Southeastern train

UK: Southeastern has announced that it is to abolish first class travel with effect from December 11 2022, as part of timetable changes which aim to provide a ‘simpler, more reliable’ service and reflect the way people now travel following the pandemic.

First class seating is currently provided on longer-distance routes from London to coastal towns in Kent such as Ramsgate, Dover and Hastings, where journey times are around 2 h, but has never been provided on Southeastern High Speed services via HS1. First class was withdrawn from most suburban routes in 1941 as a wartime economy measure.

From December, Southeastern will operate a ‘standard hour’ timetable, which will see most trains on a given route departing at broadly the same time each hour; some additional services will be overlaid in peak periods.

There will be new all-day services from Maidstone East to Charing Cross via London Bridge, reinstated peak time services from Beckenham Junction to London Blackfriars, and more morning peak trains on the Ashford line.

All trains on the Hayes line will terminate at Charing Cross and all trains on the Woolwich line will run to or from Cannon Street, in a bid to reduce congestion at key junctions and improve punctuality. Southeastern said the revised services would still meet demand, supplemented by trains from Thameslink and reflecting a shift of passengers to the Elizabeth Line.

Changing travel patterns

Southeastern Class 395 EMUs on the Medway viaduct

‘This new and improved timetable delivers a more consistent all-day service and means we’re providing trains, and space, where it’s needed most — which reflects the way people now travel’, said Operations & Safety Director Scott Brightwell. ‘The way we all travel has changed post-pandemic, and many of our customers are now using our services differently and at varying times of the day.’

According to Southestern, off peak travel has recovered faster than peak travel, although from a lower base. Fewer people are buying season tickets, with weekly, monthly and annual season ticket sales in the six months to July down to just 32% of the figure recorded for the six months prior to the pandemic. Annual season ticket journeys are at 15% of pre-pandemic levels, and a survey found customers were commuting for an average of 1·8 days a week.

Southeastern demand compared with pre-pandemic levels
Weekday peak 56%
Weekday off-peak 77%
Weekend 90%
data from February to July 2022

‘Our customers tell us that reliability and punctuality are their highest priorities’, explained Brightwell. ‘So, we’ve simplified routes to remove bottlenecks which will see more trains running on time, fewer cancellations, and a more reliable service.

‘The simpler structure of the timetable, with most trains leaving stations at broadly the same time each hour, means we can more add more trains into the timetable as demand changes.’

’Bad news for passengers’

Southeastern Siemens Mobility Class 707 EMU (Photo Southeastern)

London TravelWatch said the cuts to direct trains to Charing Cross, Waterloo East and Cannon Street from some routes were ‘bad news for passengers’.

The watchdog is worried that cuts to direct services will deter people from travelling ‘precisely at the time when we want to encourage people back to using sustainable transport’. It said ‘we believe that if Southeastern had asked passengers about these cuts to direct train services before announcing them, the response would have been a resounding “no”.’

A London TravelWatch spokesperson told Rail Business UK ‘we are keen to see what impact these changes have on train service punctuality and whether or not delays are reduced significantly as a result of this timetable upheaval. If they are not, we’d hope that Southeastern would reverse the changes at the earliest opportunity, most likely during the Spring timetable changes in 2023.’