Watchdog and MPs unhappy as Tory cuts hit Southeastern services

Charlton station
Rail services across SE London will be cut from December

London’s rail watchdog has hit out after Southeastern axed scores of trains to and from Charing Cross in its new timetable – ending direct links to the West End for many local communities in SE London.

Funding cuts from the Conservative government also mean that services are being reduced overall, with turn-up-and-go frequencies being axed across the network.

The tourist hotspot of Greenwich will be left with just four trains per hour with passengers left waiting up to 23 minutes for a train.

On the Woolwich line, all trains to Charing Cross have been scrapped, with trains rerouted to Cannon Street instead. They will also begin calling at St John’s and New Cross. Sunday services linking Woolwich Arsenal and Charlton with Blackheath and Lewisham have been scrapped completely.

The rail operator’s new timetable, due to come into effect from December, will also mean no more off-peak Charing Cross trains on the Bexleyheath line, which serves Blackheath, Kidbrooke and Eltham.

While many SE Londoners have grown used to direct trains to the West End, rail bosses have long wanted to simplify services to reduce pressure on junctions – particularly at Lewisham – and make services more reliable.

As a result, Sidcup line services will mostly run to Charing Cross, with only some rush-hour trains heading to Cannon Street. A single train each morning will run to Blackfriars.

Charing Cross station
The Woolwich line will lose all its Charing Cross services

The government cuts will mean fewer trains overall than before the pandemic. While most stations had six trains per-hour off-peak on weekdays and Saturdays, this now remains at the four introduced during the pandemic. The “rounder” trains which link the Sidcup and Greenwich lines – used by many Charlton Athletic fans to reach matches at The Valley – will be scrapped.

London Travelwatch, which represents passengers, called the change “bad news” and criticised the lack of consultation.

A spokesperson said: “Southeastern passengers rely on direct train services to get to work, attend medical appointments, to be with friends and family, and to get to the capital’s attractions, many of which are concentrated in the West End, South Bank and the City.

“The new timetable will mean that people will have to change at London Bridge to finish their journey. As London Bridge is already a busy station, we’re concerned these changes will negatively impact disabled passengers and those with accessibility needs.

“We’re worried that the cuts to direct train services will deter people from travelling precisely at the time when we want to encourage people back to using sustainable transport.

“We believe that if Southeastern had asked passengers about these cuts to direct train services before announcing them, the response would have been a resounding ‘no’.”

However, London Travelwatch stopped short of calling for the new timetable to be scrapped, instead saying that more staff should be on hand at London Bridge and that the changes should be reversed “at the earliest opportunity” if they did not reduce delays.

The new map of services via Greenwich and Woolwich. This does not include Thameslink services, which are unaffected

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook told social media that the changes had “not been adequately justified”. He added: “I’m concerned they will exacerbate overcrowding on numerous peak hour services.”

Clive Efford, the MP for Eltham, said he would be meeting the company on Friday to discuss the cuts.

Greenwich’s Conservative leader Matt Hartley criticised the cuts, even though they are in part a result of his own party’s policy to recoup money spent on keeping the rail network running during the pandemic.

“These timetable changes are a further deterioration in the service we receive,” he said.

“The lack of any consultation on these changes, as well as the haphazard way they have been announced, is unacceptable – and I have written to Southeastern to represent residents’ concerns about this.”

Petitions against the changes have already begun – one about changes on the Woolwich and Bexleyheath lines, and one from SE Nine magazine about services from Eltham and Mottingham.

Changes had long been rumoured but were only confirmed earlier this week when Southeastern published the new timetables on its website.

In a press statement issued yesterday, Southeastern said the changes were “being made to reduce congestion at busy junctions and improve punctuality. The services will still meet customer demand and are supplemented by trains from other operators such as Thameslink and reflect a shift of customers now using the new Elizabeth Line services.”

Scott Brightwell, Southeastern’s operations director, said: “This new and improved timetable delivers a more consistent all-day service and means we’re providing trains, and space, where it’s needed most – which reflects the way people now travel.

“Our customers tell us that reliability and punctuality are their highest priorities. So, we’ve simplified routes to remove bottlenecks which will see more trains running on time, fewer cancellations, and a more reliable service.

“The simpler structure of the timetable, with most trains leaving stations at broadly the same time each hour, means we can add more trains into the timetable as demand changes.

“As we continue to recover from the pandemic, our focus remains on providing the most convenient and reliable railway for everyone who uses it.”

Southeastern said in its announcement to customers that “it would not be fair to taxpayers for trains to continue to run with more seats than needed, given the cost involved”. But that comes in contrast to the Docklands Light Railway, which recently had its services boosted by Transport for London. Like Southeastern’s Woolwich line, the DLR also serves Elizabeth Line destinations.

DLR at Woolwich Arsenal
Transport for London has recently increased DLR services

Across Southeastern’s entire network, which includes services to the Kent and East Sussex coasts, the company said that weekday peak-time journeys are at 56 percent of pre-Covid demand while weekday off-peak journeys are at around 77 per cent. Weekend journeys are at 90 per cent.

A Southeastern spokesperson told 853: “On some trains in today’s timetable there are many spare seats on trains arriving in London and for the December timetable we’ve done a lot of work to match the demand for our train services with appropriate space for customers.

“In addition, we’re able to make alterations to our timetable as customer travel habits change – and this new timetable will enable us to do that in an easier and more flexible way.”

The spokesman added: “The Department for Transport has agreed to allow train operators to continue to implement demand-led timetables without consulting formally during this period.”

Greenwich councillors will be quizzing Southeastern representatives on the changes at a scrutiny panel meeting on October 20. Residents can contact members of the committee with their concerns.

Beyond the capital, first class seating will be removed from all Southeastern services – a change unlikely to affect most SE London passengers, but one which may receive more media attention than rail cuts inside the capital.

More details about the cuts can be found at

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