Southeastern’s winter of disregard

Southeastern have got it pretty good. If you want to get into central London at a decent speed from a huge area of the greater capital – including all of our own borough of Bexley – they’re your only option.

This ought to bring with it a trade-off: in adverse conditions, they should put in even more effort than train operators in areas well served by the Tube, DLR, etc.

Instead, before the first flake of snow had fallen this week, Southeastern threw in the towel. Giving up is the new being prepared, it seems.

The display at Crayford station during last February's snow
(Photo from Crayford station during last February’s much worse snow.)

It would be bad enough to cut back the service to a Sunday-like two-trains-an-hour service during rush hour, but the final insult added to the injury is the inexplicable ceasing of all train services around 8-9pm each evening. This is continuing into tomorrow (Friday), impacting on thousands of people’s leisure plans and undoubtedly taking sizeable sums out of the capital’s economy as people stay home.

(In my case I shall persist with my plans but travel home by bus, taking several hours. Thanks, Southeastern.)

Naturally Southeastern’s pre-emptive defeat by the snow received no mainstream media coverage, with BBC London instead presenting no fewer than four live reports from snow-covered locations around the capital… by which I mean almost literally around the capital: only one was within Greater London. Not only that but the one which was – at London Victoria – managed to speak to all of two commuters for their opinions, only to find out that they’d both had perfectly reasonable journeys. Brilliant.

Throughout all this, Southeastern’s communications have been awful. This was the best they could offer by way of a ‘leaflet’ about the changed timetable:

 Southeastern's inadequate leaflet about the revised timetable.

Why no details of the train times? Just an overloaded web site and a premium-rate phone line. Very helpful.

Nick Raynsford MP stepped in to the fray today, sending a letter to Southeastern and copying in the News Shopper. Only at this point did the News Shopper think to contact Southeastern themselves for a statement, which they eventually got. Extracts and comments below.

Since yesterday Southeastern has been operating an amended timetable as a result of the severe weather conditions. The decision to do this was based on advice from Network Rail who is responsible for maintaining the network and determining what services can operate.

So Southeastern were given different advice from all the other train companies, who’ve at least tried to run a full service each day and certainly haven’t built in a planned closure at 8pm every day? Seems unlikely.

We told passengers of our intention to operate a revised timetable as soon as possible and have kept people updated through, texts, emails, station notices, on board announcements and station announcements as well as providing extra staff at stations and keeping the media informed.

I haven’t had any e-mails, and I’m a registered Southeastern web site user. The station notices are, as you can see above, worthless. And their media operation has been hopeless enough that neither PM nor Channel 4 News mentioned Southeastern’s services at all during their travel problems round-ups last night.

We are more than happy to explain all of these issues to Mr Raynsford directly and explain the efforts that our staff are making to maintain services in exceptionally difficult circumstances.

It might be nice if they explained these things to Mr Raynsford’s (and Mr Evennett’s, and so on) constituents, too.

The revised timetable remains in place today and tomorrow and we are asking passengers to check with National Rail Enquiries for information on their journeys over the next few days.

Not that the new and ‘improved’ National Rail Enquiries web site can cope anyway – it takes multiple attempts to get Live Departure Boards to load under all the pressure, and I’ve heard it’s sometimes reporting trains that aren’t even on the replacement timetable as “On time” until the last minute, although that may have been ironed out now as I’m not seeing it as I write this.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for Southeastern to provide a response to my Oyster PAYG enquiry that I sent to them on 24 November. What a complete failure of a company they are.

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3 Responses

  1. I use Southen and must admit that this year is a marked improvement on last year – not perfect at all (Wednesday I had all but one train cancelled on the way to work), so it’s not all train networks this time around. It boggles my mind that Southeasten cut the services shorter, Southen are running a revised timetable but they are still mostly going all the way down to the coast…

    Anyway, I wanted to offer some (hopefully!) useful advice about PAYG on oyster. Your best bet would be to give TFL a ring as they are the one’s who look after that system rather than the Train provider. I think they have a calculator on their website (tfl.gov.uk) but don’t think that allows the addition of your gold card.

    Still TFL will know the best in that regard.

    Hope that helps a little and good luck with the travelling next week.

  2. […] has Southeastern been telling its passengers? At first, not a lot. On Wednesday, some were given a less-than-useful handout telling what was happening to, er, that morning’s services. Others reported not being told […]

  3. Alex – thanks for your comment.

    Regarding PAYG, I have to confess in some ways the actual content of the response I get from Southeastern is no longer so important to me as the length of time it takes, and the fact that I will have it in writing from Southeastern that the fare I’m asking about really has risen by 43% (and required a bizarre switch from a train-only ticket to a travelcard)!

    Really I was partly wanting to get it to fuel my campaign against the change and partly to help me decide what travelcard/bus pass to buy on 1 January before the price changes. Their response, if it ever comes, will be a bit late for either of these aims although I’ll certainly add it to the undersized Facebook group!

    Thanks again.

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