With upheaval across the Southeastern network from January due to London Bridge rebuilding, and large capacity cuts on the Greenwich line, passengers have been waiting to see what changes would be enacted after the changes were given time to bed in. A couple of months have now passed, with many complaints arising in particular of overcrowding being worse on Cannon Street trains rather than those heading to Charing Cross. Changes have just been announced on various services, and you can see what the proposed changes are here.

Most of the alterations centre around services arriving at ‘shoulder-peak’ times. That is just before or after the busiest times, which generally are those services arriving into central London from 07:30 to 09:00 and returning from 17:00 to 18:30. Some big improvements that are occurring at the busiest times are the 17:43 Cannon Street to Barnehurst via Sidcup, which increases from 8 to 10 carriages meaning a 26% capacity rise, and the 06:54 from Strood to Cannon Street via Greenwich which goes from 6 to 8 carriages – a 32% increase.

For every increase comes a cut

However, with Southeastern short of stock and no plans to fix that before December 2017 under the current plans, for every winner there is a loser with many services seeing lengths reduced. Assuming measurement of passengers is correct this should hopefully not see too many inconvenienced. One thing to note though is that some HS1 services were altered last month to better spread capacity after some services were cut from 12 to 6 in January. Many complaints then ensued of standing for long distances and overcrowding, so one service was changed back to 12 carriages. With no slack in the fleet, this meant another 12 car had to become 6. Cue many complaints then arising on that service of overcrowding.

This all means that Southeastern can tinkle around with their fleet for now and buy a bit of time but ultimately they are restricted by a lack of trains. A lack of spare trains also sees many services shortened due to train faults and a lack of substitutes. Only the government through the Department for Transport and the Treasury can fix that by ensuring the franchise gets more trains. Last week they announced the bidding terms for the next Northern Rail franchise. In it they specify almost everything, which shows who calls the shots. This includes many new trains which the DfT have specified, after much lobbying from Northern MPs and business.

The cuts services include some on the Woolwich line leaving central London before 5pm so before the time many get out of work. This shouldn’t be a big problem. They are:

  • 16.34 London Cannon Street to Dartford – 10 becomes 8 and a 19% cut
  • 16.39 London Charing Cross to Gillingham – 10 becomes 8 and a 19% cut
  • 16.54 London Cannon Street to Dartford – stays at 8. Small 2% cut.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these services were only initially lengthened so SE could state that capacity was maintained during the official evening peak time period of 4-7 pm through Woolwich, and to disguise the fact that capacity from 17:30 to 18:30 on the line has taken a big hit. Having those increases before 5 pm helped balance out capacity provided across the entire 4-7 pm period. Of course there is no need for such lengths before 5 pm and they are being reduced. What is needed is 12 carriages from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm where the cuts occurred, and nothing is happening there.

One last thing – Southeastern are one of the last London area franchises that is being lined up to see additional stock, but there was glimmer of hope with 25 extra train units planned to be swapped over from Southern in December 2017. It may now be the case that the DfT will order Southeastern to give up 20 trains to East Midland Trains at the same time. Just a net increase of five trains in almost three years? That’s not good enough.

One reason for this reluctance to provide more could be Southeastern’s relatively higher subsidy levels, in part due to the high fees they must pay Network Rail to use the newly built High Speed line from St Pancras through Stratford, which doesn’t benefit SE London at all. With so many new developments opening in 2015 and 2016 alongside continuing high population growth, five extra units so far in the future will just not cut it.

The changes come into effect from Monday 8th March.

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