Hogrider No 97 : April-June 2004 (Volume 1)
SOUTH HAMPSHIRE RAIL USERS' GROUP NEWSLETTER
INTRODUCTORY NOTE : CONTRIBUTION TO THE GOVERNMENT'S 'BIG CONVERSATION'
SWT MAGAZINE USED TO ATTACK MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
HEROIC DRIVER AVOIDS SMASH AT SOUTHAMPTON CENTRAL
CAN THINGS REALLY BE THIS BAD?
POOR TREATMENT OF DISABLED WOMAN AT AXMINSTER
SWT CRITICISED BY RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE 1
SWT CRITICISED BY RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE 2
POOR TREATMENT OF PASSENGERS AT SOUTHAMPTON CENTRAL 1
POOR TREATMENT OF PASSENGERS AT SOUTHAMPTON CENTRAL 2
PRESS RELEASE FROM RAIL PASSENGERS COUNCIL
RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE'S PORTSMOUTH-CARDIFF LINE STUDY
NOTABLE SUMMER TIMETABLE CHANGES
RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE MEETING: BOURNEMOUTH 30/3/2004
RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE'S COMMUTERS' DIARY PROJECT
SRA CENSURED BY ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY
MODERATING THE LANGUAGE OF FAILURE 4
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH PRESS RELEASE: 19 MAY 2004
THE 'STAGECOACH RESCUE AUTHORITY' MARCHING ON?
INTRODUCTORY NOTE : CONTRIBUTION TO THE GOVERNMENT'S 'BIG CONVERSATION'
Our Memorandum in the Transport Select Committee's Report on franchising was written in the summer of 2001. The Government's invitation for public input to its "Big Conversation" seemed to provide a useful opportunity to make a follow-up memorandum, especially given that transport currently has a high political profile. Accordingly, we submitted a further memorandum, by way of a contribution to the Big Conversation, on 15 February 2004, and copied it to the Secretary of State, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the Chairman of the Transport Committee (Mrs Dunwoody kindly responded, assuring us that she would read it with great care and hoping for a positive outcome). The full contribution appears as a separate document on our website.
Given that such huge sums are going to private operators through the franchising process, the process needs to be transparent so that passengers and taxpayers know that they are getting a good deal. It would arguably to be in the best interests of any government that this should be the case. However, the process has been anything but transparent. In the case of South West Trains, the new franchise was awarded to Stagecoach only months after Stephen Byers had publicly stated that its performance was not good enough. Two bidders with much better records had been dismissed.
In the case of the Greater Anglia franchise, two existing operators with good records were dismissed in favour of one which had recently said it was looking to reduce its railway portfolio. The only consolation for Anglia commuters is that the new franchise is headed by Anglia's Tim Clarke who will no doubt strive to uphold the ethos which made Anglia one of the few generally popular privatised railways.
Mr Bob Russell MP for Colchester raised the apparent anomaly in the Anglia franchising process in The Guardian of 15 March. We sent a copy of our memorandum to him, which he has kindly acknowledged.
If taxpayers are to get value for money, the public needs to be ruthless in monitoring the franchising process, adopting the ruthlessness which SRA Chairman Richard Bowker has urged in terminating trains short of destination and throwing off already-delayed passengers. What private company, other than one feather-bedded with taxpayers' money, could afford to operate in this way?
The problem for the Government is how to translate huge public funding into excellent public services. Is not the answer, "Ethics, ethics, ethics"? The railways need to be run by people committed to using public funds to the maximum advantage of the public. That surely, is what an ethical approach means. That is the declared approach of people like former BR Chairman, the late Bob Reid, and GNER's Christopher Garnett. Conversely, Stagecoach Chairman Brian Souter surely said it all about his company, when he told 'Scotland on Sunday' "Ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed."
The City considered that Stagecoach got one of the best deals during the original franchising process. The company chose to maximise profits by disposing of drivers and middle managers, and of course a wealth of experience - in 1997 there were big cuts in services and a huge outcry, because of the loss of drivers. Against the hopes of many rail users, they were chosen as preferred bidders for a second franchise. Their poor performance continued, and attracted Ministerial warnings. Press reports of 2002 suggest that the company may owe its existence in its present form to a hugely generous, though reduced-term, second franchise settlement.
SWT continues to make huge profits, and passengers endure duff stock, crews being unavailable, curtailment of trains short of destination and so on, ad nauseam. Trains are still cancelled daily due to no crew or due to duff rolling stock. However, these cuts are less obvious than in 1997 because the affected trains vary from day to day, creating a very substantial element of uncertainty for passengers.
The latest SWT line appears to be that they won't do this, and they won't do that, because of their short franchise. But, like Chiltern, they would probably have got a long franchise if they had earned it though their deeds. They should now plough more of their huge profits into platform lengthening, adequate rolling stock and a higher maintenance regime (note, for example, faded-out station name plates, and long-term hazard warning tape on the corridor connections of the Wessex Electrics).
The curtailment of services at first Shawford, and now Portchester, because of trains being too long for platforms (selective door opening by coach rather than by unit would solve the problem), could hardly augur worse for the recast SWT timetable from December. One e'mailer to the YAHOO interactive SWT website, referring to Portchester, calls the new trains as useful as 'a chocolate teapot'. A witty riposte, but also a symptom of growing passenger / taxpayer dissatisfaction.
(A copy of the body of our contribution is below. The Annexes are excluded here for reason of length)
In many areas, the Government's investment policies are beginning to achieve improvements for rail passengers, but the picture is patchy.
The strategic objectives of the new South West Trains franchise were (i) improved performance and (ii) increased capacity. This affects over 20% of people who commute to Central London over Network Rail tracks, and is therefore a significant issue.
The objectives seem unlikely to be achieved under Stagecoach, a company whose Chairman Brian Souter once told Scotland on Sunday that "Ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed".
This Memorandum comprises conclusions, based on documentary evidence and passengers' experiences, that:
The SRA has not demonstrated independence in its dealings with Stagecoach, and has modified its policies in ways which favour the company both in absolute terms and in comparison with its dealings with other operators. This has not achieved value for money for commuters or other taxpayers.
In the 19 months between Stagecoach being chosen as preferred bidder for the new SWT franchise and the announcement of the franchise award, the company continued to fail its passengers. Prior events are covered in the Group's previous Memorandum (Annex A), published by the Transport Sub-Committee in their report on franchising.
In 2002, SWT was awarded additional grant of £29 million, part of which was to operate a few extra evening trains. So many evening trains are now cancelled that services are completely unreliable - the problem has become acute since a spectacular collapse of services on 20/12/03. Snapshots of service failures from 6/12/03 to 15/2/04 are appended (Annex B). Reasons for these failures are in many cases not advertised by the operator, but shortages of train crews and serviceable rolling stock are significant.
SWT's annual subsidy has increased from about £50 million to £170 million. The major reason was stated to be the cost of hiring new coaches. 785 Desiro carriages were promised in addition to 120 Juniper coaches already coming into service. It is now reported that SWT will not accept 120 of the Desiro coaches, and is to return all the Juniper coaches to the owner. Passengers will therefore get 665 Desiro coaches instead of 785 Desiro coaches and 120 Juniper coaches (a reduction of about 26% in Stagecoach's commitment to new trains). Presumably the saving in hire charges will be a covert subsidy at taxpayers' expense, whilst the fleet reduction will inevitably subvert the objective of increased capacity.
Seating in existing suburban stock is reportedly to be reduced, despite a substantial increase in the price of season tickets, and huge public outcry when Connex, now expelled from both their franchises, announced a similar intention.
The new Desiro trains are reportedly 50% as reliable as the slam-door stock which they replace. Performance failures and rolling stock and train crew shortages occur across the board on SWT, with spiralling cancellations, shortened trains, and short working or omission of scheduled stops to compensate for delay.
Against this background of failure to give passengers and other taxpayers value for money, Stagecoach shares have increased in value from 10p to around 90p, since the new franchise award was announced, so it is clear who benefits from the award.
Overall, it is difficult to see how passengers and other taxpayers are getting a fair deal. Stagecoach's 8-year history of failure on SWT, and the worsening experiences of passengers, present the risk of a crisis in the near to medium future, related to poor reliability, hopelessly inadequate capacity and passenger dissatisfaction.
It was Stephen Byers who said, "To be blunt, the involvement of the private sector is a means to an end - helping government deliver better public services more effectively". He wanted short-term measures like recruiting more drivers, having spare trains for emergency use, enhancing maintenance cover and having better arrangements for dealing with disruption ('Rail' No. 425). These are all areas where Stagecoach has a poor record. Commuters share the frustration of politicians, including Ministers, at Stagecoach's consistent failure. Transfer of SWT to an operator with higher ethical values appears to provide the best hope of stabilising the service through more competent and customer-focused operation.
The railways get a supremo
The appointment, in 2001, of Richard Bowker as Chairman and Chief Executive of the Strategic Rail Authority appeared to herald a new era in which the Government's pro-rail, pro-passenger policies might at last be vigorously promoted.
However, informed bystanders may have noted that:
Mr Bowker was formerly a senior executive of Virgin Trains;
Stagecoach, operator of South West Trains, has a 49% interest in that company;
Mr Bowker's father is a senior Stagecoach Executive;
Head of Stagecoach Rail, Brian Eccles, refers to the time 'When Richard Bowker and I worked together' (Rail Professional, November 2002);
Soon after becoming Chairman of the SRA, Richard Bowker attended Stagecoach Chairman Brian Souter's church - a round journey of about 1,000 miles from the SRA's base;
One Stagecoach co-founder is on record as having stated, "Ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do because capitalism is based on greed". The other is reportedly now the richest woman in Scotland, with assets worth around half a billion pounds;
The High Court decided in 1996 that it would not be in the public interest to ban the World in Action's programme 'Cowboy Country' about Stagecoach's business practices;
The Monopolies and Mergers Commission found Stagecoach's treatment of the Darlington Bus Company 'predatory, deplorable and against the public interest';
The Advertising standards Authority found against South West Trains on two counts of using leaflets to misrepresent the scale of their commitments under a new franchise. SWT's defence was that the leaflets were 'public relations material' and should not be covered by advertising codes of practice;
Christian Wolmar, author of Stagecoach, attributes to Stagecoach "an arrogance and deep conviction that the company is right and everyone else is wrong"; and
South West Trains has an unenviable reputation for misleading its customers. As a commuter withdrawing from appalling travel between Portsmouth and Waterloo lamented, "I'll have to kindly decline another chance to 'meet the managers' offered by SWT - a university thesis in textual analysis surely awaits those encounters" (Evening Standard 10/7/01)
The SRA as Stagecoach Rescue Authority
This scenario implicitly raises a question of whether, in its dealings with Stagecoach, the SRA has been able to demonstrate the independence of mind which authoritative strategy requires. Failure to do so could further threaten the interests of thousands of SWT commuters on Britain's largest rail franchise. The Transport Committee is already on record as saying that "The SRA failed to provide the industry with the leadership that was expected of it." (Metro 1/2/02).
In fact, there is significant evidence that the SRA has generally chosen to follow a Stagecoach agenda. Stagecoach has benefited enormously while passengers continue to receive a hugely unsatisfactory service and, along with other taxpayers, are paying an increasingly high price for it.
Franchise awarded to Stagecoach despite ongoing failure
Some 18 months elapsed between the announcement in April 2001 that Stagecoach was the preferred bidder for the SWT franchise and confirmation in November 2002 that the franchise had been awarded, though for 3 years rather than 20 as originally expected. The award can arguably be seen as a betrayal of passengers' interests:
On 16 December 2001 the Evening Standard reported that, in the preceding 12 months, SWT had been fined £16m for poor performance, the highest of any train operator.
The year 2002 began with a series of devastating strikes on SWT. These were partly motivated by the scale of the disparity in pay awards to drivers and guards, and partly by the demotion of train driver Greg Tucker for a marginal infringement of speed limits. The SRA absolved SWT managers of responsibility for the strikes and waived penalties for not providing the services for which commuters and other taxpayers were paying huge amounts. However, an employment tribunal found that Mr Tucker had been wrongfully demoted after being singled out for union activities. It dismissed much of SWT's evidence as "incredible", "risible" and "implausible, even absurd". One key witness appeared to give evidence "without regard for truth and solely with an eye to where the advantage lay". A separate tribunal found that SWT unfairly sacked another worker after accusing him of intimidation during the strike.
- On 26 March 2002, London commuters waiting at Brockenhurst station were dismayed when their train disappeared from the departures screen. It then ran past non-stop, making them even later for work. This, despite a recent Chamber of Commerce report which had found that an average firm loses £21,000 a year because its employees are delayed on the railways, and despite the fact that John Denham, MP for Southampton Itchen, had expressed amazement at this practice (Southern Daily Echo 31/3/99). A person who identified himself as a member of SWT told a furious commuter that it was SWT's new operational policy; trains would not make stops when they were running late. Omitting stops and turning trains short of destination then became endemic on SWT, despite a call by Rail Passengers' Committee Chairman Wendy Toms for SWT to work to make sure that trains are not cancelled and do not to stop short of their destination" (Southern Daily Echo 29/12/01). Ms Tom's contract was not renewed when it expired in 2003.
Hansard of 21 May 2002 reports Transport Secretary Stephen Byers as saying, "I agree that the South West Trains franchise is not being operated as well as anybody would like. I want the Strategic Rail Authority to use the franchise renewal as an opportunity to secure real improvements for the travelling public. The Strategic Rail Authority must use the time over the next few months to negotiate an agreement with South West Trains - with Stagecoach Group PLC. If the SRA cannot negotiate a franchise renewal that puts the interests of the travelling public first, it will be prepared to seek a new franchise operator which will put the interests of the travelling public first, drive up standards and improve reliability… This is an opportunity to bring about real improvements for passengers who travel on South West Trains. We want the Strategic Rail Authority to deliver real improvements to the travelling public and it will."
- During 2002, the SRA awarded Stagecoach an additional payment of £29m, partly in return for introducing a few extra evening trains. One of these was a little-needed 19.43 Poole-Waterloo. This service was formed of the Southampton-Poole portion of the busy 17.15 commuter service from Waterloo, which reaches Poole at 19.37. The six-minute turnround meant that SWT needed to cancel the Southampton-Poole service when the 17.15 ran late. On a number of occasions, therefore, scores of angry commuters for intermediate stations to Poole were dumped at Southampton. The Rail Passengers Committee condemned this practice at their public meeting at Gatwick Airport in July 2002. The SRA was effectively incentivising an unethical company to throw commuters off their train.
- At the Autumn 2002 meeting of the Rail Passengers Committee public meeting in Folkestone, a member of the Committee confirmed that SWT's performance was "unambiguously the worst".
- On 7 November 2002, the Guardian reported that "Stagecoach, the widely criticised operator of poorly performing South West Trains, was told it was likely to get a new franchise running to 2007, well short of an earlier proposal for a 20-year deal. Richard Bowker, the SRA's chairman, said the existing franchise system, designed on privatisation during 1996, allowed operators to grow in an "uncontrolled, haphazard way" in search of higher profits. "There has been a lack of clarity over what is required of franchisees," he said. "We have been saying 'here's a minimum level of service, now go for it'. Instead, we will be saying "this is exactly what we want you to do."
- The Metro of the same day reported that Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, had told the Today programme that companies which met their requirements would be rewarded. "If they don't, they will be penalised and, if necessary, put off their franchise."
Stagecoach benefits from SRA policy changes
The SRA had planned to introduce a new Wessex franchise which would embrace the English portion of the Wales and West franchise plus SWT's Waterloo-Exeter and Reading-Brighton lines. This made sense because diesel rolling stock on these routes is compatible with Wales and West's stock, but not with the electric trains on the remainder of SWT. The combined diesel fleet could have given a more robust service and offered economies of maintenance, and there would have been the opportunity to develop more through working, avoiding changes of train for longer-distance passengers.
Graham Eccles, head of Stagecoach's rail division, made clear at a meeting of the Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England that Stagecoach was robustly opposed to the plan.
One of Richard Bowker's earliest ideas at the SRA (Metro 20/12/01) was that performance could be improved if each London terminus had only one operator. This was on the basis that operators were not sharing platforms, and that this caused unnecessary delays to incoming trains. It is unclear where this was happening; the real operating constraint at the London terminals is that some platforms are too short to accommodate the longest trains, which may indeed have to await a suitable platform whilst other, shorter platforms are empty. Perhaps significantly, the SRA failed to explain why 'one operator' termini were necessary in London, but not for example in Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester. Even more oddly, there seems no perceived problem with Victoria having three operators, and comparatively tiny Charing Cross two.
The policy change implied that the Waterloo-Exeter route would remain with South West Trains to avoid having two operators at Waterloo, and that Stagecoach would get its way and retain its diesel routes (and, of course, the substantial subsidy which they attract). The SRA announced that it would review the position. Stagecoach then produced a glossy magazine, 'Moving forward with South West Trains', which welcomed the review. It poured cold water on the idea of combining the SWT and Wessex diesel fleets, and made clear that SWT would like to take over the Cardiff-Bristol-Salisbury-Waterloo services.
The SRA decided that the Waterloo-Exeter route should stay with SWT, and the expanded Wessex franchise was effectively still-born. The diminutive English sector of Wales and West lingers on with very limited resources, as Wessex Trains, pending its absorption into the prospective Greater Western franchise. Severe overcrowding is endemic, particularly in the Southampton and Bristol areas, and there is now no likelihood of improvement until re-franchising can be finalised.
In 2003, the SRA announced that the Cardiff-Bristol-Salisbury-Waterloo trains would not be part of the Wales and Borders franchise, and would be withdrawn. The spare units would have afforded the opportunity to realise one of the key objectives in the SRA's own 'Strategic Plan': a half-hourly Portsmouth-Salisbury-Bristol service, every day, by 2005-06 (Strategic Plan, page 105). This would bring much-needed relief for the many passengers who currently have to stand for significant distances. However, at the November 2003 meeting of the Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England, it was announced that the SRA was considering the idea of extending SWT Waterloo-Salisbury trains to Bristol. So, unless the improved Portsmouth-Bristol service is in fact introduced in 2005-06, it would appear that the SRA is prepared to scupper its own strategy and, coincidentally, meet the wishes of Stagecoach (and, presumably, transfer subsidy to them).
Since SWT's diesel stock often has difficulty in covering all its existing schedules (especially on the Reading-Brighton route, where services are frequently axed between Reading and Basingstoke), it will be interesting to see whether Stagecoach will obtain some new trains for Waterloo-Bristol, or discover that partial realisation of the combined fleet which the company previously scorned will suddenly become a good thing.
Opaque franchising: SRA appears vigorously pro-Stagecoach and anti-First
A Rail Passengers Council booklet of May 2000 argued that, 'There needs to be much greater dialogue surrounding the franchising process. This is necessary not just to ascertain whether there is public support for particular bids but also to ensure that dialogue and consultation are used to improve the quality and effectiveness of services.'
This appeared perfectly in accord with the Deputy Prime Minister's expressed view that the interests of passengers should be paramount. Many commuters were dismayed in April 2001 when Stagecoach was chosen as preferred bidder for the then-proposed 20 year SWT franchise, given the company's appalling performance record, much of it due to maximising profits by shedding staff. Far from the franchise system becoming less opaque, the May meeting of Hampshire County Council's Rail Forum - at which local train operators answer questions from councillors and members of the public - was cancelled, interested parties being informed that this was due to continuing negotiations between preferred bidders and the SRA. Fortuitously, the County Rail Officer subsequently became manager of SWT's West of England line.
As our Memorandum to the Transport Committee argued, rival bidders GNER and First both appeared to have much better claims to the SWT franchise than Stagecoach:
First had managed a major commuter service from Liverpool Street with a considerable degree of success and passenger satisfaction. It can therefore be seen as a particularly serious rival to Stagecoach. The longer-distance operator from Liverpool Street, Anglia, is also highly regarded by passengers.
Choice of Stagecoach for the new SWT franchise remains shrouded in mystery. The only reason ever given was that the SRA liked its straightforward approach to the bidding process. This appeared as an unattributed remark in the Guardian, but was also relayed at a public meeting of the Rail Passengers Committee by the Committee's former Chairman, Wendy Toms. Clearly, as Stagecoach's Graham Eccles subsequently made clear, the company had been anything but straightforward with the public, confusing them to Stagecoach's advantage by shouting loudly about a long list of indistinguishable commitments and aspirations. This was perfectly in line with SWT's defence (effectively, the right to use PR to mislead) to the Advertising Standards Authority, as above.
Subsequently, there was considerable surprise that First was not short-listed for the new Greater Anglia franchise, which will absorb its Liverpool Street operations. First then took over Anglia, which had been shortlisted, and so created a 'dream team'. However, the SRA chose National Express, a decision which, according to press reports, was even to that company's surprise - especially since its Chief Executive had recently said the company wanted to 'reduce its exposure to the rail industry' (Evening Standard 22/12/03). The SRA's website states that one of the benefits of the new franchise will be 'better information and cleanliness' (information and cleanliness are things for which Anglia and First Great Eastern are already noted).
It is recently reported (Rail No 479) that First's bid for the Scotrail franchise is being hampered by its referral to the Competition Commission because it runs many bus routes in Scotland. Stagecoach's substantial network of bus routes in Hampshire has never been raised as a bar to its operation of SWT.
The difference between Stagecoach and First, from the passenger's perspective, is nowhere more stark than in Southampton. Stagecoach first became solvent by buying Hampshire Bus and selling Southampton's bus station and its services for more than it had paid for the whole operation (Source: 'Stagecoach' by Christian Wolmar). This left Southampton as one of the largest cities without a bus station. First has transformed the City's local bus services with new vehicles, revised routes, and a substantial system of Uni-Link buses to serve the huge student population.
The unfathomable disparity between the generous treatment of Stagecoach and apparently harsh treatment of First - one of its potentially most dangerous rivals - will remain a cause for public speculation so long as the franchising process remains opaque.
Peculiarities since the announcement in November 2002 of the new SWT franchise agreement: Subsidy increased by about 250% / Value of Stagecoach shares increased by about 800% / New trains cut by 26% and service delivery falls apart
Richard Bowker has stated that the SWT franchise agreement would mean the company focusing "on what matters to passengers - recovering performance to a level that passengers deserve and expect and the replacement of slam-door trains with the biggest new train order in the UK". This was in line with an earlier statement by Transport Minister David Jamieson that "reducing overcrowding is a key target of our 10-year plan, particularly for commuter routes". So having been stripped of all the aspirations for new stations and services which Stagecoach initially trumpeted in their bid, the new franchise was simply to focus on increased capacity and greater reliability.
However, the announcement of the new 3-year franchise agreement in November 2002 came just after Stagecoach shares collapsed to as low as 10p because of the company's failed USA bus operations. This suggested that investment in SWT, other than by taxpayers, would be negligible, which should have raised real doubts about the wisdom of re-franchising to Stagecoach.
The Times of 24 October 2002 had reported that "The chances are that Stagecoach will survive in some shape or form. But the debt burden is likely to drag on the company's fortunes and eclipse the opportunities to generate shareholder returns. The risk that the company will pass on its dividend is already high. Bonds trade at about 25 per cent below par, but they look no more a bargain than the shares. Avoid both."
The Guardian of the same date had reported that "The shares have fallen more than 80% in six months and credit rating agency Moody's recently downgraded the company to junk status."
Under the new franchise contract, SWT's subsidy was to increase from about £50 million a year to £170 million. This was justified on the basis of the additional costs of hiring 785 new coaches. The franchise operation most like SWT will be Greater Anglia, covering the massive commuter service from Liverpool Street. The Evening Standard of 30/1/04 reported that this is expected to make so much profit under National Express that the Treasury will expect to receive £500m by 2011, which will help to bail out loss-makers, including Virgin West Coast and Virgin Cross Country [and presumably SWT]. The big question is why Stagecoach is taking such large sums from taxpayers for running SWT, when National Express will hand the Treasury large sums for running the very comparable Greater Anglia operation. After all, National Express will be hiring modern rolling stock for Greater Anglia, just as Stagecoach will be for SWT.
Although, as above, the SWT franchise is supposed to be about delivering capacity and reliability, 15 months after the announcement of the new franchise award, there is no indication that commuters will get either, despite the fact that taxpayers are having to spend more than the value of the promised 785 new Desiro coaches (£640m) on upgrading the infrastructure to run them.
At Hampshire County Council's Rail Forum on 25/9/01, councillors and members of the public were told that the new Desiro trains would increase fleet seats by 11% (recorded in the minutes). However, the Southern Daily Echo of 29/10/01 reported that in terms of seating Stagecoach is replacing like with like. A challenge about this discrepancy at the Rail Passengers Committee meeting on 30/10/01, drew a letter from SWT Managing Director Andrew Haines which stated that "The Siemens Desiro order will provide for a significant increase in capacity but that is in the inner suburban area" (so no benefit to Hampshire).
At the present time, it is reported that:
- SWT will not take on 120 of the promised Desiro carriages, and will dispose of 120 new Juniper carriages. So commuters will get 665 Desiro carriages instead of 905 Desiro and Juniper carriages - a decrease of about 26%, despite Stagecoach being paid a huge subsidy to increase capacity. Will taxpayers get their money back through a reduction in subsidy to SWT or will alternative stock be hired?
- SWT's suburban fleet is to be refurbished to reduce seating and increase standing room, bringing more misery for commuters. SWT argue that this is because passengers don't like 2+3 aside seating - the kind of layout in much of their new Desiro outer-suburban trains. Interestingly, when Connex proposed to reduce seating on their trains there was a huge public outcry (Guardian 18/7/01).
- Whilst SWT's suburban passengers will be made to stand, their longer-distance passengers will be crammed into main line (class 444) Desiro units. 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". Stagecoach PR originally promised a high-specification for new trains on the Waterloo-Weymouth main line, but the 444s are not considered suitable for this long-distance run and the 1988 Wessex Electric units will remain - these units are very poorly maintained with abominable suspension and even the hazard warning tape on the corridor connections becoming worn.
This scenario is all the more remarkable because SWT originally trumpeted that there were options to increase the £640m order for the New Desiros to £1 billion. Despite the Advertising Standards Authority's condemnation of SWT for misrepresenting the scale of their franchise commitment, a letter dated 8/1/04 from SWT to a Staines commuter states "Our £1 billion investment in the new Desiro carriages is the single largest investment in rolling stock in the UK." Presumably this is a standard line, although incorrect.
To exacerbate matters, it is now reported that the Desiro units are only half as reliable as the old trains which they are replacing. (It will be recalled that Stagecoach got a cheap deal from Siemens at a time when the latter was facing loss of 5,500 jobs -Evening Standard 26/4/01 and 10/5/01). This contrasts awkwardly with the comments by SWT Managing Director, Andrew Haines, in the Southern Daily Echo of 29/10/01: "The three big benefits of these new trains will be safety, reliability and passenger comfort… We have specified a level of reliability that is ten times greater than current trains".
Turning to service delivery, it is clear that SWT simply does not employ enough drivers. Withdrawal of Ascot-Guildford services to release drivers for training on the new Desiro units has been much publicised, and letting down customers in this way has been criticised by the Rail Passengers Committee. Commuters are furious that they will get a measly 10% refund on a daily basis for the substantial inconvenience which they face. (Connex and SWT have been officially branded the worst rail operators for refunds - Evening Standard 2/8/01).
Why should there be a driver shortage when:
- the number of new carriages SWT will be running has been reduced by 26%;
- services on the lines from Waterloo to Portsmouth, Reading and Southampton have been cut, and services to West Croydon withdrawn; and
- the Lymington branch has been closed for 6 weeks for infrastructure work?
In fact, Ascot-Guildford services are the tip of the iceberg. Snapshots of SWT's performance (Annex B) show significant numbers of cancellations, some ascribed to crew shortages. These cuts are less obvious than those which caused an outcry in 1997 (Annex A), because the affected trains vary day by day. However, this means that it is impossible to rely on any SWT service actually operating.
It is instructive to look at SWT's website which often shows trains cancelled "due to the crew being delayed" as much as 3 hours before they are due to depart.
This scenario also raises the question of whether the September 2003 cuts were necessary - were they just a means of helping to underpin Stagecoach's teetering finances? In conjunction with the many cancellations of surviving services which passengers suffer, often due to train crew shortages, there are sometimes two-hour gaps in services which previously ran half-hourly. Against the dwindling returns for taxpayers, Stagecoach's fortunes are fast improving:
- Shares which dropped to 10p in the Autumn of 2002 rose above 90p in January 2004.
- The Stagecoach Chairman reportedly awarded himself a 72% pay increase, taking home £800,000 for 2002-03, a year when the group made a £466m loss and its turnover fell.
- In September 2003 it was reported that Stagecoach had survived a vote over its award of a £322,000 bonus to Mr Souter.
- In December 2003 the Southern Daily Echo reported that SWT passengers had helped boost the annual profits of Stagecoach to just under £77m.
Remarkably, the SRA Chairman admitted to the House of Commons Transport Committee that the announcement of an additional £106m grant to Virgin trains had been to stabilise Virgin and Stagecoach (which has a 49% interest in Virgin Rail). So it seems fair to ask whether SWT is receiving hugely-inflated sums of public money in the interests of passengers, or in the interests of the parent company Stagecoach.
The public meeting of the Rail Passengers Council in Westminster in December 2003 was illustrative of an apparent gulf between the Government and SRA:
- Transport Secretary Alistair Darling made a very moderate and balanced speech, urging the rail industry to "treat passengers as valued customers".
- After Mr Darling's departure to attend another engagement, Richard Bowker said the railways had to become ruthless when it came to performance. 'Rail' No. 477 reports "This ruthless attitude sees the SRA supporting the industry concept of service recovery, with late-running trains turned back short of their destination to bring them back on time".
As above, the SRA's line is very much attuned to Stagecoach policy: trying to throw passengers off their trains for operational convenience has led to the much-publicised 'siege of Basingstoke', and to commuter sit-ins at places like Southampton and Farnham. 'Rail' columnist Barry Doe considers that "The SRA's biggest problem remains arrogance. It welcomes you with open arms provided you agree 100% with what it plans and never ever deviate from that support. If you do, you are treated as an 'enemy of the state'!" ('Rail' No 474). On SWT, commuters may have to fight for the service for which they have paid thousands of pounds a year. In what other area of public service would providers get away with pushing their customers to one side for operational convenience?
Cancelling services on a daily basis has made travel unreliable for all SWT passengers, and reducing new trains by 26% will ensure overcrowding and misery for years to come, despite the warnings of the dangers of overcrowding in the House of Commons Transport Committee's recent report.
It appears unlikely that better performance will provide significant mitigation. The Charter Standard for SWT peak period mainline trains running within 5 minutes of time is 89%, equal to one bad delay per week for a typical commuter. Although off-peak services were cut from September 2003 to improve peak performance, only 65.9% of peak mainline services were within 5 minutes of time in the 4 weeks to 8/11/2003, 60.4% in the 4 weeks to 6/12/2003, and 77.9% in the 4 weeks to 3/1/2004 (an untypical period which included the big service reductions around the Christmas holiday period).
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Stagecoach is badly failing SWT passengers and other taxpayers whilst reaping substantial profit. It seems reasonable to assume that, when Chairman Brian Souter said "Ethics are not irrelevant but some are incompatible with what we have to do as capitalism is based on greed", he meant it and continues to mean it.
SWT's vigorous public relations machine
Against this background of the SRA's remarkably generous treatment of Stagecoach, and Stagecoach's continuing failure to provide the service standards for which passengers and other taxpayers foot the bill, SWT's PR machine has gone into overdrive:
- the new SWT 'E-motion' magazine strives to show SWT in a positive light, with performance presented as a peripheral issue, when at all;
- SWT's 'Every Second Counts' initiative exhorts passengers to board and alight from trains quickly, justifies closing doors 30 seconds before departure time, and seeks passengers' views on punctuality. Quite how this will help performance when the main problems are infrastructure, poorly maintained trains, and crew shortage is anyone's guess;
- SWT's website offers a wealth of confusing statistical material, which links with 'Every Second Counts'. A typically perverse entry: "The Good News - A significant disruption occurred with the traction current at Waterloo platforms 1-4. The incident was well managed, and resulted in delays of less than 1000 minutes [nearly 17 hours] despite having to reform trains in the morning peak. This is a significant achievement as problems of this nature have previously resulted in cumulative delays from 3000 minutes [more than 2 days]".
The December 2003 issue of Rail Professional, in an article 'Graham, the guardian angel', states that "Graham Eccles, railwayman-in-chief at Stagecoach, has been drafted in to advise the men at the top of Network Rail what to do". Commuters might think he would be better employed putting SWT to rights. Or is this to further Stagecoach's goal of vertical integration, so that they would take control of the tracks on SWT, and presumably maintain them to the same standards that they maintain their train services? And this is the same Mr Eccles who told the November 2002 edition of the same magazine that if Stagecoach don't get the deal they want on SWT they "won't hesitate to walk away" - unlikely words for a guardian angel.
In the second edition of SWT's 'E-motion magazine, there is a report of a meeting between Transport Minister Kim Howells, and SWT Managing Director Andrew Haines who, as above, argued that incorrect information in PR leaflets was none of the Advertising Standards Authority's business. Mr Howells is quoted as saying "I have learned a great deal. You need to hear sensible, experienced voices of the railways. I have spent time with drivers, signallers and managers alike. --- Well, first of all, Andrew's a Merthyr boy! But seriously, he knows the railways backwards and I have learnt a lot from him. We need to listen to people like Andrew Haines and their experience of Network Rail and the Strategic Rail Authority."
(Wouldn't it be more constructive to find out why SWT is seriously short of drivers, and why their trains - especially the Wessex Electrics - are constantly failing? And why are 120 Juniper carriages being returned to the rolling stock company on the grounds that they are unreliable when they achieve better performance on Gatwick Express and Scotrail. A non-SWT source is quoted in the January 2004 edition of Rail Professional as saying "Bad maintenance and bad reliability go hand in hand. Gatwick Express has a strong maintenance regime and it has one of the most reliable new trains anywhere on the Network. SWT doesn't.")
Dr Howells might be well advised to show caution in his dealings with SWT. Stagecoach is no more respectful of Government than of passengers, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission or the Advertising Standards Authority. Note this quote from 'Stagecoach' by Christian Wolmar: "Souter was so ecstatic about his purchase of Porterbrook that, soon after the deal, he regaled a bunch of railway bigwigs with the following ditty to the tune of the Teddy Bears' Picnic, poking fun at Sir George Young, the Transport Secretary, who was based in Marsham Street in Westminster:
If you go down to Marsham Street, you'll never believe your eyes;
If you go down to Marsham Street, you're sure of a big surprise.
The Porterbrook sale was never expected,
Poor Sir George is feeling rejected,
And Mr Watts will never be re-elected."
SWT MAGAZINE USED TO ATTACK MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
From SWT's Passengers' Panel in Issue 4 of 'e-motion': "The politician faced with a rail problem and little idea of how to deal with it cries "We have to put our passengers first". If they have no idea at all, "have" becomes "determined" and they shout even more. Isn't there a saying "the louder they shout their innocence, the faster we count the spoons"?" [Shouldn't the writer be saying "the more times we let down our passengers, and the more things we say we're not prepared to do, the faster they count our massive subsidy"?]
HEROIC DRIVER AVOIDS SMASH AT SOUTHAMPTON CENTRAL
The 05.30 Portsmouth-Southampton service is normally formed of two 2-coach diesel units. After arrival at Southampton Central's platform 3, the units split and operate separate journeys. One morning, believed to be May 12, the 05.30 was formed of a single 4-coach electric train. The diesel units had already arrived at Southampton Central and split, so that platform 3 was fully occupied. Nevertheless, the train from Portsmouth was signalled into that platform. Our eye-witness reports that the driver braked violently and avoided a smash by less than 50 feet. There were then big delays while the two diesel units moved along the platform separately. He has written to SWT to see whether they registered the incident as a near crash.
CAN THINGS REALLY BE THIS BAD?
TRUE OR FALSE? "On 18 May 2004, the rear halves of the 16.30 Waterloo-Weymouth, 16.45 Waterloo-Poole and 17.15 Waterloo-Weymouth/Poole were all formed of the same 5-coach train unit."
TRUE. At 16.40, passengers on the crowded 16.30 were told the train was cancelled due to no crew and they should return to the concourse and look for other trains. There's customer service! As people streamed off, it was announced that the train was now the 16.45 to Poole, which serves the same intermediate stations (and others) as the 16.30. Furious passengers who heard this announcement then streamed back to their seats. Mysteriously, there was a crew for this train, and it left, dreadfully overcrowded, at 16.50.
At Southampton, scores of people were waiting to board as it was the end of the local peak period, the 16.30 from London had been cancelled, and the South Central train which used to run between the 16.30 and 16.45 was axed in September by order of the SRA. Nevertheless, the rear half of the 16.45 was detached, causing more dreadful overcrowding.
Meanwhile, the 17.15 from Waterloo had left with only 5 coaches and more dreadful overcrowding. It could not split at Southampton, and the portion detached from the 16.45 then deputised for its rear (Poole) portion.
Wonderful what you can get when you featherbed the operator with tripled subsidy!
POOR TREATMENT OF DISABLED WOMAN AT AXMINSTER
Entry from the Devon site of BBC News on 6/5/2004:
"A South West train operator has been criticised for refusing to allow a disabled woman with a mobility scooter to use its service.
Anita MacKendrick from Ryall in west Dorset contacted South West Trains three weeks ago and was told there would not be a problem. But when she arrived at Axminster station in Devon, Ms MacKendrick was told she could not get on the train. She said: "They wouldn't even let me take the scooter to pieces." Ms Mackendrick explained: "The vehicle breaks down to five small pieces that I could get on the train myself. It's no more than three or four suitcases."
As a result of the incident Ms MacKendrick missed an important hospital appointment. She was due in London to see a specialist at St Thomas' Hospital. Despite phone calls to the train operator the service left without her and she missed her hospital appointment.
Ms MacKendrick, who is registered disabled, contracted polio as a child and has a wasted right leg and had her left knee replaced last year. In a statement South West Trains defended its policy. It said "For reasons of weight, size, manoeuvrability and safety, South West Trains does not carry powered scooters on its services and all staff are fully briefed on this policy. We are therefore currently investigating how Ms MacKendrick came to be advised otherwise and regret the inconvenience caused."
Ms MacKendrick said the company should change its policy. She said she is now facing a long wait for her hospital appointment to be rescheduled."
SWT CRITICISED BY RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE - 1
From 'Rail' No 479: "South West Trains is replacing 64 services a day with buses, saying it does not have enough drivers while it trains them on the new Desiro units. The cuts have fallen on the Guildford-Aldershot-Ascot line, with only five services remaining in the hands of trains. ----- The cuts were attacked by the local Rail Passengers Committee as showing a "worrying lack of foresight and planning." RPC Southern Chairman Tim Nicholson told Rail "It's not as if these Desiros have just turned up" adding that "passengers hate bus replacement services." "
SWT CRITICISED BY RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE - 2
From Southern Daily Echo 8 May 2004: "Commuters were meant to be speeding up to London on the new Siemens Desiro 444 electric trains, due to enter service on the [Portsmouth-Fareham-Waterloo] route in December. But the platforms at Portchester station, near Fareham, are not long enough to accommodate the new five-carriage trains with their sliding doors. It means Portchester passengers will have to change at Fareham to go to London. ----- Geoff Bignell, vice-chairman of the national Rail Passengers Committee, laid the blame at the door of SWT. He said "I think it's ridiculous. The whole thing is a complete farce. They should be saying "How can we best serve the passengers?" It's nothing to do with the SRA, it's SWT who bought the trains." Meanwhile, John Vivian, of Gosport and Fareham Friends of the Earth, labelled the situation "a fiasco"."
POOR TREATMENT OF PASSENGERS AT SOUTHAMPTON CENTRAL - 1
On the morning of 10 March, a points failure at Branksome trapped the rolling stock which would normally be carrying thousands of commuters on the Weymouth-Waterloo main line.
Many commuters at Southampton Central caught the 07.00 Virgin Trains service and changed to London trains at Basingstoke or Reading. The Virgin crew might have been irritated by having their Anglo-Scottish express swamped by non-Virgin passengers. Nothing of the kind - the conductor welcomed people aboard and announced the times of London trains to which they could change. Excellent service!
Commuters reliant on Stagecoach's SWT services from Totton had a very different experience. At 06.40 the customer information system showed that the 06.20 to Winchester would leave at 06.26, and that the 06.36 to London (the 05.42 from Poole) was delayed. The display then changed to show that the 06.36 to London was cancelled.
The station manager explained the problem and confirmed that the 06.36 had not been cancelled, but stops at Pokesdown, Christchurch, Hinton Admiral, New Milton, Sway, Ashurst and Totton were being deliberately omitted. There would be a special stopping service from Bournemouth to Southampton Central, but he was unable to get confirmation of whether it would reach Southampton in time to connect with the London train.
Some commuters then made their way to Southampton Central by other means. Those who drove found that the first ticket machine in the down-side car park didn't display charges. They therefore had to walk to the other end of the park to check the price.
At the station, they discovered that the 05.42 from Poole was running almost an hour late. In addition, the 06.19 Poole-Waterloo, 06.26 Poole-Waterloo and 06.02 Weymouth-Waterloo were all cancelled. The stopping service from Bournemouth did arrive before the London train so, if full information had been provided to the station manager at Totton, commuters needn't have spent additional money on parking tickets.
There were then large numbers of weary, frustrated people stretched along platform 1 at Southampton. Just before their train was due to arrive, an announcement was made advising them to cross to platform 4 and take the 07.40 to London (old Mark I stock and 14 intermediate stops) because their train had left Bournemouth very congested.
Many disgruntled passengers crossed the footbridge. The service from Poole then arrived almost empty, with hundreds of spare seats from end to end. Since it was the only SWT train on the move between Bournemouth and Southampton, and since the only intermediate stop had been at the small New Forest village of Brockenhurst, it had clearly not left Bournemouth with any congestion whatever.
It seems obvious to the commuters who witnessed these events that, having omitted their stops to save time, SWT had decided to pick up as few passengers as possible at Southampton to reduce boarding time. This would be in line with their 'Every Second Counts' campaign which tries to imply that passengers cause delay by not jumping on and off trains quickly enough.
Whatever the reason, how can any company treat passengers paying thousands of pounds a year for their tickets so badly?
POOR TREATMENT OF PASSENGERS AT SOUTHAMPTON CENTRAL - 2
On 7 April, commuters arrived at the down-side car park at Southampton Central to find that parking charges had been increased by 45% from £4.00 to £5.80. The ticket machine was taped out of use, the down-side ticket office was closed, and the person at the platform gates was unable or unwilling to sell parking tickets. So, in return for this huge price hike, passengers had to drive to another car park and risk losing their train.
PRESS RELEASE FROM RAIL PASSENGERS COUNCIL
The RPC issued a very apposite press release on 10 March 2004 arguing that statistics should show how customers, rather than train companies, have suffered. Measuring delays to trains and not focusing on what happens to passengers is an example of how customers are too often sidelined in the current structure. Passengers are still essentially using a Victorian railway network and the Government must put them at the heart of the industry if it wanted to improve services.
The council's views came in its initial response in the consultation process on the Government's structural review of the railways, which is due out this summer. The views were being made known at an RPC public meeting in London, which was being held the day before the Strategic Rail Authority published the latest punctuality figures for the passenger train companies.
Speaking of the punctuality figures which were due to be released the next day, the RPC said: "In no other major public service would one of the primary measures of performance be so input focused… Hospital waiting times are measured in a very different way… We are told how many patients are, for example, waiting to see a consultant… We are told how long they have been waiting and we know what the target is… The way the railway industry is measured shows that the reform of the industry towards a more passenger-focused industry still has a long way to go… Passengers want to see improvements to their rail services - this review must focus on outputs to achieve this… Passengers accept the need for change but the review must not become a distraction or an excuse in itself… Change must be communicated to passengers and phased in gradually".
RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE'S PORTSMOUTH-CARDIFF LINE STUDY
The Rail Passengers Committee (Western) has produced a comprehensive report on the Portsmouth-Cardiff line.
The report is available on www.railpassengers.org.uk/Western/News/RPCPublications. The RPC see this as a route for development. Passenger usage is heavy throughout from Southampton westwards (to the east of Southampton the route is shared with many other services). Proposals include more capacity; a more regular stopping pattern for the hourly Portsmouth-Cardiff service; an hourly Bristol-Frome service with extensions to Weymouth about every two hours; a separate Penzance-Portsmouth train; a regular-interval Westbury-Swindon service, with connections to and from the Southampton direction; and an hourly Totton-Salisbury service. The last two aspirations are based on ideas submitted by SHRUG. We are grateful to the Committee for involving the Group, and for their generous letter of appreciation.
NOTABLE SUMMER TIMETABLE CHANGES
These changes are highlights only.
Virgin Cross Country
South Hampshire sees arguably its best-ever Cross-Country service. The first 10 northbound departures from Southampton Central on Mondays to Fridays, first 9 on Saturdays, and first 7 on Sundays go through to Edinburgh or Glasgow, with one service a day extending to Aberdeen. Unfortunately the 15.10, 16.10 and 17.10 on Mondays to Saturdays and 09.10 on Saturdays still call at Oxford to pick up only, leaving gaps of up to four hours in the direct Southampton-Oxford service.
Southern (formerly SouthCentral)
Direct working from Southampton Central to London Victoria via Gatwick Airport is largely suspended until December, as part of the phasing-in of new Electrostar units.
On Mondays to Fridays, the early service to London Bridge continues, along with the two late evening Brighton services. The second and third departures of the day go to Worthing, and all other departures to Littlehampton. Passengers need to change at Worthing or Barnham for Gatwick Airport and London Victoria. Hourly timings vary by a few minutes.
On Saturdays, the first two services to Victoria continue to operate, along with the two late evening services to Brighton. All other services go to Littlehampton, with connections at Barnham for Gatwick Airport and London Victoria.
Ignore the serious error in the National Rail Timetable, which shows the direct Penzance-Portsmouth service as discontinued.
The additional Summer-only Bristol-Brighton, and return, service (notable for running non-stop from Southampton to Bath) is discontinued. The 20.00 from Southampton Central to Swindon runs on Fridays only. On Mondays to Thursdays passengers need to catch the 20.09 Cardiff service, and change at Westbury. The 21.10 from Southampton Central to Cardiff again runs on Mondays to Fridays, but starts from Portsmouth on Fridays only. The 21.12 Saturday service to Bristol Temple Meads extends to Bristol Parkway. The late evening train from Portsmouth to Frome (Mondays to Fridays) and Westbury (Saturdays) is diverted to call at Eastleigh. This is believed to be the first advertised direct working from Portsmouth to Southampton via Hedge End, though the train is fast from Fareham to Eastleigh.
South West Trains
The change likely to affect passengers most widely is the ruthless chopping of many Netley line stopping trains to run only to and from Portsmouth and Southsea rather than Portsmouth Harbour. This makes a nonsense of The Hard interchange at Portsmouth Harbour, which offers both a range of bus links, and ferry links with the Isle of Wight and Gosport. The Hard is totally in line with the Government's ambitions for integrated transport.
It may be that this is in preparation for a revised Southampton-Portsmouth stopping service being operated with just two outer-suburban Desiro units, reflecting the big cut-back in SWT's promised rolling-stock order. The cuts will inevitably be seen as a snub for Southampton Itchen MP, John Denham, who has taken a very positive interest in the development of the Netley line service.
The skeleton SWT service beyond Exeter is revised.
Other changes, long overdue, are the extension of the 21.30 train from Waterloo to run through to Weymouth and an additional call by the 19.50 Mondays-Fridays train from Waterloo at Ashurst.
The price of the new timetable has increased from £10 to £12, and it runs from 23 May to 11 December. The cover shows two information officers with their monitors. The woman officer is studying red timings (which indicate late trains) at Birmingham New Street, the very hub of the national network.
RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE MEETING: BOURNEMOUTH 30/3/2004
Presentation by Ian Johnston, Chief Constable British Transport Police, and responses
People should be able to travel without fear. Public perception is that crimes typically committed against elderly women on trains; in reality victims are young men on stations.
'Railcops' TV series brought BTP to public notice. Small force which works in partnership with other forces. Good record compared with the others. About 150 special constables in addition to regular staff. Cannot meet all low level needs. Preventative rather than reactive. Relies on analysis of intelligence to target trouble spots. Major reductions in robberies and route crime (vandalism). Train operators cannot direct BTP to concentrate activity on protecting their commercial interests.
Terrorism is a changing world. Vigilance by the public vital. Security services say level of threat hasn't changed since Madrid disaster.
SWT employing staff who are deployed by BTP - based at Clapham, Richmond, Guildford, Portsmouth and prospectively at Basingstoke and Bournemouth. Most crimes in the Greater London area. Help manage big events. Incidents on the Chessington line trouble spot down 50%. No significant incidents during Ascot week.
Small force means response times can be slow. Some areas where BTP will struggle. Local forces are tasked and events logged to show patterns of crime.
Concerns that secure stations scheme doesn't work and unused buildings at stations can attract trouble. Industry considered that not all buildings attractive for alternative use.
Accepted that trouble makers sometimes pushed on to trains. They are a nuisance wherever they are, but pushing crime-minded people into unfamiliar territory can make their offences easier to detect.
Concerns about rowdyism on last train from Salisbury to Gillingham which has a night club. Ordinary passengers usually shepherded into first class.
Concerns about disgusting treatment of some young people who were delayed on an Exeter-Edinburgh train by a suicide and then treated as criminals because they continued their journey on another train for which their tickets were not valid.
Rail Passengers Committee's 'Commuters' Diary' Project
RPC considered that on most days service was reasonable but on too many days it wasn't good enough. [This means of course that, when words are given their ordinary meaning, the services are totally unreliable because commuters with important engagements have to traveller earlier than necessary in the hope of getting to them on time. More about the Diary project in a separate item below.]
Network Rail performance has improved over recent months but the crane incident between Clapham and Waterloo caused 35,000 minutes [= about 3½ weeks] of delays. Major bridge replacement exercise at Clapham during the Easter weekend. Work on Strood and Higham tunnels slightly behind schedule after a minor accident when a worker was hurt by a chalk fall. Electrification coping as more new trains coming into service.
South Central has big investment in new depots and commissioning new trains. Uckfield line now performing very well, as are the London Metro services. All Uckfield off-peak trains now formed of modern stock. Some Eastbourne trains performing badly and some Brighton trains very badly. New trains performing better than those they replaced [the opposite to SWT]; failures often due to human error - big training issue. From December there will be hourly Uckfield-London Bridge trains, including Sundays throughout the year. New trains then to go on Ashford-Hastings line, followed by direct Ashford-Brighton services. Refurbished suburban trains very popular - like new stock.
South Eastern Trains has large number of new trains in service and their reliability improving; outer suburban stock to follow. Period of maximum difficulty because many incompatible bits of fleet. Punctuality improving and dramatic reduction of short-formations. Station gates in use over longer hours. Station deep-cleaning programme and repainting in hand on a 3-year cycle.
Virgin Cross Country has achieved big performance improvement compared with last year. Broadly back to pre-Hatfield levels but not as good as 1998. Customer satisfaction highest ever - 2% above that for the Inter-City sector generally. Biggest problem is national track congestion. Bournemouth services will see Britain's first use of tilt, with trains tilting between Banbury and Oxford. Northbound services likely to be re-timed from December to connect out of trains from Weymouth. Two seats being taken out of 4-car Voyager trains to accommodate luggage and 4 seats out of 5-car trains. Wheelchair space often filled with luggage.
Customers increasing on Wessex Trains. 6% last year on Weymouth-Bristol and 11½% on Portsmouth-Cardiff. Hiring engine and coaches this summer to help on the Weymouth route. Rolling stock being refurbished. Overcrowding is the main constraint on the Portsmouth route. and causes delays. Some bad periods on Southampton-Swindon; remedial plan now in place.
Island Line punctuality 99.8% last year. Will work closely with SRA on Community Railway project.
Thameslink services to be severed for Channel Tunnel Rail Link construction. Services affected at weekends and on a few weekdays during the summer. Big service reduction on 26/27 July to commission signalling. Full blockade from 10 September: Brighton trains to run to Kings Cross Thameslink. South London trains to there or to Blackfriars. Bedford trains to run to St Pancras. Committee congratulated Thameslink on their planning and publicity.
South West Trains had reduced SWT-caused delay during last 6 months. Integrated control at Waterloo introduced. Pleased with performance of new trains. New timetable from December - consultation starting in a week or so. [The meeting would have been the ideal opportunity to present an outline of the proposed changes for the public - failure to do so inevitably suggests a lack of customer focus] 36 new class 450 units in service; rest during summer and autumn. Class 444 units to be used on both routes from London to Portsmouth and to replace slam-door stock on the Southampton line. 8 units on the Portsmouth direct line from May. [Nothing said about the big reduction in the train order] £67m being spent on refurbishing the class 455 units. [Nothing said about the hundreds of seats to be stripped out to cram in standing passengers, which is likely to mean more people killed in the event of a terrorist incident]
Question on scruffy SWT stations and faded-illegible name boards. SWT said new signs in next 3 months. [Scandalous that parts of stations like Hook have become virtually anonymous over the last year.]
Question on whether big service cuts have helped punctuality. [Reply that they made service recovery easier seemed rather weasel-worded]
Dismay at service cuts at Shawford. SWT said SRA had agreed [Conforms exactly with the thesis expounded in our contribution to the Government's 'Big Conversation']; short platforms the problem - would consult on how to solve problem [Wouldn't a customer-focused operator have consulted before the cuts?]
Later trains to Yeovil/Sherborne? SWT said there would be a 21.20 Waterloo-Yeovil from December.
No prospect of restoring rains to Ludgershall to serve housing expansion.
Car park extensions a vexed issue for SWT in view of short franchise. Old goods yard at Salisbury may be converted.
Unlikely that track from Salisbury to Exeter would be re-doubled. SRA would be looking at specification for a new franchise at the end of the year.
Don't believe developers who promise new stations. Unlikely to happen - multi-stake issue.
Discontent that hourly trains to Weymouth just miss the service from Gatwick at Southampton. More discontent when South Central announced that most Gatwick-Southampton services would run only between Littlehampton and Southampton from May to December 2004. This is to ensure that the same units which separate at Haywards Heath are re-coupled on their return journeys. Otherwise, risk of non-compatible old and new stock arriving at Haywards Heath for coupling.
Concerns about big new recycling plant alongside Alton-Farnham line; track redoubling needed to avoid hundreds of lorry movements. Grants for freight expansion withdrawn some time ago.
Complaint that, because Alton branch is treated as in SWT's suburban area, commuters do not get the refunds for the awful service which are available to those alighting at Brookwood. SWT said they were looking at a solution other than transfer of Alton to the main line sector.
Integrated Kent Franchise: Channel Tunnel Rail Link trains will substitute rather than augment existing services. Raises questions about best use of rail. Slicker travel versus change of terminus. Many people likely to drive to Ebbsfleet Parkway. What future for Maidstone? Kentish operations fairly self-contained. Opportunities to develop connections to expand the market. Small stations will lose out badly. [This reflects what has already happened on SWT: services at Beaulieu Road almost non-existent; services at Shawford reduced to a skeleton; even services at a substantial and growing town like Totton reduced by 40% off-peak]
Greater Western: RPC generating early debate. Considerable potential to develop Portsmouth-Cardiff route. Growth potential: could be a major route.
Route Utilisation Strategy
Draft consultation on Brighton line in June. Faster point-to-point timings. Attaching/detaching trains at Haywards Heath is a performance risk. No need perceived for infrastructure improvements on the Arundel line.
Committee supports developments along the South Coast corridor. Brighton-Ashford services by December 2005. South Central looking at overtaking potential at Barnham and Worthing.
Considerable disappointment that SRA is generally hostile to new stations. Seen as contradicting Government policy on social inclusion and getting people on to public transport.
Consultation on new SWT timetable to be completed by 14 May. SWT leaving RPC to consult with user groups.
RAIL PASSENGERS COMMITTEE'S COMMUTERS' DIARY PROJECT
The Southern RPC collected daily information from 50 London commuters between 12 January and 19 March. The diarists commuted from 40 stations over 17 routes on trains operated by non-franchised South Eastern Trains, South West Trains, South Central Trains and Thameslink. Performance indicators were punctual departure, punctual arrival, cleanliness, information at stations, information on trains, getting a seat, and having season ticket checked. Type of rolling stock was also recorded, but not fed into the markings because all slam door stock will be replaced by late 2005 (officially by 31/12/2004 but the programme is running late, as widely forecast).
The RPC gave double weighting to punctual arrivals and departures but (oddly, given that their remit does not cover the Greater London area, so that all their diarists travelled good distances) not to getting a seat. Taking the percentage scorings in each category as marks out of one hundred, and doubling the weighting for arrivals and departures within 5 minutes of time, SET scored 765 out of 900, SCT 759, SWT 757 and Thameslink (which could be measured only over the congested Brighton main line) 700.
However, the RPC's preferred method for calculating overall markings was to add up the placings (first, second, third or fourth) of each company across the board, and double the placings for punctual arrivals and departures. This inevitably distorts the global scoring because a fourth place in any category could, for example, represent 90% or 60%. With this method, lowest ratings are best and SET was top with 25 points; SWT scored 29 points, SCT 40 points and TL 54 points. This is inadvertently generous to Stagecoach who operate SWT, and ungenerous to GoAhead who operate SCT and TL.
Although, therefore, we have doubts about the overall rankings, the individual scorings by category are very illuminating. SWT's Alton line comes out at the very bottom of the pile, and can reasonably be dubbed the South's misery line. In terms of trains arriving within 5 minutes of time, however, Alton and Southampton lines are level-pegging at 57%. The Ramsgate line, even with its outdated infrastructure, comes out at 78%, and Maidstone at 86%. Salisbury, with the single-track sections faced by trains which run to or from west of that city, achieves 81%.
Interesting, too that the official figures for SWT peak main line trains arriving within 5 minutes of time are 65.1% for January, 75.2% for February and 86.6% for March. The difference is that the diarists' records do not allow for void days and delays which the industry considers outside its control. But with the true percentage on the Southampton line running 20%-30% behind the official percentages, one can only wonder what the true figures were during the Autumn of 2003, when the official percentages for SWT main line trains were 65.9% for October-November and 60.4% for November-December. 30% running within 5 minutes of time perhaps?
The RPC is to be congratulated on exposing just how bad things are for commuters on some lines, and it is good that the dreadful Southampton line performance, which we have been recording in Hogrider over the years, can now be seen to have a measure of official validation.
SRA CENSURED BY ADVERTISING STANDARDS AUTHORITY
The Strategic Rail Authority issued a newspaper advertisement claiming that rush hour travel in the UK is cheaper than in Spain. The Advertising Standards Authority found the SRA had wrongly compared the price of an off-peak ticket with one for use during peak times.
The advert claimed that a rush hour ticket from London to Darlington (247 miles) cost £58 but Madrid to Seville (239 miles) costs £89.15. In fact, £58 fare was for a Super Advance ticket which had to be booked ahead, required passengers to travel on a specified train, and was not available during the rush hour. The £89.15 fare in Spain was for a standard ticket which, despite restrictions, allowed travel during peak times.
Readers will recall that Stagecoach was similarly censured some time ago for misrepresenting the scale of their commitment under a new franchise. They may also note that GNER, which operates London-Darlington trains, gets no public subsidy.
MODERATING THE LANGUAGE OF FAILURE - 4
Notable entry on South West Trains' website on 8 April - some train operators would simply admit having cancelled a train:
"ALTERATION: 21.24 Reading to Southampton Central. This train will be started from Southampton Central. It will no longer call at Reading, Basingstoke, Winchester, Shawford, Eastleigh and Southampton Airport Parkway."
And this one is from the website on 21 April:
"ALTERATION: 07.03 Waterloo to Shepperton via Wimbledon. This train has been diverted to Surbiton. It will call additionally at Surbiton. It will no longer call at Vauxhall, Clapham Junction, Earlsfield, Wimbledon, Raynes Park, New Malden, Norbiton, Kingston, Hampton Wick, Teddington, Fulwell, Hampton, Sunbury, Upper Halliford, and Shepperton. This is due to a bridge being struck by a road vehicle".
On Good Friday morning there was a quite spectacular "alteration", resulting in bucket-and-spade treats to Clapham Junction:
"ALTERATION: 07.10 London Waterloo to Paignton. This train has been terminated at Clapham Junction. It will no longer call at Woking, Basingstoke, Overton, Whitchurch, Andover, Grateley, Salisbury, Tisbury, Gillingham, Templecombe, Sherborne, Yeovil Junction, Crewkerne, Axminster, Honiton, Feniton, Whimple, Pinhoe, Exeter Central, Exeter St Davids, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Newton Abbot, Torquay and Paignton. This is due to a fault on the train."
That potentially represents an awful lot of disappointed families.
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH PRESS RELEASE: 19 MAY 2004
A poll by Friends of the Earth has found that more than three quarters of people want the Government to take measures to reduce traffic levels. 87% thought there was too much traffic, and 71% said the Government should increase spending on public transport. Only 28% thought the widening of motorways should be a high priority. 61% thought better train services, and 56% better bus services, should be a high priority. 2,062 people were interviewed (24% saying they were AA members, and 18% RAC members). 21% of the AA members and 28% of the RAC members thought motorways widening should be given a high priority. As many as 88% of AA members and 87% of RAC members thought there was too much traffic on the roads.
SWT withdrew their Southampton-Hythe rail-bus long ago, but it was noted on the evening of 1 May that the Romanse bus information system outside Southampton station was still showing a departure as running late.
Sometimes the operation of Virgin Voyager services seems heroic. On 30 March, the 07.50 from Glasgow Central arrived at Bournemouth late, and departed for Manchester Piccadilly 3 minutes after its arrival.
Mr Andrew Haines in issue no 3 of SWT's 'e-motion' magazine: "Overall, I think that comparing us with other companies, both within and outside the industry, we do well, but it's attention to detail that will bring us consistency and make the difference." BUT:
Southern Daily Echo of May 8: "New state-of-the-art trains set to come into service later this year will not be stopping at a popular Hampshire station - because they are too long ---- SWT spokesman Jane Lee said it was not a fault of the trains but a fault of the platform length."
Getting to the New Forest, from 'e-motion issue 3: "South West Trains services from London Waterloo stop at Totton, Ashurst (New Forest) Lyndhurst Road, Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst ---". [Ever heard of 'Ashurst New Forest Lyndhurst Road'? And a bit misleading not to mention that, on most days of the week, the 06.40 and 15.00 are the only trains from Waterloo which stops at Beaulieu Road?]
Should you discover something wrong with the railway infrastructure, or if you think your train may be damaging the track because of rough riding which appears to be due to poor suspension or a flat (= wheel which needs re-profiling), you can report the matter to Network Rail on 08457 711 4141.
The Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England's remaining public meetings in 2004 are scheduled for 20 July (Brighton) and 26 October (South Eastern area). 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: email@example.com, 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, and one train can replace more than 100 lorries.
The latest information they have given us is that 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 (information correct at April 2003).
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) firstname.lastname@example.org
THE 'STAGECOACH RESCUE AUTHORITY' MARCHING ON?
From Private Eye No 1104:
"Stagecoach's bid for the Kent commuter trains formerly run by Connex was so dire it didn't make the shortlist for the new franchise. So passengers can rest assured their service won't now sink to the level of Stagecoach's South West Trains. Or can they? After Stagecoach was excluded, Richard Bowker, chairman and chief executive of the "strategic" rail authority (SRA), discussed the matter over dinner with Stagecoach executive director Graham Eccles. According to a letter by Eccles leaked to the Sunday Times, Bowker suggested to Eccles the terms under which the SRA would allow Stagecoach to cut a deal with Danish state railways (a contender for the franchise).
In this context, Bowker is a government buyer. Presumably government procurement rules, resting on the principles of impartiality and independence, apply to him. The SRA doesn't think it's unfair on the other franchise bidders that Bowker's advice could strengthen one contestant's hand and potentially influence the outcome of the bidding process. It says this kind of advice is to get the "best bidders" - an interesting adjective to apply to Stagecoach after its poor performance at SWT and its failure to make the Kent shortlist.