Train at Waterloo East
Southeastern Metro timetables are tweaked today but there are still fewer trains than there were before the pandemic

Almost two thirds of Southeastern passengers want changes to the train operator’s timetable, five months after Government cuts led to SE London services being slashed, a survey for transport watchdogs has found.

The survey of over 500 passengers in south London found that 65 per cent of passengers wanted changes to the timetable, while 42 per cent said their journeys took longer than before the changes were made in December.

Rush-hour trains were cut and services reduced from the pre-Covid timetable on Southeastern Metro services across Greenwich, Bexley and Lewisham boroughs to meet Conservative spending targets, with £5 million of services – including a direct link to the Elizabeth Line – axed. By contrast, TfL has improved Docklands Light Railway services as passengers return to commuting after years of pandemic disruption.

London Travelwatch, the transport watchdog for the capital, and Transport Focus, which performs the same role in England, also found that 35 per cent of passengers now have to change trains. Many stations lost their choice of London terminal, with passengers on the Woolwich line losing all trains to Charing Cross.

The survey was carried out in the south London Metro area, but also included passengers who use traditional mainline trains to Kent and East Sussex, which suffered fewer cuts than local trains in the capital, so the figures are arguably lower than they would have been if only Metro passengers had been included.

Southeastern has made some concessions to Metro passengers in its new timetable, which begins today. The Bexleyheath line has gained an hourly off-peak direct train to Charing Cross, while just two early-morning trains, leaving New Eltham at 0715 and 0741, will run from the Sidcup line to connect with the Elizabeth Line at Abbey Wood – an attempt to make up for the scrapping of the regular “loop” service last December.

There will also be some more rush-hour trains on the Sidcup line. But the core problems – fewer trains and lengthy gaps between them – remain, particularly on the line through Greenwich and Woolwich.

Many passengers in Woolwich or Abbey Wood will be able to opt for the Elizabeth Line, which despite teething problems, has its “final” timetable introduced today with rush-hour trains every five minutes. But that option is not practical for those at the Greenwich end of the line, who endure gaps of 20 minutes or more at peak times.

The cuts were made without consultation, and the survey also found that 82 per cent of passengers wanted to be asked about changes to services.

Westcombe Park station
Passengers face long rush-hour waits at Westcombe Park Credit: The Greenwich Wire

A London Travelwatch spokesperson said: “More than anything we think the survey results show that consultation and engagement matters. This is important not just for Southeastern, but for the wider rail and public transport industry. We will continue to make this point to government ministers and policy-makers.

“It may not be a surprising insight, but by consulting before any major timetable changes are introduced and seeking feedback from passengers, train operators and Network Rail can plan services better, mitigate adverse publicity and, most importantly, build trust among passengers.”

The government has resisted calls to devolve Southeastern Metro and other London rail services to TfL; Labour’s policy has not been made clear. A petition from this website calling for TfL to take over Southeastern Metro has had over 5,700 signatures.

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