if you wanted to distract from the other issues eh?

Labour opposition

SE London Labour MPs have generally been on the ball with this. Greenwich Council far less so. Very little has come out of there, except for Sizwe James (cabinet member for transport) stating weeks ago that he had concerns but it was too early to give a full response. That was weeks ago and I’ve seen no press campaign or much in the way of messages on social media from councillors highlighting issues in the consultation.

For the Woolwich line it would seem that connections to Blackheath, Lewisham, Waterloo East and Charing Cross will go. Greenwich saw its link to Charing Cross cut permanently when Thameslink work begun. Stations up to Charlton still have a link via Lewisham but the 2018 Thameslink timetable consultation way back in September 2016 appeared to be the death knell. I covered it at the time here. Greenwich Council said very little at the time.

Back to South Eastern franchise plans, and simplifying service destination would likely improve reliability but bring some hardships and is difficult to justify without commitment to improving interchange at Lewisham for those heading to Victoria, plus dropping the south east London fare premium when changing to the tube to reach Victoria, to give two reasons. It wouldn’t improve frequencies however as London terminals are full.

Many Tories and the Department for Transport will be happy with how the consultation has gone. Local politicians get a boost and can now claim they’ve saved services. The DfT get a boost as their feeble plans for the future franchise, which seems to offer far less than TfL would have given south east London, avoid scrutiny. Win-win then, except for the people who actually have to use rail services.

The consultation has only a few days now to run and can be completed here. Plans such as these below can be raised –  no additional trains or carriages on the Woolwich line are planned for 30 years and just four extra for the Bexleyheath line in seven years time:

Let’s see if Tory MPs now raise this to the same extent. And Labour Greenwich councillors too. And hopefully Chris Grayling gets the boot after the election, Tory win or not. Whether on the left or right, many see the man as a disaster that will bring nothing positive to transport.


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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.

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