Category: transport

Goodbye, North Greenwich station ticket office: 1999-2015

North Greenwich station, 22 March 2015

If you’re planning to rock up to North Greenwich station’s ticket office this morning to buy a ticket, you’re too late. The blind came down for the final time yesterday as part of City Hall’s drive to eradicate ticket counters from the Tube network (or to use TfL’s euphemism, “transforming our stations“.)

With new technology replacing old paper tickets, losing ticket offices from the Tube network has been coming for a while. But it’s a surprise to see North Greenwich – the eighth-busiest station outside zone 1 – be one of the first to lose a counter that’s always seemed to be busy.

North Greenwich station, 15 March 2015

Staff will now be in the ticket hall and will be able to access extra functions on ticket machines if needed, but if you have a potentially fiddly transaction (like using a company cheque to pay for a travelcard), it’s not quite clear what you need to do. Annual tickets will soon only be available online, removing the satisfying/depressing (depending on your outlook) yearly ritual of talking to a human being while parting with a four-figure sum.

Or you could, for now, hop one stop west to Canary Wharf, where the ticket office will stay open until nearer the end of the year.

There will now be a month of “improvement works”, whatever that means – more ticket machines; or an Argos outlet, as seen at Cannon Street? We’ll have to wait and see.

North Greenwich station, 22 March 2015

Whatever the rights or wrongs in this case, the money saved on closing North Greenwich’s ticket office will go on vital services like the kiosk upstairs promoting the cable car, still staffed on Sunday despite the aerial folly vital transport connection being closed for its annual service.

Watch a train trip up Greenwich’s Angerstein Wharf freight line

Deceptively rural-looking: The Angerstein Wharf freight line line

You might remember last summer, this website mentioned a special rail trip up the Angerstein Wharf branch line, which links the main network with riverside industries in both Greenwich and Charlton.

853 reader John decided to shell out for the all-day trip which included a trip up the line.

He says: “I live on Bramshot Avenue and have crossed this line by foot many times. I enjoy travelling by train and just simply staring out the window, but I must admit I was a bit apprehensive because of your ‘punishingly-long’ comment. 11 hours is a long time.

“However, it was a great day. I suppose it was made better by taking the ‘dining’ option (old-fashioned first class carriages, a spot-on full English breakfast, four-course dinner and a fair bit of booze), but the journey was interesting and far from boring.

“Yes, my fellow travellers were definitely of a type: ‘peas in a pod’ as one said, who I heard commenting on the madness that a 3365B couldn’t couple with a 3367 :) But these are affable types, and the world needs people like them.”

“The only downside was that there was a broken track at Angerstein and we couldn’t go all the way down.”

And now, courtesy of YouTube train buff snowyrails, you can watch the trip for yourself. Enjoy.

Greenwich Tory candidate comes out for Silvertown Tunnel

Essex boys: Alex Wilson, Matt Hartley, Thomas Turrell, Harry Methley and James Worron hit the campaign trail in Thurrock

Essex boys: Alex Wilson, Matt Hartley, Thomas Turrell, Harry Methley and James Worron hit the campaign trail in Thurrock

Greenwich & Woolwich’s Conservative candidate Matt Hartley has come out in favour of the Silvertown Tunnel, the same day he helped canvass for a MP who supports the controversial road scheme.

Hartley revealed his support for the tunnel in a blog post discussing last week’s council scrutiny meeting with officials from Transport for London and rail operator Southeastern.

“I support the Silvertown Tunnel in principle with two significant caveats,” he wrote.

“That TfL make a stronger case over how it intends to mitigate the environmental impact, and that the tunnel brings with it a significant public transport element to address congestion concerns (namely, bringing the DLR to Eltham as Greenwich Conservatives have long been lobbying for).”

When asked on Twitter if he’d withdraw his support if TfL didn’t come up with the goods, he didn’t respond.

Hartley’s comments came the same day he and a team from Greenwich Conservatives went to Essex to help canvass for Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price, who claims the Silvertown Tunnel is “desperately needed” to alleviate problems at the Dartford Crossing.

Doyle-Price objects to a new crossing between Dartford and Thurrock on the grounds that it will cause more congestion and pollution in the area – precisely the same flaw the Silvertown proposal suffers from.

TfL admits the Silvertown Tunnel will increase traffic levels by 20%, while deputy mayor Isabel Dedring told MPs last month that its river crossings proposals could see traffic on local roads double.

There is also a strong body of evidence linking road-building to generating traffic, a phenomenon known as “induced traffic”.

Hartley’s position is much the same as Labour-run Greenwich Council, which has added a long set of caveats to its past unconditional support for the crossing.

But it’s unclear quite how the environmental impact of building a new road can be mitigated beyond planting a few token trees, while a report suppressed by Greenwich Council concluded that a DLR extension along the A102 would not be feasible unless it only ran as far as Kidbrooke. TfL has also said it is unwilling to back an Eltham DLR link.

Labour candidate Matt Pennycook has previously indicated his doubts about the Silvertown Tunnel scheme; Green candidate Abbey Akinoshun has said he is opposed, although the local party has left campaigning on the issue to colleagues at City Hall.

The Liberal Democrats are also opposed, althouh the local party is in such disarray it has not yet selected a Greenwich & Woolwich candidate. It is not known what Ukip candidate Ryan Acty thinks of the scheme.

(See also: Silvertown Tunnel: The perils of the path of least resistance)

Silvertown Tunnel: The perils of the path of least resistance

As with most propaganda, it’s not what they tell you that matters – it’s what they’re not telling you.

So it’s striking that Greenwich Council’s weekly Pravda, Greenwich Time, has neglected to tell readers about leader Denise Hyland’s trip to Westminster last month to lobby MPs for the Silvertown Tunnel.

Think the Bridge The Gap campaign is dead? Think again. The language may have changed, but Greenwich still wants the Silvertown Tunnel.

Back on 12 January, Hyland travelled from Woolwich Town Hall to Portcullis House to meet the Transport Select Committee (which, by DLR and Jubilee Line, involves crossing the Thames five times) along with others demanding more roads across the river. She was accompanied by Newham’s elected mayor, Sir Robin Wales.

Not that the MPs took much persuading, mind. As a scrutiny exercise, it was largely a waste of time. It wasn’t a session about whether strategic river crossings (across England, not just in London) are any good – it was a session about why these things can’t be built quickly. It was also barely reported. So here’s an attempt to play catch-up.

Two more evidence sessions followed Hyland’s, the final of which took place last Monday. I sat through most of them, so I hope I can fit what happened in some proper context.

I should point out I’m on the committee of No to Silvertown Tunnel, so I’m not exactly coming at this from a neutral angle, which won’t surprise you. This enormous post doesn’t represent that group’s views.

The last of the three evidence sessions was held in the Palace of Westminster itself

The last of the three evidence sessions was held in the Palace of Westminster itself

A cosy committee, a flawed inquiry

Those who remember the days of the redoubtable Gwyneth Dunwoody using these sessions to tear hapless policymakers to shred will be a little disappointed. Of the eight others who joined Hyland to give evidence on 12 January, eight wanted more roads across the Thames.

In all three sessions, the only dissenter from the assumption that all roadbuilding is good roadbuilding was the Campaign for Better Transport‘s boss, Stephen Joseph. He snuck some doubts about Thames crossings into a session on a bridge across the Mersey.

One of the MPs on the select committee has certainly made his views known in the past. Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick is already a keen backer of the Silvertown Tunnel. In 2007, the Poplar and Limehouse MP accepted a free trip to Bangladesh for him and his wife from Canary Wharf Group, which is also a keen backer of the Silvertown Tunnel.

Fitzpatrick, whose recently-expressed views on cycle superhighways eerily coincides with those of Canary Wharf Group, spent the session bowling low balls for Hyland and Newham’s elected mayor Sir Robin Wales, as well as TfL’s director of planning Michele Dix and Boris Johnson’s transport deputy Isabel Dedring.

The session featuring Hyland and Wales wasn’t a brilliantly-conceived one. The committee bundled the vexed question of east London crossings – which have more to do with urban traffic issues than moving freight across the country – in with the equally difficult subject of crossings between Kent and Essex.

The committee came looking for consensus – but by bundling these issues together, it wasn’t going to get it.

There’d been no previous indication that the London crossings would be on the agenda for the committee’s inquiry – after all, this is a devolved issue, where Westminster MPs should arguably keep their beaks out.

But the presence of the London Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive Colin Stanbridge, whose literature was left around the committee room after the session, suggests the lobbying organisation may have helped get them on the agenda.

Local bridges for local people – really?

This was a session on “strategic crossings”, yet Hyland told the committee she wanted “local bridges for local people”. One obvious question would have been for an MP to ask how the Silvertown Tunnel fitted into that – but it didn’t come.

Even Sir Robin Wales, an ardent fan of road-building who may as well have brought a kitten and a shotgun into the session to back up his demand for a bridge at Gallions, was lukewarm about Silvertown.

“We are not opposed to Silvertown — we get its congestion — but we do not think it contributes to regeneration in the way that Gallions will do,” he told the committee.

Greenwich will also get Silvertown’s congestion, but Hyland didn’t acknowledge this. Her opening gambit, in response to chair Louise Ellman, revealed the flaws in the current process.

“The Royal Borough of Greenwich supports the construction of a new tunnel at Silvertown and a vehicular crossing at Gallions Reach, but as part of a package of crossings between Blackwall and Dartford,” she replied.

“In our view, it needs to recognise that the provision of public transport must be integral with any vehicular crossing. For example, we would like to see a London Overground extension come over to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood.

“In terms of Silvertown, we would like to see the DLR extension coming out as far as Eltham, and for the DLR as well to go to Thamesmead [via Gallions].”

Yet there isn’t a package on the agenda other than more new roads.

This website understands Hyland has been lobbying City Hall for the Overground to Thamesmead – yet so far, TfL is sticking its head in the sand, preferring only to extend it to Barking Riverside in the short-term.

TfL also sees the DLR from Silvertown to Eltham – which would have to be built on stilts above the A102, and risks overloading North Greenwich tube station – as a non-starter.

Michele Dix offered a glimmer of hope for the DLR to Thamesmead – “we will also be looking at Gallions for the possibility of potentially having the DLR run along that bridge”. But that was all.

(You can read the full transcript here, and watch video too.)

Southbound traffic on the A102 during the evening rush hour - an issue the Silvertown Tunnel will make worse

Southbound traffic on the A102 during the evening rush hour – an issue the Silvertown Tunnel will make worse

Silvertown sacrifice – traffic could double

What remains undeniable is that people who live close to roads that’ll be hit by Silvertown are being offered up as sacrifices to get construction going elsewhere.

And this appeasement by Hyland and Wales – effectively, “let them have Silvertown and we’ll get Gallions” – could have disastrous consequences if you’re in an affected area.

Isabel Dedring admitted traffic on some local roads could double under TfL’s plans.

“There is going to be significant growth in local concerns as we go through the process, because now we are bringing forward the actual details of the proposals and people are going to say, ‘I like the idea of a bridge but not when I discover that it is going to lead to a doubling of traffic on my road.’ That is inevitable with these kinds of projects,” she said.

“Hopefully, we can make the case that the strategic importance of it for London, and indeed for the local areas, outweighs the local issues.

“There is going to be that noise. That will be the immediate issue for the consensus. It is how loud the local issues become.”

Essentially, the more people find out, the more they don’t like it. That’s why TfL has been so consistently vague on its Silvertown proposals – and why you read so little about it in Greenwich Time.

Bridge The Gap: The corpse twitches

Batting away another simple ball from Jim Fitzpatrick, Denise Hyland claimed “we have put a lot of pressure on TfL to put public transport as an integral part of the crossings”.

That’s a marked difference from the approach taken by predecessor Chris Roberts, but is simply not true as far as the Silvertown Tunnel is concerned.

Indeed, the council’s report into extending the DLR to Eltham via the Silvertown Tunnel – which concluded that a link as far as Kidbrooke was feasible, but was doubtful about proceeding further – was not even presented to City Hall.

While a tunnel at Silvertown would provide an opportunity to run new bus routes across the Thames, there is nothing stopping TfL making more use of the existing tunnel to run services to Canary Wharf and points north – something the council has failed to lobby for.

The Blackwall Tunnel may be good enough for Kent commuter coaches to Canary Wharf, but local politicians and TfL seem to content simply to route services into North Greenwich station instead, piling more pressure on it.

Greenwich Council’s response to last autumn’s Silvertown Tunnel consultation was to back it, but demand the mythical Eltham DLR extension as well as other measures.

But what happens when TfL turns around and refuses the DLR to Eltham?

The question the MPs didn’t ask – and a futile search for consenus

Real scrutiny would have been asking if Hyland’s support for Silvertown or Gallions was conditional on them carrying public transport. That question didn’t come.

Because nobody’s asking that question, it’s storing up problems for the future.

On Silvertown alone, the consensus the Transport Committee hoped to find simply doesn’t exist. Locally, rank and file Labour members in both Greenwich & Woolwich and Eltham voted to oppose the Silvertown Tunnel – but were ignored by the council their party purports to control.

Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich – and Greenwich West councillor – Matt Pennycook has written about his grave doubts about the scheme.

Worse still, the old problem of bullying in Greenwich Labour was also used to secure support for the tunnel. This website understands some newer councillors in the south of Greenwich borough were threatened with deselection by a senior party figure if they didn’t back the Silvertown Tunnel in an internal group vote.

Nobody expects a panel of Westminster MPs to be fully conversant with the murky underbelly of local politics in different areas. But none of them asked Hyland – or any of the other council representatives there – if her views really represented local opinion.

The nearest they got was when Jim Fitzpatrick asked if the Labour group on the London Assembly was on board. He knew the answer, but the question was clearly designed to demonstrate some kind of consensus.

thompson_640

Surrender over Silvertown – but defending Dartford?

There’s also the case of the brave Labour representative who knows that if you add extra capacity to an already-existing river crossing, you’re simply going to make surrounding roads worse.

Simon Thomson, Labour candidate for Dartford, should know – he was originally selected as a candidate for Greenwich Council in Blackheath Westcombe ward, before bagging the chance to go toe-to-toe with the Tories in this bellwether seat.

When Boris Johnson pledged to build a further Dartford crossing (he doesn’t have the power, of course) Thompson wrote and complained. When Johnson pledges a similar threat in Greenwich – where he actually does have power – Hyland and her colleagues have backed away.

Indeed, Greenwich recently advertised for a “director of regeneration”, with a job description which includes lobbying for Silvertown.

Maybe it’s a reflection of the differing political cultures in Dartford and Greenwich – Labour can never get complacent in a seat like Dartford – but it’s a real indication of just what’s gone wrong in Greenwich.

Regeneration, regeneration, regeneration

Perhaps Dartford Labour’s Simon Thomson should have been at the final committee hearing, held last Monday inside the Palace of Westminster itself. Here, the committee heard from Tim Healey, deputy chair of the Association of Civil Engineers’ Roads Sector Interest Group (essentially, a group of roadbuilders) that extra crossings at Dartford had boosted regeneration there.

Yes, that’s the same Dartford as the Kent town that’s been dying on its backside for years. The roads had brought Bluewater shopping centre, which lies in Dartford borough – but there was no mention that this was at the expense of Dartford itself.

Futureproofing? Be careful what you wish for

Another absurd piece of evidence accepted without questioning by the committee came from Healey’s colleague, Roads Sector Interest Group chair Mike Llywelyn-Jones. He suggested that new roads should be “futureproofed” so they can cope with anticipated demand in 30 years’ time – ignoring a body of evidence that indicates roads generate demand, rather than simply accommodate it.

The GLC's South Cross Route from 1966, which would have smashed through Brockley - image from cbrd.co.uk.

The GLC’s South Cross Route from 1966, which would have smashed through Brockley – image from cbrd.co.uk.

If London’s roads had been “futureproofed” in the 1970s to cope with anticipated demand today, some of the capital’s most popular neighbourhoods simply wouldn’t exist today.

Brockley Central is a local blog that has come out in support of the Silvertown Tunnel. Yet the heart of the area would have been ripped out if the Ringways scheme had gone ahead, smashing the South Cross Route through Brockley Cross.

Instead, Brockley has undergone a remarkable revitalisation led by public transport investment, making it a desirable place to live. Where there once would have been motorway gantries, there’s now a tasteful bar called The Gantry.

Those who love seeing Brockley’s Victorian terraces on Location, Location, Location might want to think about the fate of SE4 if the Ringways had gone ahead before they condemn other areas to more traffic, traffic, traffic.

‘Silvertown should the last built… or never be built’

Here’s the bit that those who skip straight to the comments box to write “something must be done” will ignore. It’s worth pointing out the views of former Greater London Council transport planner John Elliott, who twice submitted evidence to the inquiry but wasn’t asked to speak to the committee. He did get to speak to the Wharf newspaper.

“”The historical record for these kinds of packages is they build one and run out of money,” he said. “There are big gaps along the Thames and yet they want to build it next to one already there, and a very busy one at that.

“Silvertown should be the last crossing built or, preferably, never built.”

He wants to see a pan-London congestion charge before any new roads are built.

“It’s time for a congestion charge within the M25,” he wrote. “It could be relatively popular, keeping out long distance car commuters and tackling the problem across the whole of London, freeing up more space for essential commercial traffic.

“Rather than tolls on individual crossings, we need other congestion charges.”

Essentially, he argues that building a tunnel at Silvertown, or even bridges at Gallions Reach or Belvedere, will be a waste of time until London politicians have the courage to get to grip with traffic levels in the capital.

But in a committee that had made its mind up anyway, this voice wasn’t heard. He wasn’t called to give evidence.

(No to Silvertown Tunnel also submitted evidence. So did television weatherman Francis Wilson, concerned about the Lower Thames proposals.)

The London Chamber of Commerce left leaflets all over the Transport Select Committee hearing last month

The London Chamber of Commerce left leaflets all over the Transport Select Committee hearing last month

Flawed committee, flawed scrutiny – time for councillors to step up

By allowing Boris Johnson to have boxed her in over the Silvertown Tunnel, Denise Hyland could be about to wreak incalculable harm to the people of Greenwich she purports to represent. Getting across the river may be a hassle, but putting more traffic onto the borough’s streets won’t help.

Greenwich Council’s failure to properly challenge the Silvertown Tunnel is all the more worrying because of the failure of others to properly scrutinise it. The MPs on the Transport Scrutiny Committee had clearly made their minds up that new roads were good things. And here in the capital, Tories and Labour on the London Assembly teamed up to vote down a motion criticising the mayor’s spending on river crossings (see video).

While individual assembly members – notably Caroline Pidgeon and Darren Johnson – have done exemplary work on Boris Johnson’s road-building plans, the assembly as a body has been rendered largely useless on this issue because of the Labour group at City Hall’s blindness to the issue.

Opponents have also had their blind spots – falling for TfL’s narrative of treating the crossings as a whole, rather than scrutinising each one and spotting the individual flaws. After all, the problem of traffic trumps the problem of getting across the river, which can be eased with public transport initiatives.

Treated individually, TfL’s rationales quickly fall apart. Silvertown’s easily the barmiest of the lot, yet still casts a spell over the easily-led. It’s claimed Silvertown will relieve congestion, but there’s enough evidence to show it will simply increase traffic right across south-east London. Will Hyland stand up to this issue?

Proponents of the Gallions Bridge claim it will regenerate the area, but will Thamesmead really be regenerated by warehousing and other space-hungry businesses that depend on road traffic, when London is crying out for more homes? Leaving Thamesmead to depend on roads has been a self-defeating act of cruelty by London’s politicians. Denise Hyland has the opportunity to seize the agenda here, to champion Thamesmead and her own ward of Abbey Wood, instead of meekly following the desires of Sir Robin Wales (who has little interest in the south side of the river).

A Labour politician who rolled over for Tory plans for the NHS or social security would rightly be hounded. Yet too many in Labour treat the Silvertown Tunnel, with the extra traffic and congestion it will bring, as if it’s inevitable, and go for a policy of appeasement rather than challenge.

Yet the failure of both the London Assembly and MPs to properly scrutinise this scheme gives the likes of Denise Hyland a chance to think big and set the agenda. Forget parochial dead-ends, forget borough borders. It’s time for councillors to step up and really interrogate these schemes – and engage with both sides of the debate. Why not start a big campaign for public transport?

Too many awkward questions have gone unanswered, many in the little-explored grey areas between “yes” and “no”. (For example, if the original Blackwall Tunnel isn’t fit for purpose, why is the Silvertown Tunnel adding to it rather than replacing it?)

We’re in an interesting time for London politics – the current mayor’s a lame duck, and the big parties will soon start to choose their replacements. Labour outsider Christian Wolmar – who knows more about transport than most of us will ever forget – has spoken out against the tunnel. His colleagues should heed his warnings.

So right now, even the most humble councillor has more influence than they think. It’s time for them to get to work and properly engage with this, rather than accepting others’ half-baked assumptions – because on the Silvertown Tunnel, the path of least resistance is a road to disaster.

1.30pm update: I’m indebted to Greenwich councillor Aidan Smith for tweeting some details of a scrutiny meeting councillors held last night with TfL and Southeastern. (I missed it because I wanted to finish writing this enormous post.)

The meeting was told that analysis of the effects of the Sivertown Tunnel on local roads still hasn’t been done – this should be enough to raise alarm bells.

TfL’s representative also didn’t know how much work had been done on a business case for extending the Overground to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood – surely if TfL took it seriously, its representative should have been briefed? Again, this should be ringing bells.

Both issues should be enough to make Greenwich councillors realise they should be kicking up a stink. Claiming they are just “stakeholders”, as they have done in the past, really isn’t good enough now.

Southeastern and Jubilee Line shutdowns to hit Easter travellers

Cannon Street station

If you’ve got any big plans to go anywhere by rail over Easter, check your plans – there’ll be a big shutdown of lines through London Bridge over the holiday weekend, together with works on the Jubilee Line.

The rail works are part of the Thameslink Programme, the long-term scheme to remodel the lines from south-east London and Kent to accommodate new services to north London, Cambridge, and other destinations.

No trains will run from Charing Cross or Cannon Street between 3 and 6 April, as the lines through London Bridge will be closed. Trains will be less frequent and will run to and from Victoria, Blackfriars or New Cross instead.

Separately, works on the Jubilee Line mean services will only run between Waterloo and Stratford over Easter – causing problems for travellers seeking alternative routes to the West End.

A similar London Bridge closure last month was given minimal advance publicity, and while there was at least some better warning of this shutdown, it appears on the Southeastern website under the less than eye-catching headline of “Easter timetable changes”. There’s currently nothing on the Thameslink Programme site.

Southeastern website, 17 February 2015

Hopefully they’ll ramp up the effort after the shambolic efforts seen in past months.

If you’re affected, it’s worth playing with Real Time Trains to see what’s happening from your local station, but here’s a rough guide to what’s happening on the metro lines in south-east London between Good Friday and Easter Monday.

Woolwich line (to Dartford): Every half-hour to/from Blackfriars, and diverted via Lewisham.
(Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill, Westcombe Park: Buses will run between Lewisham and Charlton.)
Woolwich line (to Gillingham): Every half-hour to/from Victoria.
Bexleyheath line: Every half-hour to/from Victoria.
Sidcup line: Every half-hour to/from New Cross (Victoria on Sunday only).
Hayes line: Half-hourly to/from Victoria.
Grove Park line: Half-hourly between New Cross and Tonbridge (Sevenoaks on Sunday only).

The Jubilee Line works see no service between Waterloo and Wembley Park from Good Friday to Easter Sunday; and Waterloo to Stanmore on Easter Monday. This is likely to be connected with badly-needed works to replace tunnel linings at Green Park.

There’s also no escape from if you’re planning to use London Overground, with East London Line services only running between Shadwell and Clapham Junction, West Croydon and New Cross between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

(Thanks to the brilliant London SE1 site for spotting this yesterday.)

Greenwich Thames Path cyclists told to make way for driverless cars

Driverless car, 9 February 2015

Greenwich Council is quietly doing some very good things on cycling – like boosting cycle lanes, and experimenting with new on-street parking facilities.

But it’s still capable of doing some very dumb things – such as closing a cycle lane on the Greenwich Peninsula so it can be used for trials of driverless cars.

The council won a bid last year to test out the technology, getting an £8 million grant to carry out the tests.

gt_driverless609

In December, the council’s weekly newspaper Greenwich Time claimed the trials would not take place on public roads.

Thames Path, 9 February 2015

But a stretch of dedicated cycle path next to the Thames Cable Car has been commandeered for the tests, with riders told to share an adjacent footpath with pedestrians.

Thames Path, 9 February 2015

There was no consultation about the decision, instead there’s just a tiny notice on a lamp post and cycle markings scrubbed out and replaced with the word “SHUTTLE”.

The notice cites “danger to the public” for the decision. But if the trial’s organisers think they can avoid danger by closing off a length of cycle path, they’ve chosen the wrong place.

I cycle along this stretch regularly, and most days there are pedestrians wandering into the cycle track – often glued to tablets with headphones plugged in.

Thames Path, 9 February 2015

In fact, when I first saw the closure yesterday, there was a small child crawling over the “SHUTTLE” marking. Returning home in the evening rush hour, there were plenty of people wandering down the cycle path.

The trials appear to have begun yesterday, with tourism agency Visit Greenwich posting a video today.

Nobody walking in the path this time, but sooner or later somebody’s going to get a shock when they look up from their phone. As driverless technology evolves, it’s going to have the potential to clash with other road users – four-wheeled, two-wheeled, or two-footed.

Greenwich’s decision to prioritise driverless cars over cyclists and pedestrians without consultation, while on a parochial level is pretty much typical of the way it does things, isn’t a good omen for the future.

In the meantime, if you’re walking along the Thames Path any time soon, keep an eye – and ear – out for a little driverless car…

Thames Path, 17 February 2015

Update, 17 February: The path has now reopened. So what was all that about, and was it really worth burning off road markings, putting on new ones, burning them off again and reinstating old markings? A weird episode.

Southeastern shambles: Now it doesn’t know how long its trains are

On guard: Police and security officers watch Lewisham station at the end of last Tuesday's rush hour

On guard: Police and security officers watch Lewisham station at the end of last Tuesday’s rush hour

Does anyone know what’s going on at Southeastern? A little snapshot from Twitter from Sunday provided an insight into just what a mess the rail company’s communications are in.

As mentioned earlier this month, Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary candidate Matt Pennycook’s been chasing the firm over the ongoing issues from the Thameslink programme – particularly as services on the Greenwich line have been subjected to big cuts. What happened to the promised 12-car trains that would help mop up displaced passengers? This is a vital question, not just because of the problems faced by passengers, but because public money’s gone into extending platforms so they can accommodate longer trains.

Even though platforms up and down the line have been extended, there’s a problem with Woolwich Dockyard station, which lies in a brick cutting and can’t be extended. Even though this issue’s been known about for years, neither the Government nor Southeastern have fitted trains on the line with selective door opening (hop on the DLR at Cutty Sark to see this in action).

On Sunday morning, a despairing tweet from the Labour man:

Up popped the social media team at Southeastern…

Which prompted Pennycook to pull rank.

I’m sure Pennycook’s next exchange with Southeastern MD David Statham will be an interesting one.

So why did the Southeastern tweeter get it so wrong? Southeastern is strangely incapable of tailoring messages for different parts of its network – the same information that appears at Deptford also appears at Dover, even though services from those stations have nothing in common.

I took a day trip to Margate on Saturday and saw the same, rushed, generic poster about major engineering works there as I’d seen at Charlton – even though the two stations were affected in completely different ways. So if their communications department can’t tell Greenhithe from Greenwich or Westenhanger from Woolwich Arsenal, why would their Twitter team?

Ghost train: The new trains from Victoria Southeastern hasn't told you about

Ghost train: The new trains from Victoria Southeastern hasn’t told you about. Thursday’s 23.51 from Peckham Rye.

This lack of understanding of how different routes need different information also means Southeastern can’t even put across positive messages. Last week’s timetable change contains one big boon – late evening trains from Victoria to Dartford via Bexleyheath; providing an alternative West End terminal as well as help for anyone visiting King’s College Hospital.

These extra trains have had almost no publicity – just a single, tiny line in generic posters. People in Kidbrooke will be no more aware than their counterparts in Canterbury. So it wasn’t a surprise that when I took a late train back from Peckham Rye to Blackheath last Thursday, it was almost empty.

National politicians from both Labour and Conservative parties are as much to blame for Southeastern’s woes as the company’s dire management, as From The Murky Depths rightly points out. It’s laughable to see Bexleyheath’s Tory MP James Brokenshire threaten Southeastern with a “last chance” less than five months after his government colleagues rewarded the firm’s failure with a new franchise, rather than handing the metro routes to Transport for London.

If the capital had an effective political opposition, it’d be hammering the likes of Brokenshire on why London can’t run its own railway. It doesn’t, so they get away with this posturing.

But even if signals fail, points seize up and snow blocks the line, the one thing Southeastern has total control over is its communications – not just with passengers, but with local politicians. If it can’t even deal honestly with the latter, what hope has Southeastern got for dealing with the rest of us?