Southeastern’s snow failure – Boris’s intervention

Boris Johnson wrote to transport secretary Lord Adonis to complain about Southeastern’s reduced train service last week, documents released by City Hall have revealed.

The mayor intervened on Thursday, the second day of the rail company’s “emergency timetable” which saw it axe most trains in south-east London.

He said there was “no good reason” for many first trains to arrive too late for commuters to start work, and for last trains to run between 7pm and 8pm, adding it was “an odd move” to cut back on services when more trains would help keep the rails free of ice.

“I cannot stand by and see action taken which prevents this city functioning normally,”
he said, asking Lord Adonis to direct Southeastern to “resume normal hours operation, with the fullest possible timetable, with immediate effect”.

South-east London’s assembly members were copied into the letter, along with local council leaders.

However, despite the Conservative mayor’s intervention, Southeastern did not resume its full timetable until Saturday.

Lord Adonis replied on Monday, saying the timetable was “jointly planned” by Southeastern and Network Rail. The train had made “some improvements” to the emergency timetable during the week, he added.

The Labour peer added a hand-written note to his letter, reading: “Let’s keep in touch closely this week.”

City Hall released the letters after a Freedom of Information Act request.

Boris Johnson’s letter to Lord Adonis, 7 January (80K PDF)
Lord Adonis’s response, 11 January (80K PDF)

Well, well. Fair play to Boris – but with many Londoners fuming about Southeastern’s reluctance to run trains, why didn’t he tell anybody? His public silence about the matter was baffling, for he’s meant to act as an advocate for Londoners. The Southeastern issue was ignored in a press release sent out on 8 January, while it was plans to tax bankers which met the mayor’s fury instead. It turns out he was putting pressure on the company after all – but he would have done himself a favour to tell people…

Instead, the first indication that he’d done anything came via Bexley & Bromley assembly member James Cleverly, whose PA responded to Bexcentric’s complaints about Southeastern: “That letter obviously had the desired effect. I will be forwarding your email and my response to the Mayor’s office for their information and any further action.” That’s what prompted me to put a request into City Hall to see what happened.

London Assembly transport committee chair Caroline Pidgeon has since said she was “glad” the mayor had intervened, and has written a letter to Southeastern MD Charles Horton. Green AM Darren Johnson said he would be tabling a question to the mayor about the issue (he wasn’t copied into the mayor’s letter).

(I should also give credit to Greenwich Council deputy leader Peter Brooks here, who was first to respond to my own queries about the issue and said the council would be raising it with Southeastern.)

Of course, we’ve had another dumping of snow this morning and Southeastern has struggled – but has at least tried to run a normal timetable this time. What effect did Boris Johnson’s quiet intervention have? Maybe that’s a story waiting to be told.

In the meantime, Bexcentric is continuing his own attempt to get to the truth of what happened at Southeastern last week.

(Full Southeastern snow coverage.)

(UPDATE 14 JANUARYAdam Bienkov contrasts my FOI request with some of his own…)

(UPDATE 15 JANUARY – It is worth pointing out, in the face of some politically-minded linkage going on, that the current policy of rail privatisation is backed by Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats, despite what petitions the latter party are putting around and using this blog to justify.)


  1. Indeed, fair play to Boris on this – but you are certainly right that he ought to have gone public. You’d think someone so au fait with the media would know that a pithy statement would have at least doubled the effect of a private exchange of letters with the minister.

    Have to say, I’m bowled over by such a fast FOI response from City Hall: not my experience at all. Cynical minds might suggest a reason for a speedy response when it shows the Mayor in a good light…

  2. This is what I don’t get – what’s the mayor’s media team for?

    I guess this is an echo of his approach to Oyster, where there was a conscious decision to avoid the bashing of train companies that Ken did.

    But mayors sometimes have to wield a big stick on behalf of their cities – don’t they? (Genuine question, not a dull political point.)

  3. Yes can’t believe how fast they answered this one. Funnily enough, my request for correspondence between Boris and Prince Charles is taking much longer…

  4. It took from Monday lunchtime to Wednesday lunchtime. Nothing moves as fast as good news!

  5. It’s not just me – goes back to people making enquiries of Southeastern and Network Rail last week. This is just my tup’pence worth.

    Network Rail doesn’t come under the Freedom of Information Act, which is rather shabby, because it would be useful to see the minutes of discussions its people had with Southeastern.

  6. Just catching up on the saga – very nice work on getting this info. As has been noted it’s odd that that his comms team was so quiet on this but, credit where it’s due, well done to BoJo for actually attempting to do something to benefit Londoners for once.

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