It has not been a good few weeks for users of the services operated by Southern Railway.  Cancellations have rocketed, partially due to an "unprecedented level of staff sickness" according to the company.  The operator is apparently introducing a "remedial plan" including new timetables, allowing them to reduce services and reduce the number of cancellations.  Cynics would say that this simply a way of improving performance by massaging figures, rather like how police forces claimed a reduction in crime by changing the way some offences were recorded.

Commuters in the region are fed up.  Croydon MP Chris Philip has said Go-Via Thameslink should lose the Southern franchise.

For West Midlands rail passengers, the saga sounds awfully familiar.  London Midland cancelled scores of services in 2012 following staff shortages caused by sickness and drivers leaving the company for pastures new.  An MP called the cancellations "unacceptable".   Did London Midland lose its franchise?

No - instead it got its wings clipped by the DfT, was ordered to run a special promotion to "compensate" passengers and eventually got an extension to its franchise.  To be fair much work has been done by the operator to recruit new drivers and train them up.  But it says a lot about attitude of the DfT and ministers that they are willing to tolerate such appalling performance and not publicly summons a contractor to Marsham Street in the glare of TV cameras for a "tea without biscuits meeting", or take the keys back.  In the days of British Rail if they failed to perform satisfactorily one regularly saw the Chairman or senior managers being hauled over the coals by the politicians.

Maybe if the department was a bit more ruthless and stripped a TOC or two of its franchise if they failed to deliver, it might focus some minds in the industry to deliver a service that is better for the passenger, and better value for the taxpayer.

For West Midlands passengers, the devolution of services backed with a strong authority expecting high performance cannot come soon enough.

1 June 2016

Southern Rail Misery