Southeastern’s ‘look-up tool’ fails again

In yesterday’s post about the mysterious disappearance of Southeastern’s tweeting train driver I mentioned the magical ‘look-up tool’ which the hapless rail company’s spokespeople claimed would help it communicate with passengers better. It isn’t. It’s giving out the wrong information.

“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.”Southeastern spokeswoman Sarah Boundy, BBC South East Today, 3 December 2010.

As I type (5.55pm), power problems at Charlton mean the Greenwich line is closed. I was affected in a different way – riding home by bike, I was stuck for over 10 minutes at Charlton Lane level crossing while Network Rail scratched their backsides working out what to do.

So what is Southeastern’s magical “look-up tool” telling punters this evening?

Apparently a whole line being closed merits only a “minor disruption” line. Not a “major disruption”, nor a “suspended”, but a “minor disruption”. On London Undergound, “minor delays” means you may held up for 10 minutes or so. This isn’t the case here. If you click on the coy “line problems between Woolwich Arsenal and Charlton”, you get this…

There’s disruption, blah, blah, oh, and the trains are diverted too! Get the most important info out of the way last, that’s the way to do it. While it’s good to hear people can get to one stop – Greenwich – by DLR, there’s no word on whether London Buses are taking Southeastern ticketholders once they get to Blackheath or Eltham or wherever.

The National Rail Twitter feed isn’t much use here, either:!/NRE_SouthEastrn/statuses/27062343615651840

Delays? That’s putting it mildly.

Here’s the nub of the problem with Southeastern – when the shit hits the fan, it’s hopeless at telling us. That “look-up tool” is worse than useless if it doesn’t tell us immediately about line closures, whether it’s because of electrical problems or engineering works. For this company to demand ever greater sums from its passengers, but get worse and worse at talking to those passengers, demonstrates the contempt that only a featherbedded monopoly can show to its customers.

If, as it is rumoured, staff cutbacks have meant that there is nobody who is able to actually provide this information to people in a legible, clear, and immediate manner; then they must be reversed. And it’s down to the government – and us – to tell Southeastern that, not shy away from challenging this inept outfit.

UPDATE 6.50PM – Bromley and Chislehurst MP Bob Neill has joined fellow Tories in calling for a review of Southeastern’s “suspicious” performance figures.


  1. The tool is a joke. On Friday my connecting service was cancelled. The tool said there was a ‘Good Service’ – good for whom?
    I think minor disruption just means ‘minor disruption to the franchise process where we rip you off even more’.

  2. At the precise time you were waiting at the level crossing, I was once again having to catch the DLR because the Greenwich foot tunnel was closed. That’s the last three times I have tried to use it that it has been closed.

  3. My wife was also disrupted by the ‘minor delays’.

    She was at London Bridge and realised no-one knew what was happening so she jumped onto a train to Blackheath via Lewisham. A 380 ride later she was back.

    But she has learnt (through bitter experience) that SE are profiteering gits who don’t give a toss about their passengers/clients/customers/revenue providers/suckers etc. What about people who aren’t generally users of the ‘service’? Sod ’em.

    As you say, you can forget that useless info bar!
    Oh, and Darryl, you should have carried your bike over the footbridge — that’ll keep you healthy!

  4. I just missed my usual train from Cannon Street, and when I heard about the problems from the station announcer I jumped on a Barnehurst train. That left about ten minutes late and proceeded slowly, with many stops en route, seemingly never getting above 10 mph. To add insult to injury, the automatic train announcer kept saying “We are sorry this train is delayed, this is due to ‘congestion’.” Eventually I got to Blackheath and caught a bus to Charlton, arriving about an hour later than usual.

    BTW, the announcer at Cannon Street mentioned that the fire brigade were at the scene, so it sounds a little more than just “power problems”.

  5. I arrived at London Bridge just after 7pm to find the departures board awash with Greenwich Line delays, and platform 1 thronged – four deep along the platform edge – with people waiting for the next departure.

    Needless to say, southeastern’s solution was a FIVE-coach train incapable of accommodating all of those waiting, while those that could board were crammed in like cattle.

  6. To be honest, if that’s the train they’ve got in the platform at Cannon Street, that’s what you’ll get. Did they warn people it’d only be a five car train, though?

    Now the Greenwich line has a 10-minute service of short trains, it’s liable to things like that happening.

  7. I stopped commuting by trains 3 years ago because of this type of issue and it seems little has changed in that time. There is something fundamentally wrong that this common experience is not translated into action. Why do commuters put up with this. They have a voice and their MPs post should be full of complaint letters.

  8. at london bridge they mentioned that tickets would be valid on the buses, but didn’t mention the DLR. consistent message as always!

  9. In addition to this, they redirected a greenwich train via bexleyheath, and as all trains were delayed yesterday, i (and a load of other people) jumped onto the redirected train at Cannon St (after hearing someone else ask a SE staff memeber if it definately went to bexleyheath, and being told yes, and after checking the departure boards said bexleyheath). We left Cannon St, and a while into the journey the electronic info on the train changed to say via Greenwich (it had been re-routed back after the journey had started). Had to get a bus from Charlton, adding an hour to my journey

  10. Many of you seem to have well rehearsed contingency strategies – why can’t Southeastern employ someone suitably knowledgeable to feed this in, to the less frequent travellers.

    BTW if you tink the Greenwich Foot Tunnel closures on a whim are a pain for pedestrians just think how it affects cyclists. At least you haven’t got to go too far for a DLR stop

    To see how it should be done follow @LondonMidland (inexplicably also a Govia run franchise) who seem to handle Twitter in an exemplary way, they announce the incident, advise on prospects and update as maters progress, advising on the use of bus and tram services (with tickets accepted) as well as other operators where appropriate. They have also taken to advising of short-formed trains, and have an ‘immediate action’ to get ‘space’ by dropping certain services, and getting other services to stop on a well rehearsed pattern.

    Mike Hodson was the Director for Operations and safety and moved to become MD of London Midland – has his post been filled yet – as it seems that the operations element is one of the key areas of weakness.

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