Safe and secure on Southeastern? I don’t think so…

I wasn’t going to head out on Good Friday night, having been out the previous night and suffered the after-effects the following day. But listening to 6 Music’s revival of Radio 1’s Evening Session saw the years fall off me. So off out to capture the spirit of 1996 I went. Well, alright, having failed to secure a crack troupe of 30something nostalgia enthusiasts at short notice to storm the New Cross Venue, I went to the pub instead.

The quickest way to the pub? By train from Charlton to Maze Hill, of course. At £1.30 with an Oyster card, it’s only 10p more than a bus. Not that anyone will check your ticket, mind. I’d looked at the next train departures before leaving, so knew it was a depleted Sunday service and my next train would be only a couple of minutes late.

Those who just rocked up to the station weren’t so lucky, with the departure boards not working.

Worse was to come when the six-car train pulled in (cue mass sprint up the platform). Walking up the train and preparing to get off at Maze Hill, a pissed bloke appeared. “‘Allo bruv, how’re you doing…” He cut the crap soon enough. “Have you got 90p so I can get off at London Bridge…”

“Sorry, I haven’t, mate – you don’t need a ticket, anyway,” I told him. Which is true – travel on Southeastern’s effectively free because the company doesn’t check tickets in the evening, especially on bank holidays.

“Don’t take the piss out of me, bruv…”

Oh, shit. Luckily, there were enough handy-looking lads sat nearby whose heads swivelled around at the first sign of a confrontation. They clocked him, he clocked them, it bought me a moment to get out of the situation and hop off at Maze Hill as planned. On the platform, I realised he’d only do it to someone else, so I thought I’d do something.

Southeastern doesn’t staff its stations at night, nor do its trains have guards. Security staff are as rare as hen’s teeth. So I thought I’d let the help point know. Since it wasn’t an emergency, I hit the green “information” button. It was answered quickly and I explained what happened. I was told I should press the “emergency” button. Right-o.

So I pressed the emergency button. It rang, rang, and rang again. And then rang off. I walked away in disbelief… then thought I should try again.

I returned and tried the emergency button again. It rang off again, without answer. I tried a third time… and again, nobody was there to answer an emergency call.

The bloke on the green button ended up getting my story. I only wanted to call ahead because it was nigh-on certain that this joker would try it on with someone else and would probably cause trouble at London Bridge, if he was off there. I gave my name and phone number, and heard nothing back. Heaven knows what would have happened if I or anyone else had been attacked, because nobody at Southeastern would have been there to take the call. But hey, while the shareholders are making a profit, why should customer safety matter, eh?

My vein-popping fury at political parties who endorse the false economy of privatised rail aside, this is why initiatives like the Charlton station users’ group are so important. Because while we’re stuck with a rail network that works for shareholders’ benefit, at least it’s a chance to go direct to people at the companies concerned instead of dealing with dead-brained call centres or e-mail helpdesks.

A few weeks ago, I got off a train at the outpost which is Walthamstow Queen’s Road station. It was about 10.30pm on a Saturday night. Even though there was only a couple of trains each hour passing through the station, there was a security guard on the platform employed by London Overground. He gave me directions to my friend’s place off Hoe Street – in fact, he seemed delighted to be able to help me get my bearings.

That experience, and my moment at Maze Hill last night, reminded me that we have a long way to go, stuck here with south-east London’s crappy networks.


  1. It is experiences like yours which mean that I have a (rather inconvenient) prohibition on using Southeastern after about seven in the evening, when the rush hour stops, and the last train. As a woman (often travelling alone) I just don’t feel safe.

  2. While obviously an appalling situation, I can’t really believe that who the owners are would make a single jot of difference.

    Being state owned would not transform the service from sclerotic to magnificent, just as being privately owned didn’t change a useless service into a model of perfection.

  3. So once again it’s pretty much a story of us lot south of the river getting treated differently to the rest of London , no change there then

  4. @IanVisits: Being TfL-run palpably *does* make a difference, though: London Overground and Underground stations are staffed during all hours of train operation, as Darryl was hinting at with his tale of Walthamstow Queen’s Road.

  5. Of course, just *who* run it shouldn’t guarantee the safety of the stations and trains, as anyone who remembers the local lines pre-Network SouthEast will recall, with crappy old trains and decrepit stations.

    But a system where the overriding incentive is to maximise profit is always going to leave openings to cut corners here and there. The London Overground system, where a private company is paid by results rather than just for existing, strikes me as a more sensible way to run a railway.

  6. @buckshee

    It’s not really a north/south of the river divide – you won’t find any staff at, say, Hackney Downs (run by National Express East Anglia) in the evenings either. Cos, you know, the privatised companies all sacked all the staff. But it’s fine, cos CCTV are much ‘safer’. It’s much safer knowing there’ll be CCTV footage of yourself being mugged rather than having staff to deter it from happening.


    What bexcentric said.

    And with the lib/lab/con consensus all having exactly the same policy (privatisation is great), don’t expect any change in future.

  7. I’m with Nat on this and glad to hear that I’m not the only woman who has imposed a self Southeastern ban. I’ve had one too many dodgy experiences and it isn’t really appreciated how, for a woman travelling alone, how intimidating a drunk, aggressive or just plain mad person can be. Your experience Darryl suggests that it isn’t just a problem that faces women. One benefit of having Southeastern is that with their short formed trains it’s rare to be stuck in a carriage alone!

    However, until I saw this post I didn’t imagine that the emergency button wouldn’t be answered. Perhaps I’m naive and in honesty I’m not sure what they could do if there was an attack, but I always imagined it would be answered and they could do ‘something’. It justifies my ban.

    I would say complain, but I doubt that would get anyone anywhere. A pretty sorry state of affairs

  8. On the north/south thing – it’s worth also pointing out that London Overground are now staffing stations from New Cross Gate to West Croydon from first train to last.

    I’m sure I remember reading years ago that men travelling alone are at more risk of attack than women, but I can’t remember where I read this or how true it is.

    (Hackney Downs is a horrible pit of a station, too.)

  9. I’m sure I heard something similar but it’s all about perception. With men, idiots are more likely to start fights particularly if they think you’ve ‘disrespected’ them. I seem to recall that men are at greater risk of violent crime but that may be out of date. I just don’t feel safe and my experiences have seemed to confirm that. I’ve always been rather lucky that there have been people around. Your post reminded me that the threat is real to both men and women but, quite frankly, so long as they make profit, I don’t think Southeastern could care a jot.

  10. Normally it doesn’t bother me that the stations aren’t staffed but a few months back I went into full-on panic mode when a visiting friend missed her stop at Blackheath and ended up at Woolwich Dockyard around 10pm at night. That is a dark, desolate station and just not somewhere I felt good about her being alone at that time, knowing it’s not staffed. Luckily she got a train back almost immediately but it drove home the point that these safety and security matters are important.

  11. Re. Hackney Downs, the same can be said for most of the stations heading out towards Enfield and Chingford. NXEA leave a lot to be desired when it comes to most aspects of their service delivery. I regularly use South West Trains too, and wonder why it can’t be like this up here. Granted, it serves ‘friendlier’ territory, but it is obvious that real investment is ongoing down there, whether under the aegis of public or private ownership doesn’t really matter to that end. (I will gladly accompany any SWT detractors on a trip from Bruce Grove to Enfield on request, to this end)

    The real comparison to be made against London Overground is the era of their former operator (on the North London side, anyway), Silverlink Metro. At best barely passable, at worst it was falling apart and unreliable to the point of being almost useless (the evening service on the GOBLIN, for example, consisted of a single train shuttling every 90 minutes – if it failed, the service was suspended for the night without warning). The difference between that and today says plenty about what public ownership can do if it is well managed.

  12. Actually, it’s worth me remembering that all Silverlink really did was maintain the state the lines were left in by BR. Having it “well managed” is a crucial point.

  13. Yes re the north London thing (am resident of Glorious Greenwich though) – the first capital connect service that goes north is DIRE.

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