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…

8 Comments

Filed under blackheath, transport

8 responses to “Meet the SouthEastern Managers…

  1. Well done for giving him a hard time. I think Deptford station is in a worse state than Blackheath but at least we have hope in sight with the station rebuild contract expected to be let shortly (if it’s not delayed again….!). Of course you’re totally right about the root of the problem. At least some ‘discretionary travellers’ have some level of choice to use bus or DLR instead, but of course the further you get out of London the less choice you have and the more expensive your ticket.

  2. Brian

    “Water ingress” is what he probably meant – it means broken guttering, which lets the rain in, which destroys any paintwork. Railway stations all seem to have very badly maintained rainwater systems – I don’t know why – but a bit of money spent on them would save a fortune in the long run.

  3. Edith

    At Westcombe Park Station a large amount of Liveability scheme money was available from the Government to do environmental improvements round the station. Following meetings with local residents, Council officers drew up a long list of work. Then followed a long, long round of negotiations with the railway. The result – some lighting was put in – but they would not agree to most of the clean and tidy up measures which people had asked for – and for which money was available.

  4. maisie

    I use Hither Green station – I have not been in Blackheath station in ages. However I was there last weekend with visitors and I was appalled at the state of the staion. I know there have been flooding issues but dear god it was a disgrace.
    It made Hither Green look like the Garden of Eden!

  5. R. G. Land

    You cannot expect the Board of Directors and/or Managers to make grants , for paint, or maintenance work etc for Stations, this would make such a huge dent in the profits, there would hardly be any cash left over for their Annual Bonuses.

  6. Great post and well done for challenging Charles Horton.

    Being a season card holder and a Blackheath resident who commutes to Central London everyday, I find myself in a continual state of rage with Southeastern’s ineptness. Overcrowded, dirty and late trains have forced me to seek out alternative methods of commuting home, but a bus route will take a full hour more.

    It’s lucky that I am training for the London Marathon as, for at least one night a week, I get to run home.

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