Southeastern train at Charing Cross with London Eye in the background
Some services to Charing Cross have been restored on the Bexleyheath line Credit: The Greenwich Wire

Thousands of people have signed this website’s petition to have Southeastern Metro trains handed to Transport for London – with MPs, councillors and campaigners from all parties signing up.

Over 3,600 people have put their names to the official petition on the UK Parliament website, which was launched on Monday. If more than 10,000 people sign up, the Westminster government – which cut SE London’s rail service last December – is obliged to give an official response.

The early success of the campaign came as Southeastern confirmed today that it was reintroducing one off-peak train per hour to Charing Cross on the Bexleyheath line – a partial and limited reversal of one of its most contentious cuts, which have forced many passengers to change at London Bridge to reach the West End.

While the news will be a limited boost to passengers at Lewisham, Blackheath, Kidbrooke, Eltham, Falconwood and beyond, it will do nothing to stop the chaotic rush-hour scenes at London Bridge, which resulted in more dangerous overcrowding on Tuesday after a signal failure at Cannon Street.

But even that announcement was botched when it appeared to have been handed to a Tory MP so he could claim it as a success for his party this morning – threatening the cross-party consensus in campaigning for the changes to be reversed.

Another MP warned today that “somebody will get injured or killed” at London Bridge if the current timetable continues.

The extra trains on the Bexleyheath line will help some Lewisham passengers – but only off-peak

Southeastern confirmed this afternoon that the hourly train, to run on Mondays to Saturdays, would be in addition to the existing two trains to Cannon Street and two to Victoria. Before the pandemic the line used to have two trains to Charing Cross too.

A spokesperson told 853 that Southeastern had been “listening to customers’ feedback and using journey data to assess how people are travelling”.

He added: “In light of that, from 22 May 2023, in agreement with the Department for Transport, we are taking action by reinstating a direct off-peak service to Charing Cross on the Bexleyheath line, which will run hourly, Monday to Saturday.

“These trains will be in addition to those provided by the current timetable meaning over 300 services will operate each week, directly to and from Charing Cross on the Bexleyheath line.

“It’s clear that there’s substantial demand on the Bexleyheath line for direct services that call at Waterloo East on the way to Charing Cross. Overall, this decision should benefit passengers on the Bexleyheath line and better balance demand across Southeastern’s Metro services, supporting the West End economy.

“For taxpayers, this decision balances the need to manage the cost of providing rail services, with the need to generate fare revenue that supports the provision and development of them.”

Louie French website image
The announcement appeared to have been handed to a Tory MP

But the announcement was made first on the website of Louie French, the MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup, which includes Welling and Falconwood stations, under the headline “Bexley Conservative MPs achieve reinstatement of off-peak Bexleyheath line Charing Cross services”. While Greenwich Tory and Labour politicians have supported each other in their complaints about the Southeastern changes, relations in Bexley are more fractious.

The rail minister, Huw Merriman, also singled French and Sir David Evenett, the MP for Bexleyheath & Crayford, out for praise when asked about the Southeastern timetable by the Eltham MP Clive Efford in parliament today.

Both Efford and Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour, Erith & Thamesmead) said they had not been sent the announcement about the extra trains before this morning’s debate. Merriman blamed a “systems issue”.

Despite the announcement, SE London MPs still lined up to criticise the new timetable after Tuesday’s incident at London Bridge. Efford said: “The system has been cut back to the point where there is no slack in it. Whenever there is a delay, there is dangerous overcrowding. The minister has to address that before something serious happens to an individual.”

Bob Neill, the Bromley & Chislehurst Tory MP, supported Efford: “Is not the problem that, because of the loss of direct services on the Hayes line into Charing Cross and equally the cutback in direct services on the north Kent line into Cannon Street, unsustainable numbers of people are having to change trains at London Bridge?

“I have seen the chaos there, and I have actually stood outside the station, because it has had to be closed on occasions. It is not safe, minister. At some point, somebody will get injured or killed as a result of this.”

Vicky Foxcroft (Labour, Lewisham Deptford), said there were “delays and overcrowding every single day” from her local station, St John’s.

Merriman said that he would continue to listen to problems but added: “We had to make savings on Southeastern, and £10 million was taken off. The savings are because season tickets collapsed to 32 per cent of pre-Covid levels.” He accused Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Labour’s shadow minister, of “pledging to fund the railway no matter what.”

Southeastern also runs mainline services to Kent and East Sussex. Its financial model meant that metro routes had been dependent on lucrative season ticket sales outside the capital, a market that has now collapsed.

853’s petition to have Southeastern Metro split from the network and handed to Transport for London has been shared on social media by the Labour MP Matt Pennycook and Greenwich Tory leader Matt Hartley, as well as by a host of Labour councillors and the London Green Party.

Evening Standard clip
This website’s petition was featured in last night’s Evening Standard

The petition was also featured in last night’s Evening Standard. Signatures have come from all but two constituencies in London and every constituency in Kent.

Plans were published in 2016 to transfer Southeastern, along with Southern and what is now South Western Railway, to TfL, but progress stalled soon afterwards.

For the Liberal Democrats, London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon said on social media: “I have long supported TfL controlling London’s metro rail services. It is time this was back on the table.”

Len Duvall, the Greenwich & Lewisham assembly member, said: “TfL can deliver for London and partners/ colleagues in Kent. It just takes political will from those who take those decisions in Westminster.”

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