Hogrider No 92 - April 2003

South Hampshire Rail Users' Group Newsletter



Hampshire Rail Forum - Alresford 17/3/2003

Rail Passengers Committee Meeting - Portsmouth 15/4/2003

New Timetable 18 May - 27 September 2003

Rail Users’ Reports

Shocking customer service on SWT - 22/4/2003

New Service Cuts

A big nil-cost improvement?

Class 444 Units

Possible cut in new rolling stock

Award for Excellent SWT Commercial Guard

Press Review

Notice Board

Press Links



Romsey-Totton service starts on 18 May

Congratulations to Hampshire County Council for their persistence over more than a decade in trying to get a regular service reintroduced on the Eastleigh-Romsey line. Hourly trains will return 7 days a week, and link Southampton's satellite towns of Totton, Eastleigh and Romsey. A station at Chandlers Ford may be opened during the currency of the Summer timetable. The service will fill a number of public transport gaps, for example the lack of any kind of link between Totton, or the Millbrook and Redbridge areas of Southampton, and Romsey; the lack of realistically-timed direct off-peak trains between Totton and Eastleigh (axed by Stagecoach in 1999); and the lack of any kind of regular service from Millbrook and Redbridge stations.

Has the world gone crazy? Virgin Trains gets over £100m extra subsidy this year and decides it will allow fewer passengers on its trains South of Oxford than North of Oxford

So you want to go from Southampton to Oxford on one of those nice new hourly services… Well the trains run hourly, and all stop at Oxford, but if you board the 15.10, 16.10 or 17.10 any day of the week, or the 09.10 on Saturdays, you won't be allowed to get off at Oxford as the stop is to pick up only. So there's a 4-hour gap between services every afternoon, and 2-hour gap on Saturday mornings. With this arrangement, trains will inevitably pick up passengers at Oxford and leave more crowded than they arrive. So why will you be thrown off at Reading (or at Basingstoke in the case of the Saturday morning train, which doesn't serve Reading) so that you don't use space between Reading and Oxford which others will use North of Oxford. Answers on a postcard to the Chancellor of the Exchequer…

Fewer carriages on SWT

It is reported in Modern Railways that, after all the hype about replacement rolling stock for SWT, over 20% of the carriages which Stagecoach was to hire may be diverted to other operators because new trains will be allowed to serve only platforms which are at least as long as the train. Taxpayers are already having to spend hundreds of millions to upgrade the power supply for these trains. So huge expense and no additional carriages? There is also bad news about the seating layout of the new longer-distance class 444 units - see separate item.

Winchester in revolt against Stagecoach

Articles in the Hampshire Chronicle allege that 10 revenue protection officers at a time have been noted at Winchester station whilst the waiting facilities for passengers are perceived as cold and inadequate. Also there is discontent that passengers - including a 79 year old woman who was 'hungry and jolly cold' - were seriously delayed when a Stagecoach bus ran out of fuel en route from the City. The woman's neighbour referred to Stagecoach's 'priceless, silly inefficiency'. Meanwhile, a Wokingham resident has been moved to write to the Telegraph about SWT guards' 'uncanny perception of their employer's commercial standing' after one announced on a broken down train 'Apologies, ladies and gentlemen, but we are a failure awaiting assistance'.

Why continue with franchises?

Rail columnist Christian Wolmar writes that franchising was supposed to reduce subsidy through competition; stimulate on-rail competition between operators; improve performance through financial incentives; pass on financial risk to the operator; and, through private sector expertise, drive down costs and lead to innovation. Quite: so what is the point of continuing with it? As Mr Wolmar says, "That there is no connection between performance and profitability is demonstrated by South West Trains, the worst-performing London operator, which is making a healthy 10% rate of return". So, as taxpayers and fare-payers, SWT commuters might reasonably ask, "Why not get rid of them, and fast?" On a lighter note, also in Rail, pro-Stagecoach columnist Barry Doe opines that 'Stagecoach is far and away the best of the large groups at running both buses and trains'. No doubt it is if you ignore the facts, like SWT always being around the bottom of the performance league and top of the fines league, and having been threatened by the Secretary of State last year with loss of the SWT franchise for failing passengers.

Misery on the Southampton line

On 24 March, two off-duty SWT train-crew members were overheard discussing dreadful overcrowding problems on Southampton line trains on the preceding Saturday evening. Comments referred to passengers 'squashed three-deep in a buffet car' and overcrowding so bad on one short-length train that passengers on the platform who could not squeeze aboard were 'swearing and kicking the carriages'.

Service cuts from September

There are to be significant service changes from September. In many respects this will give a fairer spread of services, and marks the beginning of the SRA's publicly specified railway as opposed to the increasing concentration of services on the more profitable routes under Stagecoach timetable changes. Some stations will have lost services reinstated, for example Fareham, Chertsey and Ashurst. However, some odd anomalies will arise, nowhere more so than at the greatly expanded town of Totton.

Penalty fares to return to SWT

Stagecoach is to reintroduce penalty fares across the whole SWT system, apart from on the Salisbury-Exeter route and the Hounslow loop line. Readers may recall that when this arrangement last applied it was possible to see Revenue Protection Officers charging penalty fares on one coach of a train and the guard conductor charging normal fares in another coach. The return of penalty fares may be because SWT have so many revenue protection staff that they don't know what to do with them. It never fails to amaze commuters on the Wessex main line that after ongoing, conscientious ticket checks on trains, passengers are met at Waterloo by often as many as five revenue protection staff who scarcely bother to glance at their tickets. Conversely, where passenger security is an issue, as at big stations like Southampton Central in late evening, ticket gates are locked out of use. Penalty fares are bound to cause conflict between SWT staff and honest passengers who have boarded a train without a ticket because they have urgent journeys to make and ticket offices have long queues. With the railways now officially a 'public service, publicly specified and privately delivered' (SRA speak), it will be interesting to see whether penalty fares are more vulnerable to the Human Rights Act. An oddity noted in Rail No.458 is that companies which operate the penalty fares system have to make platform tickets available - others don't have to!

The Lymington branch is to close throughout January 2004 for relaying

SWT suggest that the branch may lose its electrification, but a Network Rail official tells us he has no knowledge of this. Loss of electrification would make little difference whilst Stagecoach serves the line with only a local shuttle service to Brockenhurst, but it would make the restoration of direct Lymington-Waterloo services (which could be helpful to the economy of Western Wight) extremely unlikely.

Swanage promise dropped

Proposals to introduce a diesel train service between Bournemouth and Swanage, once described by Stagecoach as one of a number of a real benefits for Southampton under their expected 20 year franchise, has been scuppered by Network Rail. This is on the basis that works to allow trains to access the private Swanage Railway have low priority. Oddly, a Virgin Voyager train was able last year to run right through to Corfe Castle for publicity purposes.

So just why can't the service to Weymouth be improved?

In February 2001, SWT's Managing Director wrote in the Southern Daily Echo that doubling of services from Wareham to Weymouth under the (then) expected 20-year franchise for Stagecoach would be a real benefit for the people of Southampton. At the Rail Passengers Committee meeting at Basingstoke in July 2001, he stated that cost-benefit analysis had never shown a case for the necessary infrastructure works. On 22 March 2003, a special timetable connected with engineering works saw the service between Wareham and Dorchester (just 7 miles short of Weymouth) doubled. So just what are the infrastructure costs of running an extra hourly service between Dorchester and Weymouth?

SRA to face judicial review?

Despite the very substantial squadron of specialist railway periodicals, one of the most informed commentaries on the railways seems to be Private Eye's 'Signal Failures'. As we reported in Hogrider No 91, the feature has been hinting at prejudice towards particular train operators by the SRA's Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Bowker. First Group is now threatening action because it has not pre-qualified for the replacement franchise for Great Eastern, on which it has a good record both in terms of performance and financially. As SHRUG's Memorandum in the Select Committee's report on franchising noted, First Great Eastern was joint winner of the National Rail Award for best operator of 2000, and had a much better claim to SWT than Stagecoach. Judicial review now inevitable?

Annual timetable in prospect

It is reported that the practice of issuing national rail timetables current from May and from September is to end. Next year the May timetable will cover the period to early December. Thereafter timetables will run from December to December. This makes good commercial sense. When do people start planning their Summer holidays? Judging from holiday advertisements in the media, from Boxing Day. It is odd therefore that the Summer rail timetables appear so much later. This May's timetable was first spotted (at W H Smith, Waterloo) on 25 April, although some travel companies had information on their websites much earlier. The downside of the change, judging by recent experience, will be the issue of huge amounts of supplementary information over the course of the year.


Hampshire Rail Forum - Alresford 17/3/2003

The County Council's excellent Rail Forum, the first for 18 months, was held at the Mid Hants Railway's Conference Room at Alresford station. Thanks are due to the Council and particularly to their Rail Officer Michael Hedderly for inviting me, and for providing a bus connection from Winchester. Thanks also to Rufus Boyd of SWT who came and spoke to me after the meeting in pursuance of the questions I had raised. My apologies to him for having to depart in haste in order to catch the return bus.

The gathering started with the opportunity to look over a new SWT Desiro train. This had seating in outer-suburban configuration and will be used for example on services from Waterloo to Basingstoke and Alton. [What will happen to the new Class 458s, already running on some services to these destinations?] Initial impressions were fairly favourable. Seats were partly in bays and partly airline style. Legroom was reasonable by modern standards, and there were wide vestibules for standing passengers. Inevitably the 2- and 3- aside seating will be uncomfortable when the train is packed. Perhaps the most striking feature was the small glass-enclosed guard's compartment. Some of the train was literally in wraps (still swathed in protective plastic sheeting internally), but there didn't appear to be space for cycles.

An objective of the meeting was to look at recent events on the railways in perspective.

The first speaker, Alan de Burton, gave a fascinating outline of the historical background to the present state of the railways.

Up to the first world war, the railways had almost a century of private ownership and were a universal carrier with little competition. However they had to be under public authority to purchase land compulsorily and to raise capital. Parliament intervened at an early stage. The first Act on rail safety was introduced in 1840. In 1844 at least one train a day on every route had to provide third class travel at 1d a mile, the first fares regulation. The regulation of freight tariffs started in 1888. 1889 saw statutory requirements on signalling and train brakes, and excessive working hours were regulated from 1893. By 1900 the railways were very much publicly regulated, but with a monopoly situation they were making sufficient profits to maintain their assets and invest.

Post-war economic depression brought financial difficulties. Many costs tripled and there was labour unrest, with an inflationary 8-hour day introduced from 1919. From 1923 Parliament grouped about 120 railway companies into 4 to achieve economies of efficiency. However, there was a maintenance shortfall and competition from trucks and buses. The railways were nationalised in 1948, and this was probably their salvation. From 1948 to 1954 there was stagnation, with shortages of steel and coal and temporary timetable reduction. Little thought was given to the future, and many new steam locomotives were built which had a working life of only around 15 years.

The Modernisation Plan looked to replacement of steam with diesel and electric, modernisation of freight working (marshalling yards and continuously-braked trains), and modernisation of track, signalling and stations. No thought was given to the scope of services or to the general mode of operation.

In 1961 Dr Beeching reconsidered the role of the railways. The network was almost halved. Uneconomic traffic was to be abandoned. Closures continued long after he moved on in 1965. Beeching Plan was based on a survey in one week in April. This was a blunt weapon which would be considered appalling today.

The 1968 Transport Act saw the establishment of the National Bus Company. The public transport authorities were set up in urban areas. The need for Government to subsidise some uneconomic rail activities was recognised. There followed a search for efficiency and what Sir Peter Parker called the "crumbling edge of quality". There was minimum subsidy and low investment. But there were success stories: the High Speed Train, extension of West Coast Main Line electrification to Glasgow, and the East Coast Main Line electrification.

In the 1980s, BR management achieved a considerable measure of efficiency. There was divestment of peripheral activities like Sealink, station refreshment rooms and railway hotels.

Privatisation from 1996 removed the "dead hand of the Treasury". A steady-state railway was assumed (passenger levels had been fairly constant for 30 years). Freight was to be self-sufficient. Passenger services privately specified and provided, with light public regulation. BR fragmented into over 100 companies. Successes were passengers up 36%, freight up 50%. Train Protection and Warning System throughout the network by the end of this year. Channel Tunnel Rail Link being completed on time. Rolling stock replacement - all 1,700 Mark I coaches to go.

Failures were that Railtrack lost control of its assets to contractors, the West Coast route modernisation is overrunning, power crisis for new southern region trains with nearly £1bn needed to upgrade power supply, observed poor performance, original franchises over-optimistic with 12 on life support from the SRA, rail industry costs up 50% in the last 3 years.

Privatisation model flawed. It couldn't handle Railtrack management failures, congestion on the network from a 20% increase in train mileage, or the financial consequences of over-optimistic bidding for franchises. The industry is back in the hands of the Treasury. The long-term spending review in 2004 will be crucial to the railways' future. But note that road journey times are up 16.5% in the last 5 years. Railways are one of the few answers to the national gridlock.

The SRA is now in the business of providing leadership and direction. Re-franchising is in progress. There are initiatives on congestion, fares and train performance. There is a clear vision that railways will be publicly specified and privately provided. All interests and stakeholders need to lobby all levels of government and assist the SRA in its Case for Rail.

Chris Austin (Executive Director, External Relations, SRA) gave a presentation on the SRA's evolving role and current issues

SRA lets and manages passenger franchises, develops and sponsors major infrastructure projects, manages freight grants, manages strategic plan, exercises leadership role, provides public funding and considers value for money and accountability. It is a part of government (unlike the Regulator who is independent) and subject to normal accountabilities. The railways are a public service, publicly specified and privately operated.

Since 1994-95, 21% more train kms, 36% increase in passenger kms, 52% increase in tonne kms and rail freight market share up 3%. Investment is at historic level but does it buy same level of output? Costs and public sector support are rising faster than revenue. Subsidy declined to 2000/01 but is now rising. Secretary of State announced in December that SRA's funding to be reduced by £312m over 3 years. £242m of this falls in 2003/04. Contractual commitments will be honoured but very little available for discretionary spending. Track access grants not affected. £40m committed to Freight Funding Grants and £20m to Rail Passenger Partnerships.

Problems being tackled are getting people to focus in same direction, performance, short term service changes, route utilisation strategies, costs. Cuts are unsettling for passengers and user groups. Utilisation strategies will take proper look at how capacity used. Should avoid need for future precipitous action.

Multi-modal studies and SRA objectives are a mismatch. Rail is relatively expensive. Rail is a high volume mode with high cost base and not the answer to all needs. Investment is predominantly for renewals. Integrated transport policy includes buses and trams. Tram systems can free rail capacity for longer distance services. Multi-modal studies.

Issues in Hampshire are new rolling stock, Northam depot, power supply strengthening, service restructuring and integration with light rail and bus.

Freight issues are the Southampton-West Midlands corridor, container ports development, Channel Tunnel freight, move to general distribution, and need for new terminals. A new London International Freight Exchange, ideally located close to Heathrow, the M4 and M25, had been turned down by the Deputy Prime Minister.

SRA has a changing role in strategic planning: is a strategic specifier. Objectives-led rail planning process. Options for meeting regional and GB-wide rail objectives, realism in option development, business case assessment, input to regional planning, multi-modal studies etc.

Basis of case for rail in the 2004 spending review. Analysis of benefits and costs of present system; comprehensive review of external benefits; identification of scope for reducing costs; establishment of cost base of existing network; market analysis of growth prospects; pricing and public support; option identification.

2004 will see interim review, fares strategy, rail utilisation strategy timetables, Mark I replacement (will not be completed by end of year), Disability Discrimination Act effective at stations, franchising, working time directive, and the 2004 spending review. A pretty important year.

Preliminary views suggest good growth prospects, the 10 Year Plan goals remain, need to tackle rising costs, clarity on franchising, fares, capacity and integration, strong case for rail in key markets, need to demonstrate value for money and affordability.

The railway is costing more and performing worse than in 1998. Benefits of increased investment must be demonstrated.

Question Time was lively

Some issues which arose:

Finally, I raised the question of services at the smaller stations, given that (i) a recent article in Rail Professional stated that the HSE will not allow selective door opening (SDO) on new trains, but many Hampshire stations have short platforms; (ii) there are persistent rumours that the Lymington branch is to lose its electrification to avoid the costs of power upgrade and (iii) an e'mail was sent by a SWT manager saying that services from Ashurst would be "nuked" from 2004. The SWT representative said that they would fight for longer platforms or SDO. They had already tackled the SRA and got authority to stop class 458s at Whitton. Without a solution, there would be serious problems with peak services. The problem with the Lymington branch was the aggressive timetable. Performance had improved by using a 3-coach unit [magazine reports that the fourth coach had been removed due to damage] and a class 170 [diesel] unit might work the branch in future. [Slightly odd, because when I suggested last year that it should be possible to run the proposed Romsey-Totton service to serve Ashurst and then continue to Brockenhurst, one objection raised by SWT was that the class 170 is slower than an electric train]. There was talk of extending the Totton service to Lymington, but this was not likely short-term. The SWT representative confined his comments on Ashurst to saying that he was not the person who had sent the e'mail [true, but should a company receiving massive subsidies from taxpayers be threatening those same taxpayers with the 'nuking' of the services on which they rely?]. On the Netley line, SWT saw little point in investment if the route was to be converted to light rail operation. [We are probably looking ahead more than a decade for that to happen. In the meantime, the Southampton-Victoria train might make more stops]. The Council wanted smaller stations to be transport hubs - facilities for cycles etc.


Public Meeting of Rail Passengers Committee - Portsmouth 15/4/2003

This was the first public meeting under the chairmanship of Tim Nicholson, and the meeting started with an expression of appreciation for the strenuous efforts of former chairman Wendy Toms.

Joint presentation by Andrew Haines, Managing Director South West Trains and Dave Hooper, General Manager Network Rail Wessex Area

This concentrated on 'improving performance'. SWT still exceptionally poor. Best performance was in 1999/2000; total delay more than double what it was then. Way ahead was to stop things failing, fix failures more quickly, and manage implications of failure quickly. Network Rail concentrating on more efficient operations. Working with train operators on access to track for engineering work. More global possessions at key junctions over weekends rather than just at night. Want to get sub-contracted labour down to no more than 15% (currently 50% in Clapham Junction area). SWT top of league on train unit reliability when like compared with like [class 442s are unique!]. Has spent £4m on sliding door trains and 7 areas targeted for modifications on the class 442 Wessex Electrics. Is to spend £18m on improving sliding door trains.

Network Rail and SWT to align recovery objectives for 2003. Better communications at ground and signal box level. SWT and NR staff in Woking and Wimbledon boxes and SWT control room. Omitting stops and terminating trains short of destination in the interests of the majority is an important tool in recovery [ie, discrimination between passengers contracting with SWT to get them to and from work; an outlay of £X,000 on a SWT season ticket is worth less when paid by someone whose station stop it's operationally convenient to omit].

Review of rules for specifying timetable. Looking at times allowed for stations, junctions, types of rolling stock. Work can't be completed until new trains in place and level of power supply known. With reduced timetable, 50% increase in right time trains from Portsmouth Harbour in January-March compared with last year [delays in evidence on day of meeting!]. From new timetable on May 18, there will be rationalisation of train crews and rolling stock. Stock for the 17.51 Waterloo-Portsmouth will arrive as a single trainset, rather than one unit from Portsmouth and one from Weymouth. Fewer Wessex Electric trains on the Portsmouth line. More timetable changes from September [these will largely make good past SWT timetabling aberrations in concentrating services on a few major destinations]. Timetable for Desiro trains from December 2004.

Chris Austin (Executive Director, External Relations, SRA) gave a presentation on the SRA's work

This broadly followed the interesting talk which Mr Austin gave at the Hampshire Rail Forum at Alresford, which is already reported in this Hogrider.

Since that earlier talk, the following are confirmed as going ahead:

Questions raised by the Committee and members of the public

Q: How confident is SWT that we will see improved performance in two years' time?

A: Current plans will sort out root causes of unreliability. Other problems may arise. Financial position the biggest obstacle [despite that recent £29m from taxpayers on top of an already generous subsidy profile?] Performance of Desiros will depend on level of power upgrade.

Q: Will December 2004 target be met for withdrawal of slam-door stock?

A: Industry may have over-egged what needs to be done [?]. December 2004 was an imposed arbitrary [?] political date. Network Rail will ensure that power upgrades and platform lengthening undertaken in tandem so that new trains can serve platforms on upgraded routes [this is an oblique reference to the selective door opening issue. The implied straight answer to the question is "No"].

Q: Was SWT's Operation Phoenix successful?

A: Yes. SWT now 25% better on delays, but Network Rail 30% worse so passengers don't see any improvement.

Q: Don't delays simply look like incompetence? Customer Information System shows non-existent trains and gives wrong information when stops are skipped. It sometimes takes longer to get passengers off trains before skipping stops than to make the stops. Yesterday the 14.54 Portsmouth-Eastleigh- Waterloo stopping service was delayed by a fire and then ran fast from Basingstoke to London.

A: Right to put people off their trains to recover time [the lack of empathy on SWT can be staggering] but wrong to keep them in the dark. The 14.54 would have fouled the London peak if it had made its booked stops.

Q: Will the Alton line have short trains in view of short platforms and the selective door opening problem?

A: Looking at options. Could run portion trains but that could undermine reliability. Selective door opening will be allowed only where platform lengthening has been agreed.

Q: The terrible problems of Twelfth Night [see Hogrider No 91]. Why did it take 3 hours to get a power unit a few miles from its base in Woking? Why were trains not diverted to the slow line? Why no taxis arranged in advance at Southampton for passengers who were to be thrown off for stop skipping? Why no members of staff waiting to help passengers who lost connections?

A: It was handled badly and lessons learned [SWT has had 7 years' experience of running trains, albeit often abysmally!]. Office overstretched and another train failure at Addlestone. Connections hugely difficult. SWT takes 'heroic' approach [pot luck for the passenger, including elderly and disabled people?].

Q: How is the power upgrade progressing?

A: Has commenced on Brighton-Portsmouth line. Full introduction of new Class 375 trains on London-Brighton line has been more successful than SouthCentral had dared hope. Connex has introduced these trains on the Chatham line. They worked very well during the Winter. Successful trials with selective door opening.

Q: Ashford-Hastings line neglected. Poor connections. When will the new diesel trains arrive?

A: Action on the new trains awaits signing of franchise deal. Better timetable on Coastway line from May.

Q: When will new SouthCentral franchise deal be signed?

A: Not yet known. There will be lots of improvements. Many timetable improvements this Summer, including additional late evening Metro services. Running more trains could risk delays but SouthCentral believe passengers prefer having a train to not having train.

Q: When will Wessex Trains and SWT get together to improve connections at Salisbury?

A: Wessex looking to re-jig timetable. SWT considers Wessex resource-driven, not interchange-driven. [Since SWT are more generously resourced, should they not take the initiative?]

Q: What future for Waterloo-Cardiff service?

A: Not being withdrawn in May timetable. SRA looking at it in context of the Bristol-South Coast multi-modal study.

Q: Why is the Southampton Central-Hythe bus link being withdrawn from 1 May, when it was part of the deal for the Virgin-Stagecoach marriage?

A: Very low usage. Money going to other bus services in the area.

Q: When will improvements to the signalling system be made to allow trains to work on to the Swanage Railway?

A: Not a critical priority for SRA. Current funding is for operating and renewals, not enhancements.

Q: When will the rail interests get together to fight the dead hand of the Treasury?

A: Issue is for the Department of Transport. Secretary of State says he is committed to rail economic and social development.

Q: Couldn't guards have more autonomy and be able to initiate departure from staffed as well as from unstaffed stations? Ridiculous events at Southampton Central on 8 April when SWT staff delayed a Wessex Trains service which in turn caused severe delay to a London commuter train [see our Rail Users' Reports].

A: Wessex Trains thought this might be a safety issue. SWT thought station staff only needed to be present for slam-door stock - wondered why station staff not on the platform [the good old Southampton Central disease - difficult to find a member of staff when there are problems?]

Q: Implications of loss of long-term franchises?

A: Government saw train operators as major investors. That has not worked. Schemes will not be supported by the extra revenue they generate. Financial collapse of Railtrack. Replacement operators will take over rolling stock contracts. SRA now has to specify enhancements and funding. Difficulty of forecasting and risk management. Optimum franchise length 5-8 years.

Q: Why is Portsmouth losing its Virgin Trains services?

A: Originally Portsmouth only had cross-country services on Summer Saturdays. Units will give increased capacity on core sections of cross-country network. New timetable was too ambitious; some turnround times were as little as 10 minutes after a long journey.

Q: What about the TENS network? Ashford-Reading line could connect European services to rest of country.

A: Only the Channel Tunnel Link and West Coast, East Coast and Great Western main lines are TENS routes. No real facility to update TENS routes - grants meet less than 5% of budget costs. Low-fare airlines have destroyed rail market for journeys over 3 hours. East and West Midlands might be viable for International services when Channel Tunnel Rail Link open. Good prospects for through freight working. Prospects for passenger trains beyond London bad, particularly if only one or two services a day. Euston, St Pancras and Kings Cross services convenient for passengers arriving at new St Pancras International station.

Q: SRA not setting targets because they would not be met?

A: Nobody wants to prove what can't be delivered. New trains have teething problems. Takes time. C2C now performing well. Rail industry very open. Bus industry does not publicise performance.

Q: Do SRA's plans take account of proposed major housing projects in the South East?

A: Extra capacity on Channel Tunnel Rail Link can be used for Ashford and Thames Gateway. Milton Keynes benefits from the West Coast Main Line upgrade.

Q: What about the South Coast multi-modal studies?

A: SRA considers them useful in identifying potential and opportunities. However, SRA's guidance on affordability was ignored.

Q: What about the poor infrastructure on the Uckfield and Ashford-Hastings lines?

A: Routes were singled in the past to save costs, which was vital to ensure their survival at the time.

Q: Companies need to do more to make the case for rail? BR used to arrange on-site visits for Ministers.

A: SouthCentral said they still lobbied Ministers. John Spellar had been to Selhurst depot. Alistair Darling had been on a class 375 unit. The Committee Chairman considered that fewer, bigger voices were needed to move governments. [Isn't the Commons Select Committee the best channel for achieving major advances? Things have changed immeasurably since their report on franchising - unlikely to be pure coincidence. The Rail Passengers Committees/Council could lead on more immediate passenger aspirational issues - but shouldn't their reports contain submissions from interested parties, like Select Committee reports?]

Q: Otherwise good journeys often end with huge delays in the Portsmouth area. Third track to Portsmouth needed?

A: Network Rail planning signalling upgrade from 2005-06. May restore a closed platform at Portsmouth Harbour. New industry standards mean that new layout can't be identical to old.

Q: Short franchises discourage operators from investing, but SRA not investing much either. Shouldn't SRA take over the fare box?

A: Fare box and subsidy the only ways of remuneration. Most enhancements will be paid for by SRA. Time for enhancements is when renewing. 15% of West Coast upgrade is for enhancement, 85% for renewal.

Q: Shouldn't current franchise holders at least go to the final wire?

A: Pre-qualification originally had a low threshold. Very time-consuming and dear for bidders. Only a small number of bidders will in future pre-qualify. SRA must be fair and consistent. Existing operators will not automatically get through to the next stage.

Q: Choice between passengers and freight. Who loses out?

A: SRA is developing route utilisation strategies. No easy answers. Wants to satisfy as many users as possible.

RPC Sub-Committee Reports

Timetable Committee trying to be as responsive as possible. Public welcome to contact them through the Secretary.

Little happening on London Airports.

Eurostars being refurbished in 2004-05. Committee will look into the reception arrangements at Waterloo.

SWT Passengers Panel has had discussions on communications and manager sessions. Mystery shopper exercise continues. South Central arrangements are different. No appointed chairman. Parameters for action to be set.


New Timetable 18 May - 27 September 2003

This summer will see over 1,700 weekly passenger train departures from Southampton Central, an increase of 7.5% compared with last year, and of nearly 24% since the first post-steam timetable in 1967.

Southampton area local services

Highlight of this year's timetable changes is the new Totton-Romsey service via Southampton and Eastleigh. On Mondays-Fridays this starts with the 07.26 Southampton-Romsey and then comprises one train per hour from Totton to Romsey from 08.23 to 23.25. On Saturdays there are trains from Southampton to Romsey at 06.25 and 07.25, then one train per hour from Totton to Romsey from 08.25 to 23.25. The Sunday service comprises an 09.05 Southampton-Romsey and one train per hour from Totton to Romsey from 09.55 to 23.15.

In the opposite direction, on Mondays-Fridays trains leave Romsey at 06.34 for Southampton, thence one per hour to Totton from 07.22 to 22.14, with a final train to Southampton at 23.14. On Saturdays the service starts with the 06.18 to Southampton, with one train per hour to Totton from 07.22 to 22.14 and a final service to Southampton at 23.14. On Sundays there is one train per hour to Totton from 09.00 to 22.00, with a final train to Southampton at 23.02.

All trains call at all stations, including Chandlers Ford when built.

This represents a tremendous boost to local services. In the Summer 2002 timetable, there were 112 trains per week from Southampton Central which terminated at Eastleigh, and 20 which terminated at Winchester. None terminated at Romsey or Totton. The corresponding level this Summer is 35 terminating at Eastleigh, 15 terminating at Winchester, 118 terminating at Romsey and 110 terminating at Totton.

The only downside of the new service is that it is not exactly regular-interval, because there is a good deal of 'slack' on the Romsey-Eastleigh section. This is presumably because trains cannot shunt at Romsey and have to vacate the platform early to make way for services to Cardiff. Journey times between Romsey and Totton vary from about 35 to 55 minutes.

Wessex Trains

Wessex are providing the same level of service in South Hampshire as last Summer. However, the Melksham line is closed on Sundays until 13 July inclusive, and the two Southampton-Swindon services terminate at Westbury. Swindon passengers need to travel via Bath. The token services via Eastleigh remain, but do not gain stops at Chandlers Ford.

South Central

All services West of Southampton are withdrawn. East of Southampton, services are virtually identical, with the standard departure time (applicable to most services) of 21 past the hour. On Mondays to Fridays the final service ceases to call at Swanwick; it is shown as leaving Southampton Central at 22.06, but it appears that this should be 22.21 (22.06 was the train's previous departure time from Brockenhurst).

Waterloo services

With the advent of the Totton-Romsey service, Sunday Waterloo-Bournemouth services drop their residual Redbridge stops. With the exception of several early/late trains, they also cease to call at Swaythling and St Denys. However these trains now call hourly at both Shawford and Micheldever, instead of alternating between these stops.

On Mondays-Fridays, the 05.00 Southampton Central-Waterloo loses its stopping portion, and passengers need to change at Basingstoke for stations other than Farnborough, Woking, Clapham Junction and Waterloo.

On Saturdays, the 18.58 Weymouth-Waterloo is brought forward by 10 minutes and accelerated. A compensatory semi-fast service runs from Poole to Waterloo at 19.41. This change leaves a 1-minute connection at Upwey with the service from Bristol, and undermines Wessex Trains' efforts to promote the Bristol-Weymouth line.

On Mondays-Saturdays there are new services from Waterloo at 22.30 to Woking, Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton Airport, Southampton Central, Brockenhurst and Bournemouth, and at 23.30 with the same stops but terminating at Southampton Central. It is extremely disappointing that these trains serve such a small number of stations. Why does well-served Woking need an additional train, but not stations like Eastleigh, Totton, New Milton and Christchurch?

On Sundays, the former 06.45 Southampton Central-Waterloo and 06.47 Southampton Central-Portsmouth Harbour continue to be replaced by a bus at 06.30 to St Denys (for a Portsmouth train) and Eastleigh (for a London train). This is hugely inconvenient, especially for people trying to get to Gatwick Airport with heavy luggage.

It is also disappointing that Weymouth still sees little improvement (it has even been stripped of its Summer Saturday Virgin Trains' services), especially given that both Weymouth and Dorchester stations are potentially railheads for many train-less communities. The Weymouth-Castle Cary line tends to be thought of as a Cinderella route, but potentially it could give faster London journeys than SWT's services via Bournemouth. For example, on Mondays-Fridays, depart Weymouth at 05.38 and get to Paddington at 08.33 (with 12 minutes to wait for a connection at Castle Cary). This would get you to Heathrow much sooner than SWT's first service (06.03 from Weymouth, into Waterloo at 08.47 and often late). In the return direction, leave Waterloo at 19.30 and get to Weymouth at 22.22. Leave Paddington at 19.33 and get to Weymouth at 22.46, despite a wait of 32 minutes at Castle Cary (the running time, exclusive of the wait at Castle Cary, is actually shorter than from Waterloo).

Virgin Trains

Daily Northbound departures from Southampton Central are at:

06.10 Newcastle (Mondays-Saturdays)

07.00 (Mondays-Fridays) / 07.10 (Saturdays) Glasgow Central

08.10 Darlington (Mondays-Fridays) / Newcastle (Saturdays)

09.05 (Mondays-Fridays) / 09.10 (Saturdays) Aberdeen

10.10 Newcastle (Dundee on Sundays until 13 July inclusive)

11.10 Glasgow Central

12.10 Newcastle

13.10 Edinburgh

14.10 York (Mondays-Fridays) / Newcastle (Saturdays and Sundays)

15.10 Edinburgh (Sundays-Fridays) / Glasgow Central (Saturdays)

16.10 Newcastle (Mondays-Fridays) / York (Saturdays and Sundays)

17.10 Manchester (Sundays-Fridays) / Leeds (Saturdays)

18.10 Leeds (Sundays-Fridays) / Manchester (Saturdays)

19.10 Manchester

20.10 Birmingham New Street (Mondays-Saturdays) / Derby (Sundays)

West of England

As in previous summers, there are Saturday trains from Southampton Central to Paignton at 05.55 and 11.59 and the Wessex Trains' 15.09 to Penzance runs Mondays-Fridays only. SWT's weekend evening services from the West remain exceptionally poor. On Saturdays there is no train from Exeter St David's, with a connection for Southampton, between 17.42 and 20.30. On Sundays there is a direct train at 17.25, then no service with a connection until the 20.30.


Rail Users’ Reports

24/2/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 7 minutes late; 06.19 10 minutes late. 17.56 Waterloo-Portsmouth 8 minutes late from Eastleigh. 18.05 Waterloo-Poole 6 minutes late; much of the train unheated and passengers sat in scarves and overcoats.

25/2/03 18.35 Waterloo-Exeter left at 18.48. The 15.48 from Weymouth reached Waterloo at 18.47, 13 minutes late, to form the front of the 18.50 to Poole. The train left about 7 minutes late and, after losing its slot and following a slower freight service, reached Totton 20 minutes late.

26/2/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 10 minutes late. 07.40 Southampton-Waterloo was withdrawn between Southampton and Eastleigh due to the stock running late on an earlier service. 13.00 Waterloo-Wareham 10 minutes late at Southampton; connection with the stopping service to Poole not honoured. 13.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 20 minutes late at Southampton; 13.45 Waterloo-Poole 12 minutes late; 14.00 Waterloo-Wareham 15 minutes late; 14.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 10 minutes late; 15.45 and 16.00 Waterloo-Poole about 20 minutes late; 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 7 minutes late and 17.45 10 minutes late. 17.02 Waterloo-Eastleigh-Portsmouth over 20 minutes late. 18.05 Waterloo-Poole about 30 minutes late. 17.34 Wareham-Waterloo cancelled between Wareham and Poole, so presumably passengers on the 15.00 from Waterloo had been thrown off at Poole.

27/2/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 10 minutes late. 15.00 Waterloo-Wareham 15 minutes late at Southampton. 20.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 15 minutes late due to a failed Virgin train.

28/2/03 05.40 Basingstoke-Brockenhurst and 06.56 Brockenhurst-Southampton cancelled. 15.54 Portsmouth-Waterloo via Eastleigh and 17.00 Southampton-Waterloo about 30 minutes late. 15.48 Weymouth-Waterloo 10 minutes late. 15.44 Exeter-Waterloo 15 minutes late. 17.31 Alton-Waterloo 20 minutes late. 17.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo cancelled. Great Pain Journeys of the World: Busy Friday evening at end of half term week. Commuters, families with children, and weekend travellers with heaps of luggage. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole reduced from 10 coaches to five. Horrific overcrowding. Train left at 19.00 and was further delayed at Clapham Junction as passengers desperately tried to board. At Woking passengers were trying to leave the first coach but couldn't get past the luggage blocking the gangway. One commuter eventually let a couple put their shopping trolley on his lap to ease the blockage. Scores stood to Winchester. Train was 20 minutes late by Totton. Horrifying to imagine what would have happened if the carriage had filled with smoke as has happened on a number of SWT services over the years. 19.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 25 minutes late by Southampton. 21.55 Waterloo-Poole about 30 minutes late. 20.07 Weymouth-Waterloo 25 minutes late at Southampton.

3/3/03 06.11 Brockenhurst-Winchester still had its weekend litter. At 08.00 many mainline arrivals into Waterloo were 5-10 minutes late. 17.51 Waterloo-Portsmouth left at 18.00. Poole portion of the 17.45 from Waterloo managed to move only 20 yards at Southampton Central before it failed due to a damaged current pick-up shoe. Passengers thrown off. Distinct impression of SWT being operations-driven rather than customer-focused as activity continued around the failed train while passengers were further delayed because the 18.05 Waterloo-Poole (an even colder than usual old Mark I rake, because one carriage had a sliding window vent missing) was held inside Southampton tunnel (the guard announced that this delay was due to technical problems at platforms 3 and 4). 18.05 was 17 minutes late by Totton. 18.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 15 minutes late.

4/3/03 06.19 Poole-Waterloo and 06.10 Portsmouth-Waterloo via Eastleigh both 5-10 minutes late.

5/3/03 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth, 18.05 Waterloo-Poole and 18.30 Waterloo-Weymouth all 5-10 minutes late at Southampton. 19.00 Brighton-Reading about 25 minutes late. 19.47 Southampton-Portsmouth about 10 minutes late.

7/3/03 13.35 Plymouth-Waterloo about 30 minutes late; 17.31 Alton-Waterloo over 10 minutes late; 17.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo about 7 minutes late; 15.48 Weymouth-Waterloo over 10 minutes late. 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth 10 minutes late; 17.15 8 minutes late. The 18.50 Waterloo-Poole departed at 18.52, alongside the 18.35 to Exeter, which took precedence. At Eastleigh it was announced that the 18.50 would call additionally at St Denys (but not Swaythling), presumably because the 19.29 Winchester-Southampton had been cancelled. At St Denys the 18.50 stood alongside a screen which told people to stand clear as the train was not stopping. A small crowd of people for Southampton had crossed to the Netley line platform. After an impasse of 5 minutes they were summoned to the Poole train and crossed the footbridge just as the lights of the Netley line train to Southampton appeared. After this comic fiasco, the 18.50 reached Totton 15 minutes late. 21.30 Waterloo-Bournemouth about 20 minutes late at Southampton.

10/3/03 Severe overcrowding on the 05.42 Poole-Waterloo. This train, the 06.19 from Poole and the 06.10 from Portsmouth via Eastleigh were all 5-10 minutes late into Waterloo. Two very sharp metal spikes were protruding beneath the cushions on a pair of seats in the second carriage of the 05.42. 15.06 Poole-Waterloo 10 minutes late.

12/3/03 05.35 Waterloo-Weymouth 20 minutes late. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo seriously overcrowded. 15.49 and 16.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo both about 15 minutes late. 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth 8 minutes late at Southampton. 17.45 Waterloo-Weymouth seriously overcrowded; 6 minutes late at Southampton.

13/3/03 Scramble to alight at Totton from the 17.15 from Waterloo when duff doors in the rear unit did not open. No announcements on the 18.05 from Waterloo about short platforms. One passenger had to jump off at Totton as the train was moving away.

14/3/03 Passengers in some coaches of the 18.05 Waterloo-Poole wore overcoats and scarves due to duff heating. Announcements inaudible, due to duff intercom.

17/3/03 An early morning commuter service cancelled between Yeovil Junction and Salisbury. Stock for the 16.00 Waterloo-Poole arrived at 15.59; the train left at 16.07 and was 16 minutes late from Winchester. 16.15 Waterloo to Portsmouth 9 minutes late at Winchester and the 16.30 to Weymouth 5 minutes late. 20.30 Waterloo-Weymouth seemed to be travelling at remarkable speed between Winchester and Eastleigh. A woman passing through the buffet car shrieked as a tremendous metallic bang was accompanied by a violent lurch. Do you think the ticket gates at Southampton Central are principally about passenger security or income security? - Just two days after the brutal strangling of a teenage woman in Southampton, the gates were locked open at 22.00 as the revenue protection staff departed. The 20.55 Waterloo-Poole was advertised and announced at Southampton as the "22.23 to Bournemouth", with no mention of the stops at Branksome, Parkstone and Poole and no explanation whatever. There's customer focus for you! On board, the conductor announced that the line between Bournemouth and Poole was now closed for emergency engineering work, and there would be a bus service from Bournemouth to Poole. One wonders whether any Poole passengers stayed on the platform at Southampton.

18/3/03 16.45 Waterloo-Poole 8 minutes late at Southampton; 19.15 Waterloo-Southampton 6 minutes late. 16.48 Weymouth-Waterloo about 8 minutes late. 17.25 Portsmouth-Waterloo about 25 minutes late.

21/3/03 Severe overcrowding on the 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth from Southampton, where the train has 5 of its 10 coaches removed even though it departs at the height of the local evening peak. There will be serious problems if this procedure continues beyond mid-May, when the following SouthCentral train to Bournemouth is withdrawn.

24/3/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 20 minutes late due to a defective preceding train. At 08.25 most main line arrivals and departures at Waterloo advertised as around 10 minutes late. 16.06 Poole-Waterloo about 25 minutes late. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole about 9 minutes late by Totton.

25/3/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo and 06.10 Portsmouth-Eastleigh-Waterloo both 15 minutes late. Dead body on the down tracks at Weybridge, spotted by passengers on the 05.42 from Poole at 07.45; tracks closed for nearly 2 hours with huge disruption to Waterloo services. At 18.00 a number of main line arrivals at Waterloo were advertised as around 10 minutes late. 17.48 and 17.56 Epsom line trains cancelled. 18.00 to Basingstoke reduced to 8 carriages. 18.35 Waterloo-Exeter about 20 minutes late. 19.30 Waterloo-Weymouth about 30 minutes late due to delays on the train's previous journey. 70 minute gap in evening trains from Alton because the 20.52 started from Aldershot.

26/3/03 07.06 Basingstoke-Waterloo and 07.48 Guildford-Waterloo cancelled.

27/3/03 06.11 Brockenhurst-Winchester 8 minutes late at Southampton; connection for Brighton missed. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 20 minutes late. Stock for 17.56 Waterloo-Eastleigh-Portsmouth had not reached London by its departure time. 14.54 Portsmouth-Eastleigh-Waterloo about 35 minutes late; 16.17 Portsmouth-Waterloo and 15.06 Poole-Waterloo about 10 minutes late. 16.08 Eastleigh-Southampton held in Southampton tunnel until the connection for Wareham had departed; Totton passengers delayed a full hour as the 16.00 from Waterloo was 10 minutes late.

28/3/03 05.39 Yeovil-Waterloo about 40 minutes late. 16.00 Waterloo-Poole 48 minutes late at Totton. 17.17 Portsmouth-Waterloo cancelled. 19.05 Waterloo-Salisbury about 22 minutes late due to late incoming train. 19.15 Waterloo-Southampton 12 minutes late.

29/3/03 One passenger reported that it took her 2½ hours to get from Waterloo to Eastleigh - the combined effects of engineering works and running 30 minutes late against the revised timetable.

31/3/03 14.54 Portsmouth-Eastleigh-Waterloo cancelled. 16.01 Portsmouth-Waterloo 10 minutes late. 17.56 Waterloo-Eastleigh-Portsmouth reduced to 5 coaches with many passengers standing. 18.05 Waterloo-Poole left on time and stood outside Waterloo for 10 minutes whilst trains hurried past on either side. As soon as the guard announced that there was no buffet trolley on board, the trolley appeared in the second coach. The train was 10 minutes late leaving Eastleigh, the guard announcing that Fareham passengers would need to await the Brighton train (incorrect because the 17.56 was running even later and had been overtaken at Shawford). 18.50 Waterloo-Poole 30 minutes late at Ashurst. Passengers on the 22.55 Waterloo-Poole thrown off at Winchester due to emergency engineering works.

1/4/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 8 minutes late.

2/4/03 Big disruption for Salisbury commuters because of a derailment at their station; 05.42 Poole-Waterloo made a compensatory stop at Basingstoke. 18.05 Waterloo-Poole about 10 minutes late; 18.30 Waterloo-Weymouth about 12 minutes late.

3/4/03 Flooded floor at end of third coach of 18.05 Waterloo-Poole due to toilet overflow. Presumably-failed Wessex Electric unit parked in sidings at Southampton Central at 19.30; 20.30 Waterloo-Weymouth reduced to 5 coaches due to earlier train failure.

4/4/03 06.00 Southampton-Poole already 14 minutes late at Totton. 13.35 from Plymouth arrived at Waterloo, 35 minutes late, at 18.53; it formed the 18.35 to Exeter, departing at 19.02. 15.48 from Weymouth arrived at Waterloo, 21 minutes late, at 18.55 to form the front portion of the 18.50 to Poole. Doors eventually opened at 18.58, and the train left at 19.06, arriving at Totton over 20 minutes late. 17.31 Alton-Waterloo about 15 minutes late.

6/4/03 London journeys scheduled to be lengthened by about 30 minutes because of engineering works. Some passengers had a dreadful journey on the 09.30 Waterloo-Weymouth because it was formed of a single 4-coach slam-door train and was 30 minutes late leaving.

7/4/03 05.35 Waterloo-Weymouth 15 minutes late. Morning commuter services into Waterloo collapsed because of overrunning engineering works. Hordes of passengers standing on suburban stations. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo nearly 40 minutes late. Problems with the Weymouth portion of the 17.15 from Waterloo after leaving Southampton; this affected the Poole portion, which reached Ashurst 16 minutes late. Passengers on the 18.05 Waterloo-Poole froze in icy blasts due to duff hopper windows which dropped open following every attempt to close them.

8/4/03 Customer focus on SWT? 06.11 Brockenhurst-Winchester suffered emergency braking west of Southampton Central, though not known whether this was due to defective stock or a signal being passed at red. This caused minor delay to the Wessex Trains' service to Brighton. The latter stood behind a green signal at Southampton Central for over 5 minutes, delaying the 05.42 Poole-Waterloo. A London commuter asked the guard why the train was waiting. The guard replied that, at staffed stations, a member of the station staff has to attend departures. The commuter then went to the customer assistance room to see whether any SWT staff could find time to see the Brighton train away. A member emerged to catcalls from delayed commuters. The outcome was that the 05.42 departed 12 minutes late, lost its path, and reached London over 25 minutes late, 2 minutes before it was due to depart as the 08.30 to Weymouth. The 05.42 delayed the 06.19 Poole-Waterloo by about 10 minutes. 17.51 Waterloo-Portsmouth left about 7 minutes late, and 18.05 Waterloo-Poole about 6 minutes late.

9/4/03 05.42 Poole-Waterloo 6 minutes late. Part of 18.05 Waterloo-Poole stone cold; passengers huddled in overcoats.

10/4/03 06.03 Portsmouth-Waterloo over 20 minutes late. 19.30 Waterloo-Weymouth and 19.50-Waterloo-Poole both about 8 minutes late.

11/4/03 06.00 Southampton-Poole 14 minutes late by Totton. Big morning peak delays due to double signal failure at Wimbledon. 05.42 Poole-Waterloo delayed 20 minutes while other trains passed it on the slow line.

15/4/03 Customer focus on SWT? SWT's Customer Information System failed again. A former RPC member travelling to the Committee's public meeting at Portsmouth noted that, although the Portsmouth train sometimes left from platform one at Southampton Central, and sometimes from platform two, the only announcement was on the platform of departure, and that was made just as a freightliner train roared through the station. 18.43 Poole-Waterloo cancelled between Poole and Bournemouth due to delays to a preceding service. By early evening only the summary screens were working at Southampton. Passengers awaiting the 16.00 from Waterloo to Poole were told that the train would be switched from platform 4 to platform 3A. Huge confusion as the slower 15.45 from Waterloo to Poole ran through platform 3A and stopped at the far end of platform 3B. No announcement whatever as to what train it was. Some passengers raced up the platform and spoke to the guard. He informed them that the 16.00 would get them to their destinations earlier. The 16.00 then arrived about 10 minutes late. Passengers boarded and five minutes later it was announced on board that the train would leave 24 minutes late due to awaiting staff. By this time the 15.45 had departed, without being announced at any time.

16/4/03 18.39 Reading-Brighton cancelled between Reading and Brighton due to a train failure. 18.50 Waterloo-Poole about 36 minutes late to to a delay to a preceding service. 19.30 Waterloo-Weymouth and 19.50 Waterloo-Poole both around 25 minutes late. 20.30 Waterloo-Weymouth about 15 minutes late.

17/4/03 Stock for 17.15 from Waterloo did not arrive until 17.10. The train departed at 17.20 and was over 10 minutes late by Southampton. 17.42 Exeter-Waterloo over 15 minutes late at Basingstoke; 21.20 Waterloo-Portsmouth about 20 late minutes late; 21.28 Reading-Southampton about 36 minutes late; 21.38 Brighton-Salisbury and 21.48 Poole-Waterloo about 10 minutes late at Southampton; 21.55 Waterloo-Poole about 15 minutes late.

19/4/03 18.58 Weymouth-Waterloo about 30 minutes late at Southampton.


Shocking customer service on SWT - 22/4/2003

This day will join many others in commuter folklore. It started with the 06.11 Brockenhurst-Winchester running 20 minutes late, and its passengers thrown off at Southampton Central. In the evening there were signalling problems at Guildford, and a train failure at Vauxhall. Massive delay resulted. All trains from the Portsmouth line were severely delayed, with no indication of when they might arrive. Passengers were told the train at platform 10 would be the 17.51 to Portsmouth. It was then decided that it would be the 17.45 to Weymouth, and everyone thrown off. The train left at 17.50 and was 20 minutes late by Southampton. At 18.00 no Southampton service was advertised. The 18.05 to Poole travels from Portsmouth on its inward working, which was simply advertised as delayed. Its normal departure platform (No 11) had a 10-coach Wessex Elecric train with hardly an empty seat left. However, platform staff insisted they had no idea where this train was going! After persistent questioning from commuters, they confirmed that it was the 17.51 to Portsmouth. In view of the crush conditions on the concourse, due in part to the poorly positioned departure screens, some passengers decided to escape as far as Basingstoke on the 18.10 to Yeovil Junction. This left at 18.17, ahead of the 17.51 to Portsmouth. At Basingstoke, passengers encountered a new Stagecoach-imposed impediment. The summary information screens had been removed (as on platforms 2 and 3 at Southampton). This meant that the only way of being sure which platform would see the next Southampton departure was to run to and fro through the subway. After reaching Southampton with a further change at Winchester, passengers found that the next westbound departure would be the 18.30 Waterloo-Weymouth, running about 20 minutes late. This was followed by Virgin and SouthCentral trains, all three fast to Brockenhurst Village, then Bournemouth. Nobody bothered to arrange additional stops for stranded commuters. From about 20.15, the information screen on platform 4 couldn't decide whether the 18.05 or 18.50 Waterloo-Poole would arrive first, and changed every minute or so. At one point an announcement was made just as the screen changed again, so passengers were given simultaneous conflicting advice. Eventually, the 18.50 arrived at 20.25 (6 minutes late), with the 18.05 (one hour late) switched to platform 3. So some stations which had not had a service for over an hour, suddenly had two at once, each vying for capacity. (Very slightly reminiscent of the Stagecoach bus wars which the Monopolies and Mergers Commission condemned as deplorable, predatory, and against the public interest?)


New Service Cuts

Following the announcement that SouthCentral Trains would be withdrawn from Bournemouth, posters signed by SWT Managing Director, Andrew Haines, appeared on stations advising that there would be no cuts on SWT from the May 2003 timetable. Within weeks the press had blazing headlines about the four off-peak hourly services between Waterloo and Southampton being reduced to three, and the four between Waterloo and Reading being reduced to two. This will take effect from the September timetable.

In fact, one hourly Southampton train will divert to the Fareham line, and two of the Reading trains will divert to Weybridge. This will give much-needed improvements to towns like Fareham and Chertsey. These towns have fared very badly under SWT, who have concentrated their services on a few 'honeypot' stations like Portsmouth, Southampton and Reading. We may reasonably surmise, therefore, that these changes are not what SWT wanted. Indeed, there had been talk of six trains an hour between Waterloo and Reading, which would almost certainly have excluded the possibility of other operators running over the route.

Overall, this raft of changes will provide a more equitable range of services for many of the taxpayers who subsidise SWT so heavily. Just which train will divert to the Fareham line is unclear. Original reports stated that it would the slowest service, that is the 45 past from Waterloo. A subsequent article in 'Rail' magazine stated that it would be the 15 minutes past. One interesting point about the changes is that they were presented in terms of making the timetable more robust. We have always been told by SWT that the real operational problem is the Clapham Junction-Waterloo section, and that they wanted to "gold plate" its infrastructure. Yet, apart from two off-peak Guildford stopping trains per hour, which SWT are keen to restore even before they have been axed (see report of Alresford meeting), the number of trains in and out of Waterloo appears to be unaffected by the changes.

The 'Rail' article also brings mixed messages for people who use Totton and Ashurst stations. It suggests that stopping services will run between Brockenhurst and Wareham, rather than Southampton and Poole, from September. The semi-fast services between Waterloo and Wareham would then run between Waterloo and Poole, calling additionally at Ashurst.

That's good news for Ashurst (though if Ashurst's services are 'nuked' from April 2004, as SWT threatens, a short-lived benefit). However, this could be a very odd year for the substantial town of Totton. With the new Totton-Romsey services starting from May, off-peak services (including connections) between Totton and Waterloo will look like this:

Incredibly, Eastleigh will have no direct off-peak services to destinations West of Totton. Passengers making coastal journeys like New Milton-Chichester will lose their two daily direct trains, and will need to change at both Brockenhurst and Southampton Central for connectional services.


A big nil-cost improvement?

From May, SouthCentral trains from Victoria-Gatwick-Hove-Chichester wll terminate at Southampton Central whilst, from September, SWT trains will run locally from Brockenhurst to Wareham. With many elderly - and therefore frail/disabled - people living along the South Coast, it would seem commercially attractive to join the two services into a Coastway operation from Victoria through Hove and Chichester to Southampton, Bournemouth and Poole. No additional rolling stock would be needed. This should be possible with existing timings East of Fareham. West of Fareham, the service might look something like this, in terms of minutes past each hour (definitive times would depend on exact changes to other services, eg whether up Virgin trains change to an expected 50 past the hour slot from Bournemouth and therefore reach Southampton later than at present).

Fareham 24 minutes past each hour and Swanwick 30 past, as currently, then Bursledon 34, Netley 38, Woolston 42, St Denys 46, Southampton Central 52 (connections to and from London Waterloo), Totton 57, Brockenhurst 08, Sway 13, New Milton 17, Hinton Admiral 21, Christchurch 26, Pokesdown 30, Bournemouth 37, Branksome 42, Parkstone 45, Poole 48.


Poole 10, Parkstone 14, Branksome 17, Bournemouth 24, Pokesdown 27, Christchurch 31, Hinton Admiral 36, New Milton 40, Sway 44, Brockenhurst 49/55 (connection from Lymington), Totton 06, Southampton Central 11/18 (connections to and from London Waterloo), St Denys 23, Woolston 27, Netley 31, Bursledon 35, then Swanwick 39 and Fareham 45 as currently.

(An alternative would be for the Waterloo-Poole trains, rather than the SouthCentral trains, to serve Sway and Hinton Admiral)

This idea has been submitted to the Rail Passengers Committee, and the Group is delighted that it has the support of the County Council.


Class 444 Units

Isn't it just slightly odd that the public had lots of time to test mock-ups of the Class 458 coaches which now operate between Waterloo, Reading, Alton and Basingstoke, but have received little information about the prospective class 444 Desiro trains?

Unfortunately, the layout of the Desiros will be far from family-friendly. So unless you are a disabled person using the toilet in a compartment bigger than a bedsit (SWT hype reported in Hogrider No. 90) you may well be disappointed. The layout of the 5-coach long-distance units will be far different from that of the Wessex Electrics. The miniature buffet will be situated not in the centre of the unit but in the coach next to the first class seating. More significantly, the February edition of the Railway Gazette International reports that "Although the 444s are destined to operate on journeys of up to 3 hours, the vehicle ambience is more commuter than intercity. SWT -- specified the maximum possible number of seats in each unit".

Worst of all, there will be only four tables per coach. All the other seating will be airline-style. This is completely different from the comfortable, family-friendly, Electrostar units which are being delivered to Connex and South Central for shorter journeys to the Kent and Sussex coasts. There is likely to be a serious problem with luggage, because with airline seating there is no space between seats for luggage. Even on the Wessex Electrics, busy times like Friday evenings often see a luggage capacity problem with suitcases blocking corrisors. So, after all the hype about extending platforms at Waterloo, 15-coach trains, double-decker trains and all the rest of it, SWT have simply opted for the cheapest solution to overcrowding.

Pity that the infrastructure upgrade to allow Desiros to run will reportedly cost taxpayers around £900m (Rail Professional magazine) while the whole Desiro fleet, including suburban units, is worth only £640m and the additional hire charges for SWT will amount to a few £M a year.


Possible cut in new rolling stock

The March edition of 'Rail Professional' magazine reports that "Just when you thought the farce surrounding the introduction of new rolling stock couldn't get any worse, it has! The new trains will be short on stations as well as juice".

The HSE is insisting that Selective Door Opening should be only a temporary measure, and that trains should be no longer than the platforms they are to serve. This could have devastating effects for SWT commuters (see comments at end of report on the Hampshire Rail Forum at Alresford).

The April edition of 'Modern Railways' reports that SWT's response is likely to be to run shorter trains than planned and that 32 5-coach trains from their new order could be transferred to the Euston-Northampton line and Central services around Birmigham. So SWT's much trumpeted "785 new trains" could simply be 625 new carriages.

This would mean that, since the replacement of Mark I stock was mandatory, passengers will get virtually nothing out of a Stagecoach franchise (except a huge bill for power upgrade).


Award for Excellent SWT Commercial Guard

The March edition of Railnews reports that Popular SWT Commercial Guard, Gerry Masters, has received an award for his efforts. Congratulations, Gerry!

Mr Masters was the guard of the late-running 18.50 Waterloo-Poole on 8 November last year (Hogrider No 90). He wanted to avoid Hedge End line commuters being delayed 67 minutes so arranged for their connection to be held at Eastleigh. He was profusely apologetic when nobody bothered to honour the promise. This kind of thing (by no means a unique occurrence, see report for 10 January 2003 in Hogrider No 91) illustrates both the very inadequate focus on passengers on SWT and why Mr Masters is exceptional.


Press Review

Cuts to SWT services from September

These were widely reported. The Evening Standard of 25 February recorded SWT's admission that "some stations will lose out". The Evening Standard of 26 February recorded that among the services to be trimmed will be "one of the four trains hourly from Southampton --- to Waterloo, a route where SWT already cruelly disappoints those who commute via what was once a fast, reliable and regular service. Though the services due to be removed are off-peak ones, the passengers concerned, who may have changed their working hours in order to avoid the cattle-truck conditions of peak-time travel, will suffer - and SWT admits as much". The outcry which developed led to a more positive spin from SWT, whose Commercial Director claimed in the Southern Daily Echo of 27 March that "To assert that we are penalising commuters and communities is not true". Meanwhile, Stagecoach enthusiast Barry Doe was claiming in Rail that the cuts were for the best all round.

Late trains

The Evening Standard of 12 March, among other papers, exposed the latest round of performance figures. In the period October to December 2002, SWT's performance was the worst among the 10 London and South East train operators, with only 59.9% of trains on time. In the same period of 2001 it had just managed to scrape into 9th place. First Group, who had wanted to take over the SWT franchise, scored 80.7% on Great Eastern.

Police fury

The Southern Daily Echo of 13 March supported Southampton's chief police officer in condemning Virgin and Stagecoach for failing football fans wanting to attend the semi-final at Villa Park on 13 April. While engineering works are planned a long time in advance, it is difficult to believe that some degree of flexibility is not possible when the public interest demands it.

New Northam station

The Southern Daily Echo of 14 March reported that Transport Minister David Jamieson had expressed support for the idea of a new football stadium station at Notham and possibly rail services down to the Ocean Village. With the current cutbacks, time will tell what level of aspiration this represents.

Punctuality despair

The Daily Telegraph of 1 April reported Network Rail's view that pre-Hatfield Crash levels of punctuality will not return before 2008. We suspect that this wasn't an April fool article!

Better in Germany

A West End correspondent, in the Southern Daily Echo of 8 April, welcomes the prospective return of trains to Chandlers Ford, but notes that only a few improvement schemes will "actually come to fruition because of lack of will on the part of government and greatly increased costs arising from botched privatisation". Germany recently opened its fourth new high speed line and has two more under construction. [Couldn't the Government show more of its will by 'unbotching' privatisation, whether by ejecting the worst operators, or by getting rid of it all together?]


Notice Board

The Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England's next public meeting is scheduled to take place in the South Central franchise area on 14/15 July. Location not yet advised. The Committee can be contacted at Centric House, 390/391 Strand, London, WC2R 0LT. Tel 020 7240 5308. Fax 020 7240 8923. They now have an email address: info.southern@railpassengers.org.uk, and website: www.railpassengers.org.uk/Southern.

Railfuture, the former Railway Development Society

Campaigns for better rail services throughout Great Britain, and has 17 local groups affiliated to thousands of people in rail user groups. Produces 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.

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.

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) kate@railfuture.org.uk


Press Links

Links to press items available on the internet. Please email
presslinks@shrug.info if any links no longer work.

Darling sucked into FirstGroup fracas Evening Standard 16/4/03

Rail users must wait until 2008 for improvement Daily Telegraph 1/4/03

Railways chief sacks First Group Evening Standard 1/4/03

Minister backs the Saints' rail link Southern Daily Echo 14/3/03

Cost of long rail journeys set to soar Evening Standard 14/3/03

LUDICROUS Southern Daily Echo 13/3/03

Late trains Evening Standard 13/3/03

National Express wants rail reversal Evening Standard 13/3/03

More London train services to be axed Southern Daily Echo 26/2/03

Hitting the buffers Evening Standard 26/2/03

80 trains a day to be axed Evening Standard 25/2/03