Greenwich councillors voiced their anger last night after hundreds of commuters were “kettled” inside London Bridge station following another night of misery for commuters using Southeastern trains.
Services were badly disrupted by a trespasser on the tracks at Hither Green station, the latest of a series of incidents that have hit SE London’s commuter rail network since the start of the year – but have also called the effectiveness of Southeastern’s new timetable into question.
The council’s deputy leader, Averil Lekau, said she would write an urgent letter to the company following last night’s incident, which one councillor who was caught in the chaos said led to fights and the police being called.
the state of london bridge station this evening, I love commuting x pic.twitter.com/jDQYljVQ7X
— khai khai (@khaiyamckenzie) January 25, 2023
Last month the rail company unveiled a slimmed-down timetable with fewer peak time trains and a cut in services compared with before the pandemic, as a result of government cuts to its budget.
It also “simplified” the timetable by scrapping trains to Charing Cross from the Woolwich line as well as all off-peak trains there from the Bexleyheath line, forcing many passengers to change at London Bridge. Southeastern argued that this would make the service more resilient because fewer trains would be crossing paths at Lewisham, where tracks to Cannon Street, Charing Cross and Victoria meet.
But commuters say it has made matters worse, with London Bridge station unable to cope with huge numbers of people changing trains at times of disruption.
. @Se_Railway 100s of passengers in a crush at London Bridge due to the changes you introduced – with no consultation – in December. It's not just doubled commutes, it's DANGEROUS. Every night is like this, trapped on packed trains, escalators and platforms. DO SOMETHING. pic.twitter.com/5mUcS3fDY7
— Suzanne Whitlock (@Whitters_s) January 25, 2023
Southeastern bosses are due to meet a Greenwich scrutiny panel in the coming weeks to discuss the problems, and the council’s deputy leader, Averil Lekau, said she would be writing to the company after that meeting.
But former Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe – who was among those caught in last night’s crush at London Bridge on his way to the town hall, along with his Labour colleague Sammy Backon – pressed for more urgent action.
“Councillor Backon and myself and hundreds of people tonight were subjected to the most appalling conditions at London Bridge where hundreds of people have been kettled on platforms,” he said. “Things got so bad, there was violence and police were called to the station. So, with respect, I’m not sure that a letter can wait any longer.”
Lekau said: “I revise that – yes. I actually think it’s important to separate the two [issues] because that really was a matter of safety. Especially when you’re thinking about the platforms and so on, and this pushing of so many people. Without a doubt, yes, I will.
One passenger, Jimmy Court, from Hayes, told the BBC that passengers were suffering panic attacks. “”It was quite concerning and dangerous,” he said. “Staff seemed to not know what to do and more and more people seemed to be joining the crowd from the new connecting services.”
Another, Lesley Thomas, said on social media: “London Bridge was dangerous this evening. There was no communication with passengers which led to frightening and at times out-of-control overcrowding. Plus platform changes with just two minutes’ notice. Lessons need to be learned from tonight.”
Earlier in the week, the company and Network Rail apologised for the poor service. But passengers on some lines, particularly through New Eltham and Mottingham, are reporting severe overcrowding on a daily basis.
Labour councillor Cathy Dowse, whose Mottingham, Coldharbour & New Eltham ward is on the Sidcup line, said: “Trains are late, trains are delayed, they’re overcrowded. It’s an awful situation for everyone using it. I’m aware there’s been an apology from Southeastern this week, but that really doesn’t cut the mustard, does it?”
@Se_Railway how the hell can you claim this is safe.. you divert 1,000’s of passengers to London Bridge with your crappy new timetable and then kettle them when too many turn up. People keeling over and fights breaking out. Congrats on making a bad situation into a disaster.. pic.twitter.com/7sUk8vYr7g
— Courty (@Courty40) January 25, 2023
Steve White, Southeastern’s managing director, responded to Thorpe’s complaints on social media, saying: “Dan, this is the second time that crowd control has been required at London Bridge recently. The last occasion was when a points failure caused disruption. Tonight’s disruption was due to an emergency call stopping all trains due to a trespasser. A review will be held tomorrow.”
Last December the transport minister Huw Merriman told local MPs that the cuts had been “driven by our current financial and travel habit situation”.
“Travel habits have changed and there is a need to make our railways more financially sustainable, as well as improving their reliability,” he added.
Both Labour and Conservative councillors in Greenwich have previously called for local rail services to run by Transport for London, like the London Overground and Elizabeth Line, rather than controlled by Westminster with Kent and East Sussex services as they are now.
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