Today’s announcement that the government won’t be devolving Southeastern’s metro rail services to Transport for London is the worst of all worlds for south-east London – and threatens to put parts of our local infrastructure under even greater strain.
Despite clear improvements to train services in north London which have already been transferred to mayoral control, transport secretary Chris Grayling has called such a move “deckchair shifting” – while refusing to let go of the Titanic’s wheel.
It’s also a massive blow to mayor Sadiq Khan – we’ve seen under Ken Livingstone, and to a smaller (and more ambiguous) extent under Boris Johnson, that fixing transport is the most visible way a mayor can change London for the better.
The devolution plan – first concocted under Johnson – would have separated Southeastern’s metro services from Kent/Sussex trains, and handed them to TfL to manage. This system – where TfL takes responsibility for fares, services and staffing – has worked wonders on London Overground, where services are up while delays and fare-dodging are down.
Now Khan looks like he’ll be denied this, as Grayling decides the service on the Grove Park to Bromley North shuttle is more appropriate for Westminster to deal with rather than City Hall.
But it also leaves south-east Londoners the most exposed to the ill-effects of Khan’s fare “freeze” – where fares on TfL services are frozen but travelcard, fare caps and National Rail fares will continue to increase.
Because of the actions of Grayling and Khan, south-east Londoners who rely on Southeastern face paying far more for our travel than those use can use the Tube or most services north of the river.
Here are the current fares – you can see where National Rail fares are increasingly out of synch with TfL tickets in the outer zones, despite the far inferior service. The TfL fare scale also applies to many National Rail services in west, north and east London, as part of recent policy decisions or for historic reasons.
Most National Rail fares will be 10p dearer from 2 January – but TfL tickets are frozen.
|2016 Oyster/ contactless fare||TfL – all||National Rail only||Using both in Zone 1|
With Khan pledging to keep TfL fares frozen until 2020, and Tory policy to keep increasing National Rail fares, these disparities will get worse, and start to affect people further into London. Worse still, commuters who use Southeastern and then change to the Tube in Zone 1 will continue to face a profiteering surcharge of up to £1.60 that many rail users in north, west and east London do not face.
Note also that off-peak zone 2-6 TfL fares are held down to £1.50 – the price of a bus fare – to drum up trade during quieter hours. No such good sense on National Rail. So someone travelling from Deptford to Erith gets whacked with a £2.70 fare; Canary Wharf to Upminster is just £1.50.
It’s worth pointing out here that Sadiq Khan refused an offer by TfL to freeze Travelcard prices and fare caps, which would have lessened the blow of continued National Rail fare rises.
This isn’t just about south-east Londoners being financially penalised. This also sets back infrastructure improvements – because TfL knows that central government’s inept management of National Rail services is putting pressure on its own operations.
TfL’s business case raised the possibility of improvements such as rebuilding the junction at Lewisham, which would enable more services to run through the station, and building new platforms at Brockley which would take pressure off the Jubilee Line at Canada Water.
These ideas don’t just come out of the goodness of TfL’s own heart. People are already voting with their feet because of the cost and unreliability of National Rail services. The business case highlighted how many passengers would rather take the bus to Brixton for the Tube than use unreliable National Rail services closer to their homes.
We see the same effect locally at North Greenwich, where thousands pile onto buses to avoid using Southeastern, putting massive strain on the local transport network. Part of this is down to the fare structure – travelling from North Greenwich only means a zone 2 travelcard, even if you start your journey by bus in Eltham or Blackheath. But if you miss a Jubilee Line train, there’s usually another one in two minutes. You can’t say that for Southeastern trains.
The punishment fare for changing in Zone 1 is also a factor. The DLR’s Woolwich Arsenal services were overwhelmed within months of their introduction. If you had a job at, say, Angel, why would you pay £5.50 to start your journey on an unreliable Southeastern train if taking the DLR would only set you back £3.90?
So SE London commuters face more years of paying more for less, unless the government can be persuaded to change its mind.
The government has little interest in the views of voters in Greenwich or Lewisham, as Tory election wins are thin on the ground here. But will voters in true-blue Bexley and Bromley punish their Tory MPs and councils over this? And will Khan have to modify his fare “freeze” so south Londoners lose out less? We’ll have to wait and see.
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.
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.
It’s the biggest change to happen to south-east London’s railways for decades. Just before midnight tonight, the last train from Charing Cross to Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park will be just that. After 23.56, the direct connection from the West End to Greenwich will be no more.
This has been known about since March 2008, when Network Rail published its catchily-titled South London Route Utilisation Study. (See page 112 of this document.) 853 wasn’t running then, but it got a mention on this website six years ago. Here’s another reference from Greenwich.co.uk in December 2009. And look, here’s a “stay of execution” for Greenwich line trains from November 2010.
This isn’t to say “I told you so”. Back in 2008, I never really thought about diving headfirst into local news issues. I never really took much notice of what was in the local press because I never saw it. Then as this changed, and this website developed, it became old news – old news that was never talked about. And who wants to read about old news?
I thought there might be a decent-sized publicity campaign. Posters up and down the Greenwich line, months in advance, extolling the virtues of Cannon Street station, the new seven-day-a-week terminal. (It’s supposed to have a “fantastic new bar” soon, you know.)
But no. Instead, the news was bundled out as part of a mixed bag of information about the Thameslink Programme, the larger scheme which will see a rebuilt London Bridge station accommodate frequent trains to both north and south London. The prize of a decent station is a brilliant one – but the price is those trains to Charing Cross.
Instead of providing station-by-station information, or even details for each line, Southeastern has managed to baffle commuters, failing the challenge at the first hurdle. Many of them still think the change is only temporary. It’s not. Those trains aren’t coming back. And there are some very good reasons why.
What’s happening – the long-term plan
The connection between the Greenwich line and the Charing Cross lines is being severed to accommodate a new set of tracks that will head north from London Bridge to Blackfriars, Farringdon, and north London.
It won’t physically be possible for trains from Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich or Deptford to reach them any more. And because of the way services are arranged, trains from Woolwich Dockyard, Plumstead, Erith, Belvedere and Slade Green will rarely reach Charing Cross. (Trains from New Cross and St John’s are also affected by these changes.)
Instead, there’ll be a direct service to Cannon Street, seven days a week. From 2018, you’ll have a brand new London Bridge station to change trains in. The crappy old footbridge is going, and you’ll have escalators, lifts, and a spacious new concourse beneath the platforms. Think the new King’s Cross, but bigger.
There’ll be no more sitting on the viaduct over Deptford waiting to get access to the Charing Cross lines – in theory, you’ll be able to rattle straight up to Cannon Street, and make a simpler change at a much more pleasant London Bridge if you need to get to Waterloo East or Charing Cross.
What’s happening – the short term pain
Charing Cross trains will sail through London Bridge from Monday until August 2016. You’ll have to make your change by Tube or bus. And then from 2016, the position will reverse, and Cannon Street trains will glide through without stopping. Interchange will be terrible, and for three years, London Bridge station won’t just be a dump – it’ll be a building site.
There’s also likely to be a series of major weekend closures. The first – happening this weekend and kept very quiet by Southeastern – sees ALL trains routed to Victoria, Blackfriars or New Cross, and all lines through London Bridge completely closed. (There is also no service at all through Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill or Westcombe Park – have a play with Real Time Trains to see how it affects you, or check out the situation at Charlton or Lewisham).
Even Charlton Athletic seemed in the dark about the plan, and they’re only playing host to 15,000 football fans on Saturday. Charing Cross will also be closed on Sundays through to at least May.
The secret cut in capacity
There’ll also be fewer rush hour trains through Greenwich from Monday. From The Murky Depths has the full details – four evening peak trains are cut, with three going during the critical 1730-1830 hour. One morning peak train goes. Meanwhile, extra capacity has gone to trains serving destinations in distant Kent, if you believe the Southeastern publicity above.
Despite the fact that money has been blown over the years on extending platforms to take 12-car trains – once in the 1990s, and again in the 2010s – there won’t be longer trains to make up for the cut. Woolwich Dockyard station, built in a brick cutting, can’t be extended, and despite these works having been planned for years, neither the Department for Transport nor Southeastern has fitted trains to work with selective door opening which would enable longer trains to stop there.
To make matters worse, Southeastern is pretty much using every train it can get its hands on – and is having to borrow more to satisfy demand.
It’s a mess, frankly.
Send your regards to Cannon Street
“But Cannon Street’s in the middle of nowhere!”, you cry. Cobblers. One of the main gripes is that a lack of trains from Charing Cross makes it harder for tourists to get to Greenwich. Yet Cannon Street is 10 minutes’ walk from St Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London, and five minutes from the Monument.
And it’s a fine station for onward travel connections – on the District and Circle lines, with Bank station just a couple of minutes’ walk up Walbrook. (In a few years, a new Bank station entrance will appear opposite Cannon Street, just to really baffle everyone.)
Sure, it’s a bit quiet at the weekends, but there’s that fantastic new bar coming soon…
The political battle
With an election coming up, both Labour and Conservative candidates for Greenwich & Woolwich have thrown themselves into the debate. Incumbent Labour MP Nick Raynsford has a decent record on fighting for rail passengers – one of his first wins as an MP in the 1990s was to persuade British Rail to stop Gillingham trains at Charlton. His hopeful successor, Matt Pennycook, has been busying himself writing to and meeting Southeastern bosses and tweeting about it.
Of course, it goes without saying that both their parties’ administrations also share blame for this – Labour re-privatised Southeastern in 2006, and must share some responsibility for poor Department for Transport planning before 2010. The Tories renewed Southeastern’s franchise in 2014, with the Department for Transport still failing to provide enough rolling stock for the area. Both Labour and Conservative governments have also blocked moves by Transport for London to take over the Southeastern franchise – decisions that will stick in the craw when TfL takes on services from Liverpool Street this May.
Matt Hartley’s campaign aim to secure longer trains throughout the “borough of Greenwich” seems peculiarly parochial – didn’t Conservative candidates elsewhere in SE London want to join in? And as for wanting Greenwich-Charing Cross services restored after 2018, he might as well demand the return of steam – it’d be cheaper and more efficient to run at least six trains an hour to Cannon Street, first train to last, seven days a week. It’s better than hankering for a crappy two trains per hour service to Charing Cross that wasn’t much cop anyway.
But it’s a good thing that both main candidates are getting their teeth into the issue. Frankly, it’s about time Southeastern became a political football – and it certainly deserves the kicking.
Will it be enough?
After 2018, we’re promised good things. An all-new London Bridge station that’ll be a pleasure to use. You’ll be able to change for trains that head across North London, to Finsbury Park and beyond, as well as frequent services to Blackfriars, Farringdon and St Pancras. And Charing Cross and Cannon Street services should be more reliable, as a 40-year-old pattern of tracks is ripped up and rebuilt.
And don’t forget that Crossrail will come from 2019, giving passengers at Abbey Wood and Woolwich an alternative that’ll whisk them to Canary Wharf, the City, West End and West London. It’ll relieve some crowding from the Greenwich line – for a short time, at least.
You’d also hope that knackered communications systems would be fixed – systems that stop staff and drivers giving proper information, and systems that have mysteriously started showing Kent-bound trains on London-bound platforms (and vice versa). There’s a lot of work to do.
But an increased population in an overheating city brings increasing pressures. Huge developments are rising by Deptford, Greenwich, Lewisham, Woolwich Arsenal and Abbey Wood stations. Long-term development plans will see the Charlton riverside given over to residential uses. And 10,000 new homes on the Greenwich Peninsula, with no further plans to improve public transport connections there, will squeeze North Greenwich tube station – sending some passengers back to the mainline. On other lines, developments are also taking place at Kidbrooke Village and the old Catford dog track.
Even at the end of the line, developers have their eyes on Dartford. With a population that’s getting priced out of zones 2 and 3, pressures on outer stations will grow.
Yet the political will in this area is for more roadbuilding – a policy that’d be laughed out of town in other parts of London. Vague promises of a Bakerloo Line extension to Hayes, or London Overground to Thamesmead, will need to be brought into reality before we’re clutching our Freedom Passes.
Change here for the future
Cities aren’t fixed in stone – they’re always evolving. The last train from Charing Cross to Greenwich tonight will be a little symbol of how our capital city is changing before our eyes.
40 years ago, London Bridge station went through similar convulsions as the old station was torn down and the tracks relaid. Would the fag-puffing, hi-viz avoiding engineers in the Operation London Bridge video above have known their work would be ripped up just four decades later?
It’s going to be a tricky few years ahead. But once the Thameslink Programme is finished, where will the next big change come from? At present, nobody seems to know. And that’s a bigger worry than whether or not you’ll have to change trains next week.
As you may have noticed, it was rather hard to get home to south-east London last night.
A fire in signalling equipment at London Bridge saw all trains through the station cancelled at the beginning of the evening rush hour. The delays lasted beyond the rush hour and right to the end of the day.
I came through Charing Cross at 11pm and just managed to get a train back to Charlton which ran via Lewisham. Judging by the announcements telling people to use local buses, it seemed Southeastern had simply given up running a service on the other metro lines.
The disruption spread, and a perfect storm hit North Greenwich station – swamped by people bumped off Southeastern trains on the night of a gig at the O2, plus a Charlton Athletic home match. It’s chaotic enough on a normal night, but last night the police were called and the station was closed for a spell.
Everyone had their own story to tell. While a total wipeout of trains from London Bridge is rare, from 2015 there’ll be severe restrictions on mainline trains stopping at London Bridge as the station’s rebuilt for the Thameslink programme. Will North Greenwich be able to cope with the extra load?
Still, everyone caught in the disruption last night can be comforted by the fact that Greenwich Council, Boris Johnson and the owners of the O2 have the solution to everyone’s transport worries at North Greenwich. Yes, that’s right, they want to build a new road tunnel.
Oh, and don’t forget Boris Johnson’s other solution to our travel woes…
The future of our local transport is clearly in safe hands.
Apologies for the short notice, but if you use Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Greenwich or Deptford stations you should know about this – there’s a meeting on Tuesday at Davy’s Wine Bar, Greenwich High Road (7pm) about the possibility of setting up a rail users’ group for the Greenwich line, following the success of the Charlton Rail Users’ Group just down the line.
A rep from Southeastern will be there, along with someone from the Charlton group to explain how they did it. The initiative comes from the Westcombe Society (Westcombe Park and Maze Hill) and is supported by the Greenwich Society (er, Greenwich); where Deptford fits into this is unclear, but issues with the new station there suggest SE8-ers should be represented too.
The impetus for this is the disruption that rebuilding works at London Bridge station will cause (with many trains not stopping there for a couple of years) – to find out more, pop along if you can.
About the only downside to the arrival of the Paralympic Games is going to be seeing Charlton station once again packed full of people in tabards hanging around, not being very busy, making nuisances of themselves. Go on, give them something to do, and walk on the wrong side of the yellow line.
But once they’ve gone, and life gets back to normal, how do you want to see transport in south-east London develop? A committee of Greenwich councillors wants to know how you use trains and buses in and around the borough, and what issues you face. It’s pretty rare for Greenwich councillors to reach out like this, so give them a hand by filling in the survey, and they might do it some more. Anyway, if someone asks what you think, it’s only polite to answer, isn’t it?
Secondly, there’s a consultation out about what to do with the Southeastern franchise when it runs out in 2014. I know what I think should happen to it, but what about you? The actual Government consultation is of the kind designed to deter normal people, so smart chappy Tom Royal has designed a user-friendly version. If you use the trains in this part of London, make sure you fill it in, or someone else – perhaps someone who thinks Southeastern are just okay – will do it and claim to represent you. (And you think I’m joking…)