South Hampshire Rail Users’ Gazette [Hog Rider]
Issue No 150, Mid-January to Mid-April 2016

This newsletter contains evidence-based reports, research, analysis and discussion from the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group [SHRUG]. A History of South West Trains under the Stagecoach yoke, with almost 200 source references, is on our website [www.shrug.info].

SWT re-franchising – Smell a rat?

When Stagecoach Chairman Brian Souter said, “Ethics are not irrelevant, but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed”, he meant it:
Shopping mallPrivate Retail OutletDevelopment siteWithheld£11,000,000Deception Distortion Distraction
Southampton bus station after Stagecoach sold it for big profit.Southampton’s busy rail travel centre after Stagecoach’s aggressive bid for current SWT franchise.Manston Airport after Stagecoach co-founder disposed of it for huge profit, contrary to the PM’s wishes.2-year SWT franchise extension after Stagecoach rejected customer service improvements.Tax recovered after deliberate avoidance by Stagecoach.Stagecoach’s PR in its claim for the next SWT franchise. (See below)

Asset-stripping, tax-avoiding Stagecoach has missed its peak punctuality targets on SWT over 52 weeks. It only occasionally meets one of these targets in individual 4-weekly periods.

Stagecoach’s passenger satisfaction rating for SWT, in Transport Focus’ six-monthly independent surveys, has slipped by 6 per cent over five years. That’s 13,800,000 more unsatisfactory passenger journeys annually.

SWT has mysteriously acquired three new, very low, targets which it has met easily. It claims this resulted from ‘independent surveys’, and that the targets were agreed by DfT, although the latter purports to want a ‘world class’ railway for Britain.

Coincidentally, SWT’s Passenger Panel (whose members, some of them recently recruited with the generous perk of free season tickets, have always avoided any serious criticism of the operator) states that it undertakes ‘independent research’.


Shouldn’t Stagecoach be a non-runner for a further franchise after its attempt to avoid £11m tax, and asset stripping of Manston Airport by director and co-founder Ann Gloag? Once again Stagecoach attempts to win public support for a further SWT franchise through deception, distortion and distraction, jumping the gun with a ‘dodgy dossier’ Customer Report.

Historic Stagecoach deceptions, distortions and distractions

Aggressive bidding by Stagecoach distorting competition?

Dodgy dossier – SWT Customer Report

Dumbed-down targets which even Stagecoach can meet

SWT’s not-so-independent Passengers Panel

Corruption of Transport Focus' data

Top priority for passengers sidestepped

Misrepresentation of timetable

Hounslow Community Rail Partnership over-glossed

Initiatives by the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group to expose SWT’s dodgy dossier, and past deceptions, distortions and distractions

Dodgy dossier - Report from SWT’s Passenger Panel

Webchat transcript which shames SWT is swept under the carpet

SWT’s non-awards as First’s Great Western excels

Shouldn’t Stagecoach be a non-runner for a further franchise after its attempt to avoid £11m tax, and asset stripping of Manston Airport by director and co-founder Ann Gloag?

Massive and deliberate cheating on tax

[Source: The Times 9.3.2016] “Stagecoach the bus and train operator, has lost an £11 million legal battle over a tax avoidance scheme.

The company, which was co-founded by Sir Brian Souter, the Scottish billionaire and SNP donor, tried to reduce its 2010-11 tax liability by “artificially creating a loss”, Revenue and Customs said.

Stagecoach paid KPMG, the accountants, to carry out a “tax-efficient recapitalisation” of ones of its subsidiaries, a tribunal heard. The tribunal ruled that the tax advantage sought by the company was “not merely incidental” but rather a “significant feature of the decision making process.” The scheme involved moving money between subsidiaries within Stagecoach to create losses in one company, while avoiding corresponding gains in others.

“This is a significant victory and should serve as a warning to those tempted by tax avoidance: it simply does not work,” said David Gauke, the financial secretary to the Treasury. “We have put in place the lowest rate of corporation tax G7 [group of leading economies] but we are absolutely clear that every penny of it will be paid.”

Jim Harra, the Revenue’s director-general of business tax, said: “This was clear tax avoidance. It was an attempt to manufacture losses to deny the public purse the tax due.”

Manston Airport: Defying the Prime Minister and public opinion

[Source: The Canterbury Times 15.10.2014 and website]

“Ann Gloag has made buffoons of the politicians and fools of us all. Small wonder she declines media interviews. Who would want to be reminded of promises on purchasing an airport when they’ve just turned a pound into £24 million. Thanet District Council’s inquiry into a compulsory purchase order of the airport and the MPs’ assurances of the prime minister’s support look laughable. Only this is serious. And lessons must be learned."

Herne Bay MP Sir Roger Gale claimed he was "misled” by Mrs Gloag, who told him she would operate the airport for at least two years and invest heavily. Speaking at a meeting of the Transport Select Committee in Westminster, he said: “I believe now that I was seriously misled. Mrs Gloag had no intention of running this as an airport and every intention of turning it into an asset stripping operation.”

Once again Stagecoach attempts to win public support for a further SWT franchise through deception, distortion and distraction, jumping the gun with a ‘dodgy dossier’ Customer Report.

* SWT hasn't met its peak-time punctuality targets over 52 weeks, letting down huge numbers of commuters:  

South West Trains Charter Standards Performance 4 weeks to 6 FebruaryAverage performance 52 weeks to 6 February Season ticket discount threshold

Punctuality: Percentage of peak hour trains arriving at destinations within five minutes of scheduled time (Monday to Friday).
Reliability: Percentage of the advertised train service actually operated (Monday to Friday all day).

* Transport Focus' most recent statistics show that the number of passengers satisfied overall with their most recent journey on SWT has fallen from 87% to 81% over five years.

At current levels of demand, that's an increase of 13.8 million more dissatisfied passengers, and 43.7 million in total, annually.

* The Evening Standard of 2.3.2016 reported that 2,248 SWT trains missed scheduled stops for operational convenience in the second quarter of 2015-16. This was less than 2% better than the figure of 2,284 in the corresponding period of 2014-15, suggesting that significant improvement is years away.

This practice makes people late for work unnecessarily, causes them to miss important meetings and examinations, leads to childcare problems, disrupts their lives generally, causes consternation or distress for more vulnerable people, and impacts seriously on wheelchair users. It also means that, counter-intuitively, the earlier passengers travel, the more likely they are to be delayed, because missing stops is designed to help get trains into place for punctual departures on later services.

* Stagecoach's two founders jointly own 149 million shares in their company and enjoy a steadily increasing fortune which now exceeds £1 billion.

Against this background of operational failures and rising wealth, the need to win passengers' support for another Stagecoach franchise, by whatever means, is obvious, especially as Secretaries of State from John Prescott to Patrick McLoughlin have declared that stakeholders' views should be taken into account when franchises are awarded.

Historic Stagecoach deceptions, distortions and distractions

* SWT Managing Director, Andrew Haines, publicised a £3.5 billion range of service and infrastructure improvements which were to be part of Stagecoach's bid for a second SWT franchise and “offer real benefits for the people of Southampton” (Daily Echo 6.2.2001). After the franchise was awarded, Stagecoach's Head of Rail, Graham Eccles, proclaimed that “For the big PR hit, what you do is add up guaranteed outputs, the primary aspirations and the secondary aspirations, and then you shout loudly” (Rail Professional May 2001).

* After being selected for the second franchise term, Stagecoach's performance remained so poor that the term was cut from 20 years to three, and almost all the expected enhancements were abandoned, except a reduced order for new carriages. SWT was subsequently censured by the Advertising Standards Authority, following a complaint by the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group that its leaflets were falsely claiming the investment committed under the new franchise was “billions”. The Telegraph later (23.9.2006) commented that this was the franchise deal which “pulled the company out of reverse gear, since when the shares have trebled in value. It turned out to be a licence to print money.”

* In September 2004, with the third franchise competition imminent, Stagecoach announced it was to spend £750,000 on cinema, TV and newspaper advertisements telling the public how good it was, despite official statistics showing that its performance from April to June had been the worst of the ten operators serving London (Evening Standard 27.9.2004). The advertisements would promote its new trains but not refer to performance.

* In 2006, the year that the third (current) franchise was to be decided, SWT issued a tenth anniversary press release, claiming: “When we took over in 1996 the first few years were by far the hardest, but we put our heart and soul into delivering a railway to be proud of”. Stagecoach won the further franchise and in Rail News, December 2010 issue, Mr Souter wrote: “When we first took over South West Trains in 1996, we treated it like a bus company. Our reduction in the number of drivers and the resulting disruption scared us skinny".

* After the third franchise was awarded, SWT's on-line poll showed that 30% approved. Extant computer records confirm that this was copied on 16.12.2006. Almost simultaneously, a new edition of SWT's former 'e-motion' magazine reported the score as 61%, with its 'independent' Passengers Panel stating that there was no doubt a 'huge majority' welcomed the award.

Interesting thought from Nick Cohen, on the Guardian website: “Lies take time to unpick, and by the time your accusers have finished unpicking them, the bored audience has clicked on to another screen.”

Aggressive bidding by Stagecoach distorting competition?

There are only two bidders for the next SWT franchise, Stagecoach and First Group. Such an outcome is presumably unintended. The Transport Committee’s 2006 report on franchising (pages 17-18) stated that the "The intention is for three to five bidders to be pre-qualified and submit full bids".

The cost of mounting a franchise bid has been reported as several million pounds. Potential operators will know that, last time, Stagecoach outbid its rivals by £600 million. It then took the 120 best carriages off lease, closed travel centres, slashed or downgraded services at a number of substantial towns, and introduced a savage penalty fares regime, issuing a leaflet to make clear that innocent mistakes would be punished. Its payments to government still needed to be heavily rebated. Such aggressive opposition would surely deter most competitors from trying again.

History looks to be repeating. On 14.3.2016, Digital look reported that Stagecoach was under pressure after HSBC downgraded the stock to ‘reduce’ from ‘hold’ and cut the price target to 240p from 295p, noting the third quarter trading update showed up potential weakness in the East Coast franchise [which, until a year ago, was flourishing in the public sector]. HSBC considered that East Coast was “a franchise that was won on aggressive terms and we think that, just one year in, Stagecoach is already falling behind its targets.”

Stagecoach shares have now fallen far behind those of National Express, which it once tried to take over.

Dodgy dossier – SWT Customer Report

Stagecoach is already behaving as though it has won a further SWT franchise. Paragraph 6.26 of the Department for Transport’s recent Stakeholder Consultation, headed 'Customer Report', stated that "The franchisee may be required to produce a regular report, setting out its commitments to customers, its targets and performance against these targets'.

Even before the consultation period had ended, SWT placed Issue 1 of a colourful, 16- page A4-sized 'Customer Report' leaflet, called ‘Track South West’, on its website, which then appeared in bulk on stations and trains. Rival First Group can't do this, of course, as it is not the incumbent operator, so jumping the gun in this way appears grossly unfair.

The leaflet is worryingly short on reality. It hardly reflects Stagecoach's recent failure to win a two-year extension of the current SWT franchise for failing to sign up to a few customer service improvements.

Nor does its positive talk of increased capacity reflect the fact that Stagecoach helped create overcrowding, through the order for new Desiro trains being cut from 785 to 665 carriages when its second franchise was cut from 20 years to 3 for appalling performance, and through a further 120 class 442 carriages being taken off lease after the third franchise term was won by seriously over-aggressive bidding.

Nonetheless, the leaflet states: "We are absolutely committed to being open and honest with our passengers and stakeholders so we can continue to improve all parts of our service".

Really? Stagecoach's principal interest appears to be in mitigating perceptions of its falling satisfaction ratings. Hopefully, this was not DfT's intended purpose for a Customer Report.

Dumbed-down targets which even Stagecoach can meet

New, very low, targets for 'Customer effort', 'Net promoter' and 'Customer satisfaction', strategically placed at the very end of the Customer Report leaflet, are shown as having been easily surpassed. The small print states that they were agreed with the Department for Transport and based on ‘independent surveys with passengers’. The scores do not state who produced them, how the research was carried out, or how large the samples were. They therefore appear to be statistically invalid.

Methodology and presentation are all-important. On 28 January, SWT placed a news item on its website, stating among other things that it had "improved or maintained results in 30 out of 37 categories in Transport Focus report". TF itself stated that the only significantly improved results since its previous report were for the provision of shelters (67% satisfaction) and the value for money of tickets (40% satisfaction).

The new targets:

Customer Effort Score - a score between one and five for how easy passengers find completing a transaction with SWT (the lower the score, the lower the effort required). Target 2.5, score 1.52.

If one passenger finds a ticket machine difficult to use and another finds a different machine easier, the first passenger’s poor experience is presumably supposed to be mitigated by that of the second passenger. That seems singularly unhelpful when Stagecoach is bent on issuing penalty fares for any mistake in ticket purchase.

Net Promoter Score - a percentage score on whether a passenger would recommend SWT to their friends and family. Target 40%, score 50%.

Recommendation will presumably depend on the passenger’s own satisfaction level, so it appears superfluous to have a separate score.

Customer satisfaction score - a percentage score on how satisfied a passenger is with their journey on SWT. Target 65%, score 73%.

Interestingly, the latest, genuinely independent, customer satisfaction score for Which? is much lower at 51%.

If the targets are reviewed every year, why have passengers not been told of them before? And would DfT agree such low targets when its website states: "Our vision is to provide world class train services that drive economic growth and exceed passenger expectations".

Just suppose that DfT did agree the new targets and scores, allowing Stagecoach to show itself in a more favourable light, as unlikely as that seems… Paragraph 6.20 of its Stakeholder Consultation stated: "Delivering excellence in service is a key element of Rail Executive's approach to the new franchise". and "We expect that improved quality will be offered to customers as a result of the bid evaluation process which will be defined as part of the specification and set out in the Invitation to Tender". If Stagecoach were helped to win a new franchise by surpassing very low DfT targets, as a proxy for ‘excellence in service’ even before the consultation period ended, would this not be a case of rank impartiality, handing First Group grounds for a legal challenge?

Would DfT unfairly favour Stagecoach, an operator widely hated by commuters? There is a kind of rationale for such risk-taking. The proposed 2-year extension of the current SWT franchise would very conveniently have covered a period of major infrastructure work at Waterloo. Stagecoach lost the extension, apparently by overstepping the mark on its How much can we take, how little need we give? ethos (which is very evident in our History of SWT). In the appalling event of Stagecoach winning another franchise term, expect to hear much about the benefits of management continuity.

SWT’s not-so-independent Passengers Panel

As the Customer Report states that the scoring for the new targets comes from ‘independent surveys with passengers’, we may reasonably ask which 'independent' body did the scoring? Otherwise, where is the ‘transparency’ which government always promises?

SWT's Passenger Panel could well be the ‘independent’ body. SWT is forever insisting it is independent, despite its having been tightly controlled for much of its existence by a Stagecoach director. In 2015 its website was static for many months during ‘re-organisation’, and it can now be contacted only via SWT's Customer Services. SWT has recruited a significant proportion of new members with the not inconsiderable inducement of free season tickets. SWT’s website states that the Panel’s recent activities include ‘independent research’.

During bidding for the current franchise, the ‘independent’ Panel placed some unlikely FAQs in SWT's former e-motion magazine, including: “I think that South West Trains has done a pretty good job recently and deserves a new franchise, and I’m not alone in this. Before all of you at the Panel groan and consign my letter to the waste-paper basket as just a note from another sycophant, let me hasten to add that there are a number of my fellow passengers who would not agree, which is exactly why I am writing. What can the ordinary passenger do to make his or her views heard by whoever awards the new franchises?”

How independent can a body supposed to represent the voice of passengers get?

Extraordinarily, on 18.4.2016, SWT tweeted the following. “Our Passenger Panel are an independent group of volunteers who represent you. You can read their latest report here: http://po.st/rsDOZq”. The link is to SWT’s own Customer Report.

Corruption of Transport Focus' data

The "Overall satisfaction of London and South East" in the Customer Report is highly misleading. This includes some wholly favourable comparisons with Transport Focus' Autumn 2015 ratings for South Eastern, Southern and Thameslink, all operated by Govia. What distinguishes these three franchises is that they are seriously affected by long-term major infrastructure work in one of their busiest traffic areas around London Bridge. Interestingly, also, is that the survey for Which? finds the differential in satisfaction levels between SWT and these other operators to be much smaller.

Transport Focus gives 'London and South East' a wider scope than the Customer Report. It additionally includes: Abellio Greater Anglia; C2C; Chiltern Railways; Gatwick Express; Great Northern; Great Western Railway; Heathrow Connect; Heathrow Express; London Midland; London Overground; and TfL Rail.

SWT’s position among train operating companies:

Overall passenger satisfaction

SWT’s Customer Report: Best of 4.
Transport Focus’ original data: Joint 10th best out of 15.

Punctuality and reliability

SWT’s Customer Report: Best of 4.
Transport Focus’ original data: 9th best out of 15.

Frequency of trains SWT’s Customer Report: Best of 4.
Transport Focus’ original data: Joint 9th best out of 15.

Satisfaction with ticket buying facilities

SWT’s Customer Report: Best of 4.
Transport Focus’ original data: 5th best out of 15.


Top priority for passengers sidestepped

Paragraph 2.37 of the Department for Transport's Stakeholder Consultation sets out Transport Focus' priorities for passengers. The top priority is that the price of the ticket should offer better value for money. SWT's score is 40%. Despite its operating problems, Southern scores 41%. In the ‘value for money’ scores, South West Trains is joint 11th best out of 15, and is again beaten by Great Western. The Customer Report is silent on this.

Stagecoach must be well aware that DfT's announcement of the current SWT franchise award "expected" that cheaper rates would be introduced for shoulder-peak commuters, and that it has failed to deliver. It must also be aware that it has phased out cheap off-peak fares over much of the South West Trains network. Sample peak/off-peak day return fares:

Southampton Central-Weymouth (63 miles) by Stagecoach’s SWT: £27.20/£27.00.
Southampton Central-Brighton (62 miles) by Govia’s Southern: £26.80/£15.40.

Misrepresentation of timetable

The Customer Report’s 'brand new timetable' from December 2015 is a risible claim. SWT operates nearly 1,700 trains a day. The December timetable includes just a handful of extra services. For example, the earliest train on the new service from Bruton and Frome to Waterloo reaches London at 19.50. Even Stagecoach lobbyist Barry Doe has questioned whether the new service is worthwhile. There is just one extra train each way between Waterloo and Southampton and none between Waterloo and Portsmouth.

Hounslow Community Rail Partnership over-glossed

From the Customer Report

"In November, we were proud to introduce London’s first ever Community Rail Partnership.

We have joined forces with the London Borough of Hounslow to create a Community Rail Partnership at Hounslow station to create a closer link between the railway and the local community it serves. Community Rail Partnerships aim to bring the local people and groups together, with the main aim of improving the look and feel of the station and the local environment. This helps to create a safer, more attractive station that local residents want to use. We are continuing to work with the London Borough of Hounslow and hope to introduce a further seven partnerships for each station between Hounslow and They will be jointly funded by South West Trains and London Borough of Hounslow."

From RAIL, Issue 794

"The enthusiasm shown by South West Trains in launching London's first Community Rail Partnership on the Hounslow 'loop' line will not be shared by local partners unless it is able to deliver any tangible benefits.

>From my experience, both as a daily commuter and as a representative of a local residents’ association in Isleworth, it has been an uphill struggle to achieve improvements. Despite regular contact with both the council and station managers, we have witnessed a ten-year battle to get anything done. Isleworth sadly remains a neglected station.

For example, damaged fencing around the embankments remains unrepaired, lights on the platforms and in the car park have been out of action for months, and gutters constantly overflow.

Only the dedicated cleansing team shows any enthusiasm for looking after the station, while Network Rail has yet to remove graffiti on the trackside and on an adjoining bridge.

A small local community victory in getting Sunday car parking charges abolished remains unpublicised, as do the half-hourly Sunday afternoon services introduced in December. Is it too much for SWT to publicise this at the station or on the local timetable?

A local councillor has set up a group to seek improvements at Isleworth, with a long shopping list produced by the local community with identified funding streams. Sadly nothing has so far been pledged or delivered by SWT, while Network Rail has yet to sign up as a partner. Given this situation, is it any wonder that the CRP bid is viewed locally with some scepticism?" Dominic West. Isleworth.

And this about Twickenham station, also on the Hounslow loop, by Christian Wolmar

"Journeys for disabled people are often far slower than for the able-bodied, because the equipment is so primitive. I watched as Alan was taken up on a platform lift from the platform at Twickenham - a station that incidentally is in a pretty shameful state, with grass growing on a ghastly corrugated roof despite the 'tarting up' for last year's Rugby World Cup."

Initiatives by the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group to expose SWT’s dodgy dossier, and past deceptions, distortions and distractions

Our Group has undertaken the following initiatives:

* Letter to the House of Commons’ Transport Committee.

* Complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA considered the complaint to be outside their jurisdiction, and suggested we submit it to the Office of Rail and Road instead. ORR presumably considered the matter had some substance, as they forwarded it to the DfT on our behalf.

* Letter to Dr Julian Lewis MP, who kindly forwarded it to Claire Perry’s office on our behalf. We were pleased to see that from the reply that our letter had been passed on to the relevant franchise competition team.

* Letter to the Chief Executive of First Group, which resulted in a friendly reply and constructive hour-long meeting with Colette Fowler from First to discuss our aspirations for a new franchise.

* The following letters from our Group’s co-ordinator have been published in the Daily Echo, Southampton’s local paper:

10 February 2016

"So First Group is Stagecoach's only rival for another South West Trains franchise. The Transport Committee's 2006 report on franchising said that the "The intention is for three to five bidders to be pre-qualified and submit full bids".

Potential operators will know that, last time, SWT outbid its rivals by £600 million. It then took the 120 best carriages off lease, closed travel centres, slashed services at stations such as Totton, and introduced a savage penalty fares regime, making clear that innocent mistakes would be punished.

Its payments to government still had to be heavily rebated.

Stagecoach's annual report shows that the two founders, whose wealth now exceeds £1 billion, own 149 million shares in their company, so I suspect opposition will again be smothered, at whatever cost to passengers.

SWT's website proclaims that its satisfaction scores have been maintained or improved in 30 out of 37 categories in Transport Focus' latest survey.

TF itself states that the only significantly improved scores are for the provision of shelters (67%) and the value for money of tickets (40%).

A leaflet states that 89.02% of SWT's services have run within five minutes of time in the past six months, but omits references to peak train punctuality being below charter standards over the past twelve months.

The leaflet admits that SWT's overall satisfaction rating has dropped from 87% to 81% over five years, but compares this with lower current scores for Southern, South Eastern and Thameslink.

These services are badly affected by infrastructure works at London Bridge, but other London and South East franchises have better ratings than SWT.

After the current franchise was awarded, SWT's on-line poll showed that 30% approved.

Its magazine reported 61%, and its 'independent' Passengers Panel stated that there was no doubt a 'huge majority' welcomed the award.

We've probably voted for Stagecoach again already."

23 March 2016

“After Stagecoach won the current South West Trains franchise, it issued a memo telling guards to treat passengers as fare dodgers even if they asked to buy a ticket and said they had queued for 15 minutes and could have missed their train.

The memo said that children must be penalised, including at weekends and bank holidays when cheaper fares were available. Guards must tell passengers they could be liable for an additional £20 on the spot fine and could be prosecuted for fare evasion.

The company told passengers, “We’ve produced a leaflet to help you make sure you don’t get caught out by accident and have to face the consequences…. Some people make costly mistakes about ticket types when they travel on our trains … Having an invalid ticket counts as having no ticket at all.”

Stagecoach then employed accountants to devise a tax avoidance scheme, and a tribunal recently ruled that it had to pay HMRC £11 million in arrears. The Revenue’s director-general of business tax said, “This was clear tax avoidance. It was an attempt to manufacture losses to deny the public purse the tax due.”

An announcement that Stagecoach will no longer be bidding for a further SWT franchise should be imminent.”

[Postscript: Since Stagecoach has not withdrawn its franchise bid, we must assume that it sees its tax evasion activity as acceptable within Brian Souter’s view that “ethics are not irrelevant though some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed”.]

* This newsletter will be copied to a number of South Hampshire MPs and placed on our website.

Dodgy dossier - Report from SWT’s Passenger Panel


The Passengers Panel’s website was static for a long period in 2015 and the Panel could not be contacted. A new chairman was appointed, and replacements were found for around half the members, with the considerable inducement of free season tickets. Passengers can now contact the Panel only via SWT’s Customer Services, which immediately raises questions about transparency.

With the advent of refranchising, the Panel has suddenly produced a report for the last year, with the following headline figures:

16 volunteer members (Are those receiving free season tickets really volunteers?)

611 pieces of correspondence answered (It’s the subjects of the letters which is of interest to passengers)

238 combined years of travelling on SWT

53 meetings attended (What kind of meetings? – the Panel aims to meet three times a year. Have the season ticket holders got time for one meeting per week?)

26 events attended (What are these events – have the season ticket holders got time for one event per fortnight on top of one meeting per week?)

37 mystery shops completed (Outcomes?)

1 franchise consultation completed (Given that the Panel is supposedly the voice of passengers, wouldn’t it be appropriate for them to publish their response, if only for the sake of transparency? The Chairman kindly sent us a copy, and it contains many good points, but steers clear of serious criticism of Stagecoach, saying that “The South Western franchise is wrestling with success”, when it is principally wrestling with the consequences of past failures and profiteering, which saw the Desiro fleet reduced by 120 carriages, and the withdrawal of 120 quality Wessex Electric carriages.

New Chairman’s preamble

New Chairman, Geoffrey Bicknell, asks:

Has the Panel been a success? We have been described as ‘the conscience of the company’ and ‘the grit in the oyster’. Using our position and proximity to the business, we endeavour to improve the quality of South West Trains’ decisions. We can make a difference!

Anyone can use pretentious phrases like that, yet they are subtly revealing. A conscience is a very internal thing and could scarcely be detached or independent. It’s also notable, though unremarkable, that SWT under Stagecoach is perceived to need a conscience.

Mr Bignell tells us that “Over the last 20 years there has been a significant improvement in punctuality and fewer cancelled trains”. That seems rather obvious, given Brian Souter’s statement that: “When we first took over South West Trains in 1996, we treated it like a bus company. Our reduction in the number of drivers and the resulting disruption scared us skinny". Mr Bicknell is silent on SWT’s current failure to meet its peak punctuality targets for more than a year, something that a true voice of passengers could reasonably be expected to highlight.

Mr Bicknell also tells us: “There are twice as many ‘fast’ Guildford to London trains, compared to the half-hourly service in the old days.” When Stagecoach took over in 1996, there was already a fast service between Waterloo and Guildford every 20 minutes on weekdays. These trains generally reached Portsmouth & Southsea in 82, 85, 98 minutes from Waterloo. Nowadays, there are effectively only two trains per hour from Waterloo to Portsmouth, because one overtakes another en route, and these take 88 and 92 minutes.

There has been a huge outcry from Portsmouth commuters, MPs, and local government and business representatives about the poor service and unsuitable rolling stock on this route, and even Ministers Claire Perry and Robert Goodwill have acknowledged the latter. Waterloo-Portsmouth is one of the few former InterCity routes in Britain where services have been severely downgraded. The Panel’s unpublicised response to the franchise consultation recognises some of this, so why doesn’t the widely distributed Customer Report?

Two uncontroversial issues on which the Panel has apparently had input are the need to improve WiFi on SWT trains, and design of a new SWT website. More interestingly, there is a section on the training of guards – a bit late given that Stagecoach has been running the franchise for over 20 years? We are told “The Passenger Panel also regularly attend the training days as guest speakers to give their candid views on what makes a good guard, and how they see the Guard’s pivotal role as customer service ambassador for South West Trains, the only London train operator with a Guard on every train.”

The ambassadorial role of guards has been familiar territory since 2011. A handful of stakeholders, including our Group’s co-ordinator, were invited to the Winchester meeting of the Panel on 15.2.2011. There was trenchant criticism from participants about the way SWT treats its passengers. Despite a hugely complex fares system, SWT apparently preferred to increase revenue by unreasonably applying penalty fares rather than by attracting more passengers through advertising. People whose first language was not English were noted as being particularly susceptible to SWT bullying.

A case was quoted of a passenger who arrived at Swanwick station just in time to board a Southern train. The guard said he could board and pay at the barriers at Southampton Central. SWT then imposed a penalty fare. Participants saw the incident as highlighting the friendlier approach of Southern, which encouraged people to use trains.

One participant remarked that the employment of extra commercial guards could pay for itself through increased fare collection; guards were the company’s ambassadors who could help build good customer relations. The only reference to this meeting on the Panel’s website was in the report of its May 2011 meeting: “At the previous Stakeholders’ meeting that the Panel held in Winchester it quickly became clear that the attitude of staff on the railway was a big factor in determining their level of satisfaction. As one visitor put it “your Guards are truly the Company’s ambassadors”.

So Mr Bicknell’s report relies on ‘in passing’ words someone used over five years ago, omitting the bit about needing guards to be ‘commercial’ and equipped to sell tickets, a passenger aspiration which often surfaces on Twitter.

The report ends with SWT Managing Director Christian Roth’s message that “The Passenger Panel are a prime example of how we are striving to put the customer at the heart of everything we do.”

Stagecoach’s prospectus for the current franchise, cynically titled ‘Building on Success’ similarly stated: “consultation lies at the heart of the Stagecoach approach”. Having won, Stagecoach created overcrowding by disposing of 120 modern carriages, closed busy travel centres, and introduced their abusive revenue protection scheme. Presumably Stagecoach sees putting people at the heart of things as a bit like putting taxpayers at the heart of all the tax it tries to evade.

Are guards and other staff really good ambassadors for Stagecoach?

If the UK’s ambassadors were like some SWT staff, the UK would probably be isolated in the world, if not at war. A few recent Tweets to SWT:

* So I turn up in my taxi and buy my ticket, £18.80. The woman takes my money and then after tells me that there's no trains today. I need get on replacement buses, which will take me 2 hours longer with 3 changes and half hour waits between buses. But that's fine, I then go to get on the bus and am told that I will not be able to go on this bus because my bag is "too big". So then I go back to the employee and ask what I should do and if I can have a refund. So thanks to South West Trains for leaving a vulnerable teenage girl stranded alone in Southampton today.

* On platform, doors open to let man in front on. Doors close in my face with a "no" from the guard. What did I do?!

* Train from Guildford to Woking 40 minutes late, then guard won't let us on connection to Fleet.

* Disgusted by SWT conductor this morning! Absolutely shocking. Can I have a number I can call please to discuss this further.

* 18.12 in station, driver and train manger chatting about fault. Loads of people on platform could have got on, they said ‘no’. High vis man come over and started saying calm down and talking over us, all the while we could have boarded.

* Told me I had jumped the train. He humiliated me without giving me the time to find my ticket.

* Three days in a row customers have complained about swearing to passengers. Still think you don't have a problem?

* Given up complaining about your rude, ignorant staff on the ticket desks. They all need to go on a customer service course!!!

* Don't appreciate being called a "posh twat" by staff representing you after I ask when your next bus is.

* Oh the joy of sitting in first class full of SWT employees banging on about HR issues and how to discipline staff.

* How do I go about complaining about your staff for ripping off a visibly distressed 18 year old girl?

* Sick of complaining to you. More terrible customer service from Guildford.

* Nice of the guard to not open the 8th coach at Syon lane and then drive off whilst people were trying to get off the 7th.

* Horrendous service to Weymouth. Your staff member has called me a liar. After I've spent over £100.

* The guard on the platform at Earlsfield station verbally abusing my wife and child for asking for help.

* Outraged at the way I was treated as a loyal SWT customer for many years.

* Your service is consistently below par, alongside your staff training on customer care, but I've always treated your staff with respect. Having simply asked a staff member a question shouldn't result in physical threats. Tonight shamed you but sadly I have no choice but to continue using your 'service'

* Q: What could affect someone's day so badly that they spend their lunchbreak writing a complaint? A: Rude staff at SWT ticket office.

* Just been served by the rudest man at SWT ticket office Waterloo. So glad I pay such an extortionate amount for this sub-level service.

* Please see previous tweets - awful service at Bookham, Surrey today.

* Just had terrible service at Gillingham Dorset from a very grumpy ticket officer! Not impressed!

* Driver just closed the doors while a blind guy was trying to get on. Real nice.

* Please tell your guards to wait until all passengers are on the train before they shut the doors. They just shut the doors on me!

* Just got unnecessarily shouted at by a female train guard on the 4pm from Chertsey to Weybridge. Unacceptable, really unhappy.

Earlier this year, SWT set up #SWT20, for passengers to share their memories of 20 years of operation by Stagecoach. Most responses referred to incidents of service that was particularly bad even by Stagecoach standards.

Is SWT an exception to Stagecoach staff conduct?

It might be tempting to wonder whether SWT suffers from being a remote British outpost of Perth-based Stagecoach. These newspaper reports give a clue to the answer:

“Ragecoach: Bus passengers revolt against Stagecoach's employee awards [Source: Irvine Herald 7.3.2016]

Stagecoach’s annual bid to find their best bus driver backfired in spectacular fashion this week. The bus firm had asked passengers and customers to nominate their favorite staff member for the company’s upcoming Customer Service Champions Award. But the response was more Ragecoach than Stagecoach as Irvine Herald readers shared their experiences on the buses.

Linzi Kennedy said: “I would like to nominate the driver who, when I handed him a tenner and apologised for having no change, shouted at me ‘do ye think I’m a f****** bank?’ in front of a packed bus.

Carmen Charlie Thomson added: “I would like the nominate the number 11 bus driver who drove away with the elderly woman’s stick wedged in between the doors at Kilwinning for the cruellest, sickest and revolting driver award! “All because the wee soul was taking too long to get on the bus, was clinging on to the railings waiting for a relative to pick her up!

John Dunlop, referring to our footage of an elderly man being told to leave a bus for eating chips from last year, said: “I would like to nominate the bus driver who took the auld guy who hud a bag of chips on his bus to the police station and demanded the police get him off the bus for the ‘how to be kind and show respect to yer elders’ award.”

Woman with Parkinson's Disease refused travel on Stagecoach bus and has pass confiscated [Source: BBC website 2.2.2016]

“A woman with very obvious signs of Parkinson's Disease was refused travel on a Stagecoach bus in Bristol, and had her disabled bus pass confiscated. She believes the driver may have thought she was drunk and had stolen the pass.”

Since Stagecoach Chairman Brian Souter considers it OK to spin convoluted jokes about disabled people in public speeches, this may provide him with a welcome joke. It's not clear whether the woman had cash to get home, but such considerations would seem unlikely to influence the ethics of Mr Souter, who reportedly treated himself to an £8 million property in Belgravia last year.

Webchat transcript which shames SWT is swept under the carpet

SWT’s bi-annual Webchat took place on Maundy Thursday afternoon, when many commuters were likely to be leaving work early or going away for the long weekend.

If this was a ruse to stifle interest, it failed. There were over 140 questions, which highlighted some intense dissatisfaction with Stagecoach’s operation of the franchise. SWT’s home page was immediately cleaned of all links to the event, unlike dozens of trivial ‘good news’ events which are archived over years. Previous Webchat transcripts have had prominent medium-term links maintained.

Sample Complaints

Q.25. Saw the mock-up of the new class 707 at Waterloo this morning. Unfortunately, there seems to be only one comfortable seat in the whole train - the one with a view ahead! Everyone else seems to have been provided with ironing boards instead. They look narrower than the ones on the 455s - surely you realise that not everyone has the proportions of Twiggy?

Q.32. Delay and Pay! Most other rail companies provide this. Why do you still refuse to? Most other companies provide compensation after a delay of 30 mins but you still insist on 60 mins and then do everything you can to not pay compensation. When are you going to start treating customers fairly?

Q.35. When is SWT going to sort out the reliability issues with its stock? I’m sure I am not the only person fed up with 4 carriage trains during the rush hour and the feeble excuse on the website “More trains than usual needing repairs at the same time”. Again this morning a train broke down at Leatherhead causing more delays and packed trains. It is simply not good enough.

Q.50. Your customer service centre is a joke. Despite submitting several queries to them over recent years, I have NEVER received a reply within the 20 work day SLA. The stats now reveal that only 48% of responses are dealt with in this timescale. You should be ashamed of this yet nothing ever improves.

Q.56. Why do you close more than one car park at the same time for expansion. Farnborough and Fleet being a recent case which is not yet resolved.

Q.71. What is the reason that South West Trains allocates less space to passengers than other train firms, including London Overground? 0.25sq m compared with 0.45sq m for most other TOCs. There must be a reason and I'm sure your passengers would like to know it. What effect does this smaller allocation have on overcrowding stats compared with other TOCs, please?

Q.86. The clocks on your train have been showing 00.00 for 5 months now. How can you not get these issues resolved in decent timescales?

Q.87. Will your staff kindly stop bullying us? No amount of whistle blowing will get us on the train any faster than we are already going. I can assure you that when we have already been waiting up to twenty minutes in the windswept leaky desolation that is Kingston station, we are even more desperate to get on the train (and join the scramble for the few seats available) as your staff seem to be to get it away again. But when we first have to let several dozen schoolkids off the train first, there is no point in blowing that whistle. As for closing the doors on people still trying to board (NOT last-minute arrivals but people who have been waiting for up to twenty minutes) please bear in mind that a train that arrives at Waterloo on time, but without the passengers who intended to use it, is completely pointless and a waste of resources.

Q.90. Your twitter feed seems to ignore most of the queries that are directed to it. This has got increasingly worse over time to the point where it defeats the object of the communications method. Compared to GWR and Southern twitter feeds, your version is very poor as it seems to go unmanned for hours on end. Why has this deteriorated so readily in recent weeks?

Q.99. Could you tell us why South West Trains has by far the worst record among all train operating companies for answering complaints within the targeted time? So far this year only around a quarter of complaints have been answered on time compared with results of more than 90% for most other commuter train operating companies. What precisely is the firm doing to improve those figures?

Q.112. The “wifi” you’ve installed on your trains is a disaster. It rarely works and when I have tried to contact the supplying company as per your website they never bother to reply either. I guess the standards your company sets daily have rubbed off on your suppliers. Totally pathetic.

Q.116. Why do you guards never bother keeping passengers informed of the reason for delays or ever even walk through the trains? They seem more intent on sitting in their cabins on their phones/ reading the paper than having any concern for their passengers.

Q.122. There are daily reports (no exaggeration) of abusive staff on Twitter alone. Some of these are 'just' rudeness, but some are staggering: aggression, sexism and homophobia directed towards passengers. I can provide copies.

1. It can't be the case that 100s of passengers are orchestrating a big lie. What's going on here?
2. Many reports are ignored, but the Twitter team sometimes say "This will be investigated". Yet, four years on, the reports are increasing in frequency. Why?
3. Would it not be appropriate to withdraw the poster which screenshots your Twitter feed and states "our staff are legends!" at least until you've weeded the more extreme members of staff out.
4. A second poster states "if anyone is caught verbally or physically abusing our staff we will press for the maximum penalties to be brought against them". Does this cut both ways?

Q.127. I would like an explanation as to why on earth you changed the delayed 7.43am from Worcester Park into a FAST non-stopping train into London Waterloo without telling a packed train full of people including school children who were scared as they couldn't get off at Wimbledon. The guard didn't say a single word, the train just sailed through every station to Waterloo. I get it’s to regulate the service but I was delayed to work by 45mins and I feel I should have some sort of gesture to YET again compensate for a delayed/cancelled train. I await your reply.

Q.128. Why are you hiding the levels of compensation you pay to passengers whereas other TOCs reveal this? What do you have to hide?

Q.137. "… and trust that in the coming months everyone will see improvements in the consistency and level of information they get during disruption." Why would you trust that? It hasn't happened in six years, so what's going to be different about whatever latest revamp you're planning now? You keep saying you want to do better, but you never actually DO better. Station and on-train staff still tuck tail and hide at the first sign of trouble; there still aren't clear, timely, intelligible announcements; and it's still faster to get info from one of the 19 online sources of information (lucky dip which one, of course) than it is on a station or God forbid a train.

Q.141. Do you honestly think that SW Trains is in a fit state to be considering tendering for a new franchise when the service, cleanliness, punctuality and satisfaction have all declined in the years you've been running this line? Isn't it time to admit you aren't up to it and give someone else a chance?


Flooding left hundreds of passengers queuing for hours in driving rain on 27.1.2016 when SWT failed to provide enough replacement buses from Southampton Airport Parkway. One elderly passenger commented that, "The lack of information is an absolute disgrace - nobody has been along the queue to tell us what is happening". Another passenger commented: "We feel a bit like cattle and I have had to pay a ridiculous amount of money for the train ticket. I could have bought flights abroad for that amount". [Source: Daily Echo 28.1.2016]

With SWT services at Chandlers Ford station so unreliable, Go Ahead’s Bluestar buses have introduced an arrangement whereby they will carry stranded passengers with rail tickets to Winchester or Southampton for a flat rate add-on of £2.

Letter in the Daily Echo, 20.1.2016 "I travel up and down to London each weekend and have done so for 20 years. I used to get the £5 upgrade on South West Trains. This has gone up to £10 from Fareham, it's £15 further afield. You get a slightly bigger seat but nothing else. A 100 per cent increase seems like a total rip off and SWT seems to have really screwed up a good deal. A family of four who had gotten on my train asked for the upgrade, they were told it has risen, and left. Not the most pressing issue I grant you, but seems a real shame that SWT are wilfully ripping us off. Private enterprise at its best. Scott Wilding. Southampton."

Letter in the Evening Standard, 22.1.2016 “South West Trains services from Chiswick to Waterloo have been a nightmare since the New Year. Regular breakdowns, signal failures and short trains are now the norm. How much longer do we have to put up with this? Julienne West."

SWT’s non-awards as First’s Great Western excels

Stagecoach made much of South West Trains and East Midlands Trains being short-listed for an award by the Institute of Customer Service, and a report even appeared in the Daily Echo. In the event, the two companies won precisely nothing, which went unreported. [Source: SWT's website and Daily Echo]. Meanwhile Great Western scooped top prize four times, and Southern three times, in the Rail Business Awards. Stagecoach scooped nothing. [Source: Railnews March 2016]

Another ‘brand new’ timetable? SWT’s proposed timetable additions and cuts from 15 May 2016


06.30 Haslemere-Waterloo to start from Petersfield at 06.12, calling at Liss (06.17) and Liphook (06.24).

2128 and 2228 Portsmouth Harbour-Havant axed.

21.58 and 22.58 Havant-Fareham axed.0550 Yeovil Junction-Waterloo to start from Yeovil Pen Mill (05.41).

15.50 Waterloo-Yeovil Pen Mill to terminate at Yeovil Junction.

18.33 Yeovil Pen Mill-Yeovil Junction axed.


08.50 and 09.50 Waterloo-Salisbury to call at Clapham Junction (08.57 and 09.57).

The following changes may apply on Saturdays and Bank Holiday Mondays until some date in September:

07.50 Waterloo-Salisbury to extend to Weymouth via Yeovil Junction, calling at Tisbury, Gillingham, Sherborne, Yeovil Junction, Yeovil Pen Mill, Maiden Newton, Dorchester West, Upwey and Weymouth.

18.47 Salisbury-Waterloo to start from Weymouth (16.56), calling at Dorchester West, Maiden Newton, Yeovil Pen Mill, Yeovil Junction, Sherborne, Templecombe, Gillingham and Tisbury.

Additional services:

1215 Weymouth-Yeovil Junction, calling at Upwey, Dorchester West, Maiden Newton, Chetnole (on request), Yetminster (on request), Thornford (on request), Yeovil Pen Mill and Yeovil Junction.

13.07 and 13.45 Yeovil Junction-Yeovil Pen Mill.

13.28 and 13.55 Yeovil Pen Mill-Yeovil Junction.

14.05 Yeovil Junction-Weymouth, calling at Yeovil Pen Mill, Thornford (on request), Yetminster (on request), Chetnole (on request), Maiden Newton, Dorchester West, Upwey and Weymouth.


17.45, 18.45 and 19.45 Waterloo-Salisbury to call at Andover (18.49, 19.49 and 20.49).

There are also several very minor changes proposed to services on the suburban and Reading routes. On June 18, the Weybridge-Virginia Water service to be replaced by buses and some Waterloo-Dorking services axed while additional trains serve Ascot.


Apologies for some small transcription errors in the illustrative service patterns on pages 16-17 of Issue 149. The version on our website is correct.

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).