Hogrider No 91 - February 2003
South Hampshire Rail Users' Group Newsletter
Headlineswww.shrug.info - Hogrider goes electronic
The Group's Memorandum as published by the House of Commons Transport Committee
Rail Users’ Reports
Correspondence about SWT's customer service on 6th January
Virgin Trains Services
Costs out of control
Romsey-Chandlers Ford-Totton: Bad news?
A NEW COMMUNITY FACILITY FOR HAMPSHIRE RAIL USERS
If you are new to the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group, we would like to extend our wholehearted welcome to you.
Frequently asked questions
In 1992, with privatisation of the railways in prospect, the existing management of the South Western division of British Rail started to reduce the timetable to help them make a cheap franchise bid. Most semi-fast Waterloo-Poole trains lost their Totton stop even though Totton was considered Britain’s fastest-growing town. Unsympathetic replies to complaints led a group of London commuters from the town to set up "Totton Commuter News" a few pages of key points, issued about monthly, which could be sent to BR, the press, and local MPs and Councillors.
Interest grew beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. After two meetings with BR, the axed Totton stops were eventually restored and Totton also benefited from later services from London.
To increase participation, the Hampshire Rail Users’ Group (SHRUG) was formed in 1996, with a re-branded magazine "Hogrider" which draws its name from the "Hampshire Hog" tradition. Some 70 copies of Hogrider have been circulated free of charge, every two months. Long-distance commuters are notoriously short of time, especially as their journeys are so often disrupted, and the administration of a charging system would be beyond our time resources.
While we have been happy to provide Hogrider to key players and interested rail users, production costs have restricted growth. We estimate that, with allowance for sharing copies, several hundred readers see Hogrider, compared with a few dozen who had access to Totton Commuter News. However, the Group feels that not being able to share information with everyone is undemocratic. The railways are, after all, a public resource, massively funded by taxpayers, including rail travellers, generally.
Hence, we now offerwww.shrug.info, the result of extensive collaboration between members of the Group.
The Group’s underlying ambition is for better rail services and facilities in South Hampshire, especially on London commuter routes. Although several operators serve the area, passengers who use trains daily, and have their lives most affected by the service they receive, are concentrated on South West Trains’ services. In order to reflect this balance, the Group’s interests have a strong focus on SWT issues. It is very widely acknowledged that SWT has failed to deliver its promises to provide the standard of service which passengers have the right to expect. The company is generally at, or near the bottom of, official performance statistics.
Commuting can significantly affect the quality of personal, family and social life, and poor service can create stress and affect health. A Southampton-London commuter typically travels 36,000 miles a year to and from work, more than a third of a million miles over a decade. This represents something in the region of 13 hours a week on trains or 600 hours a year, equivalent to over 3½ weeks or 5 weeks of wakefulness. Many people travel even longer distances.
Commuting may not be desirable in itself, but the reality is that employment is heavily concentrated in the London area, and London property prices are beyond the reach of most people. It is likely to remain a feature of life in the South East, and some other areas of Britain, for the foreseeable future.
The Group is now widely recognised by the local press, the BBC and ITV, MPs and Councillors with an interest in public transport, the County Council, the Strategic Rail Authority, the Rail Passengers Council, the Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England, and the House of Commons Transport Committee. We have responded to a range of consultative exercises, had letters published in the Southern Daily Echo and Evening Standard, have participated in Radio 5 interviews and have featured on Meridian TV local news. In 2002 the Group had two complaints about SWT’s mis-representation of their franchise bid upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority.
A landmark in 2002 was publication of the Group’s 4-page Memorandum in the Transport Committee’s report on franchising. We outlined the misleading way in which SWT had presented their franchise bid and questioned whether train operators with appalling performance records should be granted long-term franchises at huge expense to taxpayers. If the money were directed straight into public sector provision, it is unthinkable that continuing failure on comparable scale would ever be tolerated.
The Memorandum closely reflected the standpoint of the Deputy Prime Minister, who had said that the interests of passengers were paramount and there was no room in the rail industry for the worst operators. Commuters received a glimmer of hope in November 2002, when the Strategic Rail Authority announced that SWT’s possible new franchise would be for 3 years rather than 20 as offered originally. The draft of our memorandum is reproduced in the electronic version of this Hogrider for the benefit of new readers.
How you can help:
The Group always needs ideas and information which can be disseminated to key official players to help promote increased understanding of what passengers want and the ways in which they fail to receive value for money. There are plenty of cold statistics in circulation but the facts behind the figures come to light, only intermittently, through the media. Please share your travel experiences with us, using thewww.shrug.info e’mail facility where possible. We will include your information in Hogrider wherever possible, whether or not you live in South Hampshire. We need a name and address to demonstrate that information is authentic, but will publish it only with your permission.
Tell other rail users aboutwww.shrug.info, tell your councillors, MP, election representatives, club, local magazine or newspaper. The more inclusive the Group’s activities can be, the greater our chances of promoting the quality of service for which people pay heavily as taxpayers and/or railusers.
In addition, the Commons Select Committee on Transport, Hampshire County Council, and some District or local Councils, conduct consultative exercises on transport issues from time to time and it is worth watching their websites. This can be democracy at its best.
It is probably fair to see that, as in 1992 when this venture started, the railways are at a critical point in their history. Two years ago the Government promised massive investment in rail to curb the growth of road travel (and its concomitant effects such as urban air pollution and, probably, the increasing incidence of asthma in children). Since then costs have spiralled out of control. The Strategic Rail Authority has suspended new rail freight grants for the coming year and passenger services are already being pruned. There is much at stake. If this website can generate even a modicum of additional public interest, the Group considers that the expense and effort involved in setting it up will have been justified.
Given that 6/11/2002, when the SRA made a major statement on passenger rail franchising, is a landmark date in rail history,www.shrug.info kicks off with an electronic version of Hogrider No 90, which focuses on that event.
Our Memorandum, published by the Commons Transport Committee
(Written late Summer 2001; published early Spring 2002)
NEW INQUIRY: PASSENGER RAIL FRANCHISING
MEMORANDUM ON BEHALF OF THE SOUTH HAMPSHIRE RAIL USERS’ GROUP
Long-term, stable but responsive, arrangements should be a prime goal in almost any area of government policy. They can maximise value from taxpayers’ investments and allow people to go about their lives with confidence in the future. Short-term contracts look anomalous against a ten-year transport plan. In the case of the railways, the long timescales for achieving change mean that such contracts may offer the operators little or no return from investment. Major financial contributions by the private sector therefore become unlikely.
However, huge amounts of public money have gone into the rail industry since privatisation, "fat cats" have been created, and in many areas of the country passengers get worse standards of service. It should by now be clear to all sides that things have gone badly wrong. A change of course looks inevitable, but the Government’s new thinking will prove right only if it can offer both an escape route from past mistakes and a clear strategy for the future. It would be unwise to reject short-term arrangements out of hand. Some rail companies have now agreed to significant improvements in return for short term extensions of their contracts.
The lessons of the past
The strengths of BR
Opinion sampling by the media suggests there are significant public aspirations for re-nationalisation. BR was perceived by many as bureaucratic, over-staffed and unresponsive, but it had many strengths:
The problems with privatisation
Re-franchising: what went wrong?
Re-franchising was supposed to procure big improvements for passengers through longer franchise contracts. Unfortunately, the exercise immediately followed two separate routes and derailed itself:
South West Trains re-franchising: passenger disillusion
"We in the Conservative Party were very happy at the way rail privatisation was going – new investment, new ideas, new services. … SWT instantly unwound all that. It was so obviously to the disadvantage of passengers, and so clearly an act committed by a private company. It left a bad taste instantly in people’s mouths about SWT. Even now, the intelligent non-transport buff will remember SWT and it will take years to get SWT out of the political lexicon". (from the book "Stagecoach" by Christian Wolmar).
Remarkable chain of events after Stagecoach named preferred bidder for SWT
The announcement of Stagecoach as preferred bidder has been followed by a series of events which have further shaken passenger confidence in re-franchising:
Rail Users’ Reports
7-9/12/02 Duff customer help point at Totton station talking to itself at frequent intervals.
8/12/02 Passengers on the diverted 17.30 Waterloo-Weymouth didn’t manage to alight at Fareham due to difficulty in determining whether they were in the front 5 coaches. Hogrider suggested years ago that each Wessex Electric unit should be allocated a letter which could appear on the inside of every external door, so that guards could tell passengers how to know where they were
9/12/02 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 20 minutes late, overheated and overcrowded. At 18.00 all mainline arrivals at Waterloo advertised as 5-10 minutes late. 18.05 Waterloo-Poole 8 minutes late by Totton; 18.50 half length with inevitable overcrowding; 19.50 nearly 15 minutes late.
10/12/02 06.00 Southampton-Poole 12 minutes late by Totton. 15.48 Weymouth-Waterloo 20 minutes late. 17.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo and 15.44 Exeter-Waterloo about 15 minutes late. 17.47 Basingstoke-Waterloo and 17.31 Alton-Waterloo about 10 minutes late. 18.35 Waterloo-Exeter finally announced at 18.40, but wrong platform given; front unit was presumably duff as it was the rear unit which was running beyond Salisbury. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole left at 19.07, and was 25 minutes late by Totton. On departure from Basingstoke the guard announced that the connection for the Hedge End/Fareham line would not be held.
11/12/02 12.45 Waterloo-Poole 10 minutes late at Southampton; 13.00 Waterloo-Wareham 8 minutes late.
12/12/02 14.45 Waterloo-Wareham arrived at Southampton over 20 minutes late; 15.00 Waterloo-Wareham was 16 minutes late. At 18.00, virtually all mainline arrivals into Waterloo 5-10 minutes late. 21.30 Waterloo-Bournemouth about 6 minutes late from the outset.
13/12/02 All mainline arrivals into Waterloo between 08.00 and 08.30 were 5-10 minutes late, except the 06.49 from Portsmouth which was cancelled. The cancellation left a huge gap in peak semi-fast services on the route. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole left at 18.56 due to late arrival of incoming train; was about 10 minutes late by Totton.
16/12/02 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth over 10 minutes late from Southampton. 16.01 from Portsmouth arrived at Waterloo 18 minutes late, at 18.05, to form the 18.05 to Poole. Eventually departed at 18.13. 16.17 Portsmouth-Waterloo delayed over 10 minutes.
17/12/02 13.48 Weymouth-Waterloo about 10 minutes late. 16.45 Waterloo-Poole stone cold. 18.05 Waterloo-Poole called additionally at Clapham, Farnborough and Fleet to cover for a failed train; horribly overcrowded and 15 minutes late by Totton.
18/12/02 07.52 Brockenhurst-Eastleigh left Southampton Central with an offside door only partly closed; it had presumably been like this at least since Millbrook where platform on opposite side. 15.45 Waterloo-Poole was 11 minutes late at Southampton. 16.00 was also 11 minutes late; just as it arrived, the 15.45 departed, despite supposedly providing a connection for stations to Brockenhurst. Having delayed passengers who missed their connection by over 30 minutes, the 15.45 stood at signals for the 16.00 to overtake.
19/12/02 Morning peak chaos in Fareham area due to train hitting an object. 06.10 Portsmouth-Waterloo via Eastleigh cancelled. 16.45 Waterloo-Poole comprised only 4 coaches, due to yet another train failure. It was announced both on the station and on the train that the service would run fast to Basingstoke. It became clear that this was an example of crowd control through misinformation when, immediately on departure, the guard announced that the train would make the normal calls at Clapham and Woking, but to pick up only. Train had a long delay at Eastleigh for the 17.15 from Waterloo to overtake. At Southampton, it in turn overtook the rear portion of the 17.15, reaching Totton 20 minutes late. 17.34 Wareham-Waterloo already 10 minutes late in the Southampton area.
20/12/02 Evening peak chaos at Waterloo due to emergency engineering work. Masses of people on concourse and difficult to get much information. 17.00 Waterloo-Yeovil cancelled; 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth called additionally at Basingstoke with horrific overcrowding; train was 10 minutes late in the Southampton area. 17.45 Waterloo-Weymouth left 5 minutes late; was nearly 25 minutes late by the Southampton area. 18.05 Waterloo-Poole and 18.30 Waterloo-Weymouth both 10-15 minutes late. 17.48 Weymouth-Waterloo 10 minutes late by Southampton.
23/12/02 06.26 Southampton-Yeovil started 8 minutes late. 17.45 Waterloo-Weymouth 10 minutes late by Southampton.
24/12/02 15.48 Weymouth-Waterloo and 16.00 Waterloo-Poole both 10 minutes late at Southampton; 15.45 Waterloo-Poole 8 minutes late. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole 8 minutes late.
16.10 Waterloo-Southampton 12 minutes late. 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth about 25 minutes late at Bournemouth; 16.45 Waterloo-Poole over 10 minutes late. 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth 18 minutes late at Southampton.
27/12/02 Reduced timetable but normal delays. 13.48 Weymouth-Waterloo and 13.45 Waterloo-Wareham about 10 minutes late at Southampton; 14.15 Waterloo-Weymouth 6 minutes late; 14.48 Weymouth-Waterloo 21 minutes late; 14.45 Waterloo-Wareham formed of old slam door stock and 23 minutes late.
30/12/02 13.00 Waterloo-Wareham and 13.30 Waterloo-Weymouth both nearly 10 minutes late at Southampton. 12.48 Weymouth-Waterloo 12 minutes late.
31/12/02 05.41 Poole-Waterloo, the first service of the day under a reduced timetable, formed of ancient Mark I coaches. People in leading coach segregated by a duff sliding door which couldn’t be moved even fractionally. 07.59 arrival at Waterloo from Hilsea about 10 minutes late, and 08.41 arrival from Exeter about 15 minutes late. 13.00 Waterloo-Wareham about 15 minutes late by Southampton; two-hourly connection for stations to Brockenhurst not held. 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth failed at Southampton; passengers not told for 30 minutes, and alternative Virgin and SouthCentral trains to Bournemouth overtook it. Passengers then told to transfer to the 16.45 from Waterloo. The guard of the 16.45 explained the long layover at Brockenhurst and said they should have been directed to the faster 17.00 from Waterloo. Asked the length of the train by a passenger going to one of the short-platform stations, the guard said 8 coaches when the correct answer was 12. Passengers on the 17.00 hadn’t heard any announcements about short platforms. A trapped passenger therefore activated the train alarm as the 17.00 departed from Christchurch. Overall effect of this chaos was that some passengers spent 1½ hours on the 30 minute journey from Southampton to Bournemouth.
2/1/03 SWT’s Customer Information System failed yet again, and was displaying duff information. Eventually switched off at Southampton Central at 06.45. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 10 minutes late at Southampton and 20 minutes late at Waterloo. 15.06 Poole-Waterloo about 12 minutes late; 15.34 Wareham-Waterloo about 8 minutes late.
6/1/03 06.00 Southampton-Poole started 22 minutes late as no guard available. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo about 15 minutes late by Southampton due to defective stock on the 05.00 Poole-Waterloo blocking Poole station. No heating in some coaches of the 05.42 on this bitterly cold morning, due to defective train unit. Passengers on the 06.10 Portsmouth-Fareham-Waterloo thrown off at Basingstoke without explanation. 15.00 Waterloo-Wareham 15 minutes late at Southampton. 16.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo 19 minutes late; 15.06 Poole-Waterloo, 16.15 Salisbury-Waterloo, 16.17 Portsmouth-Waterloo and 16.47 Basingstoke-Waterloo all about 10 minutes late. Delays blamed on an earlier train failure. 17.45 Waterloo-Weymouth left at 18.05. It crawled after Clapham; the guard announced that a preceding train had dislodged the live rail and that it would need to reverse. The 17.45 was one of two 10-coach Wessex Electric trains which were routed behind a totally failed class 458 train which had shed its pick-up shoes. The 458 service was delayed 3 hours. There was a loud bang beneath the 17.45 and it is believed that it hit a current pick-up shoe. The string of trains blocked the main down line at Esher. The 18.05 Waterloo-Poole left at 18.21 and was a full half hour late by Southampton. The 17.45 approached Southampton Central just two hours late, and was to run only as far as Bournemouth. The guard then suddenly announced that it would miss the stops at Totton and Sway "for the convenience of the greater majority of passengers". The time saving would have been about 4 minutes. Had passengers been told earlier, some would have been able to ring for relatives to meet them at Southampton. As it was, some 25 furious passengers were thrown off at Southampton Central at about 21.00. There was no alternative service for nearly an hour as the 18.05 from Waterloo had gone ahead, and the 18.50 Waterloo-Poole was 90 minutes late. Staff at Southampton claimed not to know about the problems of these passengers. The supervisor was notably absent, and barrier staff told people to look for him on platform 1. Some 20 people eventually found him and demanded taxis. There was a long line of taxis outside the station. However, SWT apparently has a contract with Radio Taxis, and passengers had to queue while one member of staff filled in taxi application forms and five others looked on. This caused a further 30 minutes’ delay.
7/1/03 06.11 Brockenhurst-Winchester reached Southampton on time and left 10 minutes late. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 15 minutes late; no reason given. Chaos on the Waterloo-Reading line; at 07.30 the 06.46 from Staines was still advertised there as expected to leave on time. 13.35 Plymouth-Waterloo about 25 minutes late. 15.54 Portsmouth-Fareham-Waterloo 11 minutes late. 17.00 Southampton-Waterloo over 20 minutes late. 16.49 Portsmouth-Waterloo 10 minutes late. 15.48 Weymouth-Waterloo 20 minutes late. 18.35 Waterloo-Exeter left at 18.56. 18.50 Waterloo- Poole left at 19.15; connection for the Hedge End line not held. The 18.50 was overtaken by the 19.15 Waterloo-Southampton at Eastleigh and was 33 minutes late by Totton. 20.07 Weymouth-Waterloo about 25 minutes late at Southampton.
8/1/03 SWT’s Website was non-available at 09.00 due to overload. Serious problems on the Alton line: 07.22 Farnham-Waterloo 40 minutes late; 07.25 Alton-Waterloo about 25 minutes late and 07.56 12 minutes late. No recognisable SWT service at Southampton Central in the afternoon: 11.45 Waterloo-Poole about 30 minutes late; 12.00 Waterloo-Wareham 50 minutes late; 12.15 Waterloo-Southampton 30 minutes late; 12.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 25 minutes late; 13.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 65 minutes late; 13.45 Waterloo-Poole over 25 minutes late; 14.00 Waterloo-Wareham 24 minutes late; 14.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 26 minutes late; 14.45 Waterloo-Wareham 18 minutes late; 15.00 Waterloo-Wareham about 20 minutes late and connection at Southampton for intermediate stations to Brockenhurst not honoured. 14.34 Wareham-Waterloo 6 minutes late; 14.48 Weymouth-Waterloo 15 minutes late; 16.00 Southampton-Waterloo 14 minutes late. 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth left at 16.50, arrived at Southampton about 30 minutes late and called additionally at New Milton, Christchurch and Pokesdown. Connection with the last service of the day for all stations to Brockenhurst not honoured. The 16.45 Waterloo-Poole was cancelled. 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth departed 5 minutes late and was 30 minutes late by Southampton. The 18.50 Waterloo-Poole was advertised at stations along the line as delayed without indication of how late it would be.
9/1/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo about 15 minutes late. 06.03 Weymouth-Waterloo and 06.26 Poole-Waterloo failed at Southampton. London passengers delayed a full hour as the next service (06.37 from Weymouth) was nearly 20 minutes late. Train failure at Winchester. 15.45 Waterloo-Poole 30 minutes late. 16.00 Waterloo-Poole 45 minutes late. 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 30 minutes late as on the previous evening. It called at New Milton again, but didn’t bother stopping at Christchurch or Pokesdown on this occasion. 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth left at 17.40 and was 37 minutes late at Southampton. 16.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo reduced from 8 coaches to 4; rear unit detached at Portsmouth "for safety reasons". This train forms the busy 18.05 Waterloo-Poole. Dreadful overcrowding on the Poole service and passengers stood or sat in their coats and scarves after the heating failed in the Basingstoke area.
10/1/03 17.00 Southampton-Waterloo 30 minutes late. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole formed of 8 ancient slam door coaches instead of the normal 10-coach Wessex Electric formation. Passengers in the front unit crammed into narrow outer-suburban seats with some still having to stand. Very difficult to find luggage space. The train arrived at Waterloo at 18.52 and left at 19.05. At Basingstoke the guard announced that the connection for the Fareham line would be held at Eastleigh. This simply enraged Fareham passengers when they arrived at Eastleigh and found it wasn’t there. The train was 19 minutes late by Southampton.
13/1/03 SWT’s customer information system appeared to have failed throughout the South Hampshire area. 05.34 Bournemouth-Waterloo 16 minutes late by Totton. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 12 minutes late and had no buffet service. 14.06 Poole-Waterloo cancelled. 14.48 Weymouth-Waterloo about 40 minutes late. Passengers at Waterloo still awaiting the front half of the 17.50 to Portsmouth at 18.10.
14/1/03 SWT’s customer information system still down. 05.39 Yeovil-Waterloo about 20 minutes late. Front portion of the 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth arrived at 17.15, and the train eventually departed at 17.25. So overcrowded that passengers were standing to Southampton Airport, so earlier cancellation suspected. Poole portion was 16 minutes late leaving Southampton.
15/1/03 16.50 Waterloo-Portsmouth cancelled due to duff rolling stock. 16.45 Waterloo-Poole failed at Woking; passengers thrown off. 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth/Poole called additionally at Woking and Basingstoke. Terrible overcrowding. The rear portion departed from Southampton leaving behind passengers with bikes. Both portions of the train about 18 minutes late by Bournemouth. 17.00 Waterloo-Yeovil 15 minutes late at Salisbury. 17.45 Waterloo-Weymouth about 7 minutes late at Southampton. Cars parked in short-stay bay at Southampton Central had notices saying the numbers had been taken and they would be clamped if found there again. The same notice was attached to a number of other cars which were correctly parked. Some angry commuters made a SWT Manager accompany them to the park to see what had been done.
16/1/03 Various evening trains 5-10 minutes late, including the 15.06 Poole-Waterloo, the 15.34 Wareham-Waterloo, the 16.25 Portsmouth-Waterloo, and the 18.30 Waterloo-Weymouth.
17/1/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo about 15 minutes late; no explanation. 18.35 Waterloo-Exeter left at 18.45. The two halves of the 18.50 Waterloo-Poole arrived very late at 18.45 and 18.49. The train departed 7 minutes late and had not made up any time by Southampton.
20/1/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 15 minutes late. 15.00 Waterloo-Wareham about 20 minutes late; 16.00 Waterloo-Poole about 15 minutes late. 18.05 Waterloo-Poole 8 minutes late at Totton. 15.06 Poole-Waterloo nearly 15 minutes late.
21/1/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 10 minutes late. Fatality at Earlsfield around midday. Afternoon services to and from Waterloo collapsed. Operations at the terminus seemed to be out of control; SWT changed their mind about rolling-stock allocation and passengers on the 17.15 to Weymouth had to alight when it turned into the 17.45. The 17.15 stopped additionally at Basingstoke and reached Southampton 36 minutes late. 13.35 Plymouth-Waterloo about 20 minutes late. 17.00 Southampton-Waterloo nearly 15 minutes late. 15.48 Weymouth-Waterloo cancelled. 18.35 Waterloo-Exeter left at 18.58. At that time a 10-coach Wessex Electric set was available for the 18.50 to Poole. Hard to believe that, some 7 hours after the fatality, SWT had no staff in place to run it. Chaos at Basingstoke because the summary screens were down. Passengers were going from platform to platform to see which trains were running. Unfortunately the subway and stairs were wet and slippery through rainwater. By a coincidence of convenience, the gents toilets on both platform 4 at Basingstoke and platform 4 at Southampton had ‘out of order, use facility on platform 1’ notices. Naturally all lifts were out of use due to the firemen’s strike. The 19.15 Waterloo-Southampton left Basingstoke at 20.16 (14 minutes late) alongside a near-punctual Virgin service. Both trains were for Winchester, Southampton Airport, Southampton Central, but naturally no extra stops were arranged for places like Eastleigh (significantly bigger population than Winchester). One young woman heard shouting on her mobile phone that SWT was totally without customer focus. So severe was the staff shortage that the 10-coach Wessex Electric unit at Waterloo formed the 19.30 to Weymouth, running about 15 minutes late at Southampton. The 18.50 Waterloo-Poole, formed of only 5 coaches, was way behind and 53 minutes late at Southampton. This meant the last train from Southampton to Cardiff was switched to platform 3. No announcement about the switch until 2 minutes after it had arrived.
22/1/03 21.50 Waterloo-Poole 20 minutes late at Southampton. 20.07 Weymouth-Waterloo 10 minutes late.
23/1/03 Thursday morning; details of timetable changes relating to major engineering works throughout the approaching weekend still not available at Totton station.
24/1/03 Very heavy frost but no heating on the 06.11 Brockenhurst-Winchester. At 18.45 virtually all mainline arrivals advertised at Waterloo as 5-15 minutes late. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole 7 minutes late by Totton.
26/1/03 Trains between Southampton and Waterloo diverted via Havant, Guildford and Effingham Junction. So massively inflated are Sunday schedules that the 06.53 Poole-Waterloo took less than 20 minutes longer than when it uses the direct route through Basingstoke. 19.30 Waterloo-Weymouth announced at Clapham Junction as stopping at Totton but it didn’t; toilets on the train in a squalid state with no water in the tanks. 21.36 stopping train to Bournemouth sat at Southampton until a delayed Virgin train pulled in at 21.43. It then left immediately so that passengers for places like Totton and Christchurch couldn’t transfer and had an hour’s wait for the next service.
27/1/03 At 09.00 most main line trains into Waterloo advertised as 5-10 minutes late. 06.03 from Weymouth over 15 minutes late.
28/1/03 The first two and a half coaches of the combined 06.03 from Weymouth and 06.26 from Poole overshot the platform at Southampton Airport. After reversal it was announced on the train that the brakes had failed; hundreds of commuters thrown off and typically reached London an hour late. 15.00 Waterloo-Wareham 19 minutes late at Southampton. Track circuit failure at Portsmouth and engineering work at Clapham Junction. Widespread delays and cancellations in the evening peak. Massive crush on the concourse at Waterloo. Two SWT revenue protection staff on each barrier but they were completely useless when asked about trains which would normally be at their platforms. 17.51 to Portsmouth left at 18.08. 15.49 and 16.01 from Portsmouth both around 40 minutes late. 18.05 to Poole left at 18.36 and was 35 minutes late by Totton; the old slam-door stock was horrifically overcrowded. The train had to make an additional stop at Basingstoke because some passengers had been wrongly informed that it stopped there. 18.30 to Weymouth was delayed behind. 18.50 to Poole about 25 minutes late. At 20.10 the 19.50 to Poole was advertised at stations down the line as "delayed" and presumably hadn’t yet departed.
29/1/03 Signalling problems at Vauxhall. 05.42 and 06.19 from Poole to Waterloo both about 20 minutes late. 15.06 Poole-Waterloo about 40 minutes late. 16.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo 18 minutes late; 16.17 about 15 minutes late. 16.15 Salisbury-Waterloo over 20 minutes late. 16.47 Basingstoke-Waterloo about 15 minutes late. 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth delayed by special stop at Surbiton; the inter-unit connection had dropped and access between the two units had to be locked out of use for safety reasons. 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth over 15 minutes late.
30/1/03 15.00 Waterloo-Wareham 30 minutes late "because a person injured". 15.10 Waterloo-Southampton 30 minutes late. 15.30 to Weymouth 13 minutes late into Southampton; 15.45 Waterloo-Poole 28 minutes late. 17.36 Waterloo-Basingstoke about 30 minutes late.
31/1/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo and 06.03 Weymouth-Waterloo 15 minutes late. 16.17 Portsmouth-Waterloo about 20 minutes late. 16.01 from Portsmouth arrived at Waterloo 17 minutes late, at 18.04, to form the 18.05 to Poole. One coach locked out of use due to a broken cab door. This meant many were standing on this ancient slam-door train. For the second evening in succession the guard announced that the service was arriving at Basingstoke and then had to apologise because it doesn’t stop there. The train came to an alarmingly sharp halt South of Basingstoke, where it was announced that the protection warning system had activated. Train about 25 minutes late by Totton.
3/2/03. 16.10 Waterloo-Southampton 20 minutes late and half length. 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 30 minutes late. At 18.00 most mainline arrivals into Waterloo 5-10 minutes late; the train at platform 14 was belching smoke and passengers had to alight. 18.00 Waterloo-Basingstoke cancelled due to duff rolling stock. The 18.05 to Poole therefore called additionally at Farnborough and Fleet; inhuman overcrowding with people squashed together throughout the gangways of the ancient slam-door coaches. The train departed from Southampton Central with a door in the second coach half open. Train was 8 minutes late at Totton.
4/2/03 Around 08.00, information boards at Waterloo showing a number of trains simply as "delayed", including the 06.10 from Portsmouth via Eastleigh. 15.48 Weymouth-Waterloo and 17.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo cancelled. 16.49 Portsmouth-Waterloo nearly 20 minutes late. 18.30 Waterloo-Weymouth only 5 coaches due to duff rolling stock. Such inhuman overcrowding that some passengers decided to await the 18.50 to Poole. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole only 5 coaches due to duff rolling stock. Inhuman overcrowding. Train nearly 10 minutes late by Southampton.
5/2/03 Huge disruption because Havant-Guildford line closed in the morning. 12.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 20 minutes late. 11.48 Weymouth-Waterloo, 13.15 Waterloo-Southampton and 13.30 Waterloo-Weymouth all around 15 minutes late. 15.15 Waterloo-Southampton 27 minutes late at Eastleigh. 16.00 Waterloo-Poole 20 minutes late at Southampton. 16.08 Eastleigh-Southampton cancelled.
6/2/03 16.45 Waterloo-Poole 20 minutes late. 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth 15 minutes late.
11/2/03 06.00 Southampton-Poole 14 minutes late. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 10 minutes late. 17.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo over 20 minutes late. Other mainline arrivals at Waterloo 5-10 minutes late around 19.00. 20.07 Weymouth-Waterloo 15 minutes late.
14/2/03 The 06.56 Brockenhurst-Southampton was so late that it was preceded by the 06.03 from Weymouth and 06.26 from Poole. Both these trains sailed past Ashurst commuters, who were severely delayed in getting to London.
15/2/03 Saturday engineering work closed the lines through Fareham. A passenger who previously rang the National Rail Enquiry Service had been told the service would be normal. A member of SWT's staff at Southampton Central told him "We don't always inform the national database of changes". One passenger expected to be an hour late to give a lecture in Havant. Another was seriously worried about being late for work in Portsmouth.
17/2/03 In two separate incidents, passengers in the second coach of the 05.42 Poole-Waterloo were lucky not to damage their backs when their seats collapsed under them. The train arrived at Waterloo at 08.34, over 30 minutes late, to form the 08.30 to Weymouth. This was due to a points failure at Weybridge. 15.06 Poole-Waterloo over 25 minutes late. 15.34 Wareham-Waterloo 10 minutes late.
18/2/03 17.45 Waterloo-Weymouth announced at Southampton Central as the train at platform 3; pity it was standing at platform 4 at the time. 20.30 Waterloo-Weymouth about 10 minutes late.
19/2/03 05.39 Yeovil-Waterloo failed at Salisbury. 15.45 Waterloo-Poole about 25 minutes late into Southampton. 16.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo cancelled due to duff rolling stock. 18.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 10 minutes late.
21/2/03 Huge evening delays at Waterloo. Concourse packed with commuters, and usual lack of information about platforms for departing trains. 15.54 from Portsmouth via Eastleigh, 17.00 from Southampton, 16.49 from Portsmouth, 15.48 from Weymouth, and 17.31 from Al;ton all about 30 minutes late. The 18.35 to Exeter left at 19.02. The two units for the 18.50 to Poole arrived at 19.13 and 19.15. The 18.50 left at 19.25, but delay at Woking to remove a woman without a ticket to an ambulance - makes a mockery of the hordes of revenue protection officers at Waterloo and the ticket gates at Clapham Junction! The train eventually reached Totton about 50 minutes late, with the screen showing the 19.50 as 14 minutes late.
Correspondence about SWT's "customer service" on 6th January
Letter from a Totton-Waterloo commuter to Mr Martin Howard, Customer Services Director, South West Trains
Dear Mr Howard 12 January 2003
17.45 DEPARTURE FROM WATERLOO 6 JANUARY 2003
Thank you for your letter, attached, about the above service disruption. You invited comments and I have many. As there is not sufficient space on the back of your letter my comments are set out below.
I enclose a photocopy of my annual season ticket. You will see that I commute between Totton and Waterloo. You will know that Totton lies between Brockenhurst and Southampton.
There have been countless occasions during the last 13 years when the service has been disrupted but this incident ranks among the worst. My comments cover not only the incident and the immediate after-effects but also the subsequent appalling treatment of more than 20 passengers like myself whose destination was Totton. This made an intolerable situation – your own words – far worse.
The 17.45 from Waterloo, on which I was a passenger on 6 January, was held up even before reaching Clapham Junction. Thereafter it crawled along until finally stopping near Esher. So, the problem with the train ahead, that lost its electrical pick up shoes was already known. Yet no announcement was made until the 17.45 got to Esher an hour or so later. More importantly, I have to ask why was the 17.45 allowed to proceed along the same track as the failed train? There were 2 or 3 places, from and including Claphanm Junction, where the 17.45 could have transferred to another track.
You admit that if the trains had been compatible they might have been coupled to move to a safe location. The problem of incompatible trains is not new. Train operators have had many years to put their minds to solving this. That said, I agree the only course of action was to back the 17.45 up to the Hampton Court cross-over and proceed on the slow track. By then other trains had overtaken us and so we were further delayed, eventually arriving at Southampton nearly 2 and a half hours late.
Just before Southampton it was announced that "Control had decided" the train would not stop at Totton but would proceed to Brockenhurst and Bournemouth. Totton passengers were told to "make themselves known to Southampton station staff". A fellow passenger queried this and was told it was for the benefit of the majority of passengers. My comment is that this is utter hogwash and twaddle. I would accept that trains need to be in the right place to start the next journey and that crews should not breach workings hours rules. Thus, the real reason was an operational matter, driven by financial motives, to suit South West Trains, which does not provide enough relief crew and train cover in such situations. But for Totton passengers – I think over 20 is a significant number – this was a further delay to an already intolerable journey.
As on previous occasions, no effort seems to have been made to establish the number of Totton passengers and warn the Southampton station staff in advance so that sufficient alternative transport could be ready on arrival there at platform 4. The only staff in sight were ticket inspectors at the barriers who said we needed to speak to the station supervisor. He eventually appeared and, along with other passengers for Totton, we made ourselves known. We were told to follow him to platform 1 to arrange for taxis. We were herded outside his office, on a cold night, while he wrote out forms for taxis. Until I queried the length of time being taken no explanation of the procedure was offered. Yet more delay to an already unsatisfactory situation.
There were taxis waiting outside the station but the station supervisor told us that those couldn’t be used because SWT has a contract with a firm of radio taxis. But he had not been given advance notice of the number of passengers involved, so no radio taxis were in sight. Even more delay. Eventually I shared a radio taxi with 3 other passengers, who lived at opposite ends of the Totton area, and got home after a journey lasting, not 2 hours, but 5 hours. Bearing in mind the pre-existing inconvenience, why are the Southampton staff not authorised to get passengers into the quickest available transport, ie. whatever taxis are immediately available?
The deliberate targeting of Totton passengers for inhumane treatment, on this and many previous occasions, has become wholly unacceptable and, it could be said, illegal. Had more information been given earlier at all stages I could have telephoned my wife to pick me up from Southampton. As it was, I had been led to believe that SWT would do everything possible to minimise the misery. Alas, that proved to be a false hope.
Suffice it to say that, for the umpteenth time, the evening meal was a disaster. The disruption to family life caused by SWT has become commonplace. I have not claimed compensation for delays in the past but the events of 6 January infuriated me. The incompetence of your organisation, avoidable in an era of new technology and advanced communication facilities, is totally unacceptable.
I wait to hear from you with a significant – and I mean significant, not just a token gesture – offer of compensation.
(name and address supplied)
Reply from one of SWT’s Customer Relations Officers
Dear 19 January 2003
Thank you for completing and returning the correspondence regarding the incident at Hersham on 06 January 2003.
An ongoing enquiry is not only investigating the causes for the raised conductor rail which lead [led?] to the train failure, but is also investigating the recovery process which resulted in many customers being severely delayed. The responses we have received from our customers are greatly helping with the investigations.
As we are aware that the circumstances experienced by customers who were on the failed train, and the two trapped behind could not be described as delays, [ "delay: stop, detain, or hinder for a time" Oxford pocket dictionary] we are treating these events as being above and beyond the terms of our Passengers Charter.
In view of your experiences I have enclosed £20.00 in Rail Vouchers [Why not cash?] which represents a refund of one days [day’s?] travel. These vouchers may be used for travel with any of the Train Operating Companies including purchases of Season Tickets.
Please accept my apologies for the delay and inconvenience you experienced during the incident at Hersham.
Second letter from the commuter
17.45 DEPARTURE FROM WATERLOO 6 JANUARY 2003
Dear Mr Howard 26 January 2003
I refer to your circulated letter, which was issued the day after the above incident. For easy reference I enclose a copy of that letter and my reply, dated 12 January addressed to you, although I doubt if you will have seen my letter personally before now.
Also enclosed is a copy of the Southampton Customer Service Centre response, dated 19 January, acknowledging that the events were above and beyond the Passengers Charter. Rail Vouchers worth £20, representing a refund of one day’s travel, were enclosed. That response makes no mention that I could expect to receive anything by way of full explanation, and further compensation, once the ongoing enquiry is complete.
I have to say that £20 in Rail Vouchers is a totally inadequate offer. It is derisory and disproportionate to the inconvenience caused. It singularly fails to deal with the matter of the repeated appalling treatment of Totton passengers like me. Why was Totton, a town of 30,000 people, deliberately omitted from the stops whereas Brockenhurst, with only 3,000 people, was included? It would have taken just a couple of minutes for the train to stop at Totton as scheduled.
My first letter made it clear that, given the circumstances and the lack of enthusiasm by SWT staff to expedite an end to my misery on 6 January, a token gesture of compensation would not be acceptable.
I wait to hear from you with a much better offer of compensation and, pending the full result of the inquiry, an explanation on the points raised in my letter.
Third letter from the commuter
Dear Mr Howard
17.45 DEPARTURE FROM WATERLOO 6 JANUARY 2003
21 February 2003
I refer to my letter to you dated 26 January 2003, enclosed for easy reference (with selected copies of the previous correspondence). I have not yet had a reply.
It seems that SWT and you, as its particular representative who admitted that the problems of the 6 January 2003 were unacceptable, are prepared to ignore the government statements that the interests of passengers would be paramount.
I should be grateful for your explanation of:
A copy of this letter goes to my Member of Parliament, Dr Julian Lewis, and to the Editor of Hogrider - the Journal of the South Hampshire Rail Users' Group (aptly nicknamed SHRUG, for what else can we do with our shoulders at such poor service from SWT?).
I look forward with interest - both intellectual and financial - to your reply.
Virgin Trains Services
When Virgin took over Cross Country services (which radiate from Birmingham) there was cause for optimism because Virgin is a respected brand name created by a popular businessman.
Passengers using the services from Bournemouth/Poole through Southampton to Birmingham, the North and Scotland soon benefited from refurbished trains. Virgin was prepared to introduce additional services where resources were available. It became the first operator to run more trains from South Hampshire on a Sunday (when there was spare track capacity) than on other days.
Cross Country is not an easy franchise operationally. Following the closure of many secondary routes, these trains cross from one London radial route to another. A train from Bournemouth to Newcastle shares tracks with services from Victoria, Waterloo, Paddington, Marylebone, Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross. And then there are the many local services and the vagaries of the British weather which can simultaneously be severe in one part of Britain and benign in another. Perhaps worst of all, the locomotive hauled trains, around 40 years old, had very poor reliability.
But then came Operation Princess, with the promise of complete stock replacement, half-hourly services over the Sheffield/Manchester - Bristol/Reading core, thence hourly to destinations like Bournemouth, and many more trains for less well-served cities like Brighton and Portsmouth. From September 2002, Southampton had the first direct hourly services to and from Reading since early 1967, and the first ever hourly services to and from Oxford and Birmingham, with trains extending as far as Aberdeen. Great, because research shows that passengers like direct services. They are particularly attractive to frail and disabled people who are seen off / met by friends or relatives at either end of their journey and can just relax in-between.
Alas, the trains were much too short (generally 4-5 carriages) and the increased demands on busy tracks caused huge operating problems. Horror stories have hit the press of passengers being stranded because of over-full trains. So now the talk is all about fewer, longer trains with service cuts and station omissions. Hundreds of pages of amendments to the National Passenger Timetable have been issued. Some changes already affect Hampshire trains, and passengers would do well to enquire before travelling.
From May 2003 Portsmouth services will be withdrawn, and Brighton services reduced to a token level. No trains will extend beyond Bournemouth to Poole. Some stops will be omitted. There will be a 4-hour gap in afternoon services from Southampton to Oxford because trains will call at the latter to set down only. So someone going from Southampton to Oxford can catch trains which go there direct, but will then be thrown off at Reading to catch a different train which goes there. This is exactly the kind of absurdity which will send people rushing to second-hand car showrooms.
Portsmouth is particularly unlucky. Until September, the Portsmouth-Eastleigh-Waterloo trains provided good same-platform connections with Virgin services at Winchester. Reports suggest that Virgin's final timings will put their trains almost exactly on the opposite side of the hour. This needs a major rethink of SWT services. A quick-fix solution would be for the opposite half-hourly Waterloo-Basingstoke services to extend to and from Portsmouth, using the slots of the current Southampton-Portsmouth stopping services between Fareham and Portsmouth. The current Portsmouth-Fareham slots of services to and from Waterloo could then be used for all-stations services between Portsmouth and Poole.
Things look even worse from May 2004, when reports indicate that longer distance services will be cut back, with the longest journey by Cross Country running from Exeter to York rather than Aberdeen to Penzance. This inevitably suggests that Hampshire and Dorset may lose their Scottish services altogether.
Costs out of Control
The Financial Times of 30 January reports that "Britain's rail passengers are waiting longer, and trains are more crowded, than at any time in living memory. All the talk in the industry is about cuts: in staff, in services and even in lines. Every month, it seems, brings news of cost overruns, delays in renewing train operators' franchises, the abandoning of promised improvements, missed performance targets and service reductions. Some failures are almost farcical - the £1 billion power supply upgrade needed to run new trains south of London is in trouble because open-flush toilets in old carriages are causing the power to cut out".
It is regrettable that Bournemouth is to lose its Sussex/Gatwick services, particularly as it is a resort of international standing and tourism is one of Britain's major industries. Although this is likely to be a knock-on effect of the expected re-timing of Virgin services, it should have been possible to retain the Gatwick trains through further rescheduling. After all, there has been plenty of propaganda about rail operators consulting on timetable plans to achieve the best for passengers.
The Bournemouth and Poole area probably suffered the greatest Beeching cuts of any conurbation of comparable size. Bournemouth West station went, along with Boscombe, Broadstone and Creekmoor. Routes to Swanage, Bristol via Blandford, Brockenhurst via Ringwood, and Salisbury via Wimborne were all axed. There is almost certainly a case for re-designing the current timetable, but not for simply chopping out popular services. The SRA points to 4 other hourly services between Bournemouth and Southampton. If only SouthCentral trains had stopped at the poorly-served towns of Totton and Christchurch rather than Brockenhurst (probably Britain's best rail-served village) it could have been much more difficult to argue for the cuts.
Even greater service cuts appear to be in prospect. Secretary of State Alistair Darling says he is optimistic about the future of the railways, but costs must be contained. In the February Rail News he is reported as saying "A lot of people look at that figure (Government's £33.5 billion for the railways over 10 years) and say the Government has huge amounts of money to spend on the railway and cost control does not matter and we can put in bids way over what we would otherwise do". Congratulations perhaps to Stagecoach Chairman, Brian Souter, who in the past has shown startling frankness in saying, " Ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed"?
It would be reassuring if the Secretary of State were to tell the SRA to stop their apparent panic and remember the question still associated with BR Chairman, (the late) Sir Bob Reid: "What's best for the passenger?". Meanwhile, commentators have been focusing on the SRA Chairman and Chief Executive, implying that he has been showing surprising largesse with taxpayers' money. See items in our "Press Review.
This is a sensitive issue, because taxpayers (who of course include passengers) have been paying huge sums to support some operators and getting an unacceptable service in return.
Romsey-Chandlers Ford-Totton: Bad news?
Hampshire County Council's long-standing plans to open a new station at Chandlers Ford finally took the form of running an hourly all-stations service from Romsey via Eastleigh to Totton. This was to start this coming May, with services until late evening seven days a week. We were about to celebrate this excellent news, when SWT's February 'In Focus' magazine appeared (a previous edition of which, as Private Eye noted, showed a nice picture of the new information screen at Totton station with the late running of the 12.38 to London blanked out).
In Focus states that the SRA has signed the bid for the service, and will provide funding. SWT has ordered [for hire] an additional diesel unit. The County Council will tender for the building works at Chandlers Ford.
It then mentions that "Successful delivery of the project still depends on the Rail Regulator agreeing to give permission to access the track. Rail freight company EWS has a long term interest in the route and has expressed concerns about the plans which the regulator will want to review."
Last year, SWT was referring to a May 2004 start date, when the County Council expected May 2003.
Watch this space.
Train operators fined £71 million for performance failure
This was widely covered on December 12th and 13th 2002. In the 12 months to October 2002, train operating companies were fined £71m for short and delayed trains, compared with £139m in the previous 12 months. The fine imposed on South West Trains was £10.8m. This is massively disproportionate compared with the fines imposed on other London commuter railways, with a total of £11.8m for Connex, South Central, and Thames. Only 76% of SWT trains ran on time (about 63% in the four weeks to 9 November)
Passenger complaints jumped by nearly a quarter between July and September compared with the previous three months. The Rail Passengers Council said "Passengers have suffered too long at the hands of an industry which needs to get its act together". As usual, the operators blamed Network Rail for infrastructure problems.
[The big questions: Why have Connex and South Central overtaken SWT so dramatically in the punctuality stakes over the past two years? Why do the operators never tell us how much of their fine they will seek to recoup from Network Rail?]
Rail Professional for December 2002 reported that slam-door trains are unlikely to be replaced by the December 2004 deadline, and new trains will sit in sidings while uncrashworthy Mark I coaches run past them in passenger service. Whilst SWT plans to hire 785 Desiro coaches worth about £640m, the cost of upgrading the live rail supply to run them is estimated to represent a cost to taxpayers of over £900m. This is about the same as the total cost of the upgrade for Connex and South Central.
[The big questions: How can operators be so inept as to promise to have new trains running by a specified date yet not ensure that the trains they intend to hire are compatible with the rail infrastructure? And weren't we led to believe that the new trains were being tested on a Continental track where British operating conditions had been replicated?]
Simon Jenkins, in the Evening Standard of 12/12/2002, reports that 2003 is likely to be the last year in which London train commuting will be only three times more expensive than elsewhere in Europe.
In January fares for London’s half-million rail commuters would rise by an average of 2.5%. The following January they are expected to soar to ease overcrowding. British train travel is expensive. The average cost of a standard 100-mile train ticket in Britain is £60. It is roughly £20 in France and Germany, £15 in the Netherlands and £10 in Spain and Italy. At the last count, the Government subsidy per trip in Britain was £1.42. In France it was £2.30 and in Germany £3.20. Connex has just been bailed out to the tune of £58m [SWT recently bailed out to the tune of £29m].
Profit has nothing to do with season ticket prices. It is determined by the Franchise Agreement, the Lease Payment, the Track Access Charge, the Network Rail Licence, the Operating Licence, the Performance Payment, the Short Formations Incentive Payment, the Timetable Change Incentive Payment and average lateness. [That certainly clarifies the position!]
The Southern Daily echo of 25/1/2003 reported that Wendy Toms, the energetic Chairman of the Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England, who has campaigned against fare rises while performance remains poor, will be replaced from March. She learned of this through the national media.
Threats to services and jobs
Another issue widely reported. There is now seen to be a spending crisis on the railways because railway companies have failed to contain costs. The SRA’s budget of £33.5 billion over 10 years is thought to be rapidly drying up. The SRA wants the railways run at 80% of the current costs to taxpayers. Since 1996/97 the SRA has cut subsidies to train operators from £1,809m to £731m. In the same period its investment in rolling stock and track improvements has risen from £1.225 billion to £4.070 billion.
[The big questions: Why was this crisis not foreseen when SWT, for example, has been taking £54m a year from taxpayers and converting it into profit of up to £45m, while it provides about the least reliable service in Britain and the parent company Stagecoach has lost huge sums on reportedly ill-judged overseas activities? No sooner had SWT invested £15m in a new customer information system and hired 16 new diesel train coaches, than it wanted a further £29m from taxpayers. Where is the real private sector share of investment in the railways? Is it limited to hiring new rolling stock in place of bargain-basement, obsolete and uncrashworthy Mark I coaches?]
The 20% cut in spending is seen as a threat to one service in five, or 3,500 trains a day. This would effect the Government’s target of a 50% increase in passenger kilometres within 10 years. [It appears that this target has now been scrapped in favour of simply trying to get trains to run on time]
The Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, said on the Jonathan Dimbleby programme on 15th December:
"I don’t think anybody could have foreseen the mess that the railway system got into. We started off in absolute chaos and it’s got worse, which I would have thought was pretty impossible. You’ve got too many companies. They are not working together, there is no integration. Many of them are walking away with bags of gold from the taxpayer and not coming up with the answers. You can’t continue like that and, frankly, the railway industry should not be allowed to get away with it."
The SRA maintains that a reduced budget would not mean cuts in timetables or platform staff. A "handful" of services could go "at worst". Wales and the Borders franchise had been asked for options on cost-cutting and other operators would be asked the same.
The Rail Passengers Council has responded that cost-cutting must have an impact on the level of services. They recognise the need for efficiency savings where possible, but would not want to see this have a detrimental effect on passengers.
Focus on the Chairman of the SRA
Rail expert Christian Wolmar (in 'Rail' magazine) refers to the SRA Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Bowker's decision to cut freight grants as "extraordinarily short-sighted and wrong-headed, especially given his past record in carelessly handing out extra lolly to the likes of South West Trains [£29m extra - roughly equivalent to the costs of SWT's new customer information system and the value of the 16 extra diesel carriages they are hiring] and Connex [£58m extra]".
Private Eye's 'Dr B. Ching' reports that SRA Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Bowker has admitted that one reason for the huge bail out for Virgin Trains in July was the desire to stabilise Stagecoach share prices. (Stagecoach has a 49% share in Virgin Trains). Stagecoach was worth £3 billion before it bought Coach USA; now it is worth one tenth of that. Richard Bowker’s father, a senior Stagecoach Executive, was sent to sort out Coach USA to little avail.
On the day Stagecoach announced its disastrous results for 2001-02, Richard Bowker freed Virgin Rail of its obligation to pay the Exchequer about £1.5 billion for its franchises, and gave Virgin an extra £106m of public money for the rest of the year. This news was broken not by the SRA but by Stagecoach. SWT shares jumped more than 40%.
The Secretary of State for Transport has agreed to a closed-shop deal on the Isle of Wight line (no other company invited to tender for the franchise) and by leaving Richard Bowker as SRA Chairman and Chief Executive (contravening the Greenbury rules on corporate governance) he has condoned the deal to stabilise Stagecoach shares.
The magazine asks if the Secretary of State could explain why it is so much in the public interest to ensure the survival of this "arrogant company which used dirty tactics to force many bus operators off the road, was fined a record £12.5m for SWT’s poor service in 2001-02 and has even threatened to sue its passengers".
An odd aside of the Private Eye articles is a report that, on 8 December, Mr Bowker travelled to Perth to speak at the evangelical church of Brian Souter, founder and boss of the Stagecoach empire. An SRA spokesperson reportedly stated "This is a matter of personal faith. Richard is a very religious man. He is not a member of the church of the Nazarene, but he shares with Brian Souter a deep commitment to religion. Mr Souter asked him to speak at this church, and he agreed. There is no conceivable conflict of interest."
[Quite. But might fed-up passengers and taxpayers conceivably suspect a conflict of ethics? Secretary of State, Alistair Darling, has made clear that he thinks the costs of contracts are rising because the Government is seen to have a large pot of money for rail investment. Mr Souter once said "Ethics are not irrelevant, but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed".
The High Court refused to ban the TV documentary "Cowboy Country" about Stagecoach. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission found Stagecoach's behaviour to other bus operators "deplorable, predatory and contrary to the public interest".
In March 2002, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld two complaints that SWT was misrepresenting its commitments under the proposed 20-year franchise deal.
A tribunal found that SWT driver Sarah Friday had been "wrongfully dismissed". Another tribunal found that driver Greg Tucker had been victimised for his union activities, with some of SWT's evidence reportedly, "incredible", "risible", implausible, even absurd" and "without regard for truth and solely with an eye to where the advantage lay". Another worker had been unfairly sacked after being accused of intimidation.]
A Ray of Hope in Hampshire
The Southern Daily Echo of 16/12/2002 reported that the local transport settlement for 2003-04 means a £30m boost for Hampshire. More than 300 projects can be progressed across the County including improvements to the A334 and A325; refurbishment of Hythe pier; safer routes to schools; phase 1 of the South Hampshire Rapid Transport Scheme (Portsmouth-Gosport-Fareham tramway); and the new station at Chandlers Ford. [Caveat: See separate item on Chandlers Ford]
Travel on SWT
Peter White, the BBC’s disability affairs correspondent, is a Winchester-Waterloo commuter. In the Winter 2002 edition of the Radio Solent Magazine he reports very unsatisfactory train performance, with 13 different excuses handed out by SWT in week ending 16 November 2002.
A Winchester resident wrote to the Southern Daily Echo that on 2 December she caught the 10.22 from Southampton Airport to Waterloo to attend her daughter’s graduation. The train was 20 minutes late due to a landslide. She returned on the 20.30, which was announced as starting 10 minutes late due to the landslide. She boarded the train at 20.40 only to be told that the driver and guard were stuck in traffic. The train left at 21.45 and reached Southampton Airport at 23.15 (99 minutes late). SWT spoiled a memorable day and she is glad not to be a daily user.
Health risks to passengers
The Evening Standard of 9/1/2003 and Metro of 13/1/2003 report that the Rail Passengers Council is to seek to establish whether overcrowded commuter trains are bad for passengers' health. This follows claims that overcrowded conditions could be giving millions of passengers high blood pressure, anxiety, stress and fatal heart conditions.
[One wonders whether standing for long periods in crush conditions at Waterloo station and being unable to get firm details about platforms and actual departure times is a further cause. And whether arriving at Southampton Central just in time to see your two-hourly 'connection' sent off to stand at signals for several minutes is another.]
The Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England has conducted research into the National Rail Enquiry Service. Members made calls asking for times and fares for a journey from Ramsgate to Tonbridge, with a bike, on 6 January 2002, returning on 8 January. Only 32.4% of calls received a correct response. Only 41.6% of information officers asked for the time of return travel (which affects the fare payable). In 13.3% of responses the start times were 41 or 60 minutes too early. Only 50% of responses provided correct information about the carriage of bikes on substitute buses.
A SHRUG member from Totton took a late holiday in Falmouth. His outward journey on 27 November was routed via Bristol, with reserved seats on the 11.13 from Temple Meads. Due to Virgin Voyager trains not tolerating the sea spray at Dawlish, the service terminated at Exeter. He then had to await the 12.40 Great Western service, which was 30 minutes late. So he lost his reserved seats and his connection from Truro at 14.25. The first available service from Falmouth was at 16.15. The booking clerk at Totton had had no advice about the problem with the Voyagers, so could not have warned him.
Virgin subsequently told him that all the Voyagers had since been modified, and gave him £30 in travel vouchers.
A trip from Falmouth to Eden also went wrong. Having bought combined travel and entrance tickets from Falmouth to Eden, he caught the 09.30 train from Falmouth which should have got him to Eden by 11.00. The Great Western train from Truro was running late and missed its slot on the single-track section between Truro and St Austell. The connecting bus was not held, the bus service is only hourly, and station staff refused to provide a taxi. The next bus was at 11.35, wasting an hour of the trip.
Return at 16.50 met with another late-running train. Some 25-30 people therefore missed the 18.20 from Truro to Falmouth. The next service was not until 19.52 and a fleet of taxis was provided. A driver stated that Great Western had recently spent £10,000 with his company, but wasn’t sure whether this was in a week or in the previous month.
Our Member highly recommends Eden, which requires a whole day to explore fully, but the train services and bus link can clearly be unsatisfactory.
The next public meeting of the Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England is scheduled totake place in the SWT area on Tuesday 15 April. Location not yet advised, but is usually announced in the Southern Daily Echo a few days in advance. The Committee can be contacted at Centric House, 390/391 Strand, London, WC2R 0LT. Tel 020 7240 5308. Fax 020 7240 8923.
Railfuture, the former Railway Development Society, has asked us to insert an advertisement. Membership is £17.50 for one year for an individual; £17.50 for a family (+ £2 per extra person); £8.50 for an OAP/Student/Unwaged person; and £35 for a Local Authority or Company.
They campaign for better rail services throughout Great Britain, and have 17 local groups affiliated to thousands of people in rail user groups. They produce a quarterly magazine 'Railwatch'.
The organisation's philosophy is that there are many positive economic, social and environmental reasons to travel by rail. Roads cause 134 times more pollution than rail. Travel by rail is at least 18 times safer than by car. More than 100 lorries can be replaced by one train.
Their address is 207 Colourworks, 2 Abbot Street, London E8 3DP. Website:www.railfuture.org.uk Tel: 020 7249 5533. Fax: 020 7254 6777. E'mail (To Marketing Director Kate Tudor-Pole) email@example.com
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