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News and Comment April 2015

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11 April (Part 1) - A meeting of Bexley’s train and bus enthusiasts’ club

ClarkWhen the Transport Users Committee meeting eventually got going with me and my recorder perched on a borrowed chair, chairman Val Clark got close to putting her foot in it. She said that “for the first time ever with these meetings we have a member of the public present” and went on to say “is there anyone sitting around the table who objects to having their picture taken”. Fortunately for councillor Clark none did or we could have been heading for a repeat of the Nicholas Dowling Cheryl Bacon affair now being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service. For the record the photos you see here are all I could be bothered to take.

After the inauspicious start things went moderately well in a rambling sort of way. I found myself wondering what the point of the meetings was. Six councillors (two said nothing) supposedly grilling the police about transport related matters, a man from Southeastern Railway, another from Network Rail, a lady from London Buses and a man who may have been from the fire service. With no agendas provided I did not know who was invited, but the man had LFB embroidered on his jumper. What does a handful of councillors do with the information gained? Very little of it was new to me.

From the police we learned that cycle thefts last year were down to only 34 and that the worst bus routes for crime were the 229 to Thamesmead and the 132 which takes a meandering route to North Greenwich. Sexual assaults on buses were down to six last year.

On Road Safety the statistics were on an improving trend but minor injuries are up. Bexley council has reduced its road safety officers down to only two who are left to lecture and train at all the borough’s schools alone. The Lollypop Lady situation is deteriorating, they are paid very little and compelled to take their own holidays when the schools are shut and thereby have to pay more for accommodation if they go away.

Council officer Stephen Burke said that another 80 cycle stands are to be distributed across the borough, presumably with as much thought as was reported yesterday.

Moving to railway matters there was a brief and rather vague report about the possibility of a lift being installed at Erith station to put an end to the disabled having to go to Dartford in order to catch a train to London.

Cons Various questions were put, mainly by councillor David Leaf, to the Southeastern man about the lack of train capacity. We heard all the usual reasons about insufficient carriages being available and the robbing of Peter to pay Paul to try to equalise the misery. Ditto the Department of Transport’s failure to order enough trains or the right sort of trains and the problems with Woolwich Dockyard and how Greenwich council is absolutely refusing to allow 12 coach trains on the Greenwich line to non-stop through Woolwich Dockyard.

As a regular reader of the excellent From The Murky Depths blog I learned little new of interest except that at any one time only 85 to 90% of trains are serviceable, the others are undergoing maintenance in the depot - of which incidentally there will not be enough if extra coaches can be begged borrowed or stolen from elsewhere. The maintenance teams are being made “to work a bit smarter” in an effort to improve matters.

Other comments amounted to the Slade Green station toilets being closed due to constant vandalism, train punctuality is the best it has been for two years and the temporary lifts at Abbey Wood station are not a good advertisement for the Stannah company.

What else? Oh yes, the new May timetable will introduce all ten car trains on Saturdays on the Greenwich line to cope with increasing demand and the Penalty Fare Tribunal is to be made truly independent. At present the train companies act as judge and jury and the man from Southeastern several times mentioned that his company aims to be more customer friendly. No more admin. charges on refunds is one such move. “Honest mistakes” will not be penalised in future. Mr. Southeastern also said things about his travelling ticket inspector team that he would not thank me for repeating. Something about police service rejects was one of them.

LoopCouncillor Stefano Borella praised the long awaited advertising campaign for the loop line services around the borough - meandering trains to complement the meandering buses one might say - and then Network Rail came in for some criticism over the lack of lighting on the footbridge at Belvedere station.

The lamps had been shot out by a vandal quite a long time ago. However it transpired that that particular footbridge was Bexley council’s responsibility. New lighting has been ordered and should be installed next week ready for Belvedere’s next sharp shooting session.

The bus lady managed to get her microphone working and said that bus usage had risen more steeply in the last year than the four or five previous ones. Up 2·6% instead of the more normal 1·4%.

Consideration was being given to improving bus services to Abbey Wood station to meet Crossrail demands.

Where I live close to Lesnes Abbey there is no direct service to Woolwich and no direct service to Bexleyheath and no direct service to Thamesmead. You can get to all of them on a single bus but they all take you literally around the houses. Before I was given a Freedom Pass and became lazy I would walk from Bexleyheath to Lesnes Abbey when traffic was heavy in the same time as the 229 took and quicker than a 469 (before the route was terminated at Erith).

Councillor Daniel Francis said much the same thing about there being no bus service to Abbey Wood from Belvedere. Good to know that someone from TfL has at last recognised the problem.

BashfordEngineering Manager Andrew Bashford was there defending various decision on road maintenance. I’d not seen him before but he, along with councillors Davey and Craske, provoked me into starting this blog. Bashford was the final straw, he, I think bullshitted me is the correct technical term, when I commented on his plans for Abbey Road, Belvedere.

He probably thought he had pulled a masterstroke by saying that his plans were fully in accordance with Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) reports 641 and 661. He must have expected that to stop me in my tracks because to buy copies of the reports would set me back several hundreds of pounds.

I wasn’t able to reveal the full truth at the time but what Andrew Bashford could not have known is that my son was TRL’s Chief Safety Consultant at the time and those two reports came out of his office. He was also Chairman of the European Union’s committee on vehicle safety. He is neither any more, hence me being able to reveal rather more than I could back then.

As you can imagine it wasn’t too difficult to get hold of copies of the reports and get an on the spot assessment of Bexley’s road design. The words “either malicious or incompetent” stick in my mind, but it was probably both. What I didn’t know back then is that Andrew Bashford is not the only bullshitter in town.


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