I used to think that South Eastern Railways were not too bad although maybe I
was biased because I don’t have to pay thanks to younger people who fund my
Freedom Pass. I changed my mind when I started lingering like a train spotter on
Abbey Wood station snapping away at Crossrail’s battle with the underlying
swamp. You cannot do that for more than 15 minutes without hearing the
announcement that “South Eastern is sorry that…”
Not necessarily a problem on a short trip because of the ten minute interval service but ‘down’ trains take three different routes, so for lots of people it’s really only a half hourly service.
The only Bexley council related thing in the following story is that I had an appointment in Dartford this morning with someone who I hoped might spill some Bexley beans that would eventually end up on these pages. I said I would catch the 09:57 all stations with a fallback of the 10:13 fast in case of a cancellation. However South Eastern did far better than that.
I arrived at Abbey Wood station just after 09:45 to give time for a few more photographs and saw the 09:38 to Charing Cross was at Platform 1 and everyone had been ordered off. The staff announced it had broken down but I am not convinced that was true because of what transpired later.
On Platform 2 the 09:37 Barnehurst train was shown as due in a minute (Image 1) while the spoken announcement apologised for it being four minutes late. It was already ten minutes late and when I left home just after 09:30 my Windows Desktop Gadget was showing everything on time.
Soon after ten o’clock the broken down (?) train left and revealed a Platform 1 destination board which said the next train was terminating at Plumstead and due in one minute. It could be seen waiting at Belvedere where it stayed for another five minutes and eventually reached Abbey Wood apparently empty.
A platform announcement said there was an obstruction on the line. Where and how big it did not say. I imagined a fence panel or some such thing blown on to the track and the fact that trains were terminating at Plumstead suggested it was somewhere west of that station.
Any regular traveller could then guess that up trains would be reversing at Plumstead and we could expect a service of sorts before long with only the Gillingham trains being cancelled. Indeed that is what the destination board seemed to be suggesting. Image 2.
However the trains that presumably reversed at Plumstead all went through Abbey Wood non-stop.
I can only assume that this is the same ‘to hell with the passengers’ attitude that causes South Eastern to run ‘slow’ trains fast to London Bridge in order to get them back on time but making passengers requiring intermediate stations get off and wait. The company has no interest whatsoever in their passengers but this government extended their franchise unchallenged on a plate.
By about half past ten it was obvious that everything was cancelled (Image 4) and no trains had gone through to Plumstead for the past 20 minutes. And all the time the rain was piddling down (see spots on lens) on a platform which provides shelter for only half a dozen people.
When I left the station via the main ticket hall I spotted a notice that said the obstruction was not a fence but a whole tree. If eastbound passengers had been told it was a tree on the line they may have been able to reach a decision earlier, but South Eastern was happy to let them soak.
By the time I got home the Desktop Gadget was displaying what I assume was the truth but I have yet to see a train go by from my window.
It may not be South Eastern’s fault that a tree fell across the line but they didn’t announce more than “an obstruction” which could have been relatively trivial. And there can be no valid reason for running down trains through Abbey Wood without stopping.
The sooner South Eastern loses its franchise the better.
For those thinking ‘Overground’ I should perhaps mention that I know three people who live at the end of the Chingford line which was taken over by TfL in May and they all say it is worse than ever. My one experience of it last month suggests they are right.