The criterion

“When you are sitting in a station for nine minutes, waiting for a locomotive to be changed, that will feel like a very second-rate service”. – Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport.

How the criterion applies to Totton

Totton is the fourth largest intermediate town between Southampton and Weymouth. Only Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch have larger populations. It continues to grow, with new housing developments under construction and more proposed.

Most of the time, Totton is now served only by:

* the 39-past Waterloo-Poole stopping services which stand at Southampton Central for 18 minutes and at Brockenhurst for 25 minutes; and

* the 50-past Poole-Waterloo stopping services which stand at Eastleigh for 8 minutes.

The westbound trains usually take 183 minutes to get from Waterloo to Bournemouth with 17 intermediate stops. In 1967, hourly BR services could complete the journey in 174 minutes with 27 intermediate stops, despite a 15-minute wait at Southampton. The other major difference in 1967 was that efforts were made to maintain connections with faster services.

Since 2003, SWT has cut Totton’s ‘standard hour’ service by 60 per cent. Shoulder peak services have also been cut. On Mondays to Fridays, there is no service from Totton to New Milton and Christchurch between 15.35 and 17.01.

The 15.35 has a 37-minute wait at Brockenhurst instead of the usual 25 minutes. So if a 9-minute wait is second rate, this is arguably fifth rate.

Reasons for poor service

First, DfT’s consultation on the revised service from 2007 was seriously flawed. Although it outlined stopping patterns in detail, it failed to mention that the Totton and Ashurst stops were to be cut from the Waterloo-Poole semi-fast services. Given the importance of Totton, the reduced service stirred considerable controversy. With Totton passengers suffering huge journey time increases, the Southern Daily Echo published a major article, comparing SWT’s Desiro trains with Stephenson’s Rocket.

Secondly, Stagecoach ignored the Government’s prescribed Service Level Commitment from 2007. This was confirmed by a Freedom of Information request by the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group. The Department for Transport arranged a meeting with two members of the Group and a SWT representative, with DfT’s Jim Richards holding out hope of improvements, but the SWT representative was intransigent.

Under the Service Level Commitment, the trains which were to serve Totton were prescribed to run fast from Clapham Junction to Basingstoke, but Stagecoach introduced time-costly stops at Farnborough and Fleet, meaning they had to cross to the slow lines. With such slow running, the trains need to wait at Southampton Central to be overtaken by the 05-past Waterloo-Weymouth and at Brockenhurst by the 35-past Waterloo-Weymouth and hourly Cross Country service from Manchester.


Stagecoach has never served the Southampton area well. It is noted for (and indeed, boasts of) being a fiercely anti-competitive company and driving out rivals. It tends to saturate the market where it is a monopoly provider. Although SWT has been a cash cow for the company, in the Southampton area it has had to share train provision with First, Go-Ahead and Cross Country, and bus provision with First, Go Ahead, Velvet and Brijan.

The result has been almost as if Southampton were a whipping boy for Stagecoach greed. The company sold Southampton’s bus station for commercial development; temporarily increased SWT services to stop Anglia Trains getting access to the city; closed the city’s busy travel centre; and downgraded rolling stock on the Waterloo-Southampton-Weymouth main line to what Railway Gazette International (February 2003) calls “more commuter than inter-city” and many passengers perceive as “cold, draughty and noisy” (for example, letter in Modern Railways, February 2011).

When Stagecoach ignored the Service Level Commitment, Totton lost out to Fleet and Farnborough, towns where it is closer to having a monopoly in public transport.

Lack of proportionality in service provision

Given the station’s appalling service, passenger footfall at Totton is reasonably buoyant. Figures from the Office of Rail Regulation show that, in 2008-09, it was over 300,000. This was greater, for example, than at Pokesdown, Branksome, Parkstone or Hamworthy, all of which had twice Totton’s off-peak service level, and much faster trains. Remarkably, Hamworthy had just under half Totton’s passenger numbers, but is served by Waterloo-Weymouth fast and semi-fast trains each hour. By 2009-10, Hamworthy’s footfall was slightly up and Totton’s slightly down. There’s a surprise!

How Totton residents feel about franchising

An interesting letter from Totton resident Robert V Johns in RAIL, Issue 665:

“I am concerned to see that Wolmar is again asking: “What is franchising for?” (RAIL 663)

Wolmar must pay more attention in class, although I think he is just being bloody –minded by not giving the right answers.

Here is one answer that he may wish to consider: “Franchising was a vehicle designed by the Major government to put taxpayers’ money into a position where it could be trousered by businessmen and city gamblers” – in this respect it has been very successful. Wolmar needs to be a lot more cynical if he wishes to do well in this subject.

Wolmar’s question is actually a valid one and needs addressing, but do we have a member of this government who has the wit and courage to answer it?”


Following the Government’s formal consultation on passenger rail franchising, to which our Group responded, it is difficult to see how the forthcoming changes vary much from the Conservative Party’s pre-existing policies.

However, the proof of the pudding may yet be in the eating. One point which we made strongly is that determined and well-motivated individuals can affect outcomes much more than administrative mechanisms.

Our point has now been amply illustrated at ministerial level. Lord Adonis ended an era of relative lethargy, and drove forward substantial plans to help make the railways fit for the twenty first century. Against all the odds in the current financial situation, Philip Hammond has approved the plans almost in their entirety, with just changes of detail (for example Preston-Blackpool will now be electrified, but not Cardiff-Swansea).

All this is good for rail transport and good for the green agenda. However, with so much investment committed on big projects, the main concern now must be about the maintenance and improvement of customer and passenger services across the rest of the network. This is likely to depend in considerable measure on the motivation and aspirations of the private train operators.

In this context, Southern’s catchphrase, “Expect more” is great. Already they have delivered much-improved and joined-up Coastway services all the way from Ashford to Southampton, and InterCity-style rolling stock between Victoria and Brighton, not to mention some creditable station improvements.

By way of contrast, the postcode lottery which handed South West Trains’ passengers to Stagecoach has delivered a remarkable PR machine, and improved punctuality linked to slower running, but little else. Abusive revenue protection, the destruction of busy travel centres, the removal of comfortable rolling stock, and the eye-watering 20% fare increases on off-peak morning services to London, have all helped to tarnish the public perception not just of SWT, but of rail travel generally.

Stagecoach Chief Executive Brian Souter and his sister have accumulated huge personal and company fortunes through such tactics, whilst taking massive handouts from taxpayers, in line with Mr Souter’s view that: “Ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed”.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says he wants to “wring the necks” of bankers who threw Britain’s economy into turmoil and forced the coalition to bring in austerity measures. Perhaps he could spread the slaughter a little wider?


Congratulations to Portsmouth MP Penny Mordaunt on securing an Adjournment Debate on 9 March about the awful conditions faced by Portsmouth commuters crammed into class 450 outer-suburban units (previously the subject of Parliamentary Questions). She made her points eloquently, particularly that SWT had increased the number of seats on the route but had not increased seating capacity, because some people simply couldn’t fit into the restricted space and others chose not to. Commuters were paying high fares but were not expected to work on the train or to have elbows. It wasn’t a comfort issue, but a matter affecting people’s physical health. She was strongly supported by fellow MPs Mike Hancock, Damian Hinds and Caroline Dinenage.

Theresa Villiers, the rail Minister, agreed that there should be an on-going dialogue with SWT. She noted that future franchises would include requirements for train operators to be responsive to passengers’ needs. However, the history of SWT suggests that that is a Cloudcuckooland aspiration for any franchise operated by Stagecoach.

The Minister also made the point that 3+2 seating is used on other routes such as London-Ipswich and London-Margate. But the former also has intercity-style services, and the latter has comfortable high-speed trains over the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Ms Mordaunt travelled over the line with passengers on 18 March. The Times of 21 March reported the issue, and published a photograph which said more about the appalling conditions than could a thousand words.

Similar adverse publicity came on BBC’s ‘Breakfast’ and ‘South Today’ programmes, with a tape measure graphically confirming the safety risk. However, SWT then thwarted any hope of a meaningful dialogue, making clear in response to a question in their March Webchat session that there would be no changes during the current franchise.

Obviously they know the suburban is stock is ill-suited to long distance services. Note this statement about the new Desiro trains in their ‘Gold Service’ magazine of Summer 2001: “There will be three versions of these new electric units so each is better suited to the specific passenger needs of the different journey types: inner suburban, outer suburban and long distance… For longer distance journeys, 45 new 5-car trains will be introduced with seating arrangements and passenger facilities similar to the current modern electric class 442 units which operate on the London-Portsmouth/Weymouth line of route”.

A pretty obvious case of, ‘Do know, don’t care’?


As usual, publication of Passenger Focus’ latest satisfaction figures was followed by a SWT ‘Update’ leaflet claiming high levels of satisfaction with SWT.

Yet the overall satisfaction figure, which will include many occasional travellers, is only 87%. This is equivalent to almost one unsatisfactory passenger journey per year on SWT for every three men, women and children in Great Britain. So it’s fair to say that SWT’s failures are on a national scale.

While there are some improvements in off-peak passengers’ perceptions of SWT, those of peak users are in freefall. Their overall satisfaction has decreased by 4% to just 82% between Autumn 2009 and Autumn 2010.

Other corresponding drops in their satisfaction are:
* Station facilities and services: down from 48% to 40%.
* Attitudes and helpfulness of station staff: down from 73% to 63%.
* Connections with other forms of transport: down from 75% to 66%.
* Overall station environment: down from 66% to 64%.
* Availability of station staff: down from 49% to 46%.
* How request to station staff was handled: down from 91% to 61%.
* Punctuality/reliability: down from 90% to 86%.
* Train cleanliness: down from 71% to 70%.
* Upkeep of train: down from 79% to 78%.
* Information provided on trains: down from 71% to 69%.
* Helpfulness of train staff: down from 66% to 55%.
* Space for luggage: down from 57% to 50%.
* Train toilet facilities: down from 57% to 50%.
* Sufficient room to sit/stand: down from 50% to 42%.
* Ease of boarding/alighting: down from down from 79% to 70%.
* Outer cleanliness of train: down from 77% to 72%.
* Availability of staff: down from 50% to 40%.
* How well delays dealt with: down from 34% to 28%.

The acid test of satisfaction with value for money scored a 26% rating.


Last October, a passenger who commutes from Fareham to Micheldever on the 07.11 service, found that the train which arrived at about that time was actually the 06.24 running late. He asked the guard if the train could make an extra stop at Micheldever, and was told there was not a hope. He then noticed that the visual and verbal announcements were advertising a Micheldever stop. He mentioned this to the guard and was told, with rude bluntness, that he had already been told it was not stopping and to stop bothering him.

He therefore alighted at Winchester, where the train was again being advertised as stopping at Micheldever. He also noticed some regular Micheldever passengers boarding. He mentioned this to the guard and got an even ruder reply. At no time were passengers on the train told that the train would not stop at Micheldever.


SWT’s Webchat session on 17 March attracted the usual range of complaints. The position is especially deplorable because the franchise has been in the hands of a single operator longer than any other. Some of the issues raised are below:


* Health and safety crush issue at Vauxhall, where only two gates allow entrance in the morning, but four provide exit.
* Effingham Junction station in poor state of repair.
* Hazard at Portsmouth & Southsea booking hall entrance from slippery floor and temporary matting.
* Now only one entrance at Kingston, and only two of the three doors open.
* Inadequate car parking facilities at Ashurst.
* Crush at Waterloo because exits to platforms 2 and 3 closed even though 6-10 ticket inspectors at platform 1.
* No shelter at Netley’s platform 2 because waiting room out of use.
* Difficulty in dropping off children at Walton-on-Thames defies belief. Two near misses because of awkwardly parked vans.
* Stoneleigh station in a poor state.
* Passengers made to queue to get off Walton-on-Thames station, and no shelter from rain.

Customer Service

* Acknowledgement of e’mail received in January, but no reply.
* Self-promoting entries stay on SWT’s website for days or weeks, but apologies disappear after 48 hours.
* Guards don’t circulate when trains more than five minutes late.
* Useful to advertise which trains use class 450 coaches, so that passengers can avoid them.
* Shocking lack of/incorrect information during the snow.
* Very few SWT timetable booklets available.


* Numerous complaints about use of outer-suburban stock on Waterloo-Portsmouth services.
* Replacement vanity units on class 159 trains are vastly inferior.
* Trains very dirty, particularly around lunchtime, mid-late evening, and on the Reading line.
* Broken and faulty address systems.
* Dirty floors on class 458 units.
* Cyclists and passengers left to compete for space in bike storage areas.
* Litter left to accumulate on Guildford-Ascot trains.
* Toilets on the Desiro trains regularly out of use.
* Toilets on the class 458 units regularly out of use because the tanks are not emptied.
* Seats removed from suburban units.
* Wrong width of toilet paper ordered, so it sticks in the dispensers.
* Some light fittings on the class 444 units are filthy.

Train Service

* Farnborough-Waterloo takes 76% longer on Sundays than on weekdays.
* Poor service at Liphook.
* Poor evening service to Chessington.
* 19.23 Waterloo-Surbiton continues empty to Hampton Court because no guard provided for the remainder of the journey.
* Trains from Woking between 06.30 and 07.30 too short.
* Overcrowding on 07.54 Eastleigh-Winchester.
* First class on 17.44 Winchester-Eastleigh used only by a free pass holder.
* Saturday overcrowding because of 4-coach trains.
* Morning overcrowding from Overton to Waterloo.
* Overcrowding on the Reading line.
* London trains don’t call at Portchester and Cosham when these stations lose their normal London services because other services are diverted over the route.
* Many trains ran non-stop through Surbiton during the snow.
* Faster trains needed on the Portsmouth line.
* Direct Twickenham-Frimley service is one-way only.
* Only Great Western and Cross Country to provide extra trains for the Weymouth Olympic events.
* No services between Hilsea and London on Sundays.
* Overcrowding on the 07.17 Guildford-Waterloo.
* 19.39 Waterloo-Guildford hasn’t been on time for at least four months.
* Crews not trained for possible diversionary routes.

Fares and Tickets

* Award of compensation for void days no longer automatic.
* Shareholders should share burden of costs. [Unlikely, since the Stagecoach founders are major shareholders, and Brian Souter acts according to his belief that capitalism is based on greed].
* Slow process for collecting pre-purchased tickets at stations.
* Unfair to charge for replacement of lost season tickets.
* Ticket machine at Milford very slow; half the touch-screen barely works, and passenger was charged when no ticket issued.
* Ticket checks said to hold down fares, yet fares spiral anyway.
* Car park machine at Isleworth still charges £3.50 for a £3 ticket, despite complaints for three months.
* No update on the availability of Advance fares since 22 February.
* Advance tickets limited to London area stations.
* Off-peak fares from Woking to Basingstoke only 10p cheaper than peak fares.
* No e-ticketing, Smartcards, or carnets.
* Basingstoke car park machines only accept credit cards, which slows purchase.


* On-board announcements still excessive, monotonous and disturbing.
* Passengers still not told which coach they are in, when there are short platforms or a train divides. Southern provides this information.
* Delays in making platform announcements at Waterloo.
* Software states that train has been cancelled due to…., but unable to provide the reasons.
* Quiet coaches about as quiet as a phone box.

The dangers of fobbing-off passengers

Many questioners were simply fobbed off with meaningless standard lines. Sometimes, though, listening carefully could have been in SWT’s own interest. Their fast Waterloo-Weymouth services get to Poole in almost exactly 2 hours, but note the fob-off to Question 40:

“Question: 40

Why is it that train journeys from London to Poole take 2hrs 20mins to 3hrs, when London to Poole is roughly 90 miles? Whilst on the other hand, Virgin trains take similar times from London to destinations double the distance from London.

(Posted by Matt Beardsworth)


Whilst we would like to operate quicker journeys, the maximum line speed on our network is 100mph for only parts of the journey. Also, we also have to serve important intermediate stations en route such as Woking, Southampton Central and Bournemouth. “ 


Passenger Focus’ latest complaints league tables has SWT in third-worst place. The watchdog got the company to pay 3.9 times the amount of compensation originally offered to those complaining. [Source: RAIL Issue 666]


Fares expert Barry Doe [RAIL, Issue 663] provides the following walk-on fares for a 100-mile journey:

First Anytime Return: SWT £155; Southern £110; South Eastern £110.
Standard Anytime Return: SWT £85; Southern £70 South Eastern £75 (£80 with use of high-speed service).
Off-Peak Return (Saver): SWT £45; Southern £35 South Eastern £35 (£40 with use of high-speed service).
Off-Peak Day Return: SWT £45; Southern £35 South Eastern £35 (£40 with use of high-speed service).

It seems extraordinarily poor value for money that people can pay more to travel on class 450 outer-suburban units on services between Waterloo, Portsmouth, Poole and Weymouth than on South Eastern’s high-speed Javelin trains.

The only silver lining is that Stagecoach Chief Executive Brian Souter’s private family investments have reportedly increased from £250m to £400m between 2007 and 2010.


SHRUG’s co-ordinator was surprised to receive an invitation to attend a meeting of SWT Passengers Panel at Winchester on 15/2/2011. Our Group has long been ignored by SWT.

No agenda was issued and, surprisingly given the huge number of rail users in the area, he was one of fewer than a dozen people invited.

The Panel was friendly, although it was pretty clear that the timetable had been arranged to prevent invitees having meaningful discussions with individual members.

Chairman Sir Alan Greengross explained that he wanted to focus just on general questions, starting with what does SWT do well and what does it do badly.

The response was unsurprising. The invitees thought things like punctuality [though achieved through slower schedules], information products, and station improvements [subsidised by taxpayers through Network Rail] were good.

However, there was sustained criticism from the invitees of the way SWT treats its passengers. The impression was that SWT would rather increase revenue by treating its passengers like criminals and unreasonably applying penalty fares, than by encouraging more passengers through advertising. People whose first language is not English are particularly susceptible to SWT bullying.

A case was quoted of a passenger who arrived at Swanwick just in time to board a Southern train. The guard told him it was OK to board, and he could pay at the barriers at Southampton Central. When he got there, SWT imposed a penalty fare for boarding the other company’s train with permission.

Penalty fares seem to serve no purpose at Waterloo in view of the barriers. Since barriers have been introduced, on-board train staff have become less visible.

The invitees generally considered SWT’s inflexibility on penalty fares was unacceptable, and highlighted the friendly and helpful approach on Southern, which was much more likely to keep people using trains.

Sir Alan appeared to demonstrate SWT’s corporate paranoia when he tried to argue that the law needed to be applied without discretion, that the barriers at Waterloo could be circumvented, and that seeing people allowed to buy their tickets on trains would encourage others to spread the word that boarding without a ticket was acceptable. This rather undermined any claim that the Panel was independent in a meaningful sense.

The invitees pointed out that in all areas of professional activity, discretion and guidelines are used in applying the law, and that staff could be trained in reasonable behaviour. SWT’s current approach is simply turning people away from rail travel. Why not have a second guard on board purely for ticket sales? Such a scheme could pay for itself through increased revenue and greater passenger satisfaction.

There was a complementary concern that some people find it very difficult to get the right ticket, but are penalized if they don’t. Machines do not sell all types of ticket or give full advice, and can charge too much because of the way they operate the time thresholds. Face-to-face contact with staff is valued, but is now much reduced, for example through shorter ticket office hours.

Turning to fares, it was thought some people will be turned away by big increases and others not. It could depend on things like a person’s age and whether they own a car. Operators don’t have to apply maximum permitted fare rises. They can take initiatives to boost ridership instead.

SHRUG’s co-ordinator pointed out that a peak return from Southampton to London costs around £65 by SWT, but as little as £20 with a Southern Daysave ticket.

Punctuality statistics could hide the real problems. Arriving at a final destination a few minutes late was unlikely to matter to passengers, but running for a connecting service at an intermediate station just as SWT waved it away certainly did.

In response to this point, Sir Alan relied on the old chestnut of hundreds of passengers being delayed just for the sake of a handful. This seems to be a case of SWT continuing to listen with deaf ears. Take the experience of Totton passengers trying to connect at Southampton Central from the semi-fast Waterloo-Weymouth services. There is no delay to the London-Weymouth train from holding the connection, which itself really serves only Totton and Ashurst passengers because it is overtaken by two later trains from Southampton during a 25-minute layover at Brockenhurst.

Various worthwhile small-cost improvements were suggested. SHRUG’s co-ordinator pointed out to Sir Alan that there are excellent travel centres at rail stations from Brighton to Inverness, but not on SWT. Southampton Central, which serves multi-ethnic and large Polish communities, not to mention 40,000 university students, certainly merits one. If SWT won’t meet the cost, would other train operators make a contribution?

Curiously, this is one meeting of the Panel which has not been reported on their website.

[Looking at the Stagecoach ethos broadly, it is tempting to recall the caption to Steve Bell’s cartoon in the Guardian of 21/1/11: ‘From each according to their vulnerability, to each according to their greed’]


When Stagecoach won its third franchise on SWT, DfT’s press release (22/9/2006) promised that “Capacity will be increased on both mainline and suburban services by around 20% ---- there will be more seats for many passengers on busy routes, with longer trains and extra services operating.”

Given Stagecoach Chief Executive Brian Souter’s view that “ethics are not irrelevant, but some are incompatible with what we have to do, because capitalism is based on greed”, it’s no surprise that 6,500 seats were then ripped from suburban units serving some of the most crowded routes, and even the few additional trains introduced have had seating reduced.

The Evening Standard (28/1/2011) quoted official figures showing that the 07.32 departure from Woking to Waterloo, on which 357 people were unable to sit down, was the most overcrowded train on the third rail network of the former BR Southern Region. Interestingly, it’s not long since the 08.02 from Woking was the most-overcrowded service.

So it appears that desperate passengers are travelling earlier in an attempt to find a seat. Worst affected passengers are likely to be those from stations from such as West Byfleet, Weybridge and Walton-on-Thames. At Woking itself, of course, fast services from the Portsmouth line to London are – as above - formed of cramped outer suburban stock, to compensate for capacity shortfall created to a significant degree by delays and cancellations.


Continued non-compliance at SWT ticket offices

Despite assurances from the DfT that SWT have robust measures in place to ensure queuing standards are met and ticket offices are open during advertised hours, I can once again report this not to be the case.

In the past six weeks, on all but two days have the queuing standards been met at Guildford both at AM and PM times. To put this in context, I use the station around 5 days a week (including at weekends) and travel at different times of the day. The company appear to have entirely given up staffing the ticket office in peak hours at the busy Guildford Park entrance. I recently timed queues at the two ticket machines exceeding 9 minutes. No additional help was provided for customers queuing outside the station and along the pavement, despite a member of staff being present at the barriers to ensure no one could enter the station without a ticket or bridge pass.

Recently I have observed no ticket buying facilities being available at Farnborough Main station from a member of staff, most recently this was on 09/02/2011 at 16:00. On the same day, and minutes later (16:07) the ticket window was unstaffed at Fleet. Queues at Woking are rarely less than 8 minutes, and sometimes much longer. I have timed queues of over 20 minutes at this station and the ticket office also appears to close early here (most recently on 05/03/2011). On 10th December the office at Woking was closed at least one hour before the advertised time and the busy town centre entrance is almost always unstaffed when I visit the station.

Inability to manage delays

SWT's 'right time railway' is clearly dependent on a number of factors. The timetable must have sufficient dwell times to ensure trains 'catch up' if there are any delays on route (such delays are insignificant to the statistics and therefore to the company, but less so for passengers missing appointments or connecting services). Furthermore, if a train is running late, to ensure it makes up time, scheduled stops are likely to be missed. Perfect weather conditions are also required; any snowfall, however insignificant, is likely to severely affect services. Despite parts of the south west experiencing quite insignificant snowfall, SWT were clearly unable to cope with the drop in temperatures this winter and the last. Lines and stations were closed for days and several towns had no service at all. I also observed trains being cancelled on the much reduced 'snowfall' timetable despite assurances that such modified service would improve punctuality and 'robustness' of the revised schedule. On one train I used, the doors became jammed at Woking (presumably due to being iced-up) and no help was provided to passengers who were struggling to disembark. The company in December were claiming they'd done better than their rivals in handling the snow despite operating a monopoly, and in any case the most significant snowfall was in the east of the country. It was also claimed they'd run a 'pretty good service'. Many would disagree, I'm sure.

Week commencing 28th February saw an especially poor performance from SWT, although they claim almost all of the delays were out of their control. I somehow doubt there will be any notable fall in their claimed 93% punctuality target, despite the fact that significant disruption was additionally caused by their indifference in helping stranded passengers.

One of the most recent examples of this company's shambolic performance when there are delays was on 25th January. Myself and other passengers suffered a 90 minute delay when the 20:15 service from Waterloo stopped at Earlsfield for over an hour. Despite having two of the lines still running, trains continued to pass through the station without stopping to pick up stranded passengers. The help-points were not being answered; the station, like so many of SWT's, was left unstaffed and despite making three calls to the expensive rate help-line, I was unable to receive any information for myself and fellow passengers. On the firstly attempt the call was answered but no one spoke (I could hear other conversions but the call was not answered by a member of staff). On the second attempt I was put on hold and then cut off before I spoke to a call operator. On the third attempt the call was answered but was again cut off, after the member of staff put my call on hold to speak to their supervisor. Such indifference and indeed contempt is displayed throughout this company's service provision, by failing to fulfil their franchise commitments and also their meaningless Passenger Charter.

Ticket Machines Overcharging

All the ticket machines at Haslemere fail to display 'Super-Off Peak' tickets to Guildford on the main launch screen. I have raised this issue on numerous occasions with SWT and the DfT. Passengers would have to trawl through multiple screens to obtain the correct (lower priced) fare applicable for most of the day and all day at the weekends. It is also totally unacceptable that SWT continue to offer expensive tickets when cheaper fares apply for the remainder of service. I have previously asked the DfT to provide information as to how many Off-Peak fares are sold from Haslemere after 11:02 (when Super Off-Peak fares apply). I have yet to receive any response, and I am certain my request will go unanswered. I have previously had a request ignored regarding expensive rate tickets sold from the ticket machines at Guildford during 'Super Off-Peak' times. Even with the new evening restrictions, this question is just as applicable and surely would be quite simple to provide an answer for, especially for purchases made at the weekend (where peak rates don’t apply at any time).

I am astounded that any train company is allowed to fleece people in this way at the ticket machines. If it’s possible to ensure passengers do not pay too little, it’s certainly possible to ensure expensive peak tickets are removed from sale from the ATM's. Anytime tickets are sold in the afternoons, evenings and weekends despite cheaper tickets being valid for the same routes on all but a few exceptional circumstances. Trading Standards have told me it’s up to the Rail Regulator and in turn they have said ticketing (compliance and regulation) is the responsibility of the DfT.

Revenue Staff and Security

I have again been threatened with arrest by SWT's bully-boy revenue staff when assisting a group of travellers who were being wrongly charged a penalty fare. Interestingly, the same members of staff are nowhere to be seen on a Friday and Saturday evening when most people would like to see restrictions in place on who can enter stations and board trains. SWT have consistently shown a total disregard for passenger safety, and this can be demonstrated by them opening ticket gates at weekends and evenings and having little or no security present. Those that defraud the system should be penalised, but how about the same rules applying to the train company? The crime rates in Guildford town and around the station have increased substantially and SWT have used this as justification for trying to close the public access footbridge during the night. Yet they are clearly not so concerned as to be providing adequate security measures during the hours of service later in the evening.


I can report that standards of cleanliness continue to be poor across the SWT network. Many trains have carpets that are clearly in need to being properly cleaned. Food and drink is sold and consumed on trains and yet the company provide squalid conditions that I doubt meet health and safety requirements. On board toilets are often out of order or in an unusable condition, thereby boosting another way to rob the public – the use of now-chargeable station toilets. Suburban trains frequently have days' old newspapers scattered along the carriages despite the 'promise' in SWT's Passenger Charter to 'clean' trains every three hours. Another lie, along with the promise to sell the correct ticket for every journey. On the train from Waterloo yesterday (7th March 19:45) the pull-down table where I was sitting was covered in what appeared to be human vomit. Has anyone from the Environmental Health department carried out a swab test on SWT's carriages? I somehow doubt it.”


On Sunday 13 March, all the ticket windows at the station’s downside (city centre side) entrance were unstaffed as usual. In addition, one of the two ticket machines was defective and, in particular, would allow groups of passengers to buy only one ticket at a time. A queue formed through the door and along the pavement. With Cardiff, Weymouth and London trains due to depart imminently, the member of staff at the barrier reluctantly let passengers through the station to the upside ticket office.

Such bleak customer service no doubt helps line Stagecoach directors’ pockets even more, but creates a very poor perception of train travel generally, not just of Stagecoach. Meanwhile, research by Which? Has found that ticket office staff are giving wrong answers to 59% of enquiries, and the National Rail Enquiry Service to 43%.


During the second and third weeks of February, SWT was telling passengers, through the JourneyCheck facility, ‘Please be advised [Why not ‘We are sorry’?]’ first that the lifts at Fratton were out of use; secondly that an engineer had attended and ordered spare parts; and finally that the lifts could now be used only with staff in attendance.

By the end of the period, passengers were being told that the lifts at Fareham would not be available at certain times because no SWT staff were in attendance. This was followed by an announcement about engineers sourcing parts for the platform 1 lift.

By 23 February parts were being sourced for Axminster, by 24 February for Southampton Airport Parkway, and by 4 March for Weybridge (where there had been lift problems three months earlier). By 9 March spare parts were being sourced for Surbiton and Portsmouth & Southsea and, by mid-month, they were being sourced for Surbiton, West Byfleet, Brentford, Basingstoke, Richmond and Weybridge. Some of these lifts were installed by Network Rail very recently, at public expense.


1. “--- Crime at Tube stations and National Rail stations also shows wildly varying figures — crime at one South West Trains station in my borough is up by 79 per cent. I have never seen police on my train line out of Waterloo. (Helen, Evening Standard 23/2/2011)

2.Public inquiry will be held into claims of fires and lost wheels on Stagecoach buses

[DAMIEN HENDERSON, Transport Correspondent, The Herald (Scotland) 1/3/2011]

BUS giant Stagecoach is facing a public inquiry over alleged maintenance shortcomings, including claims that a number of its vehicles lost wheels or caught fire.

The Perth-based transport firm will face a two-day hearing in front of Scotland’s Traffic Commissioner, Joan Aitken, from today in relation to its bus operations in Glasgow, Dundee and Fife.

It follows a year-long investigation by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (Vosa), a government agency, which uncovered claims of “wheel loss incidents” at all three bus operations. The hearing will also hear reports that buses operating from Stagecoach’s base in Dundee caught fire.

Stagecoach, founded by Brian Souter, is one of the five companies that dominate the UK’s bus sector and the second biggest operator of bus services in Scotland as well as being a major player in the UK rail market.

A spokeswoman for the company said the reports had been taken “extremely seriously” and prompted investigations into each case. The company’s alleged failings were given in a notice of proceedings issued yesterday by the Office of the Traffic Commissioner, though details of the incidents were sparse.

A spokeswoman said the hearing would hear reports drawn up between 2009 and 2010.

The commissioner has the power to fine companies if reports of maintenance shortcomings are upheld, or withdraw or limit their licence.”


“Ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed” – Stagecoach chief executive Brian Souter.

Part of an article in The Herald (Scotland) of 17.2.11 by Tim Sharp, city editor:

"* Stagecoach forced to review New York model * Too BIG: The Surface Transportation Board feel Twin America should have passed more of their $7m in efficiency savings on to passengers.

PERTH-based rail and bus group Stagecoach is to review its New York sightseeing joint venture after US transport authorities complained it had “excessive market power” and had hiked prices.

Stagecoach’s Gray Line New York merged with CitySights NY in March 2009 to create Twin America. Stagecoach, led by Scottish National Party donor Brian Souter, has 50% of voting rights and a 60% economic interest in the business which continues to operate both brands.

Twin America had sought approval for the business from the national Surface Transportation Board in summer 2009. A successful application would have had the effect of taking it out of the authority of New York state authorities which had launched an investigation into the deal.

The board agreed it had jurisdiction over the deal but ruled that the joint venture is not in the public interest. It also complained in its formal decision that “the board’s processes may have been manipulated” by Twin America in an attempt to avoid the New York investigation.

The STB gave Twin America the option of splitting out its business again. Alternatively, the joint venture could stop or spin off its interstate services, which run from New York to New Jersey, Washington DC, Philadelphia and Canada, and account for around 1% of its revenues.

This would remove the venture from STB jurisdiction and place it within the authority of the New York State Attorney General’s office which launched the original competition probe.”



Media reports, opinion sampling, and blogs have long demonstrated a widespread desire to abandon the private delivery of public transport services. No government has listened, and there is now increasing awareness that some companies give users a much better and more reliable deal than others.

Take Southampton:

Stagecoach destroyed the city’s popular bus station and rail travel centre. It sold off its local bus operations for a big profit and now runs just a two-hourly service to its bus station in Winchester (the most dilapidated and depressing bus station in Britain?) It hiked off-peak morning train fares to London by 20%. It replaced inter-city rolling stock on mainline services with hard-seated, rough-riding and draughty stock which was cheaper to hire. It is widely perceived as exercising its penalty fares scheme abusively and appears to have little interest in increasing ridership.

By way of contrast, Southern Railway, run by Go Ahead’s Govia partnership, is appreciated for its pro-passenger ethos. It has doubled its services locally by adding direct Brighton trains to those to Victoria via Gatwick. Its passengers can travel from Southampton to London for as little as £20 (Flexible Daysave ticket) in the morning peak, when SWT charges well over three times that amount, albeit for a more direct journey. It regularly seeks to increase its ridership through light-hearted advertisements in the local press.

On buses, First Group is becoming notorious for pruning its services several times a year. Its latest reductions, from 30/1/2011, gave rise to the usual complaints of hardship from passengers. Shadow minister John Denham said in the Southern Daily Echo of 1 February that some residents are ‘at a real risk of being left isolated’. Participants in the Echo’s blog recorded not only anger at First, but aspirations for Go Ahead’s Bluestar, or the small operator Velvet, to take over. First was also criticised for its high fares, for example £2.20 from Thornhill to Bitterne against Bluestar’s £1.60.

>From 27/2/2011, Go Ahead’s Bluestar also introduced a revised timetable, with earlier and later buses on some routes, and even a slightly better Sunday service. Only a few people living in the Hounsdown area have been disadvantaged by the changes. Ingenious timetabling provides buses every 10 minutes between Southampton and central Totton on weekdays, and every half hour on Sundays. Last year earlier and later buses were introduced on Go Ahead’s Southampton-Salisbury service (Wilts & Dorset X7).


We understand that Lymington Town facility manager Ian Faletto recently safeguarded passengers by removing a shopping trolley which he spotted on the track. When he was in charge of Sway station it won awards for his helpful service and enhancements which he personally paid for, such as immaculate garden, cushions on benches, and sweets for children.


Following last December’s big changes, the timetable is little altered in Southern Hampshire. As the new timetables are not yet available, these details are extracted from various internet sources, may be subject to change, and are not necessarily complete.

* Cross Country’s 09.46 (Mondays-Fridays) Southampton-Newcastle will stop additionally at Winchester. As usual, the 17.45 Bournemouth-Manchester train will divert to Leeds on Saturdays during the peak holiday season.
* First Great Western’s evening service (Mondays-Saturdays) from Brighton will terminate at Bristol. It currently runs to Worcester Shrub Hill.
* SWT’s Salisbury-Southampton-Eastleigh-Romsey trains (Mondays-Saturdays) will usually depart from Salisbury 8 minutes later, at 56 minutes past the hour, removing the current big layover time at Southampton.


* Stagecoach may have been running South West Trains for 15 years but, at the beginning of March, its website was sloppily giving information for Ashurst (Kent) station instead of Ashurst (New Forest).

* During several weekends at the beginning of 2011, lines were closed across the Southampton area for engineering work. Trains from Weymouth ran to and from Totton, the fourth largest town between Southampton and Weymouth. This was accompanied by the welcome weekend staffing of Totton station, which abruptly stopped when the worked finished.

* SWT’s ticket office at Sway was to stay closed on April 5, 6, and 8 without explanation.

* ATOC has a good way of annoying senior citizens. It sends e’mails inviting them to renew their railcards on-line, and then refuses to let them do so unless they have a passport or driving licence.

* The first train of 9ft 6in containers on standard flat wagons departed from Southampton on 23 February, following completion of infrastructure upgrades, most notably in Southampton tunnel.

* Plans to trial a Parry People Mover between Medstead on the Mid Hants Railway and Network Rail’s Alton station were suspended indefinitely at the end of January because of technical problems. The aspiration is to run a commuter service connecting housing development at Medstead with London trains.

* The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is investigating an apparent breakdown of communications on 8 March. Network Rail staff were working on the track between Clapham Junction and Earlsfield without protection from SWT stock movements. One train had to apply emergency braking.

* The long-term future of the Southampton-Hythe ferry service is in doubt, following the withdrawal of its subsidy for pensioners’ concessionary travel. The link is used by 350,000 people a year, and its existence was one reason given for Network Rail’s lack of interest in restoring passenger trains to Hythe.

* Changes to the concessionary bus scheme for senior citizens mean that Hampshire pass holders can travel on Mondays to Fridays from 09.00 on journeys starting in Hampshire (exclusive of the Southampton and Portsmouth unitary authority areas) and from 09.30 elsewhere. The time will be the time on the clock in the driver’s ticket machine. So, for example, you can board the 08.58 departure if it arrives two minutes late. The end time remains at 23.00, and there will continue to be no time restrictions on Saturdays and Sundays.

* Construction of the Fareham-Gosport bus road has finally got clearance from the Supreme Court. Abandonment of the former tramway scheme leaves Gosport as the largest town in England without a rail service.


As always, thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to contact us, and best wishes for Easter. Without your support and input, this newsletter would not be possible.