The weather may now have turned mild, but the repercussions from troubled train company Southeastern’s spell of incommunicado in the snow rumble on.
During that first snowfall, back on 30 November, the only reliable information to come out of Southeastern at all was from an anonymous train driver with a Twitter account. Many Twitter users in London and Kent have been using the #southeastern hashtag to share information about train services or to grumble about the company, which does not have a presence on the service itself other than an unreliable automated feed from National Rail Enquiries.
Early in the morning of 30 November, he tapped out this message for waiting commuters.
Pretty clear message there. Later in the day, as anger grew at the service disruption, he sensibly reminded people it wasn’t all his employers’ fault…
The @Train_Driver account touched on other issues from the embattled operator, which in the year to April 2010, was propped up by a £98.4m subsidy from the government. One telling tweet from that month revealed: “Heard a rumour that #southeastern offered franchise back to the government, but they would have wanted last year’s subsidy back.”
Our anonymous train driver, however, is tweeting no more. After tweeting about a line problem which threatened services out of Slade Green depot a week or so ago, his account vanished.
We don’t know why the account is suspended – remember, Southeastern “doesn’t respond to blogs, etc” – but it’s sad to see the silencing of an honest voice from inside a train company whose official voices are so inept.
As for those official voices, remember that all they could talk about was how Southeastern could talk about was how it’d stuck a Tube-style information board on its website? From spokeswoman Sarah Boundy’s excruciating interview with BBC South East: “We have a look-up tool which, at-a-glance, will tell people what lines of route are running and what lines of route aren’t running.”
Six weeks after that interview, it’s clear that that “look-up tool” is pretty much useless.
Here it is on Sunday, parked next to a year-old promo video for the high-speed trains that commuters’ socking great fare rises are helping to subsidise:
It was actually completely useless. You’ll see claims of a “good service” on both the Bexleyheath and Greenwich lines, and on mainline routes through Chatham and Ashford. This was not the case.
Engineering works had wiped out the whole Bexleyheath line, completely closed the major interchange at Lewisham, and halved the stopping service on the Greenwich line to two an hour. It also closed lines in Kent between Headcorn and Ashford, and between Rochester and Rainham – again not reflected on this supposedly amazing tool. News of these service cuts was buried two clicks away from the screen declaring there’d be trains as normal on these lines.
For comparison, here’s what London Underground’s status update service – which is what Southeastern’s is based on – said on Sunday, with engineering works also wiping out many of its weekend services.
Not flattering, but honest. More honest than Southeastern’s effort, for a start. I’m not quite sure in what fantasy land a replacement bus counts as a “good service”, but when you’re high as a kite on a multi-million pound government bailout and huge fare rises, who can blame Southeastern for being delusional?
In other Southeastern news, transport minister Theresa Villiers has refused to intervene in the row between Kent MPs and the company over its fare rises. She wrote in a letter to Thanet Tory MP Roger Gale: “I am afraid the fare increases Southeastern is introducing are within the terms of the franchise agreement. I therefore have no standing to intervene with [Southeastern boss] Charles Horton.”