Tories flap around on south east London transport problems as election nears

The Tories recently revealed their election candidate for the Erith and Thamesmead seat. Like many other Conservative candidates in the area he doesn’t offer much confidence in the area of transport. Edward Baxter looks to have been parachuted in with minimal to no local knowledge. Based upon information Bexley is Bonkers found he’s a poor choice, to say the least.

His record is working at Conservative Central Office for a few years as well as being a Tory councillor in Westminster. He has also worked with the oil and gas industries, on business deregulation and managed to spell Erith as Edith.

I can’t see someone dropped in with seemingly no knowledge being too beneficial to constituents and on issues such as Southeastern services. Certainly when against a great constituency MP like Labour’s Teresa Pearce, who could teach many Labour Councillors in Greenwich a thing or two on communications.

Baxter matches many other local Tories that either don’t know the first thing about transport or are sucking up to Chris Grayling and thus permitting him to remove an opportunity for widespread improvements.

In an election hustings Mr Baxter managed to come out with statements such as “pleading” for more rush hour trains. Firstly, it says a lot about Transport Secretary Chris Grayling that pleading would be needed for better services. Secondly, the most basic research would show that there is no capacity at Cannon Street and Charing Cross to increase capacity above the levels before London Bridge work begun in 2014 so any “pleading” there is likely not in the best direction.

In fact, they’ll possibly be less capacity as the chord from Cannon Street to Waterloo East is now cut. This was used to move trains out the way to allow more to arrive in the peak period.

The most feasible thing to do in the short to mid term is procure more carriages, given more services just aren’t possible anytime soon. There’s plenty scope for longer trains – many trains run at lengths of 6/8/10 trains to Cannon Street and Charing Cross and increasing those to 12 requires some modest infrastructure work according to Network Rail’s recent route study.

In terms of plans to increase frequencies in the peak periods – it can be done but Mr Baxter’s Conservative colleagues don’t seem keen on doing so and it’s more of a longer term job that requires large investment – something Conservative Transport Secretary Chris Grayling seems to be against.

I may have a fair few issues with Labour Greenwich Council but Labour’s parliamentary candidates in the area are generally far more on the ball. Erith and Thamesmead candidate Teresa Pearce has continuously pushed these issues and knows her stuff. After I revealed how the Department for Transport were wildly under-estimating housebuilding projections in the South Eastern consultation she wrote to the Department and they admitted their mistake.

Matt Pennycook (Woolwich and Greenwich) also shows good knowledge with his tweets, letters and publicity. Labour’s candidate in Bexleyheath and Crayford Stefano Borella is another who knows his stuff. His Tory opponent David Evennett seemed to be pushing for better but when Grayling blocked devolution of London trains to London politicians he went silent and fell into line.

Evennett is a Minister in the Government Whips Office (Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury). Putting his career ahead of his constituents on this?

The only Tory candidate who really comes out with any credit recently is Bob Neill (Bromley) who called for Grayling to be sacked after he blocked transfer of South Eastern to TfL. Neill highlighted that Grayling did it for ridiculous and petty party political reasons.

TfL plans

In terms of improving frequencies in the peaks, TfL were planning to add two tracks on the now severed curve from Cannon Street to stable trains. The DfT and Grayling axed the takeover and Network Rail (fully owned now by Government and responding to threats of cuts) plan just one track to be used, so there’s probably still going to be a cut in capacity from 2014 levels.

What would really increase capacity in the long term is Automatic Train Operation in inner London. It doesn’t mean there’s no driver nor is it new technology – The Victoria line has used it since the 1960s. The reason the Victoria line has just gone to one train every 100 seconds is due to modern ATO. It’s the same technology that has increased Jubilee Line frequencies and will do so again by 2020 – though it’s unlikely to be enough in the long-term given housing plans around many Jubilee stations.

TfL had raised ATO as an option with Southeastern trains to get trains in and out of London terminals more quickly. It’s really the only way the number of peak services can be boosted long term and could follow on from more carriages are procured.  The DfT, Chris Grayling, Rail Minister Paul Maynard and Network Rail have all been pretty silent on it.

Another is sorting out Lewisham station and the junction, as 853 blog covered here.

The Tories are again pretty silent on this crucial issue except for the endless mantra of Cannon Street, which is now seemingly abandoned but did the job of hiding the fact the Transport Minster has cut the chance of more staff to man barriers and increase safety, especially at night, ruined the chance of joining the cheaper TfL fare scale and looks to provide minimal, if any, extra carriages and capacity in the coming decade.

Over in Bexley

Edward Baxter not knowing his stuff and being parachuted into a seat all seems a bit familiar. Tory candidate James Brokenshire in Old Bexley and Sidcup did the same. Here’s a man who tried to get a seat in six areas before he found one that would take him. From Wikipedia:

“When his constituency was abolished in the boundary changes, he sought out another constituency to represent, failing to be selected in six constituencies until being selected for Old Bexley and Sidcup. He was elected MP for the area in 2010, on a campaign devoted to preventing the closure of accident and emergency services at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, a policy on which he was unsuccessful.”

He has also achieved very little with local transport issues, much like his record with health and the closed A&E Department. His website trots out the usual with no mention that his constituents pay more than most of London as South Eastern is not on the TfL fare scale, nothing on staffing levels, nothing on infrastructure to lengthen trains or increased services and a vague statement about more carriages. But how many?

Inviting Grayling?

Then there was the bizarre decision last week to invite Chris Grayling to Eltham station by Tory candidate Matt Hartley. Why invite a man that has blocked promising plans with both cross party and widespread business support?

Grayling is in charge of a Department that had basic figures such as planned housing incredibly wrong. The same Department for Transport that messed up franchise agreements that had knock on effects which ensured the South Eastern franchise area now lack depot space and sidings to store trains. OK, messing up franchises in 2012 happened before he took charge but has he given any signal it will change the inertia and lack of investment in the South Eastern area?

No, because the consultation offers very little. No new infrastructure seems to be the message from Grayling. A continuation of the short-termist policies that saw the DfT block additional trains for the area apparently due to stabling space so they’re now sitting unused in sidings elsewhere in the country. Here’s the response from from Grayling’s deputy Paul Maynard.

Heard any Tories raise this, or why the DfT didn’t specify extra stabling space when they gave Southeastern two short term franchise renewals in both 2014 and 2016?

It’s pretty bizarre to invite Grayling; someone who has done so much damage that will hold back both Eltham and the wider area. And then allow the probable red herring of trains to Cannon Street to again take centre stage whilst relegating other issues such as the blocked TfL takeover, higher fares for SE passengers than most of London due to not being on the TfL fare scale system (even when other private train companies do use the cheaper TfL scale within London), a lack of staffing from first-to-last train to aid disabled passengers, prevent fare evasion and anti-social behaviour plus a wide range of other issues going under the radar.

For many months Grayling has made many local Tories look like chumps with his actions. Many who are now looking silly are decent candidates but appear to be flailing on transport and trying to cover it up with distractions. Some are apparently too ignorant to know the reality whilst others do and yet go along with the charade.

In regards to the Southeastern consultation, it has now been extended to 30th June. Befitting the Department, they still have the wrong closing date up here.

Hopefully Chris Grayling is gone by then, Tory election win or not, He’s a disaster for transport much like he was a disaster in a previous role as Justice Minster. He made such a mess cutting prison officer numbers it’s costing hundreds of millions to rectify. Let’s hope he isn’t around to inflict a decade of poor rail services that’ll cost the area dear.

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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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