HOGRIDER 134 (JANUARY - MARCH 2012) PART 1
REFRANCHISING THREAT TO THE SOUTH
SWT’S SATISFACTION SCORES CRASH
NEW SWT MANAGING DIRECTOR DISPLAYS CUSTOMARY STAGECOACH SCORN FOR LONG DISTANCE COMMUTERS
WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF STAGECOACH RAIL
SWT’S PASSENGERS PANEL OTIOSE?
EXTRAORDINARY ATTEMPTS TO FAULT PASSENGERS
UNSAFE TO SERVE REFRESHMENTS ON THE 06.50!
THE SMALL SOCIETY: SWT DRIVES OUT VOLUNTEERS
IS SWT MISUSING POLICE RESOURCES?
FAILURES TO STAFF SWT TICKET OFFICES CONTINUE
SWT STATION LIFT FAILURES CONTINUE
TRAINS TO HYTHE STILL ON THE AGENDA
STAGECOACH BUS DANGERS SPREADING
DFT’S GREAT WESTERN FRANCHISE REPLACEMENT CONSULTATION
CONGRATULATIONS TO SOUTHERN AND SOUTH EASTERN
DUFF SWT TRAINS CAUSE MISERY ON THE IDES OF MARCH
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS / CONTACT DETAILS
REFRANCHISING THREAT TO THE SOUTH
Bidders have been short-listed for the next Great Western and Thameslink franchises. The latter will absorb the current Southern franchise, so will become relevant to South Hampshire. Short-listed bidders for Great Western are First (the incumbent, which is appreciated for having taken a range of steps to meet its passengers’ timetable aspirations), Arriva, National Express and Stagecoach; and for Thameslink are Abellio, First, Govia (the widely respected incumbent at Southern), MTR and Stagecoach. For the reasons chronicled in our History of South West Trains, the possibility, however remote, of another Stagecoach franchise will dismay large numbers of rail users.
SWT has illustrated how disastrous it can be for passengers when a rail business is franchised to a company whose founders own over one quarter of the shares and are content for greed to take precedence over ethics. In so many aspects, it’s a case of ‘look after the pounds and the passengers can look after themselves’. So busy travel centres have closed, train announcements threaten penalty fares ad nauseam but cannot give coach numbers to passengers on dual-portion services, and aggressive revenue protection measures have, as a matter of policy, been taken against confused passengers who make genuine mistakes.
At times greed seems to teeter into paranoia, perhaps because it has so much to protect. SWT became a huge success for Stagecoach’s shareholders, including the two founders who have taken hundreds of millions in dividends in addition to huge unbudgeted cash hand-outs from taxpayers via both the SRA and DfT.
In return for taxpayers’ largesse, passengers have suffered longer journey times and, in some cases, much reduced services. Many stations have suffered years of systematic neglect; so any belated improvements, however small, can be trumpeted as transformational. Less-comfortable and less-reliable rolling stock has taken over the majority of services, with many long-distance services operated by outer-suburban carriages whilst inner-suburban carriages have seen hundreds of seats ripped out. The DfT’s expectation of discounted season tickets for shoulder peak services has been ignored, whilst off-peak morning fares to London have soared.
This is against a background in which the railways are enjoying a renaissance that would have seemed impossible even 10 years ago. Much has been achieved or is in prospect, and deserves to be celebrated. Alongside the bigger national picture, community involvement illustrates a reborn pride in local services.
This progressive scenario has passed by SWT’s passengers whose aspirations are largely ignored, with SWT setting its timetable in concrete and doing little to promote schemes such as the Airtrack link to Heathrow – wouldn’t any other operator be jumping up and down, saying the link would be great for their passengers? At the same time, voluntary effort is being driven out on dubious health and safety grounds. So let’s hope for a future with passenger-focused operators.
John Prescott consistently argued that the interests of passengers were paramount, and wanted passenger input into decisions on franchise bids. Given the huge amounts of public money that goes into the railways, this still seems a laudable aspiration.
SWT’S SATISFACTION SCORES CRASH
PassengerFocus’ latest National Passenger Survey has established that SWT’s overall satisfaction rating slumped from 87% to 84% between Autumn 2010 and Autumn 2011. Given the methodology, this represents someone making an unsatisfactory journey on SWT 29 million times a year, and regular commuters dissatisfied with their journey 6-7 times a month, despite paying some of the highest fares in Europe. The Government’s proposal to let operators raise peak fares even further therefore brings lead balloons to mind. By way of comparison, C2C (Fenchurch St services) hasn’t fallen below 90% in the last 7 surveys, whilst Chiltern hasn’t fallen below 88%.
Even more remarkably, for the 19 individual aspects of service for which PassengerFocus provides scores, peak passengers gave SWT reduced ratings on 9, and off-peak passengers gave reduced ratings on 17 and improved ratings on none. Peak passengers were less satisfied than off-peak passengers on all 19 aspects, in one case by 42%. Only 21% of peak passengers were satisfied with value for money, only 31% were satisfied with capacity, and only 32% were satisfied with how Stagecoach deals with delays (for example, omitting stops and terminating trains short of destination to improve performance ratings by getting rolling stock into place for its next journey).
Omitting stops and terminating trains short of destination became endemic after the joint Network Rail / SWT Control Centre was established, purportedly to provide passengers with more-reliable services. This suggests that the new initiative to bring track and trains under single control in the SWT area is unlikely to exert the remedial force which the Government wants.
Extensive snapshots of SWT’s performance in Part 2 of this newsletter illustrate how appalling the company’s performance has become, and this during an unusually dry and mild winter. Whilst the situation has been exacerbated by cable thefts and fatalities on a few days, there are also only a few days when performance has been anything like satisfactory.
NEW SWT MANAGING DIRECTOR DISPLAYS CUSTOMARY STAGECOACH SCORN FOR LONG DISTANCE COMMUTERS
Stagecoach director Rufus Boyd opined (as recorded on CD) at the February 2005 meeting of the Hampshire Economic Forum that performance across the SWT network was fine, and the only problem was poor press coverage due to long-distance commuters who made the “ultimate distress purchase” in buying a home distant from their workplace.
Any other kind of company would bankrupt itself by being so dismissive of its best customers, but the Stagecoach founders have enjoyed massive dividends over the years.
No doubt Stagecoach hates long-distance commuters because they are more aware of the company’s many anti-passenger, profiteering manoeuvres than are occasional passengers.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that newly-appointed SWT Managing Director, Tim Shoveller, couldn’t wait to bend the truth in order to attack Portsmouth line commuters, who were squashed into suburban trains as part of a rolling stock reshuffle aimed at releasing Stagecoach from the costs of hiring the Wessex Electric units. (These had been paid for by taxpayers and through fare increases, as a discrete long-distance train for the Waterloo-Weymouth main line.)
So Rail Professional (January 2012 issue), reports: “He [Mr Shoveller] has little time for the very vocal passengers on the Portsmouth line, who waged a long-running campaign against the use of high-density suburban stock for a journey that takes around an hour and a half. The campaign is endorsed by MPs on the route and is a regular thorn in the company’s side. But Shoveller points out that the old slam-door VEP trains the Class 450 Desiros replaced were also five seats abreast, and says the German-built trains are a vast improvement on what passengers had a decade ago”.
Responses to Mr Shoveller in Rail Professional, February 2012
1. “Clearly Tim Shoveller is not firing on all cylinders when it comes to the Portsmouth-Waterloo line (Rail Professional, January 2012 issue) in his desire to do things better. He is wrong that 450s replaced five-abreast slam door stock.
The slam door stock was mainly four abreast and it was 444s that replaced slam doors stock in a blaze of glory, with ceremonies by Portsmouth and Havant Mayors.
All soon forgotten and a bend in the truth makes it OK to give the Portsmouth to Waterloo line a substandard service. Nigel Tarrant, Waterlooville”
[Quite. A sub-fleet of mainline slam-door units (class 4-CIG) was specially geared for the Portsmouth line, with the units named ‘Greyhounds’ to emphasise their superior performance.]
2. In Paul Clifton’s exchange with Tim Shoveller, the new SWT managing director might first have checked his facts and, with a generosity of spirit, avowed to understand his passengers’ grievances, before exposing himself to interview (January 2012 issue).
It is not true that the Class 450 replaced 4VEP units on the Portsmouth Main Line express services. It was main-line Class 444 units (billed as ‘Portsmouth’s new trains’), rather than Class 450, that superseded Mk 1 rolling stock in 2004.
In 2007, Class 442, misleadingly described by SWT as life-expired, was withdrawn from Bournemouth line services, with most of Portsmouth’s Class 444 units plundered as replacements.
Thus Portsmouth Main Line services became an inappropriate dumping ground for the suburban Class 450, displaced from Reading duties.
It should not be asking too much of Mr Shoveller that he review his relationship with his Portsmouth Direct line passengers. Rather than dismiss their grievances with contempt, his first duty must surely be to redress the insult of the past five years by restoring the quality of accommodation on main line services that his passengers deserve. Bruce Oliver, Southsea”
Grounds for suspicion of creeping suburbanisation
Earlier in the year, we heard from Portsmouth’s No450 Group that a Siemens manager had informed them SWT was maximising its use of the class 450 outer-suburban stock, and minimising its use of the longer-distance class 444 stock, in order to reduce its costs. This seemed all too likely, given that the better quality Wessex Electric trains (paid for by taxpayers) were banished from SWT for the same reason, whilst the Stagecoach founders’ dividends soared.
The March edition of the authoritative Modern Railways magazine gave details of the latest arrangements, stating: “SWT’s cost reduction strategy is based on replacing 5-car Class 444 units with eight-car class 450 formations between the peaks…. The saving on the Class 444 mileage is significantly more than the extra payment for the slightly increased Class 450 mileage…. There is of course a downside for long distance off-peak passengers, who turn up to find a suburban Class 450 rather than the expected more luxurious [sic] Class 444 at the platform”.
In March’s Webchat event, a questioner asked if SWT was reducing its Class 444 mileage to reduce leasing costs. SWT replied that they paid Siemens for maintenance not leasing, and that the Class 444 fleet was now up to strength following modifications and repairs. It speaks volumes that this reply answers the question so obliquely.
Two things are clear. First, Class 450 units have regular scheduled workings between Waterloo and Weymouth/Poole as well as between Waterloo and Portsmouth. So why not build an a.c. version for the Paddington-Bristol/Cardiff electrification, or is suburban stock good enough for long-distance passengers only on SWT? Secondly, SWT doesn’t seem too bothered when a Class 450 takes over a Class 444 duty. For example, on Saturday 31st March, the live running information on SWT’s website was updated at 07.50 to show that the 08.50 and 09.50 Poole-Waterloo trains would be reduced from a Class 444 unit to a single Class 450 unit because of defective rolling stock. It’s hard to believe that no Class 444 was available to be slipped into service sometime during the day. However, the 12.09 and 13.09 Waterloo-Portsmouth, 14.59 and 15.59 Portsmouth-Waterloo, and 17.39 and 18.39 Waterloo-Poole were all duly reduced in length as the substituted Class 450 units continued to cover class 444 schedules.
WHAT PEOPLE THINK OF STAGECOACH RAIL
(1) LETTER FROM A FORMER SWT COMMUTER
Many thanks for the latest edition of Hogrider. It will not surprise you that some years ago I decided not to travel by SWT. After 14 years of commuting, and many, repeat many, bad experiences of SWT and its employees, I had had enough.
I have concluded that public transport (and other public utilities) should not be entrusted to private enterprise. The ethos of private enterprise has nothing to do with the public good and has everything to do with those with enough money to employ accountants, actuaries and lawyers to squeeze larger and larger profits out of people who have no other choices. The Government should, therefore, resile from the false premise that "private enterprise will create competition to drive down prices". Yes, it drives down costs but not prices.
Let us be under no illusions. The main reason why successive Governments opted for private enterprise was the fear of perceived costs of public pensions. In an earlier age the private investors would re-invest their gains into the well-being of the business, employees and the locality. There was then less need for "supertax". Not so with the modern investor - "Make a quick profit, spend it on a lavish lifestyle and let the have-nots have less" is the mantra these days. The international open market has hindered, not helped, the provision of public utilities.
What successive Governments have failed to grasp is that by paying privateers vastly over-inflated subsidies (profits) the problem was exacerbated because there were insufficient, often incompetent, controls. Thus the country was worse off because individuals profited instead of the wider general public. Why pay huge profits to a few when relatively small pensions, even inflation-proofed, would not have resulted in the expensive greed-based culture of the privateer?
Privatisation has nothing at all to do with keeping Government costs down. Let us regulate, even re-nationalise, the public utilities. By all means compensate the privateers - less the profits they have made!
(2) LETTER FROM A SURREY RAIL USER
“I am writing with a copy of my most recent letter that I will be sending to consumer groups including Passenger Focus. I am appalled at what is going on at the moment in the railway industry, most specifically with South West Trains. I have briefly listed the issues I feel are most relevant:
Filthy train carriages, especially the floors and toilets. Vomit found on 3 trains in the past 14 days. No attempts at cleaning during stop-over at Waterloo.
Ticket machines no longer offering plus bus tickets. Can now only be bought from station ticket office (if open) or online but with fees applicable for changes to travel for all ticket types.
Ticket machines not offering super off-peak before 11:34 despite suburban services departing earlier in this fare category.
Queues still regularly exceeding the queuing standard. Floor walker at Guildford taking little or no action in reducing the queue (such as requesting revenue staff to assist in selling tickets).
One floor-walker found to be selecting an off-peak ticket when super off-peak could have been applicable on two occasions in the past 14 days. Customer not asked when they would be returning from London. Does legal requirement to sell the most appropriate ticket apply to the ticket walker or only ticket office trained staff?
Overcharging at the ticket office. Incorrect fare issued to customer. I observed issue, spoke to the customer and they joined the back of a queue for at least 10 minutes. Are undercover checks carried out to ensure staff sell the most appropriate ticket as is the legal requirement? If not, why not? This happens with worrying frequency. I will be requesting ‘Which?’ to conduct such research as the DfT do not seem too keen on the idea.
Revenue staff pack up and go home between 7pm and 10pm at all stations. What about revenue protection in the evenings, not to mention improving security by having the barriers in operation?
Shorter train formations resulting in overcrowding on services departing in peak and off-peak times. Why?
Increased noise at stations resulting in increased stress and inability to think for oneself. Duplicate messages now played back to back. New messages incorporated into the automated message bombardment. Smoking prohibited etc. Would a sign not suffice? Cases and parcels message especially pointless and was played 40 (yes, really 40) times at Guildford during one of the many instances of service disruption. Unbelievable. Thank you for travelling with South West Trains message played twice at Guildford on fast services, and three times on suburban terminating services. Ridiculous.
Still no map of London or the South East for passengers to use at Guildford station ticket hall. I note that there is no longer a ticket hall at the Guildford Park entrance.
Stations left unstaffed during advertised opening hours. Fleet, Godalming, Farncombe, Farnham, Esher, West Byfleet, Weybridge, Petersfield have all been closed in the past 28 days during advertised opening hours. Sometimes an explanation, sometimes not, but that is not the point is it?
Toilets not in an acceptable condition at most SWT stations. Others locked as out of use such as Woking for months on end.
Waterloo and Clapham Junction ticket offices chronically understaffed during busy periods. Queues often exceed 20 minutes at Waterloo.
Guards not selling the cheapest fare on-board despite passenger not having been able to use the ticket machine.
Revenue staff wrongly issuing penalty fares without checking status of originating station. Recent incident at Woking when West Byfleet station ticket office was apparently unstaffed (I have witnessed this on numerous occasions). Revenue staff charged a penalty fare despite customer not feeling confident using the ticket machine. I was threatened with arrest for intervening.
Police providing security at stations, presumably as a consequence of inadequate levels of staffing by the operator.
No incentives for customers to travel off peak other than the extortionate peak fares. FGW, Southern and London Midland all offering cheaper fare incentives without restrictions with daily availability. Not SWT though. Southern offering refunds for tickets purchased online including 'advance'. SWT charge £10 for changes to travelling arrangements for all ticket types including refundable tickets unless purchased at the station.
No controls in place for drunk passengers causing noise and distress to others, especially on Friday evenings, in part as a result of barriers being opened.
Platform staff continue to refuse to help passengers in need of assistance unless pre-booked. Guards rarely assist those with pushchairs (for example).
Service disruption getting worse. Last week I was delayed by over 2 hours, and in many cases this was as a result of missed connections. The bogus punctuality statistics do not show missed connections where the late running train later makes up time (not difficult with the amount of slack in the timetable).
Passengers not offered assistance during periods of disruption. Alternative transport not offered despite delays exceeding an hour on several occasions so far this year.”
(3) NEWSPAPER EDITOR BRANDS SWT ‘USELESS’
“Bought my ticket from Southampton Central rail station for London, returning through the New Forest. Nice lady served me. Asked if my home journey was that evening. Didn’t bother to explain no trains running past Southampton that night. Result – stranded. Useless South West Trains, you are useless!!!!!” (Ian Murray, Southern Daily Echo 24/2/12)
(4) LETTER ON VIRGIN TRAINS, 49% STAGECOACH-OWNED
[Source: RAIL Issue 688]
“Industry Insider seems to have swallowed whole the nonsense poured out by the Virgin PR machine (RAIL 686).
What did Virgin bring to UK rail? Intercity trains with no luggage-carrying facilities (Class 220 and 221 Voyagers), a fares system where those who pay least (for Advance tickets) get a guaranteed seat, whereas those who pay most (for normal tickets) have to search the whole train for somewhere to sit.
Virgin also pointlessly renamed First Class (Club Class) and Buffets (Shops) and introduced the most claustrophobic trains in Britain bar none (Pendolinos), which have a worse interior ambience than any modern passenger plane.
I wish for no more examples of Virgin’s “innovation and quality”! – Stuart Sherlock, Basingstoke”
(5) THE COLLECTIVE VOICE: SWT’S WEBCHAT TRANSCRIPT
As usual, SWT’s half-yearly Webchat, held on 15 March 2012, showed little progress with passengers’ many longstanding, complaints. One thing which has changed since these events started is that only the answered questions are numbered. This prevents people from checking how many questions go unanswered.
A QUESTION THEY DIDN’T ANSWER
Our Group’s co-ordinator got no response to the following question, despite receiving an automated acknowledgement:
“The DfT press release of 22 September 2006, which announced the award of your current franchise, stated: “It is expected that many regulated season tickets into London will be discounted for passengers travelling outside the height of peak times”. This could have a useful effect in spreading peak loadings, but has not happened. Passenger Focus’ surveys show that the percentage of peak passengers who consider that you provide value for money has fallen from 23% to 21% in the intervening 5 years, and the percentage satisfied with capacity has fallen from 34% to 31%. Can you please explain why you are taking so long to introduce this change?”
OBVIOUSLY PLANTED QUESTIONS THEY DID ANSWER
Some of the anonymous questions were pretty obviously planted by people within Stagecoach. Two examples are below. Q.139 was submitted the day before the Webchat. Q.155 was submitted three hours later than the unanswered question above.
The presence of guards on every train are [sic] one of the primary reasons that I believe South West Trains is such a commendable Train Operating Company. I believe South West Trains is an excellent company which deserves to continue with the franchise when it next comes up for renewal in 2017, based upon current performance.
However, recent government reports suggest that the removal of guards from trains would help in their blindly compiled financial agendas aimed at reducing 'spending' in the public sector. In light of this recent suggestion, what is your response to the necessity of guards onboard trains? When the franchise comes up for renewal (or before), is it possible that in order to retain the franchise, Stagecoach South West Trains will no longer incorporate guards in their franchise plans?
South West Trains has no plans to remove guards from trains.
[Does this Question sound familiar? The Passengers Panel section of SWT’s former e-motion magazine (issue 13) included the following in a list of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’: “I think that South West Trains has done a pretty good job recently and deserves a new franchise, and I’m not alone in this. Before all of you at the Panel groan and consign my letter to the waste-paper basket as just a note from another sycophant, let me hasten to add that there are a number of my fellow passengers who would not agree, which is exactly why I am writing. What can the ordinary passenger do to make his or her views heard by whoever awards the new franchises?”]
Most of the work that goes on to ensure a reliable, well-functioning railway system goes unseen by passengers. To shed some light on this, what have been the key benefits realised to date through shared/joint operational centre working between South West Trains and Network Rail, and can we expect to see continued deeper collaboration in the near future?
We are working closely with Network Rail on joint proposals for a deep alliance.
THE ANSWER TO A QUESTION WHICH HADN’T BEEN ASKED
Passengers who complained of the use of suburban stock on long-distance services were fobbed off with a standard reply, even where this bore no relation to the question asked:
I hear the Transport minister has asked for an enquiry into the Portsmouth trains, to find out if those beastly blue ones with the cramped upright seats are really necessary.
Who is taking part in this exercise? Are the passengers being asked for their opinion?
I’m aware that the issue of class 450 trains has been debated many times on previous webchats. My stance on this remains the same as my predecessors, and we have no intention during this current franchise to change the existing use of rolling stock on the Portsmouth line.
I can confirm that our latest passenger counts - taken directly from the trains' board counting equipment - continue to show a justification for using a combination of 450s and 444s on this route. We still believe that the current mix of Class 450 and Class 444 trains on the Portsmouth line represents the most efficient use of our resources and provides the optimum balance between capacity and reliability for the route and the South West Trains network as a whole.
It is vital that we balance the interests of different communities along the line and it is important to remember that the seats on Class 450 trains provide vital capacity for passengers closer to London.
However, we must not lose focus on the real issue, which is how we can increase capacity for all trains that operate into Waterloo, both in terms of frequency and length. It appears that the main cause of discomfort is the level of overcrowding that passengers experience on our busier services.
In terms of the specific issue on the use of 450s on the Portsmouth route, we have previously written to both Norman Baker and Penny Mourdant MP in response to this issue and provided a full explanation of why we will continue to use the Class 444 and 450 trains on this route.
Norman Baker has previously confirmed that he understands our position and “accepts that SWT has indeed looked carefully at the efficient deployment of rolling stock to meet passenger demand as indicated from passenger loading data”.
AREAS OF COMPLAINT
Fares and Ticketing
Complicated fares system is a nightmare. Tickets, including seasons, don’t provide value for money, especially given SWT’s poor performance in the past year. One passenger has been delayed for a minimum of 10 minutes on 8 out of 10 journeys between Brockenhurst and London. Refund scheme meaner than Southern’s. Portsmouth-London fares dearer than Southern’s. Frequent customers get rewards only through the Gold Card system; nothing for people who don’t hold season tickets. Groupsave ticket arrangements are difficult to understand. ‘Rainbow Day’ promotions are limited to a handful of stations and poorly publicised. Trains leaving London almost empty well before the start of the morning off-peak period. It’s as cheap to hire a car (including petrol costs) and drive from Branksome to Clapham Junction as to use SWT. Network Cards not valid before 10.00, but no direct service from Basingstoke to Clapham Junction between 09.57 and 10.38. Cheapest advance fare to London never available on the 07.27 from Wareham on Saturdays. Fears that Advance fares for non-Olympic ticket holders will be curtailed during the games.
Smartcard readers not brought into use even where installed. Barriers at Waterloo are repeatedly destroying passengers’ paper season tickets (twice in three weeks in one case). Difficult to get multiple tickets from machines, and many screens are illegible in direct sunshine. Machines don’t allow advance purchase of tickets from other stations. Hardly any SWT stations have machines for pre-booked tickets. Oyster pay-as-you-go card is overcharging about 100% too much, with passenger having the inconvenience of getting refunds. On-board ticket checks rare, revenue protection policy no longer clear, and inconsistency in passengers being threatened with penalty fares.
Station dwell times unnecessarily long. No Boxing Day services. Unnecessary to run poor services on Sundays when there’s no engineering work. Some point-to-point times slower than on Cross Country services. No earlier SWT trains for events such as the London Marathon, and no extra trains for the Olympic sailing events at Weymouth. Replacement bus services very inadequate; lack of information, insufficient capacity, missed connections and abusive driver. Long-term speed restriction at Woking junction is delaying peak trains. SWT so unreliable that passenger has switched to car travel. SWT not lobbying for link from Staines to Heathrow.
Peak overcrowding on Alton line because timetable sparse and trains poorly timed; they are also slower than in the past. No London services at Hilsea on Sundays. No evening service at Holton Heath. Poor service level at Whitchurch and Overton. Peak service pattern on the Waterloo-Portsmouth line causes delays, and guards make no apologies when they occur. Huge gaps in peak services calling at Clapham Junction (90-minute gap in the case of Basingstoke). Stations like Fleet have no Wimbledon services. Waterloo-Reading and Waterloo-Weymouth services too slow. Only hourly evening service on the Hampton Court line. Poor spacing of eastbound trains from Poole. 05.29 Woking-Waterloo is very slow because of routeing via East Putney. 08.02 Woking-Waterloo rarely on time. Peak Salisbury line trains unbearably overcrowded. 05.57 departure from Botley is very unreliable, information system does not keep up-to-date, and no PA announcements. Later Waterloo-Salisbury service needed. Firms moving to the Brentford area, but no longer-distance services serve the station. No weekday services between Woking and the Chertsey line. When there is disruption, Salisbury line services stop running between Basingstoke and Waterloo, and too many trains towards Bournemouth are turned back early for operational convenience. 18.35 from Waterloo consistently late and often arrives at Brockenhurst just as the Lymington connection departs. Too many delays in the London area.
Huge delays owing to the morning’s duff SWT train at Hinton Admiral [See article: ‘Duff SWT trains cause misery on the Ides of March’] – more crossovers and bi-directional signalling needed to cope with such failures?
Train announcements long, too-frequent, unfriendly, threatening and obnoxiously loud, and automated announcements repeated by guards. Early announcement of stops on Reading trains creates anxiety and constant upheaval. SWT information is dreadful, except for the Twitter service where only the grammar and spelling are dreadful. False representation of the number of passengers using Twitter. SWT timetable booklets difficult to obtain. Delays and cancellations on trains increasing, but no forewarning or apology. Ludicrously incorrect announcements on various mainline trains. No information on passenger information screens about the location of first class accommodation. Difficulty in accessing engineering work timetables. Inaudible announcements at Vauxhall. Information screens sometimes show expected departure times earlier than the scheduled times. When there is disruption, announcements at Waterloo talk about delays and disruptions instead of focusing on what is actually running. Why are delays so often blamed on ‘congestion’ rather than failure to run services on time? Station announcement that trains are terminating and passengers should all change are often made before the train arrives.
No follow-up to interim replies. Replies which are made can take weeks. Lost property service too slow.
No refreshments at Whitchurch. Floor at Portsmouth & Southsea is very slippery in wet conditions, and the Costa Coffee shop closed after only a few days. Circulation at Wimbledon can be difficult because of poorly situated barriers and footbridge cluttered with billboards and vending machines. There is little shelter on the westbound platform at Poole. Platforms at Fratton need lengthening. Booking office often closed and ticket machine not working; advice needed on what to do about ticket-on-departure sales. Peak passengers slowed down by barriers; off-peak they are left open, encouraging fare evasion. ‘No smoking’ signs are few. Inadequate destination displays at Kingston. No step-free access at New Malden. Newspaper stall at Farnborough closed long-term. The wide barrier gates are difficult to use. Short platforms at Ash Vale mean it is difficult to access spare seats at the rear of trains. Plans for developments outside Guildford station do not include extra parking spaces or convenient bus stops and waiting areas. Roofs at Fleet leak, especially near the ticket gates, and parking spaces are inadequate. Poor communications with passengers at Brockenhurst. Maintenance of men’s toilets at Southampton Central appalling. No Car Club provision at SWT stations. Outside light at Norbiton is permanently on, wasting money – reports over a whole year have been ignored. Too much graffiti across the SWT network.
Rolling stock and Capacity
Use of long-distance diesel stock on Monday-Friday services on the electrified Lymington branch is wasteful and polluting. Early commuter trains from Woking to Waterloo have only 5 carriages. Short trains causing weekend overcrowding. Terrible overcrowding on trains delayed in stations. The 3-coach train on the 07.51 Southampton-Portsmouth is inadequate. Trains on the Waterloo-Exeter line have collapsing seats; little, if any, heating in winter; dreadful stinking toilets; and defective hand-driers. There is still no wi-fi on long-distance trains. Poor cycle storage space / non-enforcement of peak time rules for cyclists reduces usable seats and led to abuse of pregnant woman. Even folding bikes are causing a problem because trains so crowded. Mobile phone reception on both classes of Desiro train is poor. Overcrowded trains prevent refreshment trolleys from circulating. Cramped outer-suburban trains are appalling on long-distance services; they are increasingly being used on the Weymouth main line, and they are reportedly taking over some duties from mainline stock to reduce leasing costs, owing to Stagecoach’s ‘naked greed’ / Will there be passenger input into the ministerial inquiry into the deployment of these trains. Serious lack of peak capacity between Staines and Waterloo. Poor luggage space on Desiro trains. Trains often ‘knee-deep’ in discarded newspapers. Filthy floors on class 458 units, and these trains are extremely noisy. Too few power sockets on the class 444 units.
SO WHAT HAS SWT UNDERTAKEN TO CHANGE FOLLOWING THE WEBCHAT?
Virtually nothing, except that it is reviewing its use of announcements.
SWT’S PASSENGERS PANEL OTIOSE?
Any newcomers who, against the odds, manage to find the Panel’s website, may wonder at its inactivity in the face of widespread passenger dissatisfaction with SWT. The first thing they are likely to see is a member’s report of how he failed to find any passengers causing trouble for guards on Halloween Night in 2010. Then there’s the picture of a comfortable Wessex Electric train, paid for by taxpayers specifically for the long-distance Waterloo-Weymouth line and disposed of by Stagecoach to increase shareholder dividends even more.
The Panel’s (that is, Stagecoach director Sir Alan Greengross’s), concerns show how little progress has been made in 10 years:
“It is important for us from time to time to review our ways of being aware of passengers’ feelings and ensuring we really do reflect passengers’ views, and that we remain a pro-active, rather than a passive, organisation embedded in the very culture of the Company.”
“Another problem that we identified a long while back was the need for SWT to be able to see things through the eyes of passengers.”
The Panel reports that their last two meetings – in September and October – have been devoted to looking at how they can best operate in the future. Their decision is to roll out a programme of surveys, like the one in June 2011 when they presented an anodyne report of largely-satisfied passengers travelling in the opposite direction to the commuter flow. This was just two days before commuters were delayed 5 hours and threatened for leaving stranded trains, with SWT and Network Rail incurring massive criticism, including from Ministers and MPs.
SWT’s plummeting scores in the National Passenger Surveys, and feedback from dozens of dissatisfied passengers via its latest Webchat, show precisely how it is seen through passengers’ eyes. So why isn’t the Panel concentrating on such data?
Difficult not to conclude that, whilst the Panel declares its independence from SWT, it is closely controlled by Stagecoach and operates more or less as part of a damage-limitation process. If the Panel had had any real effect over the past 10 years, Webchat and NPS data might look a lot different. (See also ‘A History of SWT’ on our website).
EXTRAORDINARY ATTEMPTS TO FAULT PASSENGERS
It seems that SWT, like its Passengers Panel member on Halloween night, is always seeking to fault passengers. Note this excerpt from Private Eye, Issue 1309:
“On Tuesday last week, South West Trains’ website warned commuters awaiting the 6.42am from Portsmouth to London Waterloo: ‘Services full and standing from Liphook. This is due to an unusually large passenger flow.’
The 6.42 had only five coaches instead of the usual 10, but apparently the overcrowding on it was the passengers’ fault, not SWT’s.”
A similar distortion of fact is evident in this website gem, showing (1) how ‘disruptive passengers’ were blamed at 10.23 for delaying the 11.26 Exeter-Waterloo, and (2) how the train had ample slack time to run punctually despite two additional stops:
“11:26 Exeter St Davids to London Waterloo due 14:49 This train has been delayed by up to 10 minutes and is expected to run as shown below. This train will call additionally at Whimple and Feniton. This is due to disruptive passengers. Message Received :14/02/2012 10:23”
This report was followed by the following ‘live-running’ information:
* This train has been delayed by disruptive passengers
|11:26||Exeter St David's||Departed On time|
|11:30||Exeter Central||Departed On time|
|11:35||Pinhoe||Departed On time|
|11:53||Honiton||Departed On time|
UNSAFE TO SERVE REFRESHMENTS ON THE 06.50!
>From SWT’s Website:
“06:50 Southampton Airport Parkway to London Waterloo due 08:08
Catering is not available throughout.
Additional Facilities Information:
Please note that catering facilities will no longer be available on this train on a regular basis. This is as a result of recent safety concerns.
Message Received :16/03/2012 07:19”
Could the safety concerns be linked with the advertised conversion of this train to outer-suburban stock when the lengthened class 458 units are brought into service?
THE SMALL SOCIETY: SWT DRIVES OUT VOLUNTEERS
The previous issue of this newsletter reported how SWT ignored a petition signed by thousands, and staunchly backed by Desmond Swayne MP, against the sacking of Lymington facilities manager Ian Faletto for taking a risk in stepping on to the track, even though he said this was to remove a trolley. Ian had won many awards for his voluntary efforts in the interests of rail passengers.
Interestingly, SWT made light of the danger which the trolley posed. However, the Evening Standard of 4/4/12 reported that a trolley had been hit by a train at Horley, jamming under the front of the train and becoming tangled in the power shoe. Track cables were also damaged, stranding the train and causing long delays.
The following now provides clear evidence that SWT is using dubious health and safety arguments to get rid of volunteers:
(1) SWT LOCKS OUT FIRST AID GROUP WITHOUT NOTICE
EASTLEIGH VOLUNTARY FIRST AID
By David Mead
A piece of railway history, largely unrecorded, of Eastleigh silently slipped away during February 2012, when the last of the voluntary railway first aiders were locked out of their training room by SWT on the grounds of health and hygiene. Thus ended the voluntary movement in Eastleigh which had been performing for over 100 years - the LSWR saw the railway ambulance service serving a vital role and the railway works even in time had its own emergency vehicle. The volunteers were trained to a high standard and throughout the United Kingdom competitions were held to showcase the high standards of first aid reached within the railway industries.
Volunteers were encouraged with time off work and a free railway ticket when passing their annual examination and the railway formed a very close allegiance with the St. Johns Ambulance, who used to oversee employee’s examinations and certification. The Southern Region used to have very active volunteer first aid classes throughout and included very skilled members at Waterloo Station, Victoria Station, London Bridge, Ashford Works, Eastleigh Works, and most of the large station areas including Southampton, Portsmouth and Bournemouth. The Southern Region also employed a full time co-ordinator for the First Aid and one of the old pre-fabricated offices alongside platform 1 at Waterloo was used for that purpose. The basement of the former “News Theatre” at Waterloo station for many years was used as a training room and both lunch time and evening first aid classes took place. The support was so great that there were periods when lessons had to be repeated twice to accommodate the number of volunteers.
When Eastleigh Railway Works closed, the Works Classes disbanded and the equipment was disposed of including a rather aged but functional ambulance, which often was used to transport the seriously injured to hospital. An evening class continued with mostly retired railwaymen on Eastleigh Station but because of the class using a staff mess room, it was deemed as unhygienic and the members were locked out by SWT one night without warning. A combination of Health and Safety at Work and today’s immediate responses with the national medical services plus highly paid businesses employed by train operators, have made the unsung heroes of the former railway first aid volunteers no longer required in today’s privatised industry.
(2) SWT PREVENTS COUPLE WATERING FLORAL DISPLAYS
[From The Dorset Echo 17/3/2011]
“GREEN-FINGERED pensioners Brian and Janna Coomber have been driven potty by rail bosses who say they can’t use a ladder to lovingly tender their floral displays. The couple were stunned when they learnt health and safety rules could outlaw their hobby, despite them looking after flowers around Weymouth railway station on a voluntary basis for almost 10 years. South West Trains, which owns the station, insists it is for the couple’s safety.
The Coombers build display boxes and spend their own money and time on the flowers, which brighten up the platform and forecourt – and are also grown in planters placed along a wall bordering the station in Ranelagh Road. Such has been their dedication to making the area look welcoming to visitors, they have received awards for their handiwork. But all that could be in jeopardy.
The Coombers, of Chelmsford Street, were given permission by station staff to plant flowers several years ago and were even presented with special hi-vis bibs to recognise their role. They put up a ladder against the wall in Ranelagh Road to get to the 27 planters which are more than 6ft off the ground. Although the ladder is on the pavement, the flowers are on railway property.
The couple learnt of the new ruling when Mrs Coomber was approached by a manager who said he could no longer allow them to use a ladder. “He said it was because of health and safety. I was shocked,” said Mrs Coomber, 68. “If we can’t use a ladder to tend our flowers, they’ll go to rack and ruin.”
She said when her husband arrived moments later the manger went in his office and there has been no contact from South West Trains since. The couple fear the decision is just an excuse to stop them maintaining the plants – but they intend to carry on working. A fuming Mr Coomber, 72, said: “This has completely thrown me. “We’ve never asked for anything for doing it. I must have spent thousands building the boxes and buying the seeds. “It’s my property, if they want to maintain them, fine, but they’ll have to buy them off me. “But I’d rather it didn’t come to that.”
He pleaded to South West Trains: “Let us get on with it. It’s perfectly safe. I will stand by the ladder every time Janna goes up there if it makes them happy but don’t stop us from doing something we love. “This is our gift to the people of Weymouth.”
Undertaker Dennis Mould of Stockting Funeral Service sponsors one of the planters. He said: “The Coombers should get an MBE for their efforts, they do a wonderful job. It’s stupid to stop them climbing a ladder, they should be able to carry on.”
IS SWT MISUSING POLICE RESOURCES?
The regional Rail Passenger Committees, which were replaced by Passenger Focus, used to hold regular public meetings which included a keynote speech. Speakers from the British Transport Police always presented the force as the thinnest of blue lines.
However, the Southern Daily Echo of 27/01/12 reported a bizarre incident at Brockenhurst involving an elderly driver who turned left on the level crossing and drove along the track to the adjacent station. A rail employee was quoted as saying: “Luckily British Transport Police were already here, checking tickets, when the incident happened”.
So, are BTP resources compensating for SWT’s big reductions in station staffing and failure to maintain even advertised ticket office opening hours? The latest reports from our Surrey rail user suggest that this is indeed the case. It therefore seems likely that passengers are getting £175 fines for boarding SWT trains without a ticket simply because BTP officers don’t have powers to issue penalty fares. More generally, isn’t use of purportedly scarce BTP manpower to check tickets just another subsidy for Stagecoach greed?
FAILURES TO STAFF SWT TICKET OFFICES CONTINUE
In the past three months alone, SWT’s website has advertised failures (in some cases prolonged and/or repeated) to staff ticket offices during opening hours at Aldershot, Andover, Axminster, Brockenhurst, Chessington South, Clandon, Eastleigh, Esher, Overton, Poole, Portsmouth & Southsea, Templecombe, Thames Ditton, Virginia Water, Walton-on-Thames and Wandsworth Town.
SWT STATION LIFT FAILURES CONTINUE
Lift failures (in some cases prolonged and/or repeated), have recently occurred at Axminster, Basingstoke, Bracknell, Brentford, Clapham Junction, Fareham, Farnborough, Feltham, Fratton, Haslemere, Havant, Richmond, Southampton Central, Staines, Surbiton, Twickenham, West Byfleet, Weybridge and Wimbledon.
Thanks to the Wessex branch of Railfuture for inviting us to send a representative to their annual general meeting, held at Winchester on 17/3/2012.
Mr John Salmon, from Network Rail Wessex Region, gave the keynote speech. He welcomed the recently announced collaborative working between Network Rail and SWT, which he saw as promising improved outcomes for passengers. He put the big dip in performance on SWT in the context of more cable thefts, more fatalities, and the greater difficulty of maintaining performance levels when they have already come a long way.
Infrastructure spending was at a high level. The Redbridge-Andover-Basingstoke route was being prepared as a diversionary route from Southampton Docks for trains of 9ft 6in containers. Such schemes involve changes to dozens of structures. Resignalling of the SWT route to Exeter would be completed before Easter. Old signal boxes were being closed, with trains controlled from Basingstoke, where there are plans for a new control centre which would cover the whole SWT area.
The next resignalling project in the area would be Poole-Wool, including provision for freight trains to turn at Wool (reducing mileage) and regular passenger train working on to the Swanage branch. On a less positive note, no use was seen for the branch to the ferry terminal at Weymouth Quay. Unsurprisingly, he thought the talked-of switch from third rail to overhead electrification was a non-starter in the foreseeable future.
John Friedberger announced his intention to resign as Chairman of Railfuture Wessex, after five years in office. He was previously Deputy Chair of the Southern Rail Passengers Committee. He has been an outstanding champion of rail users over the years. We owe him our thanks, wish him well, and hope he will long continue his valuable work, albeit in a changed capacity.
Readers who may be interested in joining Railfuture (the campaigning arm of the Railway Development Society) may like to visit their website: www.railfuture.org.uk.
TRAINS TO HYTHE STILL ON THE AGENDA
[From Rail Professional website]
“Paul Clifton / February 2, 2012.
The return of passenger trains to a freight-only branch line in Hampshire has moved a step closer. A viability study for the re-introduction of services to Hythe has been approved by Hampshire County Council.
Following completion of a Grip2 study, which established a business case for using the line beside Southampton Water, the council will undertake a technical study to identify the infrastructure that would be needed, calculate passenger demand and assess how it could be funded. It would serve Totton, Hounsdown, Marchwood and Hythe.
Passenger services ended on the line in 1966. It remains lightly used by freight trains to the military port at Marchwood and the oil refinery at Fawley.
The case for re-opening the line is based on providing an hourly shuttle between Hythe and Southampton Central, with a 23-minute journey time. There is no intention to run passenger trains to the end of the line at Fawley, as this would extend the journey time beyond 30 minutes and prevent an hourly service using a single train.
Councillor Mel Kendal, executive member for environment and transport on Hampshire County Council, said: ‘We are still some years away from opening the line to passengers. Nonetheless what we have established is encouraging and I can see that a Waterside rail line could help enormously in reducing congestion, which is a key priority for us.’ The Grip3 study will start this spring.”
[It is surely good that this project is still alive. Such a service would relieve a busy main road and peak hour congestion around Southampton. It would also avoid the dismantling of the line if non-passenger traffic ends completely. In the very long term, changing energy technology might see the cessation of power generation and oil refining at Fawley, with a huge brown-field site available for other uses. There might then be a need to extend services beyond Hythe. Even more intriguingly, the line heads from the principal rail centre of Southampton towards Cowes and Newport, and who knows whether future generations of Isle of Wight residents might aspire to a fixed link with the mainland.]
STAGECOACH BUS DANGERS SPREADING
Serious fires involving buses do occasionally happen, as with the recent empty Bluestar bus fire in Totton. On Stagecoach buses, however, they have become commonplace. In recent Issues we have reported:
* Official sanctions against Stagecoach in Scotland for wheels coming off buses (wheel loss appears to be uniquely a Stagecoach problem).
* Disturbing Stagecoach bus conflagrations across England.
Private Eye, Issue 1305, has since reported the following:
* The US Department of Transportation has warned prospective passengers that Megabus Northeast scores 75% for unsafe driving - it’s worse than three quarters of all comparable firms. (Revenue from North American Megabus operations rose by 49% in 2011)
* There has been a flurry of lawsuits (at least one alleging corner-cutting with safety to maximise profits) following the deaths of four passengers in a Megabus incident near Syracuse in September 2010.
* Bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis, part-owned by Brian Souter, was fined £50,000 in September 2011 for a safety offence.
* Stagecoach Yorkshire has been fined for an accident in which a bus dropped on a garage apprentice.
STAGECOACH BUS FIRE: INVERNESS, 19/12/2011
[From the Inverness Courier]
“FIREFIGHTERS were called to Falcon Square after a bus caught fire. A spokeswoman from Stagecoach said passengers were safely evacuated from the number 5 bus to Balloch, which was opposite Marks & Spencer, at about 3.36pm after the driver noticed smoke at the front of the bus. Fire crews wore breathing apparatus and used a hosereel to extinguish the blaze, which was out by around 4pm.”
Comment from a passenger involved in the incident
The spokeswoman from Stagecoach would do better to get her facts right. The passengers evacuated themselves at Falcon Square. When I got on the bus at Union Street I asked the driver “What's burning” but got no answer, so thought it was my imagination. But, as the bus moved off, the smell got more intense and other passengers smelt it and the smoke was filling the bus by the time the bus reached Queensgate. By the time it reached Falcon Square there was more smoke and the passengers decided to get off the bus even though the driver said we would be fine. After getting off the bus the flames started.
Stagecoach need to maintain their buses better. It’s bad enough when they keep breaking down, but now they are putting the passengers at risk by going on fire. I myself have a disability where the muscles in my spine seize up, and due to the shock and stress of it all they did, causing me to get off the bus doubled up. When phoning the bus station to complain, when I got home, the attitude I got was “We are just closing for the day”. Then she continued to say we could have used the fire doors at the back of the bus. When I insisted I got another number from her, she asked for my number instead and she said I would get a call in the morning. That's if I do, as they are not very good at replying to complaints.”
General comment from a reader
“It's yet another prime example of the joke that is Stagecoach. Get rid of them and get First into Inverness, slightly more expensive but much better service. Services which actually run and passengers listened to.”
STAGECOACH BUS FIRE: CAMBRIDGE, 24/12/2011
[From the Cambridge News]
“Passengers fled a double-decker bus before it turned into a ball of flames on the A14. The Stagecoach bus was carrying last-minute Christmas shoppers from Cambridge to St Ives when the drama unfolded at Bar Hill.
Three crews from Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service were sent to the tackle the blaze and had to call in a water-carrier to douse the inferno.
Smoke was billowing across the carriageways of the road causing a hazard to motorists after the bus caught on fire on the Bar Hill slip road near Tesco at just before 4pm on Christmas Eve.
Daniel Newman, 16, a Long Road Sixth Form College pupil from Swavesey, was a passenger on the top deck when he felt a searing heat on the back of his head. He said: “I was at the top and right at the back when suddenly I heard what I thought was a tyre bursting. There was a jolt. Then I felt this incredible heat at the back of my head and turned around to see these flames right in my face. I told everyone to get off the bus. There were about 15 passengers. I left my Christmas presents on my seat and went back for them. It was just instinct. I wouldn’t advise it but I didn’t want to waste the £150 I’d spent in Cambridge.”
Neil Dempsey, 21, of Bar Hill, witnessed the fire fight unfold as crews battled the flames and smoke. He said: “There were loads of firefighters fighting it and blasting away at it with water. Basically the bus was pretty much in half. It is a total write-off.””
DESPITE RISKS, STAGECOACH WANTS MORE BUS USERS!
As we reported in the preceding Issue, Chief Executive Brian Souter considers that Stagecoach’s future fortunes will be driven by long-distance buses rather than trains [Herald Scotland, 8/12/11]. So the following, from the Evening Standard of 17/01/12, is unsurprising. We doubt whether Stagecoach will appreciate the image of wheel fall-off!
“Wheels fall off savings tip from Stagecoach
Travelling by bus instead of commuting by car could save drivers £150 a month, according to new research carried out by... bus operator Stagecoach. The press release fails to take into account the value of the many hours that would inevitably be involved in waiting for buses… Instead, it finishes off with a quote from its millionaire chief executive Sir Brian Souter (worth £650 million along with his sister, according to the last Sunday Times Rich List) on how “Rocketing motoring costs and household bills are squeezing living standards for many families across Britain...”
1. Predictable that Mr Souter overlooked the rocketing costs of travelling on Stagecoach trains! For example, a Swanwick resident complained in the Southern Daily Echo of 24/01/12 that the combined costs of parking at Southampton Airport Parkway station and travelling to London with a day travel card had just increased by 21.96%.
2. The North Star reports that Stagecoach has given free 7-day bus tickets to people in The Black Isle (the peninsula north of Inverness) to compensate for the unreliability of their services.
DFT’S GREAT WESTERN FRANCHISE REPLACEMENT CONSULTATION
Response from the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group
1. Our Group was founded by a number of South Hampshire-Waterloo commuters and other interested individuals some 19 years ago. We are an open organisation in which anyone is welcome to participate, and can be contacted via links on our own website, Hampshire County Council’s e-volve website, and the websites of organisations such as the Campaign for Better Transport and Railfuture.
2. Great Western is not the major operator in this area, and the views which inform this response have been gathered from an e’mail trawl of people with a known interest. Comments are limited to your questions 18 and 20 which appear most relevant to our area.
3. The occasional Great Western services to and from Brighton are less useful than in the past.
4. These trains do provide additional peak capacity for Worthing-Brighton commuters, but there should be more local solutions to that issue.
5. There must also be a demand for travel between Brighton and Bristol, but the existing service is likely to be too infrequent to meet the journey needs of the majority of passengers. Brighton is now linked to both Portsmouth and Southampton by hourly services seven days a week, providing reasonable connections with the Portsmouth-Bristol-Cardiff trains.
6. Beyond Bristol, the Brighton trains are now routed towards Great Malvern, which is an unlikely destination for a long-distance service. In the past, they ran to Cardiff, Plymouth or Torbay which, as much bigger centres, would have generated more through custom.
7. For over 50 years, up to 2007, there were limited direct services between Portsmouth and/or Brighton and the West Country. Sometimes these ran at weekends only, and at other times they ran daily. Prior to the current Great Western franchise coming into operation, Wessex Trains ran a very busy daily service from Penzance to Portsmouth and back, which attached to trains from and to Cardiff between Westbury and Portsmouth. A First Great Western senior manager acknowledged, at one of the company’s excellent stakeholder conferences, that they had had no wish to discontinue this service, which was seen as commercially attractive.
8. The re-establishment of a comparable service should do well. On summer Saturdays it might link Portsmouth with Newquay or St Ives (via Penzance) which would be eye-catching destinations. At other times, it would be desirable to run at least a direct service between Portsmouth, Southampton, Exeter and Plymouth, to join up major centres of population.
9. Currently, Portsmouth to Plymouth via Axminster requires changes of train at Salisbury and Exeter. Via Westbury the journey needs only one change, but the service is extremely limited. Alternative routes via Bristol or Reading are too circuitous to be attractive.
10. A journey between Bournemouth and Plymouth requires three changes via Axminster, and two via Westbury. The Portsmouth-Penzance service required a change only at Southampton for passengers to and from Bournemouth.
11. At the very minimum, having more West of England trains calling at Westbury would facilitate connections for passengers to/from Southern Hampshire. However, the consultation sees the West of England trains which serve Westbury as generally terminating at Exeter, just like SWT’s services from Waterloo. There seems to be little recognition of travel needs between the West Country beyond Exeter, and the Southern Hampshire conurbations.
12. The Cardiff-Portsmouth trains are a major, long-established, regional service. The service level has increased by over 200% compared with the typical level of fifty years ago. There is a noticeable mix of users (students, commuters, business travellers, leisure trippers/tourists and military personnel). With a town or city, on average, about every 13 miles, these trains load well throughout their journey.
13. Significantly, the biggest centres are towards either end of the route (Portsmouth and Southampton at one end, and Bath, Bristol, Newport and Cardiff at the other). This ensures a significant demand for longer-distant travel, and seat reservations are available on the majority of services. It follows that it would be counter-productive to reduce the level of end-to-end working.
14. The service appears ripe for commercial development. This was recognised by the recent proposal to procure a dedicated fleet of 4-coach trains for the route. This apparently fell victim both to spending cuts, and to the opportunity of rolling stock cascades following new electrification schemes. Meanwhile, overcrowding remains rife, with passengers sometimes being left behind at stations such as Bath during busy periods.
15. At the southern end of the route, there is a loading issue because these trains provide the only fast services between Southampton and Portsmouth and, for Portsmouth passengers, connections at Southampton for Manchester and Bournemouth/Weymouth, and at Salisbury for Exeter.
16. There does seem to be scope for improvements on the Portsmouth-Cardiff route, including longer trains, modest acceleration, and an improved Sunday morning service (particularly in the summer months).
17. Some 26 miles of the route, between Portsmouth and Southampton, are electrified on the third rail system, and some 49 miles between Cardiff and Bath approved for electrification on the overhead line system. If the suggestion of electrification from Southampton to Basingstoke via Salisbury (as an alternative electrified route for container trains to and from Southampton Western Docks) is taken forward, there will be only some 40 miles of the 141-mile route between Portsmouth and Cardiff which are not electrified, suggesting a cheap future infill electrification through the relatively open terrain of Salisbury plain and the Avon Valley.
CONGRATULATIONS TO SOUTHERN AND SOUTH EASTERN
Govia’s Southern Railway franchise has won the overall Rail Business of the Year award, in the Rail Business awards. Last year’s winner was Northern Trains, whose operator went on to win the Great Eastern franchise which Stagecoach had long coveted. Southern has also won the Environmental Innovation and Safety & Security Excellence awards.
The Government has decided that the next Thameslink franchise should absorb the Southern franchise between 2014 and 2017. This involves a big operational area, likely to extend from the coastal lines between Southampton Central and Ashford International to Victoria, London Bridge, Blackfriars, St Pancras, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge. Presumably the Southern and Thameslink incumbents will both make strong bids. From Hampshire passengers’ perspective, it seems unlikely that any transfer of Southern lines from Govia would be advantageous.
Two senior citizens had a great time in early March, travelling South Eastern’s main lines with a Kent Rover ticket [£38 for three consecutive days’ travel; valid on all routes east of Swanley and Gravesend (except Tonbridge-Hastings-Ashford) from 09.30 on Mondays to Fridays and at any time on Saturdays and Sundays]. They travelled on 20 services, some formed of ‘Javelin’ stock off the high speed route from St Pancras, and all with comfortable deep-cushioned seating. Staff were invariably friendly and helpful.
Remarkably, no train was more than two minutes late, even during the evening peak. Capacity and frequency were excellent, and the only operational problem involved one train being unable to access a platform at Paddock Wood because of an unspecified infrastructure problem. Comparison with SWT’s hard-seated, rough-riding outer-suburban stock, in regular service between Waterloo, Portsmouth, Southampton, Poole and Weymouth, together with their slow, low-frequency services at big towns such as Totton, once again highlights the operator lottery which the franchising system imposes on passengers.
WATERLOO INTERNATIONAL AS A SLEEPER TERMINAL?
It begins to look unlikely that more than one platform (No 20) at Waterloo International will be used for SWT services, with track configuration problems blamed. Modern Railways [February 2012] reports a new plan to use the remaining four platforms as a discrete terminus for the sleeping car trains to Cornwall and Scotland. It would seem unfortunate if no daytime use could be found for such an expensive building.
WATERLOO REGENERATION AREA
Prince Charles wants a vibrant ‘community hub’ around Waterloo station. Waterloo is used by 86 million passengers a year but is the capital’s only major station without a wider regeneration scheme. The project aims to put the “heart” back into the area, with a strong focus on Lower Marsh, and create thousands of jobs, which would be supported by the spending power of commuters [Evening Standard 27/01/12]. The plan sounds attractive, but may be optimistic given SWT’s soaring fares, and the large proportion of SWT commuters who leave Waterloo via the Tube, buses and South Eastern services to London Bridge and Charing Cross. Any increase in pedestrian footfall seems likely to be between Waterloo and the new south bank entrance to Blackfriars station rather than towards Lower Marsh.
YOU COULDN’T MAKE IT UP!
As rail minister, Glasgow South MP Tom Harris was apparently unconcerned about Stagecoach stripping assets in order to cut its losses after a hugely unrealistic, but successful, franchise renewal bid for SWT. Yet he is highly critical of the Stagecoach-funded SNP’s proposals to make big savings on Scotrail. He has now been forced to stand down as the Labour Party’s social media adviser in Scotland after posting a spoof internet video which portrayed First Minister Alex Salmond as Adolf Hitler [Herald 17/01/12].
[In Issue 133, we commented: “Is it simply that Wessex drew the short straw when the SWT franchise was awarded? Could matters have been exacerbated by the combination of SWT being operated by a greed-driven Scottish company and a succession of transport ministers with Scottish constituencies, to whom Wessex may have looked a bit remote?” Mr Harris may have helped provide the answers.]
DEVELOPERS TO PAY FOR STAGECOACH GREED?
Southampton City Council is proposing a levy on new developments, which could be equivalent to about £10,000 on a three bedroom home. This would pay for infrastructure projects such as the replacement of the city’s bus station, which was sold off for development to boost Stagecoach finances some two decades ago. [Southern Daily Echo 06/02/12]
TRANSPORT FOR LONDON TO TAKE OVER ALL LONDON SUBURBAN SERVICES?
Boris Johnson is proposing that TfL should take over all London suburban rail services and award franchises itself. The objectIves would include things like common ticketing, more station staff, and more from the fare box going into investment rather than private profit. There was instant support for the idea (though not from greed-driven companies like Stagecoach, we suspect) [Evening Standard 06/02/12].
MORE BIG BUS CHANGES IN SOUTH HAMPSHIRE
First bus services in South Hampshire will change radically from 22/4/12 (Fareham/Gosport area) and 29/4/12 (Southampton area). There will be some notable improvements, such as Southampton-Fareham buses extended to Portsmouth (except on Sundays), doubled service frequency between Southampton and Warsash, and a more direct route between Southampton and the western side of Millbrook. However, Upper Shirley and Totton see Monday-Friday frequencies halved. With the inauguration of the South East Hampshire Rapid Bus Transit services, scheduled journey times between Gosport and Fareham will increase. Buses on the old routes 82/83 generally take 30 minutes, whereas the replacement Rapid Transit services E1/E2 will generally take 39/33 minutes respectively. There will be new buses for E1/E2, new Sunday evening services and, hopefully, less impact from peak traffic congestion. However, given the millions spent on developing the abortive Portsmouth-Gosport-Fareham tram scheme and then the new bus road, this has probably not been one of the better uses of public funds.
DUFF SWT TRAINS CAUSE MISERY ON THE IDES OF MARCH
[The following is extracted from the snapshots of SWT’s performance in Part 2 of this newsletter, which will be posted on our website]
CHAOS CAUSED BY A DEFECTIVE TRAIN IN THE HINTON ADMIRAL AREA (WHICH HAD TO BE TOWED AWAY AT 5 MPH), ALONG WITH OTHERS IN THE LONDON SUBURBAN AREA.
Passengers on the 05.40 Basingstoke-Weymouth DUMPED at Brockenhurst. 05.45 Poole-Waterloo 31 MINUTES LATE and REDUCED TO 5 COACHES. 05.55 Weymouth-Waterloo 93 MINUTES LATE. 06.04 Bournemouth-Waterloo 19 MINUTES LATE. 06.11 Poole-Waterloo 132 MINUTES LATE; passengers DUMPED at Bournemouth. Passengers on the 06.12 Waterloo-Weymouth DUMPED at Brockenhurst. 06.25 Weymouth-Waterloo 67 MINUTES LATE. 06.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 18 MINUTES LATE. 06.43 Southampton-Waterloo AXED. 06.55 Weymouth-Waterloo 103 MINUTES LATE; passengers DUMPED at Basingstoke. 07.10 Southampton-Waterloo DELAYED. 07.19 Southampton-Weymouth 20 MINUTES LATE and REDUCED TO 4 COACHES. 07.20 Poole-Waterloo 119 MINUTES LATE; passengers DUMPED at Woking. 07.25 Weymouth-Brockenhurst 38 MINUTES LATE. 07.29/07.59/08.29 Brockenhurst-Lymington AXED. 07.32 Woking-Waterloo REDUCED TO 8 COACHES. 07.35 Waterloo-Weymouth 19 MINUTES LATE. Passengers on the 07.39 Waterloo-Poole DUMPED at Southampton. 07.45 Waterloo-Portsmouth REDUCED TO 8 COACHES. 07.46/08.16/08.46 Lymington-Brockenhurst AXED. 07.55 Weymouth-Waterloo 17 MINUTES LATE; passengers DUMPED at Bournemouth. 07.55 Poole-Waterloo 72 MINUTES LATE; all intermediate stops after Southampton AXED. 08.00 Waterloo-Portsmouth REDUCED TO 4 COACHES. 08.05 Waterloo-Weymouth 14 MINUTES LATE. 08.20 Weymouth-Waterloo 52 MINUTES LATE; all intermediate stops after Southampton Airport AXED. 08.35 Waterloo-Weymouth AXED between Waterloo and Southampton. 08.50 Poole-Waterloo AXED. 09.03 Weymouth-Waterloo 14 MINUTES LATE; passengers DUMPED at Southampton. Passengers on the 09.05 Waterloo-Weymouth DUMPED at Southampton. 09.20 Weymouth-Waterloo AXED between Weymouth and Dorchester. 09.35 Waterloo-Weymouth AXED between Waterloo and Bournemouth. 09.50 Poole-Waterloo AXED between Poole and Southampton. 09.56 Salisbury-Romsey 22 MINUTES LATE. 10.05 Waterloo-Weymouth AXED between Waterloo and Bournemouth. 10.07 Romsey-Salisbury 20 MINUTES LATE. 10.20 Weymouth-Waterloo 33 MINUTES LATE. 10.30 Waterloo-Portsmouth 5 MINUTES LATE. 10.35 Waterloo-Weymouth 15 MINUTES LATE and AXED between Waterloo and Basingstoke. 10.44 Southampton-Portsmouth AXED. 10.50 Poole-Waterloo AXED between Poole and Southampton. 11.03 Weymouth-Waterloo 40 MINUTES LATE; Woking stop AXED. 11.07 Romsey-Salisbury 20 MINUTES LATE. 11.30 Waterloo-Portsmouth 5 MINUTES LATE. 11.35 Waterloo-Weymouth AXED between Waterloo and Woking. 11.50 Poole-Waterloo 16 MINUTES LATE and AXED between Poole and Bournemouth. 12.05 Waterloo-Weymouth 45 MINUTES LATE; passengers DUMPED at Southampton. 12.35 Waterloo-Weymouth 55 MINUTES LATE and AXED between Waterloo and Bournemouth. 12.45 Waterloo-Portsmouth 35 MINUTES LATE; all intermediate stops between Guildford and Fratton AXED. 13.09 Waterloo-Portsmouth 22 MINUTES LATE. 13.23 Waterloo-Alton 17 MINUTES LATE; Surbiton and West Byfleet stops AXED. 13.45 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo AXED. 14.27 Waterloo-Kingston-Waterloo 21 MINUTES LATE; all intermediate stops before Kingston AXED. Passengers on the 14.52 Waterloo-Weybridge DUMPED at Vauxhall. 15.20 Weymouth-Waterloo AXED between Weymouth and Wareham. 16.05 Waterloo-Reading 11 MINUTES LATE; passengers DUMPED at Wokingham. 16.33 Weybridge-Waterloo AXED. 17.32 Waterloo-Guildford REDUCED TO 4 COACHES. 17.42 Reading-Waterloo AXED. 18.07 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo AXED. 18.30 Waterloo-Portsmouth REDUCED TO 8 COACHES. 18.37 Waterloo-Brentford-Waterloo REDUCED TO 4 COACHES. 19.00 Waterloo-Portsmouth REDUCED TO 9 COACHES. 19.20 Reading-Waterloo 16 MINUTES LATE. 19.50 Reading-Waterloo 25 MINUTES LATE.
These extracts from SWT’s website show the misery growing ever worse (our underlining):
“10.30 London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour due 12:07. This train will be delayed and is expected to be 5 minutes late from London Waterloo. This train will call additionally at Clapham Junction. This is due to an earlier broken down train.
Additional Information: This train will be retimed to 1035 to provide a connection for customers joining the 1035 London Waterloo-Weymouth service which will be starting from Woking.
Message Received :15/03/2012 10:07”
“10:35 London Waterloo to Weymouth due 13:13. This train will be delayed and is expected to be 15 minutes late from Basingstoke. This train will be started from Basingstoke at 11:33. This train will call additionally at Basingstoke. This train will no longer call at London Waterloo and Woking. This is due to an earlier broken down train.
Message Received :15/03/2012 10:32”
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS / CONTACT DETAILS
As always, thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to contact us. Without your support and input, this newsletter would not be possible. This newsletter is produced in good faith, based on reports and information from many individuals and sources including information identified from press and website research. Contributions are always welcome. We aim for accuracy at all times, because our good reputation depends on it. We do not use material which could be offensive or which appears unlikely to be correct.
Address for correspondence: Denis Fryer, 19 Fontwell Close, Calmore, Southampton, SO40 2TN (firstname.lastname@example.org). Contact details of Government and transport bodies and the media are on the Group's website, www.shrug.info
[For environmental reasons, Part 2 of this issue, which provides daily samples of SWT’s multitude of delays, cancellations and operational-convenience measures is no longer being produced in hard copy, but will be available on our website in both Word and HTML formats as usual.]