Southeastern’s draft timetable for services from January 2015 has been released today. Half the platforms will be closed at London Bridge meaning alterations are needed. The bad news is the removal of 1 train to central London in the morning peak and 3 heading out in the evening on the Greenwich line. The good news today is the long awaited extension of Victoria to Dartford via Lewisham from its current last train at 20:39 to 00:09.

The three trains cut at London Bridge are the 17:37, 17:58 and 18:21. The 18:57 also doesn’t stop at London Bridge as it starts at Charing Cross so is unable with the platform reductions. The 17:14 is no longer running, as shown in the consultation, but this actually results in an improvement. It is replaced with one two minutes earlier at 17:12 making the gaps slightly more even.

The last train from Victoria to Dartford will stop at Lewisham at 00.33. This is 2 minutes before the last train from central London to Charlton, Woolwich, Plumstead, Abbey Wood, Erith, Dartford etc so a quick connection will be possible. This is very good news for those who are in Victoria, Peckham, Denmark Hill etc late in the evening. This benefits those coming on a late southern train to Victoria who then want to head to SE London, as well as people arriving at Victoria on late coaches, and hospital users at the two big hospitals at Denmark Hill. This is a great improvement and well done for extending this service.

Train lengthening is a pressing issue and needed on many services as it is, without less trains and 3 years of future route growth. A 10% rise in passengers on the line over the next 3 years is not an excessive estimate with many new developments along the line. Last years growth was 2.8%. With three services cut from 5:30 to 7pm, and one not stopping at London Bridge, the pressure will be even greater up to 2018. It is to be hoped that a substantial amount of fast trains are 12 carriages and slow trains are 10 on the Greenwich line – the maximum possible due to short platforms at Woolwich Dockyard.

Off the top of my head there are large developments along the line at Slade Green (Howbury), Erith Park on the site of Larner Road estate, Cross Quarter in Abbey Wood, Peabody’s £200m ‘garden city’ at Thamesmead South, Woolwich Arsenal, Woolwich Dockyard estate demolition and rebuild, Victoria Way in Charlton, Convoys Wharf at Deptford and the development by the station. Merely maintaining capacity with longer, yet fewer trains, may not be enough. If those longer trains are not the maximum possible length then new stock to extend them may be needed before confirmed new trains in 2018.

Here’s an excellent and comprehensive overview from London Reconnections of why 12 carriage trains have not been introduced so far and the difficulties involced. It is well worth a read to explain the problems and slipped dates over the past few years. They should have been introduced 20 years ago. Then the plan was scrapped after much work was done due to lack of foresight in the early ’90s recession as well as impending privatisation before resurrection of the idea 10 years later, with work starting again a couple of years ago. There was some hope 12 carriages could be up and running by the Olympics which didn’t happen. Then the plan was for January 2014. Hasn’t happened. Southeastern boasted of thousands of extra seats from January and longer trains. No word on why it hasn’t happened though. Southeastern famed communications are in evidence again. There have apparently been issues with union agreement, driver rotas and trains going to be re-painted in Doncaster.

One comment on the site raises an interesting suggestion. It is to close the existing Woolwich Dockyard station which is in a cutting making platform extensions expensive. Every other station can accommodate 12 car trains on the Greenwich line except Woolwich Dockyard. An idea is to move the station slightly west to the open ground by Morris Walk estate. This would put it at a more even distance between Woolwich Arsenal and Charlton. The station is the least used on the line and saw the biggest decline in passenger numbers last year.

The estate is to be demolished soon and rebuilt to a greater density, though it loses some social housing which is unacceptable. Not only should there be more social housing, but money from the developers could be used to partly or wholly fund a new station and increase permeability between the two sides which the railway slices through. This would then allow 12 carriage trains on all-stopping trains.

On the subject of new trains, maybe one reason the powers that be havn’t prioritised new stock as they look at southeastern usage figures and see the lowest growth of rail franchises serving London. But one wonders how accurate that is when riding without a ticket is so easy – few staffed stations, no staff on trains, few barriers and those in operation open most of the time. London Overground’s predecessor was Silverlink on part of its route (North and West London line). It ran at poor frequencies, had no barriers and much unpaid travel. London Overground took it over, staffed many stations from open to close with barriers, put staff on some trains, upped frequencies and passenger growth has been phenomenal. London Overground now goes deep into south London, west London, North London, and east London. Next year it takes over Greater Anglia routes in North East London. SE London gets a couple of stations and only close to central London which are difficult for connections. The Greenwich line trains does not interchange with New Cross.

South west London doesn’t have many London Overground services but are getting hundreds of new carriages currently to extend suburban stock and that’s without cuts and major disruption to services.

The tube has seen billions invested. Many new trains. In 2015 it will run all night over the weekend. SE Londoners and people heading to Kent will still have to rush for a packed midnight train. Fair enough up to 2018 with substantial building works. After that though hopefully some later trains at weekends.

Southern and Thameslink are also seeing hundreds of new carriages coming into operation currently. The orders for these trains have an option for additional extra trains. Shouldn’t these options be taken up, or extended, and go to southeastern? The options have been there for years. If taken up some new stock could perhaps have been introduced in time for January 2015, or on a rolling program after.

The next few years will be difficult for many. It’s not all bad and in some cases an improvement. New trains are needed though. The options on the table for extending current train orders should be taken up as soon as possible to make the next 4 years more tolerable and cater for the coming growth.

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