As a result of the decision of the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, to block proposals to transfer Southeastern metro services to Transport for London (TfL) when the franchise is re-let in 2018, the Department for Transport (DfT) is currently seeking expressions of interest from potential bidders for the franchise.
The Government’s public consultation exercise marks the start of the process of finding a new operator from 2018.
A significant proportion of local residents, including me, get to work by train and local train services are an essential means by which residents access the wider transport network. The consultation is therefore an important opportunity for residents to make their views heard before the new franchise is agreed.
One question that the consultation asks is whether passengers agree with the principle of reducing the choice of London termini in order to provide a more regular timetable and reliable service. The hypothetical example given is the option of all Metro services on the north Kent (between Dartford and Charlton), Greenwich and Bexleyheath lines to terminate at Cannon Street only. Tellingly, no detail is provided as to how such a change would provide a more regular timetable and reliable service.
I believe these proposals are unnecessary and will detrimentally impact local residents who rely on services to Charing Cross and Victoria. In my submission to the consultation I formally opposed them and would encourage all residents to do the same.
Services from Blackheath station, which currently run on the Bexleyheath line and terminate at Charing Cross and Victoria, are used by a large number of local residents to commute to work. Many of them made the decision to live in the area because of the availability of a direct route into central London and they will be hugely inconvenienced if that route is terminated. Redirecting all services from Woolwich Arsenal, Charlton and Blackheath stations to Cannon Street only would constitute an unacceptable reduction in the direct travel options available to local residents, many of whom have already borne the loss of direct Charing Cross services on the Greenwich line to ensure more frequent, reliable and faster services.
However, I am concerned that the controversy that the above proposal has generated risks obscuring the more fundamental flaws contained within the consultation. These include:
- A stunning lack of detail about how the aspirations outlined within might actually be realised;
- A serious and significant under-estimation of population growth in the area (a point conceded by Ministers but which remains part of the consultation literature);
- Worrying figures relating to projected additional capacity;
- Precious little detail about stations and staffing numbers.
Capacity has been a particular concern of mine over the past two years and one that I have raised with Ministers several times on the floor of the House of Commons. In my submission to the consultation I therefore emphasised the urgent need for longer trains to tackle severe overcrowding.
Nearly every platform in the South Eastern Metro area (barring notable exceptions such as Woolwich Dockyard station) have been extended to enable them to be served by 12-carriage trains. And yet, despite promises that 12-carriage trains would be run in peak periods to mitigate the impact of the London Bridge station rebuild, we still do not have them.
The prevalence of 8 or 10 (and sometimes even six) carriage trains from both Cannon Street and Charing Cross during the peak period has led to, and continues to do so, levels of overcrowding that are often dangerous. And the problem is just as acute in the morning peak period. I regularly receive correspondence from residents complaining that they are unable to board morning trains heading into central London from stations such as Westcombe Park, Maze Hill and Greenwich – all this despite sizeable numbers having adapted their journeys to and from work in order to avoid rush hour trains and the disruption caused by the Thameslink Programme.
The opening of the new Woolwich Crossrail station in 2018 will ease pressure on the rail network but given the scale of projected housing and population growth in the area, the Elizabeth Line will quickly be running at capacity.
We need extra capacity on the local Metro rail network now and it must be integral to new franchise.
I strongly encourage residents to take a look at the consultation document in its entirety and to submit your views not only on the proposals relating to reducing the choice of London termini but also on all the other issues raised.
The DfT consultation closes on 23 May 2017.
Consultation documents are also available in accessible formats and hard copy on request by emailing: BetterSouthEastern@dft.gsi.gov.uk