“What do we want? 12 car trains!” Lee Station celebrates its 150th birthday with cupcakes and bunting – and we tackle southeastern on its service

Heidi Alexander MP cutting the cake

In a week when Twitter has nearly exploded with the anger of delayed southeastern passengers, it is a brave manager who attends Lee station for its 150th birthday. 

Mike Gibson
Mike Gibson, Public Affairs Manager southeastern

But Mike Gibson, Public Affairs Manager for southeastern, takes the complaints on the chin.  “You can’t fiddle with history,” he said, “and it’s 150 years to the day since the station opened.”

Mike apologised for the terrible service inflicted on passengers this week but won’t be drawn on who’s to blame for it.  “We’re the customer-facing people,” he said, but he admits that some of the fault lies with Network Rail with signal failures clashing with the closure of Cannon Street.


David Statham
David Stratham, Managing Director southeastern

David Stratham, southeastern’s Managing Director, told us “The opening of Lee station in 1866 prompted a speculative property boom with developers offering terraced houses for rent to ‘clerks, tradesmen and respectable persons’ for between ten shillings and two pounds a week.”  Tickets were 6d (6 old pence or 2.5p) and 4d for workmen travelling before 5.30am. 

150 years ago there were two trains an hour and today there are seven during peak hours but they still cannot cope with the capacity which has grown by 40% in recent years.


Heidi and David
Heidi Alexander MP lobbies southeastern’s David Statham about 12 car trains


Heidi Alexander, Lee Green’s MP, used her speech for another call for 12 car trains.  “One of my colleagues says my rallying call for socialism is ‘What do we want? 12 car trains!  When do we want them?  Now!’” she said.

Longer trains are dependent on the Department for Transport which received southeastern’s application 18 months ago.  Thameslink’s upgraded service means it will have new rolling stock and that is an opportunity for southeastern to buy the carriages the company no longer needs.  However other train operators are also competing for them and ironically, because the journey from Lee to London is relatively short, the numbers of passengers forced to stand does not count in southeastern’s favour.

Thameslink train credit: https://thejohnfleming.wordpress.com/tag/west-hampstead/

But do we want Thameslink’s cast-offs anyway?  David Stratham insisted the carriages are relatively new and would enable a 12 car service.  He assured us that the pain we are suffering during the London Bridge improvements will make life better.  “A lot of the hold-ups have historically been caused by the complicated network with train lines criss-crossing on the route to London,” he explained  “The new drive-under (the tunnel which goes from Millwall to London Bridge) simplifies the network and speeds up the service for passengers here.”

Local people may feel that Thameslink passengers will profit from Lee commuters’ pain, but David insisted we will benefit.  “The new Thameslink service means connections at London Bridge will be much better, for example getting trains to Cambridge,” he said.  And consultation begins at the end of September for a new service from Orpington via Blackfriars and Luton.  Heidi Alexander said we must all lobby for it to stop at Hither Green. 

Bunting at Lee station – but are there enough trains?

Heidi has also called for TfL to take over the line from Lee so it becomes an overground – an improvement on what we have now because TfL would be able to invest more and increase the number of trains.  Would that be the end of southeastern? No, says Mike Gibson.  “I’m very relaxed about TfL taking over,” he said, “and we could bid for the franchise to run it.”  Who knows, in another 150 years southeastern may still be running our trains.  Now there’s a thought.

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