Hogrider No 90 - December 2002
South Hampshire Rail Users' Group Newsletter


Hope at Christmas - SWT loses 20 year franchise
New class 444 units
Rail users' reports
Rail Passengers Committee meeting at Folkestone
Submission on rail capacity utilisation
Southern Daily Echo article 4/12/2002
Press review
Latest press items


  • Stagecoach loses 20-year SWT franchise as SRA tales first steps to honour the Deputy Prime Minister's promise that there is no room in the rail industry for the worst operators and the interests of rail users are paramount.

    Rail Passengers Committee member says SWT performance "unambiguously the worst".

    Lack of focus on customers punished, with only 1-year extension of current franchise and new 3-year franchise to 2007. The Evening Standard of 6/11/2002 quoted SRA Chairman, Richard Bowker, as saying the SWT agreement would mean the company focusing "on what matters to passengers - recovering performance to a level that passengers deserve and expect and the replacement of slam-door trains." But another 4 years of hell in prospect as our reports record abominable performance during Autumn.

  • Stagecoach's America coach operation in crisis. Shares dived as low as 10p. The Times of 24/10/2002 tells investors to avoid Stagecoach shares and bonds. Moody's credit rating agency reportedly reduces company to junk status.

  • Last Winter's strike misery following demotion of driver Greg Tucker. Tribunal reportedly finds SWT's evidence "incredible" / "risible" / "implausible, even absurd". Remember how passionately SWT presented the issue?

Hope at Christmas - SWT loses 20 year franchise

  • It appears that the SRA has started to heed Government policy and public opinion, and will no longer award long-term franchises in return for miserable failure. Nonetheless, many commuters remain fed up with the dreadful service of the kind recorded in our "Hogrider Reports for 2002". They feel uneasy that the threat made by Transport Secretary Stephen Byers (Evening Standard 6/6/02) to remove the expected 20-year SWT franchise extension from Stagecoach, because of the company's poor performance, has not yet resulted in another operator taking over.

  • Our Group's Memorandum, contained in the Transport Committee's report on franchising, highlighted Stagecoach's gung-ho approach to seeking a new franchise. We suggested that the lengths of franchises should be linked to committed outputs and not to remote aspirations cynically presented as firm commitments. The SRA now seems much closer to this position. We are immensely grateful to the Committee, and particularly their Chairman Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP, for publicising our views in their report.

  • With Chiltern awarded a new 20 year franchise, and SouthCentral 7 years, the 3 year franchise in prospect for SWT is inevitably being interpreted as a huge snub to Stagecoach. The troubles on SWT started about 6 years ago, when the company - following a successful franchise bid marginally below that of its rivals - disposed of many drivers and middle managers. This sequence may perhaps be seen as reflecting the philosophy of Stagecoach Chairman Brian Souter, when he said "Ethics are not irrelevant, but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed." Unfortunately, it marked the start of a slippery slope of unacceptable performance which has let down passengers and represented poor value for taxpayers.

  • To the passenger on the Clapham train, it may appear incredible that SWT's passenger face bigger fare increase than Chiltern's when the latter have enjoyed vastly better performance. The latest performance snapshots, as recorded in our rail users' reports, are a disgrace.

  • And at this time of goodwill, let us remember SWT's staff, many of whom are former BR employees, who have tried to maintain the public service ethos and often do commendably well, despite being in the front line when passengers display their anger at ongoing performance failures. Remember all that emotive language from a certain SWT Director writing about the demotion of driver Greg Tucker during last January's devastating strikes: "While I desperately want to save SWT passengers from disruption, I will never be blackmailed into sacrificing passenger safety (Southern Daily Echo, 8/1/2002)". An independent tribunal found that Mr Tucker was victimised, and dismissed SWT's evidence in robust terms - "incredible / risible / implausible, even absurd".

  • So, with Stagecoach being offered only a three-year franchise to 2007, a distant glimmer of light for SWT passengers. Perhaps we are now in the Severn Tunnel rather than the Channel Tunnel.

There are huge numbers of things people do every day to make the world a little better. We hope that the efforts of SHRUG members in sharing information and making Hogrider possible has achieved at least a minuscule difference. Remember the High Court's refusal to ban the World in Action programme "Cowboy Country" about Stagecoach? The modern world doesn't need cowboys.


New class 444 units

Expect lots of hype about the prospective class 444 units to replace slam-door stock on SWT's long- distance routes. Already we read in the Southern Daily Echo that the disabled toilets are bigger than the SWT head of public relations's old bedsit.

The hype could go on for a long time. It has been known for years that the third rail power supply is inadequate for some types of train - for this reason Connex South Eastern's new Electrostar fleet became a semi-permanent feature of a field of sidings at Ashford, Kent.

Now a member of the SRA (why not a member of SWT?) has been on TV to tell us that SWT's new units have the same problem and we can probably (ie. certainly) forget about the uncrashworthy slam-door trains being replaced by the end of 2004 as required by the Government.

Despite the Echo's article telling us that these trains will have pride of place at Southampton, SWT admits elsewhere that they are mainly for the Portsmouth route, because of their limited first-class and buffet facilities. The line from Waterloo to Weymouth will see the return of the Wessex Electric units previously transferred to the Portsmouth route.

Press review

Stagecoach slump

The difficulties of the company were widely reported. The Evening Standard of 4/12/2002 noted that Chairman Brian Souter "offered no apology for the colossal strategic misjudgment [in taking on Coach USA at a cost of 1.3 billion], instead announcing that he would take back his job as chief executive on a permanent basis". Stagecoach shares had fallen from around 284p at their height in 1998 to 10p in October 2002.

Shorter rail franchises

News of the SRA's revised approach to franchising broke on 6 November and was reported in most newspapers. Train operating companies are in future to concentrate on service delivery, and investment strategy will be for the SRA. Franchises will be for shorter periods, and SWT's for a very short period indeed, of just three years.

The Independent's Christian Wolmar asks, in his pages in 'Rail' magazine, what point there now is in franchising. [Quite. Franchising was supposed to bring what the Conservative Government considered the dynamism of the private sector. Put simply, many private operators have failed their passengers, which is presumably the view of the Prime Minister who has stated that rail privatisation has been a disaster. A few operators have tried hard and have established a good reputation, for example GNER, Anglia and Chiltern. Others seem to try hard but are resource-poor, while others appear just not to try.]

Victory for SWT driver Greg Tucker

Even the industry paper Rail News reported Mr Tucker's unfair dismissal by SWT with huge headlines. The tribunal reportedly said "We are clear that the sanctions imposed upon the applicant for what were minor infringements of the rules were entirely disproportionate to the gravity of the offence and when contrasted with a range of penalties usually applied by the company in such cases, exceptional".

Private Eye's 'Dr B. Ching" reported that SRA Chairman Richard Bowker waived the penalties which SWT should have paid for cancellations during the strikes because the situation wasn't management's fault. Dr Ching writes "Now an employment tribunal has ruled Tucker was wrongfully demoted after being singled out for his union activities. It dismissed much of SWT's evidence as "incredible", "risible" and "implausible, even absurd". One key witness appeared to give evidence "without regard for truth and solely with an eye to where the advantage lay". A separate tribunal found that SWT unfairly sacked another worker after accusing him of intimidation during the strike.

Dr Ching asks whether Mr Bowker will now revise his opinion of SWT management's innocence, and deduct from SWT's subsidy the fines he waived.

Rail fares

The Southern Daily Echo of 29/10/2002 reported that the Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England had said that hard-pressed commuters should not have to put up with above-inflation fare rises this year, noting that peak hour fares on services to London are already at least twice as high as peak hour fares in other parts of the country.

Sway and New Milton stations

The small village station at Sway has once again won a top station award, thanks in large measure to the efforts of the local railman. A letter published in the Lymington Times of 2/11/2002 drew attention to the neighbouring station of New Milton, which serves well over 20,000 residents and is described in the letter as a "depressing eyesore".

Netley line trains

A column in the Southern Daily Echo of 15/11/2002 portrays filth and discomfort associated with regular travel on SWT's Southampton-Portsmouth trains, described as "ancient, rickety, dust-infested."

Unfortunately, it's from a young student, probably not now a likely future rail user.

Southampton-London trains

The Editor of the Southern Daily Echo (in the edition of 22/11/2002) refers to being transported back 20 years on a late evening slam-door train from Waterloo to Southampton Airport Parkway. The train was "cold, dirty and shabby", and the delay in introducing replacement trains "shocking".

Inner suburban commuting

The Telegraph of 2/12/2002 reports the case of a City lawyer who, fed up with a 70 minute journey from Putney to St Paul's by SWT and the Underground, now runs in a time of 75 minutes.

Latest press items

Links to press items available on the internet. To view Telegraph articles, you must first register on the www.telegraph.co.uk site. Please email presslinks@shrug.info if any links no longer work.

Stagecoach counts cost of US folly Evening Standard 5/12/02

Let the train take the blame! Southern Daily Echo 4/12/02

Rail improvements in peril Evening Standard 4/12/02

'I ran to work and got there ahead of the train' Telegraph 2/12/02

South West Trains' new fleet is gearing up to grace the track Southern Daily Echo 30/11/02
They will only be used on a few services on the Waterloo-Weymouth link, where 14 year old Wessex Electrics with 36 year old motors are to return!

Route changes mean new monorail delay Portsmouth News 20/11/02

Train times they are a-changing Guardian 15/11/02

Poor train firms to be thrown off network Guardian 7/11/02

Rail franchises are cut to three years Evening Standard 6/11/02

Call to peg rail fare rises to inflation Southern Daily Echo 29/10/02

Trouble in US hurts Scottish bus firm Guardian 24/10/02