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Train passengers face delays on new Southern timetable aimed at 'better service'

Published 11/07/2016

Passengers will stage a protest at Victoria Station as hundreds of Southern Railway services are removed from the timetable
Passengers will stage a protest at Victoria Station as hundreds of Southern Railway services are removed from the timetable

Commuters faced delays on the Southern Railway network on the first day of the train company's new reduced timetable.

Passengers vented their frustration on the firm's Twitter feed as services failed to arrive on time on Monday morning.

Southern Railway said the interim move, which has seen it cut 341 trains a day for a month, was aimed at making services more "resilient".

A spokesman said: "Ninety-five percent of trains are running on time or within five minutes against a revised timetable and there has been no reporting of overcrowding issues."

He added that one Southern service had been cancelled between Horsham and London Victoria.

A Thameslink train to Bedford was also cancelled and one commuter's photo pictured display boards showing just a handful of trains listed as running on time, including those bound for London.

The firm previously apologised to passengers for weeks of disruption and pressed ahead with the timetable changes despite warnings that they could have a "devastating" impact.

Southern, owned by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), blames high levels of staff sickness as well as industrial action by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union in a dispute over the role of conductors.

Southern's passenger services director, Alex Foulds, said when the changes were announced last week that the cuts would mean "a better, more consistent service".

Commuters who have faced several weeks of chaos because of delays and cancellations will hold a demonstration at London's Victoria station later today.

Alex Prosser-Snelling, one of the organisers, said: "We aren't people who protest normally, but everyone's fed up with the service.

"Southern mismanagement is needlessly wrecking passengers' evenings, interfering with childcare, and stressing out the workforce. Southern needs to get a grip - and if they can't or won't, the Government shouldn't let them run a railway."

Southern passengers have complained about not getting home from work to see their children because services have been so unreliable and some have lost their jobs.

The RMT has offered to suspend industrial action for three months if the company pulls back from implementing the changes to the role of conductors from August 21.

The rail industry and the Government have offered support to Southern over its plans to switch responsibility for closing train doors from conductors to drivers.

Rail minister Claire Perry said "only 15%" of the original timetable's services had been cancelled and 65% of the failures were down to problems with the track.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that "customers don't actually care whose fault it is" but there were "serious questions" about the way the company was running the service.

"It's been quite clear to me that companies that cannot deliver a good service, particularly over the things they can control, should not be bidding for new franchises."

Ms Perry claimed there was a "standoff" between the company and the unions but said she was guaranteeing there would still be an on-board staff member on trains.

"By April of this year, things were okay. In April we had a reliability rate of about 84%. Not good enough, I would be the first to say that.

"But since that we have seen both planned and unplanned industrial action that has meant there is no certainty about the services and it's just been absolutely dreadful."

Southern said 92% of its services were running to time on the revised timetable.

Trains were very busy but Southern said there were no reported crowding issues.

The temporary timetable has 85% of the normal number of trains.

A Southern spokesman said: "We know the service level in the last couple of months has not been good enough and we apologise unreservedly. This new timetable allows us to target our resources where they are needed most and at the same time give passengers a more predictable service which they can plan their lives around.

"It is a temporary measure while we work with the RMT to end the dispute and bring their members back to work and, while it should be judged over a few days, the first few hours of operation are encouraging."

An RMT spokesman said: "Only in the insane parallel universe inhabited by Southern Rail could you cancel hundreds of trains a day and then try and dress it up as running an improved service.

"This mob are now way beyond a joke for both passengers and staff alike and their continued efforts to try and blame this chaos on their frontline workforce are sickening and cowardly.

"This is a basket case franchise in meltdown, robbing the taxpayer of millions of pounds, and they are wholly incapable of delivering any kind of rail service. They should be thrown out and the publicly owned Directly Operated Railways drafted in to sort this mess out."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: "Southern passengers are understandably frustrated to hear that the solution to an unreliable service is to cut that service. While this drastic step could well bring the reliability that people need, there will be those who lose out as a result.

"We will be monitoring how well the new timetable works, how well passengers are being kept informed about the changes, and are asking passengers to let us know directly how they have been impacted on Twitter using the #passengervoice.

"We will also shortly be inviting all passengers on Southern and other Thameslink services to download a feedback app to have their say.

"We want to see discounted tickets and increased compensation for passengers facing daily inconvenience - offered proactively, without making passengers jump through hoops and, of course, talks must continue between the industry and the union."

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "Ministers should end passenger misery and call time on Southern's franchise - it is simply not up to running this railway.

"They should listen to more than 12,000 passengers who have signed a petition calling on them to strip GTR of this franchise.

"The emergency timetable is a clear signal of failure and the company's insistence on putting its shareholders interests ahead of those who matter most, the passengers. A publicly owned franchise would put passengers at the front of the queue.

"One of Labour's most popular policies under Jeremy Corbyn is the promise to take railways back into public ownership. But we cannot afford to wait until 2020 to act at Southern, ministers must intervene immediately and end this failed franchise now."

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