There will be no major changes to Southeastern services when the next timetable is introduced in May, the rail minister has confirmed – four months after cuts led to overcrowding and long waits for trains in SE London.
Southeastern Metro bore the brunt of the government’s service cuts last December, with rush-hour trains axed and most services less frequent than they were before Covid – in contrast to rail services elsewhere in the capital run by Transport for London, which run as often as they did before the pandemic.
While Southeastern has partially relented on one of the key cutbacks by introducing an hourly train to Charing Cross from Bexleyheath line stations, Huw Merriman said no more “material changes” would be made.
However, he did say that some extra rush-hour services could be introduced, but he did not say where. Southeastern also runs trains in Kent and East Sussex as well as SE London.
Merriman’s own rail services in East Sussex escaped most of the cuts.
Last month, 853 launched a petition to the government to have SE London’s rail services switched to TfL’s London Overground, which also charges cheaper fares.
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There was no consultation on the cuts, with special dispensation given by Conservative ministers to speed the changes through to save £5 million on Metro routes, as well as another £5 million on high-speed services.
In a written answer to Matt Pennycook, the Greenwich & Woolwich MP, about there would be a consultation before this May’s timetable, the Conservative minister said: “Southeastern’s contract with the Department requires it to carry out formal consultation when considering material changes to its timetable. Southeastern is not considering material changes to its timetable in May 2023 and therefore is not required to conduct a formal consultation.
“However, Southeastern is considering making some key targeted changes, including adding additional services in the peaks, to better match fluctuating demand and in doing so will continue to take passenger and stakeholder feedback on board.”
Merriman said that there was evidence that running fewer trains was having a “positive impact” on punctuality while Southeastern and Network Rail had set up a task force aimed at “improving underlying performance and to consider tactical interventions”.
Southeastern has been hit hard by the drop in sales of lucrative annual season tickets and last year insisted that the current level of services – down to four trains per hour at most Metro stations, compared with six before the pandemic – match demand.
But the resulting timetable has left long gaps between trains at some stations, particularly on the Greenwich line, which once had trains every ten minutes.
Southeastern bosses will be grilled on the new timetable by Greenwich councillors at a transport scrutiny meeting next Tuesday.
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