Tag Archives: SouthEastern Trains

The gravy train continues

As you may recall, I had a lovely £50 voucher from my last disastrous long distance train journey. As I could only redeem it in a station, I checked the prices on Monday morning using thetrainline (£150), then popped over to the station on Tuesday to purchase the tickets.

Guess what? They’d gone up by £50 overnight.

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Meet the SouthEastern Managers…

Blackheath Station, in need of decoration
Yesterday the SouthEastern Trains managers did their regular Meet the Manager thing at Charing Cross Station.  Managers stand around in the main part of the station, answering questions from commuters.

It’s a good idea, and I imagine it takes some guts to do, especially after the recent snow chaos, and subsequent allegations over stats massaging.

So I had the bright idea of going along, trying to find the most senior manager, and putting some questions to them, for the blog.  The first man I approached happened to be Charles Horton, the Managing Director.  He absolutely refused to be recorded, saying that today was for customers, not for interviews.  Despite explaining that I am a customer, and much waving of season tickets, he would not talk to me unless I switched it off.

So I did, which means that none of the following is verbatim.  Your loss, Charles.

We spoke about the snow and the revised timetable.  He completely denied that the reduction in timetable was designed to avoid big customer payouts, saying that their only concern was avoiding trains full of passengers getting stuck.  When I asked him what was different about SouthEastern, compared to the adjacent networks which operated a better service, he claimed it was due to the way SouthEastern’s lines were structured compared to the others – for example SouthWest Trains run a straight line in and out of Waterloo, whereas SouthEastern’s route has junctions and forks in it.  This sounded thoroughly unconvincing, but hey, I guess he has to come up with something.

I desicribed the difference between claiming a refund from London Underground (fill out a form in the station or online, and send it in) with that of SouthEastern Trains (several different methods, each more byzantine than the next).  He agreed that theirs was more complex, but claimed that this was due to the rules set in place by National Rail and the government.

I asked him whether he believed that the breaking up of the railway into multiple train operating companies allows everybody to absolve themselves of responsibility.  He refused to be drawn on any personal opinions about anything around this, and basically took a pragmatic attitude – “we are where we are”, claiming that the procedures drawn up by the government mean that SouthEastern are highly sensitive to customer satisfaction.  One example he gave was “discretionary travel” (people without season tickets), which he said SE trains relies on heavily- if they can’t operate a good service, then people will use other means of transport.

When I asked which of his competitors train companies I should be using from Blackheath if I wasn’t happy with his service, he acknowledged that they have a monopoly in a given area, but again went back to “that’s just the way it is set up”.

I pointed out the poor state of Blackheath station – not because I expect the managing director to have an intimate knowledge of every station (he was quick to point out that he could not), but because walking through a station with peeling paint, ceilings covered with plastic bags and gaffer tape, and plaster falling off the walls, sends a clear psychological message to your customers that you don’t give a shit about them.  He muttered something about “water-egress” at that station.  I have no idea what that means… I’ve seen water flowing down the steps occasionally, but you’d think that a lick of paint wouldn’t break the (£61.5m profit last year) budget.

To conclude, the problem isn’t SouthEastern trains per se.  They’re a private company, looking to maximise revenue for their shareholders within the boundaries set out by the government.  The problem is the splitting of the railway into multiple companies.  If there’s anything worth campaigning for, railway-wise, it would be the re-combining of the TOCs into a single body.  At this point, I wouldn’t even care if it was a private company – at least it would stop the buck-passing…

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Rail cuts at Blackheath

Tin of Sardines by House of Sims
The rail cuts are going ahead. I think it’s a great idea – those trains are so spacious during rush hour, I never know what to do with all that leg room.

Local councillor Godfried Gyechie reckons we should go and grumble at the managers on 12 November at Cannon Street. I’m not so sure that it will make any difference. The train companies are only doing what they can get away with, based on legislation drawn up by government. If they could stick us all into a single cattle truck, I’m sure they would. So his other suggestion of emailing the transport minister is a much better one – or you could tweet him.

Tin of Sardines by House of Sims

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Emotional Baggage

Hooray for passports!
I got on the train yesterday at Blackheath. It was packed. I stuffed my bag under a chair to get it out of the way. More people got on, so I moved down. Then a seat next to me became free, so I sat down. The train was still packed to the end of the journey. When I looked for my bag, it was gone. And it had my passport in it. The passport that I need in order to get married next week. Oh god.

So, I spent a miserable morning talking to the Met Police, the Transport Police (who are completely separate), SouthEastern Trains, SouthWest Trains (who also do not talk to each other), and the passport office.

Amazingly, out of all these institutions, by far the most effective and helpful was the passport office. I now have a new passport, and every time I look at that terrified, miserable passport photo, I will be reminded that, yes, I am an idiot, and that, yes, I really should listen to Mrs Bugle when she says hold on to your bag on the train.

And to the lost property man at Waterloo station- a bag that has been thrown away by a thief doesn’t have any uniquely identifiable DNA that proves which Train Operating Company was being used when it was stolen. If I’ve had a bag pinched at Waterloo East, perhaps you should at least pretend to give a damn when I tell you about it at Waterloo Main Station?

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