MPs debate London Bridge rebuilding, but no movement from DfT on key Southeastern issues

houses-of-parliament-geograph-1260013On Tuesday 27 January, Heidi Alexander MP (Lewisham East) secured a Westminster Hall debate on Southeastern and the London Bridge rebuilding. She and Clive Efford, MP for Eltham, spoke about Southeastern, and Jim Dowd MP (Lewisham West) spoke about Southern. Rail Minister Claire Perry responded.

For the short term there was no movement on wider ticket acceptance, alternative bus services or better compensation. The main new news is that Southeastern are going to study passenger flows for a month, and then consider potential changes to timetables and train lengths.  In the meantime the Minister said that there are changes to crowd control at London Bridge (where she admitted that there had been “dangerous” overcrowding), and better passenger information systems and public address are being installed at Lewisham. She also revealed that TfL were being paid £25 million for the current ticket acceptance arrangements.

For the longer term it was revealed that 100 old Thameslink coaches (capacity for 10,000 passengers) are becoming free at the end of the year. Currently DFT have assigned them to the north of England. The Minister said that it was up to Southeastern to make the case to receive them instead.

In detail the key points were:-

Heidi Alexander MP (Lewisham East)

  • The new timetable, which has been introduced as a result of the 18-month closure of four platforms at London Bridge, has caused havoc.
  • Many Cannon Street services have been dangerously overcrowded.
  • There have been reports of fights at stations on lines into London Bridge because people simply cannot get on to a train.
  • Old Thameslink coaches becoming available at the end of the year should be used to increase capacity on Southeastern, not sent to the north of England as planned
  • Southeastern also needs another communications drive. Rather than waiting for frustrated passengers to work out alternative routes for themselves, a big communications effort is needed that prompts people into changing their journey patterns.
  • If extra buses are needed they should be delivered quickly by TFL – and express routes from south east London should be considered
  • Annual fare hikes are not justified – if services continue to be abysmal there should be a fare freeze.
  • The current compensation scheme for delays on Southeastern is almost meaningless, as whether or not a train is on time is irrelevant if people cannot get on it. Fair and reasonable compensation should be considered

Clive Efford MP (Eltham)

  • Trains to Cannon Street are dangerously overcrowded, especially from Mottingham and New Eltham.
  • It is clear that there was no plan for the extra demand for those trains.
  • Southeastern seems to have taken the view that if it sits this out, passengers will be forced to find other forms of transport.
  • Eltham area passengers are getting off at Lewisham, which is becoming very overcrowded. British Transport police have to be at the station because the situation is becoming dangerous.
  • Southeastern has not planned for the capacity that is necessary to enable passengers to get to London Bridge and continue their journeys.
  • There should have been 12-car trains on our network from January last year, but Southeastern has failed to address the problem.
  • Services from places such as Dartford through places such as Eltham and New Eltham are the ones that have suffered. Those services are not sufficient, and my constituents cannot get on them, particularly when they are going home in the evenings. We need extra carriages; we do not need Southeastern just to shuffle them around.
  • The £70m investment is all wonderful, but if passengers cannot get on the damn trains, what is the point? The issue is capacity. Southeastern is not addressing the problem.

Jim Dowd MP

[The main points were about Southern; they can be read in the transcript.]

Rail Minister Claire Perry MP

Responding, Rail Minister Claire Perry made the case for the Thameslink project and redevelopment of London Bridge, and said “The prize for London Bridge, in 2018, will be a world-class station that handles more trains, with 60% more capacity and all platforms accessible from the wonderful concourse we have heard about.”

  • Passengers are still working out the best way to make their journeys, and the situation is very fluid.
  • One part of that is to ensure that passengers can use their tickets on alternative routes. I am pleased that the Department for Transport have negotiated a £25 million deal with Transport for London to enable that. [Note: this seems to refer to the existing arrangements]
  • The new timetable already provides higher capacity into Cannon Street, with 8,000 additional spaces in the morning peak and 13,000 in the evening peak.
  • There has been dangerous overcrowding on platforms 1 and 2 at London Bridge. That is being addressed right now. Southeastern and Network Rail are freeing up space for passengers, trying to move them more dynamically along the platforms and providing additional “next train” indicators so that people do not lump together in one place before surging at once to get on a train.
  • At Lewisham station, changes are being made to mitigate the crowding at peak times as people move between the Cannon Street and Charing Cross services. Public announcement systems are being extended along the length of the platforms so that people can hear what is happening and extra passenger information screens are being put up. That work is under way, and it will be complete by February.
  • Southeastern have asked for a month to review what the passenger flow looks like, so that timetabling and service lengths can, potentially, be amended.
  • About 100 class 377 units will be becoming available and would provide capacity for approximately an additional 10,000 passengers. Some are already committed to go to other parts of the country but the stock is potentially available to come on to the franchise. The Department for Transport have asked Southeastern to consider all available opportunities to look at this, demonstrate the business case and really push on trying to get the additional capacity.

The transcript of the debate and the video recording are on the Parliament website.

You can also watch the debate online: you need to skip over the first 90 minutes (a debate on employment in Wales) to around 11:00:00 when Heidi Alexander starts speaking. From then the debate lasts around 30 minutes.

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