(I don’t want to go to) Cannon Street

costello21See, Elvis Costello had a hit singing about not wanting to go to Chelsea – now commuters in Greenwich, Blackheath and Deptford might be humming to same tune, but about being sent to Cannon Street. (Tenuous? Look, you try writing about trains and making it interesting…)

It started with The Greenwich Phantom on Monday; who managed to find a little-spotted guide on Southeastern’s website to how many trains you’ll be getting each hour from December. Deptford Dame posted about it today.

Why December? That’s when the high-speed trains between St Pancras and distant Kent – the ones they won’t bloody stop going on about – are introduced, allegedly justifying some of the well-above inflation fare hikes of the past few years.

In deepest south-east London, we’re not likely to even see these trains, never mind get the chance to ride on one. But their introduction will free up some space on our lines, so the timetable is going to get its first revamp in heaven knows how many years – I’ve been commuting for 16 years and in the rush hour, it’s barely changed since the days of slam-door trains and cardboard tickets.

And heaven knows, it needs it – at some stations (like Charlton) the Saturday service offered over Christmas was, at times, superior to that offered on a normal weekday. The whole thing looks like it was drawn up when men wore bowler hats, women did little else but dictation and everyone was safely back home for six.

And so far, it’s an improvement – between 7am and 10am, 26 trains will leave Charlton station for central London instead of 14* now. Westcombe Park, Maze Hill and Deptford get 18, Greenwich gets 23. Nice.

But then, the catch… no trains to Charing Cross, except in the rush hour. They’ll head to Cannon Street instead.

Actually, this has been the situation at Westcombe Park, Maze Hill and Deptford for about nine years. I remember thinking it was barking at the time – after all, who wants to go to the City in the day when all the fun’s in the West End? But then, once the change had been made, it made a bit more sense – no more dawdling outside London Bridge, waiting for a platform; on the whole the Cannon Street trains are far more reliable than those which have to use the overcrowded lines to Charing Cross.

So now users of the Greenwich line will enjoy six trains each hour (instead of four now) during the day – but they’ll have to change at London Bridge, or catch the Tube at Cannon Street or Bank to get to the West End. (Charlton keeps a link to Charing Cross, via the line to Blackheath.) Not such a bad thing, I reckon.

But… enjoy those rush-hour trains to Charing Cross while they last. Work’s just started on the Thameslink Programme, a long-delayed scheme to boost the route between London Bridge, Blackfriars and Farringdon. It’ll turn London Bridge into a building site for a few years and cause what the Evening Standard calls CHAOS! for a bit.

This will mean more trains from north-south London, but to accommodate this, the link between the Greenwich line and Charing Cross may be cut for good. Trains from Greenwich would have to clatter across too many tracks to manage it, Network Rail says. The proposal’s also in Network Rail’s long-term plan (7MB PDF, see page 112) for south London’s trains. Transport watchdog London Travelwatch suggested NR looked again at the scheme last year, and tried to build some kind of bridge. No more has been heard of it since.

Remember the oodles of local media coverage it got at the time? The big consultation campaign? Politicians alerting you to this? Funny that, isn’t it? So if you think things are bad now, they could be about to get worse.

Of course, if there was one single fare system between train and tube, if travelcards were cheaper and not constantly hiked up, if London Bridge was turned into an easier station to change trains at, the change might not be so bad.

But when you try to implement things in secret, and don’t involve the public, then no wonder they get angry.

(* I think they’ve missed a train out here, but never mind.)


  1. Fair enough avoiding consultation and keeping schtum over less attractive/convenient parts of so called development are cowardly and inflame indignation but swapping trains at LB is hardly a trial. Running in from Charlton on a CS train, as you point out, usually ensures swift access to an LB platform, something which rarely occurs peak or offpeak on a CX service, hopping off then up one flight and down on to P6 – doddle, added to which there’s the jubilee line. Can’t really see the problem. Change you weren’t asked about, or didn’t see coming, don’t mean change for the worse.

  2. I have to disagree with you topbeauzo – perhaps it’s a doddle for the fully able, but add a walking stick, pushchair or just dodgy legs and those stairs become a serious obstacle.

  3. For passengers in a wheelchair or parents with a pram you can change platform at London Bridge via the ramps down from platforms 1-6 to the underpass bit at the bottom. Hey, it’s more faff than a direct train but it’s not impossible to deal with.

    No-one would design the railway system we’ve got, especially not the horrendous bottleneck which is London Bridge. But we’ve got to play with what we’ve got, and if the price of a regular, reliable service is having our trains terminate at Cannon Street then I guess we have to live with that.

    Disclaimer: my nearest station is Maze Hill. All our daytime off-peak trains all go to Cannon Street already. I’m looking forward to having six trains an hour instead of four.

  4. Yes methers, all my daytime off-peak trains already go to Cannon Street too, as well as Saturdays. I just don’t want to lose the Sunday services and evenings too.

  5. Hi Darryl… being lazy and not looking this up. Will this mean there wont be a gap from 5.48 to 7.10pm for a direct train to charlton in the evenings from Cannon Street?

  6. I think (although I could be wrong) that when Southeastern say off-peak they mean Monday to Friday daytimes. Why do I think that? Well, in part because their “Future services” website says we currently have no off-peak services from Maze Hill to Charing Cross. And we do, but not in the daytime in the week, only at evenings and on Sundays.

    Also, I can’t see them keeping Cannon Street open late at night and on Sundays. The city is so dead at those times that it’s pointless running trains there.

    PS I work at Victoria and take the 2240 train from Charing Cross every night. I’d be annoyed if they abandoned the evening trains from Charing Cross to Greenwich, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.

  7. I spoke to Southeastern and they said that they’ll make local views known to the Timetable manager but for those disatisfied with the proposed changes they “have nothing more positive in this respect”. So I think we can pretty much take it that it’s happening whether we like it or not.

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