Snow falls, so Southeastern cuts SE London off

It’s the most protracted cold snap in years, and railway staff work their guts out to get a normal service up and running. They do it, with some style…

Oh, sorry, that was in 1963. In 2010…

“Announcement’s” – oh dear. But Southeastern’s awful grammar is the least of their crimes inflicted on south-east Londoners today, with timetables slashed to a miserly two trains per hour today after not all that much snow fell on us late last night. Those information boards aren’t even carrying any train times. The emergency timetable was introduced on Tuesday evening, before a single flake of snow had fallen. The result was mayhem at many rail stations, with BBC London News showing police dealing with crowds at Blackheath.

Worse still, services are due to pack up completely at around 8pm, with the same timetable due for Thursday as well. Clearly, the situation has changed a little this afternoon with further snowfall (this post is being written to a soundtrack of non-winter tyres struggling to cope on the road outside) but if it’s so hard for Southeastern to run a service, why is neighbouring Southern “planning to run a full timetable for Southern Metro (London area) services”?

So why is Southeastern doing this? Londonist‘s RachelH, herself a regular commuter from Hither Green, tried putting in calls to its press office. No response.

To compound the ludicrousness, Londonist caught the 23.44 train out of London Bridge last night, when the snow was bucketing down, without any problems at all.

We’ve left messages for Southeastern, asking how long this is planned to continue and whether they’ll be offering any sort of compensation, and will update this post when/if we hear anything. In the meantime it seems there’s little to do but fume silently (or loudly, whichever is your wont) and contemplate secession from the rest of the capital.

As I mentioned, BBC London News featured footage of mayhem at Blackheath station. But did it ask Southeastern just why it was mass-cancelling trains when its neighbouring operator was attempting a full service in the capital? Did it heck. It’s only south-east London, after all.

(Thanks to Blackheath Bugle for the video)

If Southeastern had put into place a full timetable today, it would have been liable to pay refunds if the snow had severely disrupted its service. But the emergency timetable means it can skip that requirement. Is this the reason that it axed most of south-east London’s trains today?

Last year, Southeastern received a subsidy of £136m. This year, it is due to trouser £116m from taxpayers. That’s on top of the cash it’s received from fares which have increased substantially over recent years, the minor cuts for Oyster users not withstanding. Perhaps it might like to explain itself to the people who pay its bosses’ wages? If they don’t, other people have some suggestions

(UPDATE, 1AM 7 JANUARY: Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford, whose Labour party privatised Southeastern in April 2006, says the company is “the weak link” in the transport network.)


  1. Ummm – bit misleading innit ?

    That’s not all SouthEastern in 1963 in the video is it ?

    Looks like a compendium of footage and Tyndrum’s in Scotland isn’t it ?

  2. What’s the good of offering use of the Javelin’s to those who live nowhere near Ebsfleet?

    First Boris cutting off SE London, now SE trains. Are they trying to tell us something?

  3. Pete, he doesn’t claim that the video is SouthEastern!

    I took the (crowded) train earlier today, and they were keeping very quiet about the early night. It’s a good thing I didn’t work late!

  4. After the last hoo-hah a few weeks back, I would’ve thought South Eastern would’ve got off their backsides and done some groundwork. LUL have learnt their lesson after February 2009 – we ran de-icing trains all night last night, and for the snowfall in December (again, Boris Johnson failing to recognise our efforts – he only seems to remember us when we’ve got something wrong – excellent TfL leadership all round), thus enabling us to run a half-decent service whilst the buses fall over and London’s roads pack up. Though the snowfall last night and tonight was considerably more, we all got advanced warning.

    Combined with the new Oyster roll-out on NR, this SE London lark is getting ridiculous. It’s alright if you’ve got your South Eastern ticket and you’re going through North Greenwich – we’ve got ticket acceptance. We’ll let you out if you’ve touched in at Bexleyheath or whatever on your Oyster, but then there’s no guarantee that if/when you get to London Bridge you touch out and it chargers you the correct fare, and NR are claiming £6 through the Oyster maximum penalty fare system to ‘protect’ their revenue. It’s all a poorly thought con. It’s all very well Boris wanting to push out Oyster onto NR, but the fare structure and the way the system works, on PAYG and otherwise (not to mention the various discounted Oyster cards you have these days – PTAC, Restricted PTAC, New Deal, 16+…), is so poorly thought out and planned. The revenue departments on various TOCs need to stop sitting on their thumbs. It makes my life on the gateline twice as hard, and as they’ve started imposing restrictions in the LUL Ticket Offices, it makes it three times as hard for a clerk to actually resolve a problem.

    Standing outside North Greenwich earlier this morning having an imaginary cigarette to calm down, it was plain to see how hard hit SE London were hit. Bus after bus was rammed with more than the usual amount. Some South Eastern stations obviously didn’t tell their ticket holders that we were accepting them on LUL – there were a few few people who’d bought LUL single tickets into town who were completely unaware until I’d put a message up in the ticket hall specifically for South Eastern customers to tell them just to present their tickets to me so I could let them through. Snow aside, I think it is appalling how South Eastern have treated their customers. When we have serious disruptions on LUL, we arrange ticket acceptance on London Buses/DLR etc. When a NR company has a disruption on their service, LUL do not automatically have ticket acceptance – they basically make an arrangement with LUL (which I think involves a rate of some sort they have to pay whilst the arrangement is in place), and they don’t always choose to take it up. South Eastern basically decided one morning last year because they had severe delays only, they didn’t want ticket acceptance for their customers on LULs – as far as they were concerned, trains were running.

    Yeah, the Tube’s not perfect. I’ll admit that, but Train Operating Companies like South Eastern just give up at the first hurdle. It’s pathetic.

  5. Can I also give a thumbs up to the DLR at Woolwich Arsenal, despite the problems at Bank, it run like a dream, took the Southeastern passengers into town no questions asked, and got the job done really well.

    Amazingly good service by Serco, and on the NLL as well, proves a private company can do it when given the right operating structure

  6. I’d second that comment on the DLR. All City trains are terminating at Tower Gateway at the moment – while they do the work on the junction for Bank to allow 3 carriage trains – and they have at least six platform staff at TG employed just to point people in the right direction and explain which trains they need to be on. Contrast with Southeastern’s understaffed, underinformed stations.

  7. A lot of DLR workers wouldn’t be quite so complimentary about Serco, but at least Serco knows who’s boss – the mayor.

    Southeastern knows its only bosses are its shareholders.

  8. Today, they are at least DOUBLING the service on some lines (from a Sunday service to a Saturday service, haha). Though I’m not sure this applies to the Greenwich line. However, my husband has just been out to Lee station and the entire station is closed with no explanation. And the National Rail website is showing all trains as running on-time. Argh!

  9. I didn’t know until I got to North Greenwich this morning that they were accepting south eastern tickets – no info at Charlton station – I had just decided I couldn’t bear the thought of fighting my way onto a train full of people glued to the doors. I can’t understand if they can run 2 trains an hour why they can’t run 4 – if the tracks are clear what’s the problem? Oh, and to the wag at LB station last night who thought it was funny to announce that the incoming train was formed of only 4 carriages when the platform was dangerously full – ha, bloody ha.

  10. […] All the trains were packed, and commuters were stranded. Many gave up entirely and went home. The situation was made worse as SouthEastern proceeded to cancel all metro services that night (lines closed around 8pm) and implement the same severely limited timetable today and, as it stands, tomorrow. You can read far more comprehensive accounts of the failure at Londonist here and 853 here. […]

  11. Incidentally, as a wildly off-topic treat for those who are reading this far and this long after this post was written…

    The composer who wrote the music for the 1963 film at the top of the post, Johnny Hawksworth, also wrote a piece of music called Salute to Thames, which is better known as this. I was impressed when I found that out.

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