Archive for November 2010
Regular readers will recall the trouble caused by Southeastern’s shutdown of its rail network during January’s cold spell, which brought it complaints from Boris Johnson and a rare and under-reported public lambasting from the boss of Transport for London.
The criticism brought a promise to do better, including the improvement of communication with passengers. One innovation was a Tube-style “good service”/”minor delays” breakdown of the network’s lines for its website – so innovative, in fact, that you’d forget its predecessor company South Eastern Trains (not to be confused with the current firm, franchised by the Labour government in 2006) started using that style of information at its London terminals six years ago.
One point raised by London Assembly transport committee chair Caroline Pidgeon when she wrote to Southeastern boss Charles Horton was the lack of information at stations – this site reported the information boards at Charlton station being turned off back in January, with a generic message replacing information about the next train.
Charles Horton’s response dismissed these concerns:
So, today at Charlton station, the information screens would be working, wouldn’t they?
Of course not. Just at the time when people need information the most, Southeastern’s information system had been switched off. Worse than useless.
Indeed, from all accounts, it looks like Southeastern’s contingency plans failed miserably this afternoon, with little information provided to frustrated passengers about a disrupted service. Gripes on Twitter in the past couple of hours include…
Charing cross update. If you ask at the desk they will tell you which trains are running. No PA announcements as only 1 person upstairs—
sarah (@sarahluv81) November 30, 2010
…and so on. With a knackered and fragmented system, delays and glitches during snow are pretty much unavoidable. Indeed, it was a tragedy at Slade Green which closed the Greenwich line this morning, rather than the snow. But how long can Southeastern go on hiding from its customers like this?
I would have contacted Southeastern for a comment on this, but – you guessed it – the train company told me earlier this year it “doesn’t respond to blogs, etc”.
Expecting to get a train home after seeing in 2011 in style? Check carefully since rail operator Southeastern has cancelled most of its services in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
Sister company Southern has also dropped most of its overnight services, leaving much of SE London without all-night trains.
For the past few years, Southeastern has, along with other London rail operators, run an all-night service on selected lines to help relieve crowding on night buses. But last year London mayor Boris Johnson cut the £100,000 funding for the all-night trains, which enabled the companies to officially run them for free.
Other London rail firms are managing to provide an all-night service, though. South West Trains is running through the night to Kingston, Wimbledon and Richmond. East and north Londoners will get half-hourly trains from Liverpool Street courtesy of National Express.
The last train on any Southeastern route will leave Charing Cross for Dartford via Greenwich at 1.41am.
Hourly Boxing Day services have also been dropped by Southeastern, and Network Rail engineering work means Charing Cross and Waterloo East stations will be closed on 27 December.
Transport for London has yet to announce full details of its Christmas schedule, which has traditionally seen all-night free Tube and DLR travel over New Year, together with a beefed-up night bus service.
I would have contacted Southeastern for a comment on this, but the train company told me earlier this year it “doesn’t respond to blogs, etc”.
From The Guardian (at the time of writing – 1am – our supposed local newspaper the News Shopper hadn’t bothered to publish tonight, despite the fact this will be featured on national media breakfast shows on Tuesday morning):
Police tonight arrested several people outside Lewisham town hall in south-east London as demonstrators tried to force their way into a meeting where councillors voted to cut the council budget by £60m.
Officers had to call for help from the Metropolitan police’s Territorial Support Group as about 100 protesters tried to force their way into the building.
“Police have made a number of arrests for criminal damage and public order offences,” the Met said in a statement. “A number of police officers were treated for minor injuries.”
A taste of things to come, perhaps, for those of us on the Greenwich side of the borough boundary. The protesters included a large number of Goldsmiths College students, who’ll no doubt be delighted to know Woolwich Town Hall is a short ride on the 53 or 177 buses from New Cross.
In all seriousness, I imagine Greenwich Labour’s hierarchy will be be looking at the scenes from Catford with a mixture of trepidation and satisfaction. Trepidation, because this scenes like this face every single council in the country as the coalitions cuts slice through their budgets.
But satisfaction, because Greenwich Council has played its hands very close to its chest on the question of cuts, in complete contrast to Lewisham, whose directly-elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock got his axe out almost as soon as he and the Labour council were re-elected in May. The violence seen outside Lewisham Town Hall was the price Sir Steve Bullock paid for that strategy, which included a consultation called “Our Lewisham, Our Say“, the kind of cuddly-sounding scheme that’s unthinkable this side of the border.
Apart from persistent rumours about libraries becoming “self-service” (or closing the lot and having just one in Woolwich), and a cut in voluntary group funding, concrete evidence of Greenwich’s plans is hard to find. Greenwich axed its funding for Blackheath fireworks claiming it was due to cutbacks, but we know this was nonsense – with the council having blown the cash on a mayoral booze-up and Olympics-linked arts projects. It’s easy – too easy, really – to criticise Labour leader Chris Roberts’ iron rule over the council, but it’s saved it from a Bullock-sized ruck as seen in Catford.
There’s also a different political scene in Lewisham – run on a mayoral system, it was a hung borough before the last election, the Socialist Party had two councillors before May, a group called Lewisham People Before Profit are a force in local elections in the north of the borough. Greenwich, meanwhile is a rather stale Labour-Tory ding-dong. A group set up by Socialist Party members, Greenwich Save Our Services, is hoping to marshal any opposition to cuts – although their last demo seemed to me to be a just a small group of grumpy lefties. This will no doubt change, though, as Greenwich’s cuts become clearer.
Will Greenwich will be able to avoid scenes like Monday night’s rows in Catford, or is it storing up more trouble for the future? The answer will be one of several no-doubt unpleasant things we’ll find out next year.
Hats off to Peninsula ward councillor Mary Mills – one of a tiny, tiny minority of Greenwich Labour representatives comfortable with speaking publicly to constituents – for letting us know about a meeting she had about Greenwich Park. One of the many topics she raises could be a big issue in the years to come, since City Hall is eyeing up the Royal Parks…
Cuts were followed by a report on the move to give the Royal Parks to the London Mayor’s office which is expected to be part of an imminent Parliamentary Bill. To my mind this is crazy since it will involved the recreation of the old GLC Parks Department at vast public expense – and for what reason??? If they have to give them to anyone, the City of London administers other parks in the Greater London area and has pots and pots of cash.
At the moment, Greenwich Park is run by the Royal Parks Agency, which is run by the government. (Until recently, it even had its own police force.) It seems to do a good job, although the row over the Olympics has created lots of bad feeling. It makes much of its money through parking charges and hiring parks out for events, notably Hyde Park concerts.
There’s a precedent for handing these parks over to the mayoralty; Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square were handed over to it in 2000. This has seen great improvements in Trafalgar Square, although plans to pedestrianise Parliament Square were canned by Boris Johnson when he took office. While perhaps London’s most important parks should be run on behalf of all Londoners – Blackheath, Burgess Park and Crystal Palace Park were run by the old GLC, for example – this could submit these parks to political turbulence.
Then again, if local people having a say in running Greenwich Park is important, why not give it to Greenwich Council as a present to mark becoming a royal borough in 2012? Greenwich is one of London’s greenest boroughs, and already looks after important spaces like Plumstead Common and Oxleas Woods.
Or then there’s Mary’s suggestion that the City of London takes it on. The City crest may look out of place around Westminster, but we’re miles away from there and the corporation’s responsibilities already include the lush spaces of Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest and West Wickham Common. It certainly has money – but isn’t exactly democratic.
Anyway, what you reckon? I thought I’d try holding a poll to see what 853 readers think.
Thanks to Diamond Geezer for his heads-up about Olympics organisers warning that
we might as well just all bugger off in summer 2012 is going to be a bit sticky, to say the least.
For those of us south of the river, there’s special maps for “Canary Wharf” (and Greenwich town centre and Deptford), “Greenwich” (but which is really just east Greenwich), Woolwich (and Charlton), Lewisham (and Brockley) and Blackheath. For all the others, head here.
A lot of this is just common sense – Woolwich Arsenal station will be busy. Greenwich, Cutty Sark and Maze Hill stations will also be busy. So will North Greenwich. There’s some sensible things in there, like dates when the stations will be the busiest. But overall, the message is of doom – especially if you live between Greenwich and Woolwich and are thinking of using any sort of rail service. Jubilee Line? Avoid. DLR? Avoid? North Kent line? Essential journeys only.
While I’m fully prepared for things to be a bit sticky at Charlton, it’s surely not going to be much beyond what locals are already used to, after 10 years of Dome/O2 usage and fortnightly usage by thousands of football fans. And I’m a bit concerned that Maze Hill, with its rickety footbridge, will have trouble coping. But Westcombe Park – delays of up to an hour? Really?
They’re even predicting delays at sleepy Ladywell, south of Lewisham and Crofton Park, at the bottom end of Brockley. I imagine LOCOG is merely sharing its worst “just in case” scenarios – so after the summer is over, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and pat them on the back for their excellent work. But by warning great chunks of London to avoid using public transport altogether, they’re adding to the impression that the people of the capital are simply an inconvenience who’ll get in the way of the chief executive of Coca-Cola’s journeys between
dinners venues – just like they did when they moved the marathon route out of the East End.
After all, aren’t we meant to be promoting Greenwich as being open for business as (sort of) usual during the games?
In other Olympics news, the protester who damaged course markers in Greenwich Park is claiming a “moral victory” after the CPS dropped charges against him.
I took a trip out on the borrowed bike yesterday afternoon – through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, up through the Isle of Dogs and up the canal to Hackney. I found riding along the towpath a bit nerve-wracking, but the mutual respect shown by both cyclists and pedestrians there makes it all work nicely. A ride around Victoria Park, a quick break at London Fields, then a speedy trip back along the canal and through the Docklands to the foot tunnel to get home in good time for Charlton’s match against Bristol Rovers.
Fat chance of that. At ten past six in the evening, right in the middle of the rush hour, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel had been closed. No explanation, no apology notice – the contractors looked like they’d locked up and buggered off.
In the place of any notice, there was just a constant stream of cyclists pulling up, together with the odd pedestrian, and discovering the bad news for themselves.
It’s not the first time I’ve been caught out by the foot tunnel being closed – I got caught out one afternoon about six weeks ago. From chatting to some of the fuming cyclists being forced to turn around and ride back up the Isle of Dogs, it seems like a regular occurrence.
I can’t help thinking no tunnel would be better than a tunnel you can’t rely on. The stairs inside the tunnel have been closed for refurbishment for some months, with the lifts – which themselves are due to be replaced – providing the only means of access. So if one of the lifts goes down, the shutters go up. Why the lifts – which themselves are only 18 years old – couldn’t have been replaced first hasn’t been explained, although this approach has gone wrong at the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, closed until March 2011 thanks to “structural weaknesses” in the stairs.
A cyclist I talked to told me he found Thames Clippers often unwilling to take his bike on their boats, despite the service being touted as a replacement for the tunnel when closed. (Thames Clippers’ recent cutbacks have not helped this situation either – the tunnel closes at 9pm on weeknights, 49 minutes before the last north-south boat and after the last south-north boat.) Before he headed off to find a pier, he claimed one of the lift attendants was in the habit of arbitrarily closing the tunnel if he fancied knocking off early.
Obviously this is completely unsubstantiated, but with no sign of any life at the tunnel’s north portal in Island Gardens, we could only wonder what the hell was going on down there.
We were the lucky ones, though.
Just before I set off on my six-mile detour to the Woolwich Ferry, a white sub-contractors’ van pulled up, and a man walked out. As he approached the tunnel entrance, I told him it was closed.
This gentleman wasn’t best pleased. He was due to man the lifts for the evening, having paid a babysitter and driven a long distance to do the job. Nobody had called to tell him not to bother coming in – and this had happened a couple of days before as well.
It’s the 21st century, and Greenwich Council could use contemporary technology to inform people about tunnel closures – such as e-mailing or texting people, or using its excellent Twitter feed. But if it, or contractors Dean & Dyball, can’t even be bothered to tell its own staff about problems in the foot tunnel, then something has seriously gone wrong under the Thames.