The Department for Transport have this morning given another two year extension to Southeastern and crucially announced NO definite service improvements.
The extension lasts two years, and while the immediate future will see huge falls in passenger numbers due to coronavirus, there are no firm capacity or staffing improvements despite very strong passenger growth in the Metro area last year.
It would appear this is another chance for Government to kick improvements into the long grass. It’s Government who determine train numbers, most fares, timetables, staffing levels and much else.
The latest action is not a coronavirus related event but a continual theme for the area’s rail services as the Department for Transport again put off substantial investment. The rail service in south east London and Kent has been lacking any sort of strategic planning or direction since 2014.
However it’s unusual for even short extensions to not list any definite improvement (see Cross Country for one example of a blighted franchise that still sees improvement highlighted with exact capacity increase figures announced) yet Southeastern passengers see nothing except very vague statements about “exploring options to boost capacity as additional rolling stock becomes available”.
To enable capacity increases the crucial thing to look out for was mention of investment in additional sidings and depot space. There is no mention. Even if they receive hand-me-downs from South West Rail in the form of Class 707s as predicted by some, that is years away and would see no overall increase in carriages.
Capacity would be higher given a different internal layout to Networker trains but changes would be limited given the number of trains transferred would be small. If they replace newer Class 376 they’d be almost no increase in capacity.
Southeastern would need firm announcements of future improvements now given a lead time of years to become operational. Announcing anything over the next two years would then see a lag of more years before implementation. New trains take years to be constructed and tested before introduction.
There is also no firm commitment or exact numbers on increased staffing levels.
The latest excuse?
Corona could follow Crossrail as the latest reason for avoiding investment. Crossrail will only really alleviate the Woolwich line.
Coronavirus is a useful cover for more inaction from Government. It appears there was no plan for improvement at the start of this year before this announcement, which has been made on the very last day possible.
Perhaps increased home working after corona is another excuse the DfT will cling onto for no investment. Maybe they’re right. Though even if working practices do change, on the flip side there is vast housebuilding in south east London. Greenwich borough will be in the top five authorities across the entire country for new homes over the next decade and Bexley borough has a recently adopted growth strategy for 26,000 new homes. That easily exceeds well known projects such as Ebbsfleet Garden City
Whether the DfT are even aware of this is an unknown. When they ran a competition for the next franchise – now axed – they initially vastly undercounted planned new homes. I highlighted it on this site and former Erith & Thamesmead MP Teresa Pearce contacted the DfT who admitted they had it wrong. Have they learnt anything?
All those homes will result in increased congestion if people turn to driving. Reducing congestion is another key factor that this latest decision does little to address.