On the way

Nearly half way through London Bridge’s upgrade, Southeastern Railway continues to improve as a rise in demand makes no indication of stopping

In December 2016, the rail network Southeastern uses will be celebrating its 180th anniversary. It’s a major milestone that marks London Bridge station and its approaching track as one of the oldest commuter lines in the world, but it’s also one that highlights the challenge facing Southeastern today. How can a station opened in 1836 cope with the demands of the modern day capital?

London Bridge is currently the fourth busiest station in London, welcoming 56 million passengers each year. Southeastern’s more than 1000-miles of network is thebusiest in the UK and growth is continuing at an incrediblerate. In the ten years since the start of the currentfranchise period the company has seen an increase of more than 30 per cent in passenger numbers and with London’s population estimated to reach 11.3 million by 2030, the numbers show little sign of slowing down.

“In some cases we’re having to upgrade infrastructure that was built even before the Victorians,” explains Managing Director, David Statham. “It’s a great opportunity for us to celebrate our history but the work we’re carrying out at the moment is all about looking towards the future.” He talks of the massive improvement programme currently underway at London Bridge and with the other aspects of the Thameslink Programme, complex schemes aimed at increasing the capacity of transport into and around London.

“London Bridge is one of the biggest bottlenecks for our rail services coming in from the South East,” David continues. “Upgrading it is the key to unlocking better performance as it goes on towards Cannon Street and Charing Cross.” On the station’s approach Network Rail has also been working hard to untangle overlapping tracks capable of causing delays all the way up the line, and on the way out a new viaduct has been installed to bring trains out and onto Charing Cross and Blackfriars efficiently.

Southeastern Issue 130 bWork on the Southeastern side of the station at London Bridge started in December 2014 and with an expected completion date of January 2018, this summer will mark a critical halfway point for the Thameslink Programme. Two recently completed blockades over Christmas and Easter were critical to achieving this and mean that come August 2016passengers will actually be able to see major changes for the first time. “A lot of work has already been done that is not really visible yet to passengers,” says David. ”However, in August real benefits will start to be felt byour customers for the first time as three new platforms are opened, meaning the Charing Cross services will now be able to stop at London Bridge again. Two thirds of the concourse will also open up with a new booking office, 18 ‘grab & go’ retail outlets, departure screens and gates also coming online. The next phase will then begin on upgrading the Cannon Street platforms so those services won’t be able to stop, but it’s a big milestone for us all to reach.”

In addition to this Southeastern is currently working through a £70 million investment programme to improve its services through better real time information, more frontline staff and enhancing trains and stations.

“We’re part way through a massive refurbishment programme of our Electrostar fleet for example,” says David. “This comprises an extensive internal and external overhaul and is making a huge difference to the quality of our trains. We’ve also nearly completed a £5 million station upgrade programme. We have 100extra front line staff delivering real-time information to passengers thanks to new iPads and other smartphone technology. We have continued to operate a 24/7 Twitter service, which is now up to 112,000followers, and we have introduced a system called Darwin, which enables a single source of information coming out of the control centre. This drives all the associated information channels for a more reliable, upto- date and consistent service.

“We’ve also ensured that we continue to communicate major timetable changes well in advance through multiple channels to give passengers the opportunity to plan ahead. For the Christmas blockade, along with our Thameslink Programme partners, we handed out around one million leaflets to customers letting them know what was going on and how it would affect them.”

Other improvements that passengers can notice include Network Rail’s opening of a brand new £26 million station at Rochester. Southeastern is also working closely with Network Rail to act quickly and collectively when there is disruption. “We have also been working collaboratively to put more crews on standby to help soak up any delays and to keep trains running on time,” David explains. “There are also more engineers out in the region to help identify any problems and fix any trains before these become serious.”

With so much work ongoing both to infrastructure upgrades and to the way the company delivers a service to its customers, recent results are encouraging. Punctuality, for instance, is already up three per cent on 2015’s average, and passengers are reporting that the way the company deals with delays has improved by nine per cent over the past year. The network’s high-speed service also continues to perform strongly with an overall passenger satisfaction score of 93 per cent. The culmination of such improvements resulted in Southeastern last year being named the second most improved company for customer service across all industry sectors in the UK by the Institute of Customer Service.

The Thameslink Programme is a phenomenal project requiring an incredible level of management and service delivery to ensure passenger satisfaction continues. “I know it’s been taxing on people’s patience but we’re cracking on really well and people will start to see some positive things coming out this summer,” David highlights. “There is still a long way to go, though. It’s a constant journey for us and we continue to invest, not just in our infrastructure but also in our people to ensure they are equipped to deliver better service – for this we were recently awarded IIP Gold Standard.

“Over the course of the next 12 months, we are set to reach lots of new developments and milestones. We will continue talks with the DfT around the potential of introducing new rolling stock, we are about to introduce free Wi-fi to trains and in December we will begin to roll out a smart ticketing service. It’s a challenging and busy time but there’s lots of good stuff to look forward to and our ultimate focus will be to remain committed to delivering a better performance for our passengers.”