Charlton station
The sun is not going down on Southeastern yet

Southeastern will run SE London’s mainline trains for at least another 18 months after the government gave the company a management contract to continue running the service until at least October 2021.

The deal puts on hold months of uncertainty about the future of Southeastern, which has been operating the network since 2006. The franchise had been due to expire in 2014, but was extended to 2018 and was extended further while rival companies were invited to bid for the franchise, a contest which has since been scrapped.

Southeastern’s new agreement is a management contract, meaning the Westminster government takes the revenue and the cost risks. Southeastern’s management fee – its profit – is capped at two per cent of its costs. The deal could be extended until the end of March 2022.

Rail services have been reduced since the coronavirus lockdown, with only essential workers meant to travel. Most Southeastern lines in SE London are running four trains per hour, with half of those trains on the Greenwich line run by Thameslink. The line to Hayes has been cut to two trains per hour.

When the crisis is over, Southeastern is promising “a range of customer experience improvements including exploring options to boost capacity in the short-term as additional rolling stock becomes available, and continued partnership with Network Rail to develop a longer-term capacity, rolling stock and punctuality strategy for the Southeastern network beyond 2022”. The Department for Transport is promising “space for thousands of extra passengers during the morning and evening peak times”.

As for how SE London’s trains are run, the deal kicks the can down the line for another 18 months. Theresa May’s government was implacably opposed to handing control of the capital’s rail network to Transport for London, but Boris Johnson’s administration has taken a softer line. Johnson was a supporter of devolution during his spell as London mayor, which saw lines out of Liverpool Street transferred to London Overground; while last year the current mayor Sadiq Khan called Southeastern “a disgrace”.

Two months ago, after being pressed by both Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and Eltham MP Clive Efford, the rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said he was “very interested” to hear about proposals for the devolution of part of the Southeastern franchise.

This agreement almost lines up the end of the Southeastern contract with the deal to run Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern services, which are also run by the same company, Govia. That ends on 30 September 2021 – just two weeks before the scheduled end of the new Southeastern contract on 16 October 2021.

Representatives of Southeastern and Network Rail had been due to discuss their service with a scrutiny panel of Greenwich councillors earlier this month, but that meeting was postponed in light of the coronavirus crisis.

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