Southeastern ‘not listening to Greenwich Council’ about rail cuts

London Bridge station
Southeastern Metro services were cut by the government last December

Southeastern has been accused of “not listening” by Greenwich Council’s transport chief – who said that the government-owned rail company had not responded to her complaints about service cuts.

Averil Lekau, the cabinet member for transport for the council’s deputy leader, praised the petition set up by this website calling on the government to transfer the Southeastern Metro routes to Transport for London.

She said the company had ignored letters from herself and Anthony Okereke, the council leader, asking to discuss the cuts.

Peak-time trains across the borough were cut in December, and off-peak trains reduced compared with the pre-Covid timetable as part of a Westminster government programme of cuts to railway funding.

With Southeastern Metro routes saw the brunt of the Conservatives’ service reductions, no such cuts have been implemented on TfL’s London Overground routes, putting Greenwich and its neighbouring boroughs at a disadvantage compared with other parts of the capital.

Lekau complained that Southeastern was trying to discuss issues with the transport scrutiny panel – which has no power – instead of responding to requests from her and the council leader, who do have power.

“I listened to Southeastern giving their reports to the transport scrutiny panel,” she said at Wednesday night’s council meeting. “They spent a lot of time suggesting that they were listening. They haven’t listened. The leader and I have written to them. They seem to err on the side of engaging with the scrutiny panel, and the things they were asking of the scrutiny panel were things that the scrutiny panel could not deliver.

“They’ve just not responded and we keep asking them.”

At last week’s meeting of the transport scrutiny panel, Southeastern’s managing director Steve White asked that Greenwich Council helped make a case for the return of the Sidcup loop line trains, which link the north and south of the borough – including to the Elizabeth Line at Abbey Wood. He said that bringing the trains back would cost £5 million.

Scrutiny panels in councils, which examine issues at town halls and the wider community, are similar to select committees in parliament and are supposed to be separate from the ruling cabinet.

A Southeastern spokesperson told 853 yesterday: “Southeastern continues to engage at Councillor and Officer level with representatives from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, most recently on 21 March 2023 when our Managing Director and other members of our team fielded questions from Councillors and members of the public in a two-hour public meeting in the Borough.

“We are in regular correspondence with Greenwich representatives and have further meetings planned with them in the near future and would welcome the chance to meet directly with Cllr Lekau to discuss how we can work together for a better, safer and more accessible railway.”

Westcombe Park station
Westcombe Park station is among those to have lost many evening trains

Huw Merriman, the Conservative transport minister, has cited a fall in peak-hour demand since the pandemic for justification for the cuts, although his own route from Battle, East Sussex, has escaped the worst of the service reductions.

Southeastern has pointed to a loss in lucrative annual season-ticket sales, and says it is currently being subsided by £1 million per day.

A petition set up by this website for Southeastern Metro to be transferred to London Overground – and out of the hands of the Westminster government – now has over 5,400 signatures, with nearly half coming from residents in Greenwich borough.

The campaign aims to highlight the broken system where the fortunes of SE London’s local trains are effectively tied to income received from long-distance commuters from Kent, instead of being integrated with the Underground, Overground and Elizabeth Line.

Lekau said: “I don’t ever promote 853 but they have a petition up and there are other petitions all over the place. Residents are getting engaged in this whole process.”

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