21st Anniversary Issue

Reports & Research from the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group [SHRUG]


Franchising: ministerial myth and fact

Franchising: forward to 1999?

Stagecoach “fury” assuaged

SWT gives worst value for money in Britain

Murder suspected at Guildford ‘secure station’

SWT’s performance collapses again

Management says SWT is a very tired old railway

SWT penalty fare data too embarrassing to release?

Staffing and lift failures at SWT stations continue

What SWT passengers are saying

How SWT reported good news and bad for 9/2/2013

Britain’s least safe buses?

Conservative and Labour concerns as Souter assault trial dubbed an ‘absolute joke’

What recession? Ann Gloag’s birthday celebration

Transport for South Hampshire Consultation

In brief

Franchising: ministerial myth and fact

Rail franchising has had a troubled history. Twenty five train operating companies disappeared between 2000 and 2009, and there were only 26 at the start. The Transport Committee’s two reports, and those of Sam Laidlaw and Richard Brown, were all against the background of industry or government failures. There must therefore be a huge temptation to justify privatisation by comparing it favourably with British Rail.

It’s interesting how the issue has been handled at ministerial level. Tom Harris referred to “basket case BR”. Lord Adonis told Guardian readers that British Rail was a “national joke in terms of quality and reliability”. RAIL, Issue 716, reports Simon Burns as saying “Privatisation was the right decision 20 years ago and is the right decision for today’s railways… under British Rail there were far fewer trains, more of them ran late, when they arrived at all.”

Tom Harris interrupted his ministerial career with an ill-considered YouTube attack on Alex Salmond. Lord Adonis subsequently said at a book launch that privatisation had been botched, and that it had been a great act of vandalism to dismember BR. Railway Eye reports Minister Norman Baker as considering that “The railways would have been better off in state hands than under the regime introduced in the 1990s”.

Yet, presumably through political constraints, Mr Baker stresses that nationalising the railways now would be expensive and unnecessary. He appears to ignore the costs of returning the East Coast route to the private sector. There is an excellent article by Ian Bell, in the Herald of 27/3/2013, about the Government’s insistence on fixing it with re-franchising when it isn’t broken.

Predictably, SWT has jumped aboard the anti-BR bandwagon. Its Spring 2013 ‘Update’ leaflet states: “The reliability and performance of our train service is higher than before rail privatisation”. SWT needs to say this because its performance has spiralled downwards since the inauguration of its Deep Alliance with Network Rail, which was much hyped as promising improvements for passengers.

So what are the facts? The railways were nationalised in 1947 after they had been badly smashed during World War II. They were then starved of investment owing to more urgent post-war spending priorities. Finally, huge swathes of the network were closed following a cursory survey of traffic levels during the low season.

This was ordered by Transport Minister Ernest Marples, who had a big financial stake in road construction. He covertly transferred this to his wife to obscure the conflict of interest. It is hard to imagine something like this happening today without judicial review.

Against the odds, BR showed remarkable resilience and resourcefulness, as recorded in Rail News for June 2004:


A former Tory transport minister has paid tribute to the managers who ran British Rail during the 1980s, saying “they should look back with pride”.

David Mitchell, who served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, said they had provided attractive punctual services with 27 per cent less subsidy than they had been getting. At the same time, 24 major projects were successfully achieved and BR became the only profitable main-line railway in Europe.

Mr Mitchell said that British Rail, a run-down system in the early 1980s with low morale, was transformed after the appointment of the late Sir Robert Reid. For 1984-87, the government tasked BR with running attractive, punctual services with 25 per cent less subsidy.

“BR’s acceptance of these objectives was mocked as ‘impossible’ and could only be done by slashing quality. But those who mocked had underestimated Bob Reid and the ability of his team of professional rail management to meet the challenge,” he told a meeting of the Retired Railway Officers’ Society.

“Actually the saving on subsidy rose above 25 per cent to some 27 per cent,” said Mr Mitchell, transport minister from 1983 to 1988.

Part of his job was to approve BR investment proposals. “Twenty-four major projects were successfully achieved, including well over 1,000 miles of electrification, over 2,000 new passenger vehicles, over 190 new locomotives, and new signalling”.

“BR was running more trains at 100mph or above than any railway anywhere in the world, excepting France”.

“Running a railway system involves the basic choice between low fares and low investment, or commercial fare levels and high investment. British Rail chose the latter,” said Mr Mitchell.”

Sir David Mitchell (as he now is) should be a more authoritative voice on BR than his successors, as he had first-hand ministerial experience of BR.

Richard Brown was not asked to look at alternatives to franchising, and his report is at its least convincing when he argues that privatisation has been justified by the current resurgence of the railways. For that resurgence is against the background of an increasingly mobile society, soaring population, congested roads, public recognition of green issues, disincentives to drive such as astronomic insurance costs for young people and the congestion charge in London, and huge public investment in rail. The idea of ‘pleasure motoring’, which had to be banned during World War II because it wasted so much fuel, is now little voiced.

In addition to the commendable achievements of BR, and the much improved performance on the East Coast route after its return to the public sector, the greatest passenger growth has been achieved under the London Overground and Merseyrail management concessions (which are more tightly regulated than franchises). Open access operators, such as Grand Central, have achieved some exceptionally high scores in Passenger Focus’ latest National Passenger Survey.

Unsurprisingly, TfL is to let Crossrail as a concession rather than as a franchise. As with the de-regulation of buses, what is good enough for Britain generally is not always good enough for London. And, talking of buses, some of the brightest vehicles, cheapest fares, and most comprehensive services are provided by Lothian Buses around Edinburgh. They proudly proclaim their public ownership.

Franchising: forward to 1999?

Richard Brown’s report on franchising has recommended a greater voice for passengers. This reflects the wishes of Passenger Focus, rail user groups and, no doubt, regular rail passengers generally. It is unfortunate that the short timescale for Mr Brown’s report, in the approach to Christmas, may have weakened the consultative process. Ours is the only rail user group recorded in his report as having made a submission.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has since stated: “The future competitions will also place passengers in the driving seat by ensuring their view and satisfaction levels are taken into account when deciding which companies run our railway services”.

PassengerFocus Chief Executive Anthony Smith considers that the voice of the rail user should be radically boosted. History raises doubts. PassengerFocus’ predecessor body, the Central Rail Users’ Consultative Committee, stated some 13 years ago: “The Deputy Prime Minister [John Prescott], in a meeting with CRUCC representatives in August 1999, said that he wanted to see the passenger representative network heavily involved in the process of franchise re-letting. Support, or otherwise, for particular bids would be crucial. He said he wanted to see the CRUCC network involved in the running of passenger forums and hearings which might be held to consider bids”.

The new proposals appear to be a watered-down version of Mr Prescott’s ambitions for passengers. The details will be crucial, and some are promised by late April. Will the DfT just look at PassengerFocus’ satisfaction scores to see whether passengers are satisfied with an operator? These are currently distorted because the surveys ask only about a passenger’s most recent journey experience. Commuters, the railways’ bread and butter passenger traffic, may just have had a reasonable journey when surveyed, yet be far from satisfied with three poor journeys a fortnight, for which the train operator scores an impressive 85% for satisfaction.

There are other risks too. West Coast has seen huge investment by taxpayers and Sir Richard Branson’s incumbent Virgin Trains managed to attract a celebrity bandwagon in favour of the status quo. The celebrities attacked rival First Group whose Thameslink franchise has been hampered by years of major infrastructure work, and whose Great Western franchise has been starved of investment and is now being hampered by huge catching up exercises, welcome though they are. Would Virgin have done better on the First Group franchises, especially as investment-rich West Coast has attracted a higher rate of complaints than investment-starved Great Western?

Even if passengers are dissatisfied with an existing franchise operator, they are unlikely to be afforded the opportunity, and may not have the experience, to evaluate any of the potential replacements. So the outcome could be an even less popular operator.

It is hardly encouraging that many franchises are now being considered for extension, so that the day when passengers could have any kind of input is pushed further into the future. There has been huge dissatisfaction with SWT from the outset. If the current franchise extends to 2019, as proposed, Stagecoach will have been in charge almost a quarter of a century. There will doubtless be new transport ministers and quite possibly a new government by 2019. What will happen then is anyone’s guess.

The way forward might be continuous evaluation of operators via various existing and potential rail user channels, such as Passenger Focus surveys, Webchat events, operators’ Twitter records and mystery shoppers. The last of these is not a new concept. In 2000, the National Audit Office called on the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority to get passengers to ‘snoop’ on poor performing train operators. A pilot scheme in which passengers were paid for reporting on two rail operators should be introduced countrywide. [Source: Guardian 3/8/2000]

In passing, our Group’s History of South West Trains [See www.shrug.info] draws upon the views of regulatory bodies and passengers over a long timescale. This kind of approach can provide the most authentic picture of a train operator. In 2005-06, we saw how Stagecoach sweet-talked SWT passengers during the re-franchising period, but it started treating them like criminals as soon as it won the new franchise.

Stagecoach “fury” assuaged

The Herald (Scotland) of 1/2/2013 reported Brian Souter’s fury at the aftermath of Virgin’s legal challenge on West Coast. Research suggests this is to be expected. Mr Souter had successfully challenged the Government on the start date of public support for his asset-stripped SWT franchise. This cost taxpayers £68 million at a time of severe economic stringency and confirmed government vulnerability to aggressive train operators.

Sir Richard Branson publicly led the challenge to Government after losing Virgin West Coast (in which Stagecoach has a 49% share) to First Group. He attracted a supportive celebrity bandwagon which would surely have been beyond Mr Souter, yet the initiative clearly bore the Stagecoach hallmark.

>From the start of bidding for West Coast, the Virgin/Stagecoach partnership had wanted the rules changed with more emphasis to be given to good customer service. This reflected Mr Souter’s line to RAIL, as above. Never mind that Stagecoach had drained SWT of anything resembling quality, or that data for 2011 in the New Statesman shows 266 complaints per 100,000 passenger journeys on Virgin’s West Coast, compared with 86 on the much greater range of services operated by First Great Western.

Early in the bidding process, Mr Souter complained that Virgin had failed to win franchises, such as East Coast, because others over-bid. He would have well understood this, having bid around £600m more for SWT in 2006 than any of his rivals.

After Government decided to leave West Coast with Virgin on a temporary basis, which could now be until April 2017, he wanted other franchising exercises accelerated. Stagecoach and First Group had both been shortlisted for Great Western and the Southern/CapitalConnect/Great Northern ‘combined’ franchise.

He could hardly have failed to notice that First Group’s financial base had been undermined by the cancellation of its West Coast award, so that it would be a weakened competitor. He had previously tried to take over National Express when it was in financial difficulty. This could have netted the busy commuter lines from Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street. Liverpool Street has now gone to Abellio, and Stagecoach isn’t even short-listed for Fenchurch Street. The recovery of National Express’s rail division was recently underpinned when it won the tender to run two routes in the populous North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany.

Contrary to Stagecoach wishes, Government announced that the existing First Great Western franchise was likely to be extended to 2016, and the ‘Combined’ franchise delayed until 2014, and then let as a management contract. Operators would not be compensated for the costs of bidding for the discontinued franchise exercises.

Stagecoach, along with First Group, National Express and Arriva then initiated court action for compensation, with a possible further cost of £40m to taxpayers, on top of some £50m lost through Virgin’s West Coast challenge. This was followed by a government decision to extend existing franchises. This apparently satisfied the companies, because their threat of legal action has been withdrawn. So much for franchises being a partnership between the private and public sector.

The grim aftermath is that the SWT franchise may now run until April 2019. No doubt SWT’s passengers will continue to suffer the worst-value-for-money rail fares in Britain, increasingly unstaffed and unmaintained stations and car parks, poor performance addressed by ever more flexible timetable delivery, deteriorating customer service with rudeness from some members of staff, and savagely disproportionate revenue protection measures.

SWT gives worst value for money in Britain

In Passenger Focus’ latest National Passenger Survey, SWT is rated joint-worst out of 23 companies in terms of the value for money of fares, with just 37% of passengers satisfied. BBC South Today (19/3/2013) reported that this had been raised in the House of Commons.

Even this score may be unreliably high. Portsmouth, which has seen many of its London services switched to suburban stock and suffers almost daily performance failures, had the lowest SWT route score (26%) in the previous survey. This time it had the highest (54%) apart from the Island Line which operates as a quasi-heritage route. It must be suspicious that, while the Portsmouth score rose by 28%, the sample size reduced by 73% to just 56 passengers. It’s clear from SWT’s March 2013 Webchat that Portsmouth commuters are as unhappy as ever with their third-rate service.

Data provided by Barry Doe (RAIL Issue 716) show that passengers pay more per mile for longer distance travel (often in suburban coaches) on SWT than those charged premium fares on South Eastern’s comfortable intercity-style high-speed services between St Pancras and the Kent Coast.

Return ticket prices for a 100 mile journey on SWT, with the comparable Southern fares in brackets: First anytime one-month return £150 (£90); First off-peak one-month return £75 (£50); Standard anytime one-month return £90 (£55); Off-peak one-month return £50 (£35); Super off-peak one-month return £45 (£20) and Off-peak day return £50 (£30).

In terms of overall satisfaction, SWT is in joint-11th place, with a score of 85%, in the National Passenger Survey, and in 13th place, with a score of 47%, in a survey by Which? The NPS questionnaire asks about satisfaction with the journey the passenger has just made. This survey is much the larger of the two, but seems flawed in principle in treating commuters as if they were occasional passengers. Even if commuters are satisfied with the journey they have just made, they are unlikely to be satisfied with an average expectation of three unsatisfactory journeys per fortnight which NPS’ 85% score suggests. Which? asked about satisfaction in the past year and sampled only frequent rail users so, despite the smaller sample, is likely to provide the more realistic assessment.

The facts behind the data are astonishing. SWT’s website says its passengers make 208.8m journeys a year. So the 85% score means that someone is dissatisfied with their journey on SWT over 31m times a year, or over 86,200 times a day. The 47% score means that someone is dissatisfied with their journey on SWT over 110m times a year, or over 252,000 times a day. The picture is the more depressing because, unlike other London & South East franchises such as Southern, SWT incorporates a substantial amount of the former BR inter-city network.

A SWT commuter travelling 5 days a week, 45 weeks a year, could expect over 67 unsatisfactory journeys a year under NPS data, or over 238 under Which? data, but variations in performance across SWT mean that it could be much worse for some. On the Reading and Windsor lines the NPS score is only 80%, giving 90 unsatisfactory journeys a year under NPS.

People can be remarkably tolerant where they have a friendly, welcoming service. This is the last thing that SWT’s regular passengers expect. Instead, they often suffer rudeness, threatening posters and announcements, bouncers, doors slammed in faces to allow trains to depart early, operational convenience overriding their interests, court action over minor ticketing mistakes, and years of insulting PR blurb which portrays Stagecoach as a caring company.

Note, for example, this Stagecoach press release of 27/2/2013: “We are absolutely delighted to become a member of the Institute of Customer Service. This recognises the importance that Stagecoach Group places on all aspects of customer service … With customer expectations continually rising, we are increasingly focusing on the value and role that an excellent standard of service plays as part of our offer to passengers.”

So how are SWT’s failures being challenged by their Passengers Panel? At 27/3/2013 the Panel’s website included an anodyne piece by the Chairman, totally independent Stagecoach Director Sir Alan Greengross, who is spinning that conversations with people on trains indicate they broadly think SWT is OK, apart from on communications. Seems odd when passengers are voicing such a substantial range of complaints about the company? Even the Panel’s live on-line poll indicates that 56% of respondents think the cleanliness of trains is getting worse.

Communication was probably singled out because, as SWT’s tell us in their March Webchat: “We are currently about to embark on a training programme which specifically addresses how we manage communication with our customers.” No doubt the Panel will soon be spinning that SWT has responded to its concerns.

Note also Question 12 of the Webchat which sounds like an initial word of praise (would the ordinary passenger write in this style?): “Your December and March customer update brochures are the two most honest and useful pieces of communication that I have seen from SWT in almost 10 years as a customer. They clearly lay out the challenges you face and the problems you are trying to fix. Please could you provide these more regularly? Perhaps every two months? You will find your customers to be far more understanding if you are transparent and open about why there are so many delays and what you are doing to improve things. Thanks.”

Murder suspected at Guildford ‘secure station’

Criteria for ‘secure station’ awards are pretty subjective and the scheme seems to exist largely for revenue protection. As we have previously reported, Guildford is noted for spiteful daytime revenue protection, with passengers facing the choice between long booking office queues or over-priced tickets from machines.

Secure stations are also good PR, but probably do very little to enhance passenger security in practice. Guildford was re-awarded ‘secure station’ status in September 2012. Yet following an altercation at the station late on 30 March, a young man was crushed under a train and arrests were made on suspicion of murder.

Letter from local rail user Jeremy Varns to Anne Milton MP

“I have been logging various on-going issues relating to South West Trains, and all of these issues, without exception, have previously been raised by myself and other passengers.  I will forward this information in due course, although I feel I am wasting my time as the company appear unwilling to address legitimate concerns.  Ticket offices closed during advertised hours would appear to be becoming even more widespread, with large stations such as Guildford and Basingstoke now closed for no apparent reason during the daytime while ticket barriers remain in use.  

My reason for writing now is that there needs to be a review of security at stations at the weekends across the network when the company choose not to staff their stations.  I have previously made you aware of poor security at Guildford and my own experience of disorder.  I have also made this information available to the DfT although unsurprisingly they appear completely disinterested. 

Security problems happen on a weekly basis and the company ignore the problem.  It is unacceptable that anyone can walk onto station platforms after 10pm (or earlier) on a busy weekend evening when there is no ‘revenue protection’ whatsoever and all barriers are open. In the daytime the barriers are closed regardless of disruption or problems in the ticket hall (excessive queues and ticket machines not working as was the case twice last week).  The company choose to protect their revenue when it is convenient to them.  

At Guildford I have witnessed members of the public on the train tracks, fighting taking place on the platforms and at the front of the station, and general disorder.  I know that some incidents never make it to the crime statistics website including an assault I witnessed a year ago.  If there is no one there to record an incident then there’s every chance it will never be reported.  Every weekend without exception I see people urinating in the subway or there is evidence of this having taken place.  There is absolutely no control on drunken people entering station property and putting members of the public at risk. 

As a token gesture two members of security staff can sometimes be seen walking around in orange jackets but I have never seen them intervene in incidents or disorder.  The same applies to Travel Safe officers who spend most, if not all, of their time in the excess fares booth.  I don't blame them; there needs to be proper resources put in place paid for by the train company to protect the public. 

No one should be on station property in the evening without a ticket nor should they be there if they are unable to control their behaviour.  Why do different rules apply in the daytime?  The simple fact is, the company are not prepared to pay for staff to check tickets in the numbers required for a safe an effective operation and therefore it is left to innocent members of the public to be subjected the harassment and crime.  

I do not know the circumstances of what happened on Saturday 30th March but I am truly appalled that a young life has been lost and this could potentially have been prevented if the railways were run for the benefit of everyone and not just Stagecoach.  I would like to know if the suspects all had train tickets because if not, they wouldn't have got onto the platform earlier in the evening. 

I cannot think of another European country where disorder would be ignored on a weekly basis in a public place as potentially dangerous as a train station.  Profit will always come before safety while we have companies like SWT exploiting a lack of regulation, thanks to the Department for Transport.  Their bogus Secure Stations Scheme certainly doesn't reassure me, it is simply a box ticking exercise.  But, unlike the people in the DfT, I actually use the trains and this includes in the evening.”  

SWT’s performance collapses again

In the 4 weeks to 2/2/2013, SWT missed 3 of its 4 performance targets by big margins. In the following 4 weeks, it missed one punctuality target and met the other with a 0.1% margin. In the 4 weeks to 31/3/2013 it missed one reliability and one punctuality target, with another target met with no margin. The suburban punctuality target has been missed over the past 52 weeks.

The much-hyped SWT/Network Rail ‘Deep Alliance’, far from bringing the promised improvements, often looks like a conspiracy to run the railway for operational convenience, with increasing disregard for the timetable.

On top of void days, SWT bolsters performance by closing train doors up to two minutes early, slamming them shut even in front of heavily pregnant women, omitting stops (sometimes without even warning passengers already on board) and terminating trains short of destination at the drop of a hat, and employing bouncers at Wimbledon to control boarding passengers. Network Rail’s infrastructure failures and engineering overruns have added to the poor outcomes, and must inevitably raise questions about their maintenance regime.

[See Part II of recent newsletters on www.shrug.info for specimen reports of daily performance, which in many cases is abominable.]

Management says SWT is a very tired old railway

Interesting comment from Tim Shoveller in response to Question 85 in SWT’s latest Webchat event: “Sadly, performance has been deteriorating for well over two years: it had fallen substantially before I joined. That said, I am far from happy, not least because many of the things we need to do to recover performance will take time to implement. We have a very old, very tired railway that is used intensively.”

Couldn’t SWT be a tired old railway because Stagecoach has been milking it for 17 years?

* Infrastructure failures in the London area frequently cause havoc. Stagecoach was to ‘gold-plate’ the track there more than ten years ago, as part of a 20-year franchise agreement. The franchise was reduced to 3 years because of the company’s unacceptable performance. The problems could have been avoided if the franchise had been given to another operator.
* Trains are overcrowded and frequently fail. Stagecoach seriously overbid for a third franchise in 2006, and disposed of its best 120 coaches. It obtained a bargain-basement fleet of Desiros when Siemens was in financial difficulties and is importing old trains while other operators are building new.
* Staffing has been reduced to a level where the company often learns of equipment failures and dangers such as icy platforms only when passengers send them tweets. Users constantly complain of a lack of information.
* The timetable is becoming increasingly flexible as stops are missed, sometimes without passengers already on board being told. In addition, trains are frequently cancelled or terminated short of destination, and passengers are sometimes left on board without information.
* Webchat events and Twitter reveal a scandalous amount of staff rudeness and aggression. Clearly Stagecoach has a serious training deficit.

SWT penalty fare data too embarrassing to release?

BBC South Today reported on 14/2/2013 that SWT had declined to say how many penalty fares it had issued because the information is commercially confidential. Clearly, the information is not confidential, because Southern declared it had issued almost 91,000 penalty fares last year, and prosecuted 5,000 people with a 14% failure rate. First Great Western had issued 16,000, and prosecuted 1,000 people with a 16% failure rate. CrossCountry doesn’t operate penalty fares, though it charges maximum fares on board its trains.

This obviously provides a nice revenue yield for the companies concerned. From time to time Passenger Focus complains about the abuse of passengers who had no intention of avoiding payment. DfT has remained surprisingly silent, given that, in 2008, it asserted that people should not be made to queue longer than 3 minutes for a ticket off-peak or 5 minutes in the peak. Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, recently condemned councils who exploit residents as ‘cash cows’ by levying excessive fines for ‘petty or insignificant breaches’ of municipal rules (Guardian 14/3/2013). Pity the Transport Secretary hasn’t made a comparable stand against rail companies, or is it a case of one rule for the public sector and another for the private sector?

The body of anecdotal evidence, press reports, and Twitter comments makes clear that SWT’s treatment of passengers is often akin to the obscene, including those who have inadvertently bought the wrong ticket. In the National Timetable, and on their website, SWT state that passengers “may be liable to a penalty fare”, but in their timetable leaflets they say “We have a policy to prosecute all deliberate fare evaders wherever possible”. The issue is that, however much effort people make to get the right ticket, if they get the wrong ticket or board without buying because they want prior advice, SWT is likely to treat them as deliberate evaders.

Research published in Which? (March 2013) found that ticket machines are favoured by only 15% of rail users. Stagecoach, however, has been steadily reducing ticket office opening hours. Remember the insulting rubbish they spewed when bidding for their third franchise term on SWT? “Stagecoach’s success has been built on listening to customers and using their special insight to improve services even further.”

Which? finds particular problems with buying tickets for the next day, for starting a journey at another station, and when using more than one railcard. The validity of different tickets and the best buy are in many cases unclear. A truly shocking situation, especially as Passenger Focus was drawing attention to much the same things in August 2010.

Staffing and lift failures at SWT stations continue

In the past three months, SWT’s website has advertised failures (in some cases prolonged and/or repeated) to staff ticket offices during opening hours at Alton, Ash, Ashford, Bagshot, Basingstoke, Brockenhurst, Camberley, Chiswick, Datchet, Eastleigh, Esher, Fulwell, Malden Manor, Portsmouth & Southsea, Portsmouth Harbour, Putney, Richmond, Southampton Airport Parkway, Walton-on-Thames, Wimbledon, Winnersh Triangle and Yeovil Junction. It is clear from Twitter, and from individual reports that we receive, that this is not the whole story. Obviously unstaffed stations give rise to various security risks.

In the same period, lift failures (also in some cases prolonged and/or repeated), a major problem for disabled people, have occurred at Basingstoke, Brentford, Clapham Junction, Earlsfield, Eastleigh, Fareham, Farnborough, Fratton, Haslemere, Havant, Kingston, Portsmouth & Southsea, Richmond, Staines, Surbiton, Twickenham, Southampton Central, Waterloo, West Byfleet, Wimbledon and Woking.

What SWT passengers are saying

Report from David Wallis for Wednesday 16th January

Ticket Office at Totton unmanned [this was not shown on SWT’s website]. Large queue at machine resulting in at least 3 people boarding 08.53 to Waterloo without tickets. A good 40 people on station requiring this train. Machine still does not recognise Senior Railcard before 09.00 even when it is valid for journey. I had to pay full fare. Fortunately, I was only travelling as far as Southampton Parkway. What is the position if I were going to Waterloo? How would I retrieve my 33% discount? Isn’t it time this problem was sorted out? [Note: The ticket machine itself failed on 28/2/2013]

Report from Chris H [Contact details supplied]

Long time reader of your newsletter. I’ve been commuting into London from Woking since I was eighteen so about twelve years in total and this has to be the worst I can ever remember it. I never thought I’d be fondly looking back at the days when I paid £95 a month and use to get slam door trains!

Anyhow, I just wanted to share with you the shambolic experience at Woking station yesterday. My fiancé and I normally get the 07:29 from Woking; this came in on time and he’d just managed to scramble on and get a seat (you can only get a seat after Tuesday when the train gets quieter) when the guard announced there was a total signal failure at Waterloo and the train was cancelled. You then had the entire complement of passengers from a class 450 train sprinting to platform 2, as they were still running services, and then trying to get on the 07:40 which I believe is one of the white Portsmouth trains. It’s pretty pointless this train ever stopping at Woking as it’s always full.

As you can image, with the amount of people trying to scramble on, the doors wouldn’t shut so the guard, with the help of the platform assistant, then had to push the door against the weight of people against it so the door would lock and the train would leave. This was happening while SWT couldn’t give anyone any information on what was happening or when the next train was coming in. While this shambles on platform 2 was going on, they announced that the fault was solved at Waterloo but instead of putting the empty 07:29 back in service on platform 1 they were going to reverse it out of the station and put it in a siding. This has the effect of backing up all the services into Woking. Eventually we did get on the 07:52 which arrived at Woking at 08:05 and then got to Waterloo at 09:10.

Certainly I feel your pain about Portsmouth passengers and the poor quality of trains, but to make the situation worse Woking council is letting developers build high rise flats around Woking station and I’ve been told by one of the developers that they are marketing these flats to London residents who want to escape London and then commute because of the 25 minute journey.

Report from another Surrey rail user

At Guildford today, at 12:05, once again the ticket machines were not accepting card payments.  I tried two machines, and on another the touch screen wasn't working.  All of the machines appeared to be in working order, thereby giving the false impression there was an opportunity to buy a ticket.  I spoke to a member of gate-line staff who told me to get cash from the ATM or join the queue (which unsurprisingly was long for this time of the day).  I ignored this and bought a ticket on the train using the unmanned side gate.

Another passenger had told me they had got as far as entering their PIN but no ticket was issued and I saw another person trying different machines.  This is the third time in 8 days this has happened at Guildford.  My understanding is that a retailer must not request the customer's debit card PIN if there is a problem communicating with the bank.  Once a PIN has been entered, the customer has authorised payment and would then be responsible for making sure the transaction has not been made in the event of a non-issue.

Typical Twitter comments It’s clear from SWT’s Twitter schedules that passengers are grateful for getting help in negotiating the company’s nightmare of cancelled stops and services, fed up with not getting replies from customer services (a huge backlog is acknowledged), and hate the rudeness of some members of staff. It must all be pretty depressing for good members of staff as well.


A security official at Guildford station threw out two Chinese students for taking a photo. Soviet GB!!!!!!

Normal overcrowding or massive overcrowding tomorrow? For refund I assume £0. [Response: Please contact our customer services for refund information.] You have no customer service... SWT customer service renamed SWT VICTIM SUPPORT. Press 1 if delayed, 2 if crushed and 3 if fleeced, 4 if all 3. Please wait to be cut off.

I keep telling you THERE ARE NO BUSES TO THAMES DITTON. So how do passengers get home from Surbiton?! [Cheeky response: As the customers couldn't leave this morning due to no trains or buses it shouldn't be an issue. Or the same way as AM.]

My hubby sitting on train at Kingston waiting to come home to Shepperton. When will it be leaving at? Meant to leave at 14:19. [Response: This train has been cancelled. I am sorry about this. This is because of crew availability. The next one is at 15:19.] So would someone like to tell them on the train?? Not good enough. [Second caller: Any reason why 14.19 not left Kingston yet??] [Response: The train has been cancelled due to crewing issues. I am very sorry about this. The next train will be the 1519 now.] [Second caller: Would anyone like to tell the people waiting on the train????]

Every time my train is delayed, the train doesn't stop at the station I change at, making me late for work EVERY morning…. It’s not just today; this is a problem 3 out of 5 days I travel, and the station I change at gets missed out with no alternatives. [Response: I am sorry about this, we do run a very tight timetable and as soon as we have one problem the impact does spread rapidly.] Which is totally understandable. However there are other passengers travelling to other stations than Waterloo. [Response: Delayed by another faulty train. 7 late at Sunbury, ran to Norbiton 8 late, then run fast to Waterloo and arrived on time.] If the train was half hour late, but 7 minutes; plus most people work 9-5, so wouldn't be so much of an issue.…I Pay a fair amount to be constantly let down, I understand it can't be helped most of the time but it’s very frustrating! [Second caller: But as pointed out here, it’s really not very helpful missing out stations for only 7 minutes late!!!] [First caller: If it was half hour late I’d understand. A couple of weeks back they just terminated the train meaning I couldn't get home! … No alternatives offered, just that it was terminating at next station. Overpriced tickets, crap service.] [Second caller: That is poor, hope you made complaint via their customer services. Bad the way lately they run fast when only few minutes late.] [First caller: There's no point though, because nothing ever gets done about it ! Trying to get home, train is delayed again .. Shock !]

What's happened to the 13.30 Fareham to Eastleigh? It’s just vanished from the screens. [Response: Strangely shown running 14 minutes early. I'm not sure why. Can only apologise for that.]

They dumped us here at 16:30, after promising the Exeter train would wait for us. It didn't. Next train 18:15. Appalling.

Why don't you "cater for disabled people"??? … Don't worry, I will definitely be in touch, and I certainly intend to continue exposing your staff's disgusting behaviour!

Do you know why the ticket office at Earlsfield was closed at 9:15am today?

Train departs 06.47 but ticket office opens at 06.45. Closed Sunday. I don't have a photocard. How can I buy my desired ticket?

Your service is an absolute joke. It shouldn't take an hour to get from Waterloo to Woking! ..Well, it was almost an hour. Don't mind delays if I know what's going on but nobody said anything!

There are 3 lamp posts not working in the centre of Weybridge car park. The area is very dark and unsafe. Can you fix please?

My wife has walked the length of the train; where is the guard for the train now somewhere between Pirbright and Aldershot?... [Response: Where is she travelling to? There is a guard on every train although not all can sell tickets.] That's good; but my wife is virtually blind. She is now stood at Aldershot with no ticket and worried about getting a penalty fare from SWT…

My dad is stuck on the broken down train; any idea how long it will take to get them off? He is not well and needs to get home??

Both tickets are same price. Both are not in peak times. Why on earth are you so strict and rude about it? [Response: There is no excuse for rudeness but by their nature, those tickets are only valid on the train booked on.] Understand this but when services are dead what is the harm? Many cases where your guards are rude and I am law abiding.

Train guards once again in Weymouth. No empathy. No feelings. No customer service. Utterly useless!!

Sat on a @SW_Trains service, paid 1st class and no toilet facilities available... we will be stopping for a.. "toilet break"! REALLY!?

[Staff name] was also rude to me too. So I want to know why she didn't charge me the cheapest fare. ..OK thank you. Just to let you know I won't be purchasing tickets from you anymore, think enough is enough…Is it possible for you to pass my comments on about [staff name] to Southampton Central station manager?

Chiswick ticket office is closed and there's one ticket machine open which only takes exact change. Would be great to know why!

No signs and no one to ask, your replacement bus service at Wimbledon is a mess.

I'm having a nightmare. Am at Waterloo and lost my ticket to Windsor. I have my receipt. Can you help? [Response: Hi, are you on a train? You will need to purchase a new ticket to complete your journey I'm afraid.]

Finally! an apology! And it only took an hour and twenty minutes. In other words, longer than this journey should take me.

I understand a reporter is contacting you to investigate car parking stealth charges and why you won't talk about these.

Your service is consistently appalling. You haven't replied to my tweet by the way. Again.

No oyster top up at Chiswick Station! Two machines broken.

This could not be any more ridiculous. Am locked on a train six stops after I wanted to get off. Like a horror film… I was stuck on platform as 3 trains cancelled. Then 3 trains arrived, stopped but didn't open doors. "Not scheduled." NO announcements have been made on train or platform. All passengers on train very confused. I was travelling to New Malden!

Perhaps try updating the staff at Vauxhall. She hadn't a clue. I informed her just now.

You are an absolute joke, how the hell can you justify increasing prices when the service is so poor?

Farncombe. Why is Ticket office closed at 1pm mid-week? Teens riding bikes up & down station.

Tickets & your Passenger Charter state NR Conditions of Carriage is available from any staffed station, but Clapham Junction your call centre claim I can't see it. Why? ….. Clapham Junction office refused to give me a copy ("they are not allowed"!) If I go there this evening will I be able to get one?

It's freezing on your trains this morning! No heating?? I feel like a snowman.

Incredibly disappointed by @SW_Trains this evening. Have received awful customer care from all guards and journey time has doubled.

It's 3.30am, we're freezing, we're not home - what do you think?

Disgraceful staff at Waterloo. Barrier attendants who don't want to do their job. Platform 15/16, 11:15. Unprofessional. Rude.

Just arrived at Waterloo on the 07.16 from Farnborough. The far end of platform 8 is really slippery - could do with gritting.

Watched a man who almost slipped over on the ice on to the track at Grateley this morning, gritters were out yesterday morning but not today!

Hi there - ice on the platform at Teddington this morning with no salt or grit. Any reason?

No lights on at New Malden station. Pitch dark. Luckily it's not cold and icy or anything. Very dangerous!

Berrylands station looks dangerous. The platforms are completely covered in snow.

It's been a long day for all of us, there's no need for your staff to be so rude!

Just to let you know that I'm worried about passenger safety at Godalming this morning. [Response: Thank you, I have forwarded your photos to the Station Team.] Thanks for that, just didn't want to see anyone get injured, the ice is nasty this morning.

Next time you change the entire route of a train journey, please tell your passengers, it helps.

10:00 Brentford to Waterloo. I’m now waiting at Barnes because train decided to go fast to Waterloo and I need Vauxhall.

It's been a total disgrace. Taken me an hour to get on a train at Woking due to overcrowding.

Platforms not gritted at Fleet station; slippery & dangerous this morning!

There is a whole platform full of people with no information waiting for trains to London at Havant.

We've had snow and ice for 4 days now and still Winchester car park is like an ice rink. Who's responsible?

Hi no one in ticket office at Hersham, want to get 9:19 to Waterloo but machine doesn't give off peak option? [Response: It seems that an off-peak single isn't available for that route.] I've got an off peak for that train before from the ticket office....would be nice if office was consistently manned.

This is a new level of incompetence even for you. Train routed incorrectly, no announcements and no info board. Farce… I was on the 14:09 from Waterloo to Leatherhead and it went the wrong way! Does this qualify for a part refund for my weekly ticket?!

[From Guildford Borough Council] Hi, we are getting several complaints about icy conditions in the S.W.Trains owned Guildford car park. Could you pass these on?

Why can't train staff be given ability to adjust heating? Heating on train is destroyed by cold air conditioning blasting out. Crazy.... No answer on this? Same problem on two trains yesterday and today. Drafty and cold despite heating because of air conditioning.

You mean like when you posted the 1900 on platform 11, then changed it to platform 12 the other night? That was fun for us! [Guard: They normally don't tell staff either, I've been waiting to leave before and been told last minute of stock change.]

Your rigid policy and intrusive red tape greatly upset me. I do not appreciate being made to feel like a liar by your guards. [Response: What's the problem you've been having?] Lost oyster en route. Proof I have oyster not acknowledged. No discretion used. I was ignored, personal details taken and fine issued. [Response: Ticket inspectors do this as it has been known for some passengers to pass their ticket on and then travel with their receipt.] Wasn't a receipt, it was my online account, backed up with full name/ID. Guard didn't want to listen. Just wanted to give a ticket.

Talk to your staff at Sherborne, who don't inform anyone there is a cancelled train but just drive away and shout it out their window.

What happened to the 22.10 Epsom train from Wimbledon? It was announced but never arrived. I'm concerned about the passengers. [Response: That train ran on time.] It must have been in disguise as it sneaked through Wimbledon unannounced.

Had to stop train door from closing on mum and buggy! 08.17, Vauxhall, Platform 8. Attendant very rude when I spoke to him.

Well there's 40 people and no taxis. And it's cold. Any ideas?

Why have two empty trains raced past us poor people at Worplesdon who have been waiting for the 0659 which has been cancelled??? Why couldn't one if the empty trains have stopped? We're cold and soaked.

Since starting a job in August & ditching the car for the train I have yet to have a delay free day using your service. Why is this?

Please explain why you need to deploy six intimidating ticket inspectors at stations? Not a friendly company.


[A response to complaint about delay] Actually this has now increased to 77 minutes. I am sorry about this.

What is the procedure for getting a refund for this horror show? 45 minutes and counting and still not reached Clapham from Waterloo.

Ticket officer at Bournemouth station was really rude when I pointed out he had not given my debit card back.

I suspect @sw_trains won't bother, they didn't last time, just put rude staff on the platform to not help.

Got to Winchester, now have a 1hr and 4min to wait for connection. Obviously no @sw_trains staff around to be helpful.

I am on the 2139 out of Waterloo. Bit late now and appreciate you've been busy but general information at Waterloo and onboard really poor.

I used to commute to Essex everyday and was shocked when I moved to South London at how poor SWT was.

Can you explain why my wife is on a train which left Waterloo at 21.00 and has not reached Clapham junction by 22.10?

I want to complain about the rudeness one of the bus driver (rail replacement service)

Missed it by 4 minutes. No announcement no apology. [Response: Really sorry about that, the train had to be changed because of a train fault, causing it to be late.] Err, the train WASN'T changed; we stopped just outside Woking then proceeded slowly until Shalford Junction.

Went to get my travelcard at Staines Station at 3:15pm. They're on break until 5:40!!!

Very rude and unhelpful train and bus staff at Clapham junction today. Bus replacement is in chaos!

Why is the service so abysmal this year? And why can I not get a refund, due to having an oyster travel card?

Why are last trains to Staines, which are often dangerously overcrowded especially at weekends, 4 cars only?

Why is the refund process still in the dark ages? Intentionally difficult perhaps?

Long queues at the ticket office and machines (I waited 11 minutes this morning) no conductor visible on the train.....

During recent snow, car park at Havant was a sheet of ice. This is not on after increase in charges by 50p per day.

If staff at station refuse to open barrier despite queue length, then there's not much passengers can do…I definitely support buying a ticket. I use the trains daily. The term revenue drive isn't particularly positive…literally translates to "make as much money as possible, without consideration for circumstance."

Why do you always turn the clocks off in trains when they're running late?

You should re-train revenue officer sw5412 as his customer service skills are shocking.

Two out of four ticket machines at Fratton are broken, the queue is out of the door and your jobsworth staff won't allow people to buy on train. [Response: Are they able to sell you a ticket?] Not sure if able, but they just stand there smirking at everyone as they miss their trains. Horrendous queues. Aren't we customers? Why have four or five ticket inspectors stood there like lemons and only two people serving tickets? I did ask why there were only two selling tickets and 4 or 5 stood there 'inspecting' but just got a sarcy response.

Since Earlsfield was modernised the ticket barriers have never been shut. The guard stands by just watching. Why is this please?

Thanks for clarifying, I had my ID with me. The problem would also be avoided if your staff could do their job.

Basingstoke ticket office guy nearly sold me wrong ticket & had nerve to say it was my fault! How bout confirming what I want first?

Please can you tell me why, at peak evening rush-hour, there is nobody at Vauxhall station who can sell me an advance ticket? [Response: I'm sorry about this. The ticket office should be open at this time. Are you still at the station?] Afraid not. I spoke to the station supervisor who said he didn't deal with tickets and that the station had no revenue staff.

First time for me trying to get a train from Hampton Court to Wimbledon. Won't be spending my cash with you any more. [Response from second passenger: DO let it put you off because this is a daily occurrence of late trains, signal problems, rude staff, etc etc.]

You've made me terribly late for work once again. Can't believe I pay £139 a month for your appalling service.

The process is basically a stalling system until claims are rejected. You lot don’t care, that’s EVIDENT!

19.12 from Waterloo to Shepperton.. Why have all stops before Norbiton been cancelled after I'm on the train. Rubbish service!

Just the normal ‘nothing can read my smartcard’ at Southampton Central and so have a faff around trying to get on platform/explain issue…

The most rude, arrogant and obnoxious train guard ever witnessed on your 17.08 from Southampton to Waterloo. Very poor representation.

Why guards blocking stairs and walkways at Wimbledon station? Slows journey? Usual overcrowding am. [Response: Hello, we are conducting an exercise to prevent overcrowding.]

Over three months on from my original complaint, one week from my 2nd, & two days since my 3rd...still no information on a refund.

Fined £20 because I lost my oyster en route which I could prove I had.

Lots of frozen puddles and black ice on platform 4 at Wandsworth Town. Could you get someone to spread a bit of salt? [Second passenger: Surbiton car park is too - but then it's always a swimming pool if it rains or ice rink of it is cold!] [Third passenger: Syon Lane Station is like an ice rink on the stairs. Watched 4 people as well as myself nearly slip over in the space of 10 mins.]

Purchased a day ticket. So when I found out the lines where closed I cancelled my plans for another day, that's why I want a refund. It is an abandoned travel ticket due to the engineering works. The station the ticket was purchased from was Kew Bridge. [Response: You have to go to Kew Bridge where you bought the ticket to get the refund as it is an abandoned journey at the start.] What and speak to the machine?

Why was there no one at Woking at front of station giving out information on replacement bus service to Basingstoke? No sign of a bus controller on the ground, only a fat controller getting legless, who pretty soon will be on the ground.

18.39 Waterloo to Reading: train full of families, guard just announced all 4 toilets out of use. Not really good enough, is it?

Ninety minutes after arriving at the station I'm on a train that appeared despite not being on the board.

The Barnes ticket machine doesn't have the correct time on it…. [Response: I'm very sorry for your experience. If you contact our Customer Relations team they can look into this.] I have! Thanks to them too for not caring! Wasting my time and my tears! Can't get either back now, can I????????

I expect compensation for considerable time, trouble & inconvenience your company has caused me. Total cost of wasted journey £50.60.

Only one of four ticket machines working at Putney station this morning, and even that one at snail’s pace. Can you fix them please?!?

Why haven't you given us a explanation for the 18:54 Waterloo-Dorking 30 minute delay? Very poor. The 290 [alternative bus service] to Twickenham refused to accept anyone's ticket and driver had no change. Cost me £4, woman behind cost £10!!!

Can you answer me this, why are we paying huge train fares for rude customer service?

Spoken to as if I was a nasty criminal. I've been using your train service for years and always paid my full fare every time.

Would like to make a complaint about a ticket inspector. What is the best method?

I'm stuck at Godalming trying to get to Woking, last train was cancelled, next one's delayed! When's the next train likely to be?

Terrible advice from SWT. Surbiton to Waterloo by bus takes 2hrs 20mins, trains only delayed by 1hr.

[Beginning of conversation blocked by SWT?] You should also know that the customer was simply asking if he could use his veteran’s card outside of London...

Just checked on website that Fleet ticket office would be open to claim refund from Thursday - drove down and it's closed!

What's happening with the trains, SWT? It's an absolute nightmare at the minute. Delay after delay after delay, this can’t continue….I travel between Brookwood & Waterloo morning & evening. Last 4 weeks there have been multiple delays. Hard to stomach when paying ££££s

Why isn't there a disabled ramp on platform 2 at Worcester park station? Train delayed due to guard having to get the ramp for platform 1?

No lights at Ashford, Surrey. Dangerous going over bridge. Trip hazard.

I've been waiting for a replacement bus at Wraysbury station for nearly two hours. Can you advise next one arriving? Ta.

Shame you can't get announcements out on time! Standing staring at the train for 10 minutes before it just pulls away. Lame.

Not been on a single train in 4 days now that has not been delayed and late. Doing well guys, 8 out of 8. My boss is fed up too.

What happened to the cleaners for the 18.39 from Waterloo. It's squalid and stinks of urine. Why should I travel in this mank?

@SW_Trains have the worst service. Trains always cancelled or delayed and they can't even blame the weather! Ridiculous.

Wimbledon Station waste 4 staff on preventing us getting to the only 2 carriages we can get on in the a.m. [Response: Sorry for the inconvenience. We're enforcing a new one way system to try and prevent delays at Wimbledon.]

I have missed my connection three times this week because of delays; your service is appalling.

Customer assistance made me get off mid-journey rather than move people sat/stood in wheelchair spaces as train busy. Shocking!.....Platform staff - apparently he was told by the guard to take me off. I didn't speak to guard at all in the journey.

Very rude guard on the 16:45 from Totton (London bound) manners cost nothing! Saying please and thank you is basic!

I just want to know I can get home tonight or any night without disruption. It's now 31 working days since I sent a complaint and 42 actual days. Still no word back from customer service.

One of your train people at the station yesterday called us a lot of names and was very rude to us.

I'm not going to give up on this. I pay you too much money to tolerate disrespect quietly. [Response: I have fed back your comments and it is being looked into. Please do write in to customerrelations@swtrains.co.uk with details.] I'm afraid the last two times I e’mailed them, they fobbed me off, then referred me to Passenger Focus when I asked follow-up questions. There are a lot of things that you can't control. This is one that you can. Not fixing what you can control says you don't care.

Whom do I get into contact with regarding a complaint against an employee?

Ticket office at Andover train station shut at 6pm on a Friday night and huge queues at machines.

Would like to complain about the lack of toilet facilities on the 18:00 from Waterloo to Portsmouth.

Why are there 7 SW train members of staff and 1 policeman at Kingston station on a Monday night, when the barriers are closed? … What are they protecting? Barriers down, surely 1/2 staff to prevent 'bunking' but 6 all standing chatting whilst we pay good money to commute isn't what I'd call a good budget allocation.

Guy on platform told me I should have stayed on but apparently has been reported to you numerous times. [Response: Sorry about this. What train had the problem and at what station?] 17:30 from Exeter to Waterloo; wanted to go to Pinhoe (usually catch it) but automated voice said it wasn't stopping there.

Any chance of your bouncers at Wimbledon station exercising common sense? If platform clear why stop people getting their train… @SW_Trains making people run down platform for trains rather than letting them walk direct is good Health & Safety practice? Utter nonsense.

Why has the 08.09 Brentford - London Waterloo service suddenly been cancelled five minutes before it's due please? [Response from another passenger: Brentford ought to inform station staff playing announcements: board was wrong, train wasn't cancelled and DID stop at this platform!]

Not happy. Guard just shut doors as he could see me (heavily pregnant) and running up platform. On way to Eastleigh.

Just saw travelling SWT staff tell paying customer to move as they were saving the one spare seat in carriage for a colleague.

Train driver decided not to open doors at Leatherhead, so now I'm stranded in Dorking. Great. Thanks... [Response: Have a word with station staff. Were any other passengers stuck and did they open at Box Hill?] There are plenty of other people stuck. Guard and driver taking us back. Even for you this is terrible service.

On a replacement bus from Waterloo to Walton-on-Thames and the driver has got lost; doesn't my expensive ticket cover satnav? You and your thieving ticket machines. I just topped up my oyster and my balance has not changed !? You people make me sick!!

How come there are so many ticket only (no Oyster) barriers at Waterloo? Seems to keep causing a bit of mini-congestion. There's a cluster near Platform 17 that were set to ticket only tonight - was causing a bottleneck by the barriers.

@SW_Trains Any hope that you could lose your contract? Again no staff at Woking to explain the inadequate service. Only an hour late to work today, thanks @SW_Trains! Still, that's an improvement on yesterday. Why have there been so many delays lately?

They've done it AGAIN. In order to catch up, miss Liss& Liphook.


Will the trains ever be on time? You've put the ticket prices up to what we can't afford & now we can't even get to college on time?

Very disappointed at complete lack of coherent information at Alton. Staff don't seem to know what's happening either!... It appears it is now a bus to Farnham which I am on but staff seem to be getting no information about what's going on. Not helpful.

A woman just fainted in front of me in overcrowded carriage.

I've just been physically pushed out the way by the duty manager after asking for his name. 19:56 at Richmond station… Other employee said his name was [name provided] but the manager kept walking away after being abusive… All because I thought I had enough money on my Oyster to catch the train and he shouted at me to the contrary.

I'm cold on the platform after everyone was told to get off the train & wait for the next one... Which did not stop.

Just seen a kid getting beaten up by a guy my age on a train. Terrible.

Need to renew monthly ticket today, office closed and machine out of order at Byfleet & New Haw.

My wife wants to travel alone with a pushchair, Ash Vale to Basingstoke. The National Conditions of Carriage say she has to change at Brookwood with no lifts. [Response: I think the best thing will be for her to change at Woking (with lifts). Pretty sure the ticket route will be "any permitted"] Unfortunately, even with an Any Permitted ticket, the doubling back between Brookwood and Woking earns her a penalty fare.

Why are the waiting rooms at Farnborough station NEVER open? Received an email after complaining, with a £20 refund on next ticket. Cashier at station not aware of the refund. What to do?

Another day, another spectacularly awful service. Inexplicable delays and no information. Always a pleasure to hand over £213 for this.

Waterloo to Weymouth with a very, very rude ticket man. Very disappointed.

Waterloo barrier swallowed Underground ticket, no one on platform or information desk wanted to help. Regarded it as my problem, tough luck!

Completely unacceptable to leave steep station steps completely unlit. What are you going to do about it and my injury?

Ticket desk at Sunningdale station supposed to be open from 6 yet no one there at 8. 10 people at both machines. Not good.

No one on ticket desk at Walton-on-Thames to buy tickets, but a revenue protection officer? Priorities? Not your customers, clearly.

The ticket machine at Datchet is broken again & the ticket office is closed. Hope they won't try and fine us at Richmond.

At Hersham station and your driver just overshot the platform by about 6 carriages, didn't let us on, and left for next station!!

06:52 departure from Basingstoke and Railtrack employee chucks girl off seat to park his bike on train. Guard does nothing...!

I was at Waterloo from 20:40 until 23:00. No SWT staff visible after 22:00. Tannoy: "No time for resumption; use alternative routes"

Why do your staff go into hiding when there are problems? Very unprofessional. Vauxhall last night, not a soul to ask for help.

Very confusing messages. Your staff need to be given more information to help customers. Dangerous for young women to be left stranded.

Two charges. 1. Harassment by this member of staff. 2. Disability discrimination. This is a repeat of an incident… Last time I dealt with this email address about this the reply took over a week to return. I am expecting resolution now or my solicitor will be taking the first steps on Monday. Police crime number for this is: CHS1070 08//03/2013.

[Response: The last train did run at 00.26, if you use the help point they will be able to help you.] Yes, it ran without any notices. Clapham didn't even show it as running. Can I claim back my £30 taxi from Guildford to Witley?

Please explain why I sat freezing at Milford, Surrey 1 hour. 4 fast trains went through. Why not stop one of them? I was waiting for the 7.50 to Waterloo… A train finally arrived at 8.46 which took me to Guildford, where minor chaos awaited…. I wonder if there'll ever be a time when I don't have to check 3 sources to know if I can get home on time…. Chances of my train home being (a) on time and (b) having all its coaches?

Information good at Havant. Absolutely diabolical at Haslemere. No one had any idea what train was next to leave. Very poor.

Arrived at Portsmouth Harbour this morning to get a train to London. Your staff stood about giving no information….This is not good enough. I have sent an email and I would like to speak to a complaints manager.

Last week the trains were all screwed up, this week the ticket machines. You really have surpassed yourself lately. [Response: Where did you encounter a problem?] Cobham. It's always breaking. I asked man to let Waterloo know so can buy at other end but he was grumpy so don't know if he will.

Wonderful, patronising staff at Bournemouth on Friday actually managed to sell me a wrong return ticket and now I have the bill.

Are the card readers at Waterloo ever going to be sorted out to allow the Freedom or over 60 pass to work? Faulty for ages now!

The staff I meet seem to be rude, miserable, and don't seem to care about their job.

Will you ever get ticket machine at Ashford Surrey station fixed? Refused my card for past 2 weeks - fine everywhere else. In grand scheme of things pretty minor! But Waterloo staff very aggressive & rude when I explained why needed to buy ticket last week.

You have rude staff, stuck in Southampton due to @southernrailuk cancelling my train [Note: Heavy snow in Sussex]. Being told I am now on the wrong train. Station team told me to get the 15:00 to Clapham to get me back to Brighton, the conductor then tried to charge me.

All very well, but evening of March 6 when there was points failure, there were no staff at Clapham Junction and information was woeful.

Why are there never any toilets on @SW_Trains after 1900? [Response: Thank you for the feedback, I believe this is due to the type of train stock we run on that route.]

People can't get tickets at Claygate due to the machine being out of order and ticket office isn't open.

Not impressed with lack of information on trip to Weymouth. No staff at Wareham nor bus to Weymouth. 1 hour to Dorchester.

Shambolic replacement bus service from Weymouth via @SW_Trains. Rude & unhelpful staff after bus broke down. Will 17:20 connection be held?

Station staff rude, no communication whatsoever about alternative routes, every time I travel with you you're literally pants!

How bad are @SW_trains ? No communication, no accountability and no idea.

No one at Havant has a clue what's going on, everyone is saying different things!!!

Footbridge at Fleet also very slippery, think Dancing on Ice...

I am disgusted in the manner I was spoken to. I do not pay £21.85 to sit in a bike rack in the cold while staff talk to me like.

Can you explain why your staff are so bloody rude? At Waterloo and felt like I should have made a complaint.... One of your colleagues was obviously having a bad day/life, that's what happened. Ignored me 3 times then huffed…. When I finally got him to listen, he shouted his answer at me.

Please thank your driver for just driving straight through St Margaret's because he forgot.. apparently he thought he was on the Windsor service. Now have a 30 minute cold walk and had to argue with station guard to let me pass. [Second caller: Clearly the same service my daughter was just on!!!!!!! this is EXCEPTIONALLY dangerous!!!]

You do make life difficult and you have very rude staff..... [Second caller: Don’t bother with the email, they never reply. Keep up with the tweets.] Thought as much! Today will cost me a fortune in travel.

All you need to do is mess up Friday morning’s commute and it'll be 5 out of 5 this week. Job well done!

@sw_trains shouldn't say that their card machines take Visa Debit cards when they quite clearly don't….The ones at Waterloo. Lucky I had a pocket full of coins to get rid of but missed the train I wanted to get.

The machine by the ticket office was requesting "cash only" despite being of the card-only variety. It is often faulty.

Had the most horrid guard on the train from Waterloo to Portsmouth.

Stuck at Raynes Park, freezing cold, and the waiting room is closed, nice work.

Due to your lack of signage at Winchester I have now missed my train. How do I claim my taxi fare?

Why does the ticket office at Portchester always close early on a Pompey match day? Should be open until 2. Always shut by 1.45.

There's 50 people in the freezing cold outside Barnes waiting over 20 minutes for a replacement bus.

Unbelievable... 3rd consecutive Monday in a row that the 7.10 from Haslemere to Waterloo has been cancelled. Do you hate us?

Man in wheelchair on platform at Wimbledon. No staff member assisting. Two trains have passed him! Mentioned it to guard, she shrugged …It was the platform the 8.30 from Worcester Park came into! Guard on platform didn't seem to care...

Your staff at Waterloo are really very rude. Will your ticket man be as rude when I'm on the wrong train with a wrong ticket?

Never had such rude and frankly appalling customer service in my life. Absolutely disgusted.

Of the three ticket machines I tried to use, one was out of service & the other two wouldn't take my cash. Rude staff didn't help either.

Seen our "cancelled" train to Upwey fly through Woking, finally heading to Weymouth. Can’t wait for a jobsworth to say ticket not valid!

Make sure rail replacement services stop at Weybridge station as one of your useless workers just went straight past me …Outside Weybridge station, waiting where buses should stop. As it arrived, put my hand out and he went past. Now late for work.

Your staff are rude, your trains are always late, over-priced.

Thank you for chucking all your passengers off the train at Woking at gone midnight and leaving us to fend for ourselves. [Second caller: Not even a replacement bus? That's terrible. How are you getting home? Take care xx] Not even a staff member in sight, it was chaos! Got home eventually at an extortionate price.

Can you explain precisely why your train left two minutes early from Datchet going to Windsor? I now have to pay for a cab.

Typical points from SWT’s Webchat event

* Please could you explain what training your staff go through? The majority of staff at London Waterloo are quite rude and unhelpful when a delay happens.

* Your service has been shocking so far this year. The price of my season ticket went up to £7,200 plus £1,000 parking. In any other industry where the supplier doesn't have a monopoly, the two things would not happen together.

* Can you guarantee your service into London will improve, or should I work from home more, cancel my season ticket and only travel into London when I have to and by car? I guess home working now means I have a choice to not use your shoddy service to earn a living.

* Dealing with your customer services department is one of the most frustrating experiences. 20 working days to wait for a reply!! I have been waiting now 30 working days and still nothing from them. Honestly, these are the people supposed to be putting the problems right and yet they can't even deal with a complaint after 6 weeks. It's really shameful and you need to deal with this ASAP.

* Do you feel that as a company you have real customer service challenges? In the majority of the cases, it feels like your customer-facing staff have forgotten that as well as being a passenger, I am also a paying customer.

* I frequently find the staff that I encounter to be lacking in basic politeness to the point of rudeness. Helping customers seems to be an inconvenience, and the behaviour displayed is often abstruse.

* It is now nearly a year since you launched the Alliance on us and, since then, your performance gets worst than is was before. When are we going manage a whole week without something going wrong with the infrastructure that affects our journey to or from work?

* Wanted to let you know that your service is so awful that I bought a car. No more signal failures, cancellations and standing on cold platforms with no information. Goodbye South West Trains - you truly were hopeless.

* Your performance this year has been appalling. This morning, if we even needed one, was a prime example. When can we expect to see an improvement?

* Delays, cancellations, signal failures, track defects, short formations, lack of carriages, level crossing defects, short trains at weekends, overcrowding, over-running engineering works, train defects. Every day I can tick at least five of these. Against this backdrop, tickets prices go up every year. How can you possibly justify taking more money from your customers and delivering such a poor service?

* When having to make a detour from Woking to London Rd and informing the Revenue Inspector I was outside the Zone of my monthly travel card, I received a £20.00 fine (not negotiable). Could I ask why a level of common sense and awareness be shown to travellers problems rather than, 'I am just doing my job'? Oh, by the way, this was the day I received your flyer on 'increasing the customer satisfaction on SWT'.

* Season tickets are currently issued in paper form. To get through ticket barriers, we have to take the ticket out of its protective wallet 2-4 times a day, more with Tube). SWT Revenue Protection recommend insuring the ticket. SWT Customer Services have told me that ATOC makes you adhere to their regulations (i.e. replace no more than once or twice), but I contacted ATOC and they said that's untrue. My issue is, I cannot insure it (it counts as cash to a total value of £500, but its worth £5,000) and you won’t replace it more than once. Why are we put in this position? Either find another way to protect your revenue, change your policy on replacements, or give us an annual ticket but charge monthly.

* Can we PLEASE have more ticket machines on the car park side of Feltham station? There are two at present, and if one is out of order, the queues in the mornings are ridiculous. Station staff used to sell tickets with portable machines, but don't seem to do that any more. The other side of the station has three ticket offices and four machines. I often miss a train as I have to queue for 10 minutes to buy a ticket.

* Why are we having to suffer with the new entry/exit "one way system" to platform 5 at Wimbledon in the mornings? It is very poorly thought out. It is inefficient, frustrating and sometimes dangerous - all passengers boarding at Wimbledon are funnelled down the stairs to platform 6 and forced to walk almost single file to the middle of platform 6 before being "allowed" to cross over to platform 5. When a train arrives at platform 5, people are forced to run halfway down platform 6 to board it (while being barked at by staff not to run and to stay between this line and that barrier). This "system" makes me miss at least one train every week and I can tell, from the comments and general frustration each morning, that I am far from the only one bemused by this. Given the significant disruptions to SWT services in recent months, missing a train because someone decided that I can't walk onto platform 5 until they say I can, is galling.

* Any chance of a regular deep or steam clean on the seats of the trains? Also to clear out the seat bases and gaps between seats and the walls of the carriages, as lots of rubbish and food debris can collect in these areas. Not good for appearance, and most certainly a breeding ground for bacteria etc.

* When the main booking hall on the London-bound side at Feltham is closed, the exit/entrance is a side gate that has no Oyster card reader. The only Oyster card reader is at the gate on the other platform on the country-bound side. Can an Oyster card reader be put at the side gate on the London-bound side please?

* It's come to my attention that during times of disruption, i.e. track defect, adverse weather etc. that SWT have a increasing tendency to terminate services short of their destinations, therefore leaving passengers stranded. This has happened to me 3 times this year already and is unacceptable. All this does is move the problem from the trains to the platform. On one such occasion Surbiton station was dangerously overcrowded. Why not just leave the passengers on the trains and get them to their destinations when you can. Nothing irritates passengers more then having to get off a perfectly good train, just because someone has decided the train is needed elsewhere. I have already submitted a complaint to your customer service team without a reply. I also sent you a direct e-mail but assume you haven't received this either.

* I've had an annual season ticket for years and unfortunately last month I lost it whilst travelling. Given you get the advantage of taking my money for the whole year in advance I didn't expect the issues and time taken to get a replacement. When a month later I finally passed my interview and was granted a new season ticket I was then charged £10.00.

* Yesterday, I needed to purchase an extension for my season ticket from Boundary Zone 6 to a station beyond the travelcard zones. My local station is completely unstaffed on Sundays, the ticket vending machines don't sell anything but tickets starting from that station and you cannot order Boundary Zone tickets online for pick-up from a ticket vending machine. How exactly am I supposed to buy such a ticket?

* I commute from Winchester to London Waterloo and my annual pass now costs more than £5,000 per year. Despite this high price and annual rises I can rarely get a seat on the 7.48, and the 7.55 is delayed on an almost daily basis. Given the exorbitant cost of train travel, could you please at least give passengers a reliable service?

* Please can something be done with the attitude of the guards or the connection time at Weybridge in the morning rush hour? Trains from Waterloo are usually late into Weybridge making the 6 minute connection to the Chertsey/Staines service tight or impossible. The guards do not hold the train for even a few seconds to let all passengers join, leaving a 30 minute delay. Given the train then stands at Virginia Water for 9 minutes and the incoming train is now scheduled 2 minutes later means there is ample scope for holding these trains.

* Why, during the snow timetable, with 50% of Alton-Waterloo trains cancelled, were some down trains in the evening peak still only formed of 8 coaches? This meant they were crush loaded well before leaving Waterloo and passengers at Clapham stood no chance of boarding. Surely with many services cancelled, there should've been enough stock to run them all as 12 car!

* Your Twitter account provides lots of useful information during the day at weekdays. However, it doesn't seemed to be manned all the time at weekends and in the evenings, when disruption can have a bigger impact (less frequent service and people trying to catch last trains). What hours can we rely on someone monitoring the account to respond to messages and post information? Do you have an on-call tweeter who can be brought in, in the event of disruption?

* I note you published the "list of achievements" you have completed since output from the last Webchat. I'm sure this is not an isolated opinion, but are you honestly telling me that those seven items are your priority issues to tackle during that last 6 months! We want a resolution to the continued lack of communication during your regular service breakdowns as opposed to fixing some lights in the Godalming car park! We want proper addressing of the shambolic cold weather delays as opposed to knowing you have joined Facebook!

* The past two weeks and again tomorrow there has been and is going to be severe disruption. Please do not say this is a coincidence. What assurances can you give to me that the Portsmouth to London Waterloo line is able to run a smooth service and not have continual engineering works that are impacting on me and others. The service has been appalling recently, an embarrassment and overpriced, costing me £5.5k a year. What are you going to do to lessen the impact and improve this terrible service?

* I was interested to read your list of items achieved from the last online chat. I have to say they all seem very minor issues compared with (for instance) the major problem of inadequate seating on your mainline services, particularly on the Portsmouth line. In my view, and that of many other passengers I talk to, the blue Class 450s seating arrangements are a disaster in terms of comfort. What are you doing about it?

* I'm afraid you've just lost a regular commuter. I now go to London from Fratton on Southern which is cheaper, and more importantly offers me a decent seat where I can work and relax in comfort. Any prospects of an improvement in the near future?

* Any chance of improving the seating on the blue Havant trains? I've just moved to the Havant area. They're narrow and cramped. Odd for a long distance service. I didn't have this problem when I commuted from Coventry to Euston in my last job.

* It is terrible that staff hid away to not respond to customers at Waterloo. This conduct is highly unprofessional. Even with the very few staff on the concourse, they knew very little and were rude and arrogant when I asked them for help. The PA system is extremely poor as the announcements were inaudible/unclear - it is questionable as to the multi-million pound improvement making a difference.

* As I am sure that you are aware, the service provided by South West Trains has fallen below the standard expected, especially during the past 3-6 months. It is understandable that incidents do occur, leading to delays/cancellations. However, what I am extremely frustrated about is the customer service. I have emailed SWT on numerous occasions in regards to compensation for delays/cancellations. In particular, the incident on 5/12/2012 (frozen third rail) - SWT promised full compensation I am still waiting for a response although it has nearly been 4 months since the incident. This is clearly unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Is a 4 month and counting wait be regarded as reasonable?

* After the confusion on the evening trains which were stopped altogether. 1) please can you publish under what circumstances you will pay for taxis. Telling us the day after isn't good enough 2) how can you possibly justify that the following day the website did not contain an apology and compensation details?

* The good news that 24 class 456 units are to be transferred from Southern to SWT is sadly tempered by the fact that this will be delayed by the decision to replace Southern's seats with your own. Are you afraid Southern's superior accommodation will show up the cramped, uncomfortable arrangements (for standing and seated passengers alike) on the 455s which they will be working with? Why not leave well alone?

* I bought my rail ticket at Yarmouth, but the ticket lady forgot to take my railcard discount off. I did not realise until I got on the ferry. Your customer services tell me it's Wightlink's fault and Wightlink say it's a SWT ticket and won't reimburse me. Her e’mail advised me to contact Red Funnel! I'm 20 quid out of a pocket and I've given up trying to complain. Is this your idea of customer service, SWT? I can hardly afford the fares anyway. I'll drive in future.

How SWT reported good news and bad for 9/2/2013

Bad “12:24 Portsmouth & Southsea to London Waterloo due 14:14. Will be formed of 4 coaches instead of 8. This is due to an earlier train fault.” [Similar wording for the train’s subsequent workings on the 14.30/18.45 Waterloo-Portsmouth and 16.45 Portsmouth-Waterloo services. No substitute unit was provided, despite so much stock being idle on Saturdays.]

Good “Special train for Portsmouth fans heading to Bournemouth

•Special direct train to run in both directions to take fans to and from Bournemouth
•Over 335 additional seats available

South West Trains is to run a direct special football train on Saturday 9th February to help Portsmouth FC football fans follow their team to Bournemouth. The special five carriage football train will offer an appealing alternative to road transport from Portsmouth & Southsea to Bournemouth with a dedicated service for football fans when Portsmouth FC take on Bournemouth in the match at Dean Court stadium.

The special football train will run from Portsmouth & Southsea at 12.11, calling at Fratton (12.16), Hilsea (12.20), Cosham (12.30), Porchester [sic] (12.35), Fareham (12.42) and then non-stop to Bournemouth (arriving at 13.47).

The return train will start from Bournemouth at 17.30 and call at Fareham (18.39), Porchester [sic] (18.44), Cosham (18.49), Hilsea (18.54), Fratton (18.58) and Portsmouth & Southsea at 19.03.

Jake Kelly, Customer Service Director for the South West Trains-Network Rail Alliance, said: “The special football train will help many of Portsmouth’s dedicated and loyal supporters travel to Bournemouth to watch this important match. It will take football fans straight into Bournemouth station, which is just a short walk from the stadium without the risk of congestion or difficulty with parking. The train will be a direct special service and will run in conjunction with the normal weekend service operating between Portsmouth, Southampton and Bournemouth”.

Tickets for fans travelling in Standard Class start at £20.70, with a limited number of First Class tickets available from £34.20.”

Britain’s least safe buses?

Stagecoach bus fires have become a feature of public transport in recent times. Blazes averaged almost one a month in 2012, excluding arson attacks and fires in other countries. See Hogrider 137 Part 1 for the locations of 5 incidents in 2009; 9 incidents in 2011; and 11 incidents in 2012. The majority of fires occur when passengers are on board, and there are some horrific internet video clips of the conflagrations.

Stagecoach’s response to every incident is that safety is their absolute priority. However, fires have not been the only problem. Sanctions were imposed after a number of buses shed wheels in Scotland, a bus drove on after wrecking a shelter in Cheltenham, and another bus ignored a level crossing barrier on the Taunton-Exeter line seconds before a high speed train passed.

The US Department of Transportation has warned prospective passengers that Stagecoach’s Megabus Northeast scores 75% for unsafe driving – it’s worse than three quarters of all comparable firms. Why no similar comparative studies in Britain?

New incidents

1. “A double-decker bus caught fire on the A39 at Roundswell last night forcing the road to be closed. Two fire crews from Barnstaple were called to the scene after the Stagecoach bus caught fire on the A39 next to KFC at Roundswell Services at around 6.30pm…. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the bus come to halt after large flames started roaring from the back-end.”

Anna Tarasiuk, who is the manager of the Roundswell Travelodge, called 999 to report the incident. She said: “I saw the bus in full flame. It looked scary. "I called 999 but I think someone else called as well. I was worried about my customers because we have a full car park. "The fire crew sorted it out very quickly. I can’t say exactly how long the bus was in full flame for because I was working in the back office.”

Simon Robinson, who works at RAC, was parked at the services when the bus caught alight. He said: “We had just parked and were waiting to be called out for our next job when we saw the bus come to a stop. Flames were coming out of the back. “Someone asked if they could borrow our fire extinguisher from the van but we were advised that it was too dangerous to attempt.” His colleague Luke Cowell said the flames were over the top of the bus at one point.

Scott Martin, of Barnstaple Fire Station, responded to the incident. He said: “We took two pumps and a water bowser and it took around 20 minutes to extinguish. As far as I’m aware there were no passengers onboard.” He also confirmed the fire was caused by a mechanical fault around the engine compartment.” [Source: This is North Devon, February 2013]

2. “A school bus with 16 children on board has slipped off a steep road covered in slush and snow at Abercarn in Caerphilly county. Three children suffered minor injuries but nobody was seriously hurt in the incident on Twyn Hill at 09:00 GMT. The children were aged between eight and 12, and pupils at Abercarn Primary school. [Source: BBC Wales]

3. “A bus crashed on the A165 at Ganstead. The double-decker Stagecoach bus left the road and came to a halt in the garden of a house. Four ambulances, three fire engines and police attended the accident, north of Bilton. An eyewitness said: "It is chaos. Police are everywhere." The road was closed in both directions until around 5.30pm.

Police said the accident happened shortly before 2pm. A silver Astra and a blue Land Rover were involved. Three people who were on the bus are being treated for what are believed to be non life-threatening injuries. Two people, who are thought to have been travelling in the Astra, are also receiving treatment for minor injuries.” [Source: Hull and East Riding Mail 18/1/2013]

4. “TRAINS were halted and traffic ground to a halt after a bus smashed into the level crossing barrier in St Dunstans Street. The double-decker Stagecoach bus was driving towards the Westgate Towers at 9.20am on Tuesday when it ploughed into the gate, knocking it off its mounts. The crash caused chaos on the roads and rails, as train services across Kent were stopped and traffic diverted. Police shut the busy road between Roper Road and Station Road West for half an hour while Network Rail engineers worked to fix the gate. Services between Ramsgate and Ashford were disrupted, and Southeastern put rail replacement bus services in place.” [Source: Canterbury Times 7/3/2013]

Conservative and Labour concerns as Souter assault trial dubbed an ‘absolute joke’

Gung-ho SWT literature once referred to Stagecoach founder Brian Souter as “the tough Scots bruiser who came to dominate the UK’s bus industry by ruthlessly driving rivals off the road”. We suspect it won’t use quite those terms now that Mr Souter’s son, who reportedly works in Stagecoach media relations, has become a real-life bruiser. The Daily Record of 6/3/2013 reported:

“Tycoon’s son Scott Souter walked free from court yesterday after writing a sheriff a private letter. The thug – son of Stagecoach founder Brian Souter – battered two men in an unprovoked attack at a graduation party but was fined just £600 by Sheriff Robert McCreadie. It’s Souter’s third conviction – and his second for a drunken attack.

Perth sheriff McCreadie asked Souter to write him the letter when the 21-year-old admitted two charges of assault last year. Yesterday, the sheriff spent several minutes reading the letter. He said: “It is a very helpful and articulate letter which is what I expected from you. I thank Mr Souter for doing that. I am pleased for you. It is confidential to me and that is how it will be treated. I wanted to make him reflect on his own behaviour and that can be done particularly well if somebody is made to write out their situation.”

The court heard Souter punched 23-year-old Keith Dewar – who he’d only met that night – on the head and body in Perth’s RocaBlu bar. He then punched Drew Fleming, 22, in the face and broke his nose. Souter has since paid the men compensation – £500 to Drew and £200 to Keith. A third charge of punching the girl throwing the party was dropped in a plea deal. Sheila McCall, defending, said Souter had a drink problem and was sorry.

Scottish Tories’ chief whip John Lamont questioned the secret letter to the sheriff. He said: “The public have to have confidence that every criminal is treated in the same transparent manner and many will be concerned that this didn’t happen in this instance.” Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald MSP said: “An unprovoked attack is just as bad whether the criminal is well educated or whether they are not.”

The Herald reported the news in similar terms. Its readers also have been commenting on the leniency of the sentence, and the extraordinary way the case was handled, with the defence reportedly declaring that “There has been parental involvement in discussions about these proceedings.”

The Perthshire Advertiser reports Drew Fleming’s father as saying his son is seeking to appeal the case. He considers that, “The whole trial from start to finish was an absolute joke.”

The fines are of a similar order to what some of Mr Souter’s passengers have had to pay for boarding a train before buying a ticket. Mr Souter should have time to reflect on this, since he has announced he is stepping down from the post of Stagecoach Chief Executive and becoming chairman from this April.

Historical context

In 2007, Mr Souter and his son complained to the Press Complaints Commission that a newspaper report of the son “nicking” his father’s car for joyriding was “intrusive”. The PCC ruled that young criminals could be named once they reached 16 years of age, and it was pertinent to the case to name Mr Souter as he was the owner of the car.

The Sun of 19/11/2009 reported:

“A court heard yesterday that Scott Souter, 18, should NOT be punished for battering a man because he was already getting help following pressure from his family. His lawyer Paul McBride QC — hired by Souter’s bus tycoon dad — said: “He has already had the embarrassment of the conviction. He can assure you steps taken by his family, who have spoken to him in the strongest possible terms, will ensure no incident of this type takes place in future.” [our underlining]

Mr McBride told Perth Sheriff Court Souter was visiting an Edinburgh clinical psychologist for “anger management and issues relating to the abuse of alcohol”. He added: “He’s had six sessions and has six to go.” But Sheriff Michael Fletcher rejected the lawyer’s plea and fined Souter £200.

He also ordered him to pay his victim Philip Johnston £400 compensation. Souter left the 20-year-old bruised after repeatedly punching him in the face in a late-night bust-up last August. The court heard he had already coughed up £400 to pay for damage to Mr Johnston’s car.”

In this instance the assaults reportedly occurred after Scott Souter had been taunted about his father. The details are unclear, but Mr Souter was controversial through his unethical business conduct (as portrayed in the World in Action’s ‘Cowboy Country’ programme) and homophobia.

What recession? Ann Gloag’s birthday celebration

Although Stagecoach has stripped every trace of quality from its SWT franchise, and its passengers suffer the worst value for money fares in Britain, the founders’ parties have become ostentatious. Mrs Gloag celebrated her 70th birthday in the security of one of her castles (she was accredited with seriously undermining Scotland’s ‘Right to Roam’ legislation by getting ramblers banned from her estate), whilst not long ago her brother jetted friends and family to Russia for a joint family and company event.

[Source: Daily Mail on Facebook] “Happy 70th birthday to me! Stagecoach millionaire celebrates in style with Lulu, Neil Sedaka and 250 guests in castle grounds

* Ann Gloag's black tie party held in Kinfauns Castle, Perthshire, Scotland
* She has lived there since 2004
* Champagne reception and three-course meal served in marquee
* Guests ate turkey with all the trimmings, sea bass and trio of desserts
* Celebrity magician Dynamo also performed.”

Transport for South Hampshire Consultation

Transport for South Hampshire (a partnership between Hampshire County Council and Portsmouth and Southampton Councils) has consulted on its latest transport plan. This looks at transport in the area from every conceivable angle, but the consultation period was only 14 December-14 January (two weeks if you exclude the festive period!) and received just two column inches in the Southern Daily Echo.

We submitted the following points:

(1) Before building on the Fareham-Gosport Bus Rapid Transport scheme, the unreliability of the present BRT service (15 minutes to get out of Fareham bus station because of traffic congestion in one instance) needs to be addressed.

(2) The Woolston bus-rail interchange is a sound idea because Woolston is served by many bus routes from around the eastern side of Southampton, and the Central rail station is on the western side. However, SWT’s current hourly rail service at Woolston is exceptionally poor compared for example with Southern’s services along the Sussex Coast.

(3) The other proposed rail hubs (Cosham, Fareham, Swanwick and Hedge End) are also sound in principle, because they should promote travel by rail into Portsmouth and Southampton city centres, helping to reduce road congestion and pollution. However, Totton should be included. Totton is served by bus routes from a wide geographical area, but rail services towards New Milton, Christchurch and Bournemouth are very poor, cross-Southampton travel is inconvenient, there is no public transport to nearby Romsey, and evening and Sunday bus services are patchy.

(4) The proposed rail service to Hythe is excellent, and would also serve the larger centre of Totton. In particular, it should provide greater reliability than buses, which suffer from peak congestion, with even minor traffic incidents causing chaos.

(5) The suggested Southampton-Portsmouth ‘skip-stop’ rail service raises questions. First, Southampton-Portsmouth is almost certainly the worst-served urban rail corridor in the South East, with two trains per hour arriving and departing minutes apart at Portsmouth. The plan is presented as replacing the hourly Southampton-Portsmouth stopping service with three trains with different stopping patterns, accelerating journeys and concentrating stops at the busier stations. Fine in principle, but the London and South East Route Utilisation Strategy, to which the idea refers, seemed to suggest that the proposal would involve more stops by existing trains (presumably First Great Western’s Cardiff services and Southern’s Victoria services, since the Brighton trains are planned to run in an anti-clockwise circle west of Fareham). The route is notable for having three operators, which impedes the development of integrated services.

(6) Proposals to increase the speed of rail services between Guildford and Havant (on the Waterloo-Portsmouth main line) are welcome, as research by Passenger Focus recently found SWT’s service on the line ranked as 76th best out of 77 routes nationally. There is therefore huge scope for improvement. Current schedules are so slack that trains can make up 9 minutes between Waterloo and Guildford, whilst rolling stock is cramped and unsuited to longer-distance working.

(7) It seems inevitable that public transport will be concentrated on the city centres, ports and airport. However, there may be scope for limited inter-urban bus services to increase access to employment and reduce road traffic across Southampton, for example Hythe-Totton-Romsey-Chandlers Ford-Eastleigh.

(8) The number of bus and train operators in South Hampshire is a serious impediment to achieving an integrated public transport system. The operators range from ambitious (Bluestar Buses and Southern Trains) to indifferent and solely profit-motivated (Stagecoach Buses and South West Trains). Priority needs to be given to integrated services and an inter-available smart card for all forms of transport.

In brief

Our timetable layout suggestion accepted

Network Rail and First Great Western have agreed our suggested changes to Table 123 in the National Timetable. Direct trains between Sussex/Hampshire/Wiltshire and Gloucestershire/Worcestershire will be shown as such, and footnotes will give clearer information on connections between the South Coast and West of England.

‘Stagecoach’ book available in kindle

A kindle version of Christian Wolmar’s book is now available. This is an absorbing account of the early years of the transport operator which found itself condemned and ridiculed in the World in Action’s 1996 ‘Cowboy Country’ documentary, which the High Court, on public interest grounds, refused to block. See www.christianwolmar.co.uk.

New Forest bus tours

The successful New Forest tour buses are scheduled to run this year from 29 June to 15 September. The new third route will start at Brockenhurst and run in a circle via Lymington, Milford-on-Sea, Barton-on-Sea, New Milton, Holmesley and Burley.

Marchwood bus wars

First Group has announced that Route 11 (Southampton-Marchwood-Hythe) will cease on 26 May. The service was introduced after Bluestar withdrew Sunday and evening services via Marchwood and reduced daytime services to hourly. Since First’s intervention, Marchwood has enjoyed up to three buses an hour on weekdays, and two on Sundays. The uncertainty which Marchwood residents have endured hardly encourages them to travel by bus.

Southampton Central toilets

The turnstile toilet gates at Southampton Central had still not been brought into use at Easter. Whether this is because of the Daily Echo’s report, last autumn, that other operators do not charge, or because Stagecoach is nervous of upsetting its passengers even more, is anyone’s guess.

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. The 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 (denis@fryer1491.fsnet.co.uk).

Contents of website [www.shrug info]

Our quarterly newsletters from December 2002 are on our website. These include Part 2 of recent issues, which provide daily reports of how SWT is increasingly run for operational convenience as performance deteriorates. Also provided are: contact details of some government and transport bodies and the media, and a mission statement with a history of our activities.

Some of our principal initiatives, and where to find them:

Memorandum 12 in Volume II of the former House of Commons Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee’s report “Passenger Rail Franchising and the Future of Railway Infrastructure”. [Hogrider No. 91]

Contribution to the Labour Government’s ‘Big Conversation’. [Discrete document]

Memorandum 1 in the Transport Committee's report "Passenger Rail Franchising". [Hogrider No.110]

Response to the Department for Transport’s consultation on Penalty Fares. [Hogrider No.126, Part 1]

Response to the Department for Transport’s informal consultation on the Future of Rail Franchising. [Hogrider No.127, Part 2]

Response to the Department for Transport’s formal consultation on the Future of Rail Franchising. [Discrete document]

Response to the Department for Transport’s consultation on Replacement of the Great Western franchise. [Hogrider No.134, Part 1]

Response to the Department for Transport’s consultation on Fares and Ticketing [Hogrider No.135, Part 1]

Response to the Department for Transport’s consultation on De-Centralisation. [Hogrider 135, Part 1]

Response to the Department for Transport’s consultation on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise. [Hogrider No.136, Part 1]

Submission to Richard Brown’s Review of Franchising. This was framed around our History of South West Trains because of time constraints. [See the third edition of the History] 1