Published: 4th September 2016
Troubled train operator Southern has restored 100 trains to its timetable from today (5 September) leaving around 250 cancelled on an ongoing basis every day. Restored services are the inner-London Metro trains, Guildford to Leatherhead, Sutton to Streatham via Wimbledon, London Bridge to Beckenham Junction and some of the cross-London inter-regional services via Kensington Olympia. Some of the latter will run to Milton Keynes and others as far north as Watford Junction.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced that it will continue to micro-manage the rail network to improve what they call somewhat ambiguously, the running of the Southern network.
Most commentators and passengers will naturally assume that this means Southern, the train operator currently beset by strikes. But many of the measures to be introduced are nothing to do with them. They have allocated £20 million to be managed by Chris Gibb who will head up a new project board, working with Southern, the DfT and Network Rail to establish how to improve services. The board will oversee the £20 million fund and closer working between Southern’s parent company, Greater Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Network Rail to improve performance for Southern customers.
The board will have passenger representation to hear users’ views on what improvements are needed. The project board will present a plan in the autumn and actions implemented as soon as possible.
The extra cash will fund fixing problems on the line (not GTR’s direct issues), placing more rapid response teams on the franchise, accelerating the replacement of worn track, (also not GTR’s direct issues), and hiring extra staff at key stations including East Croydon and Gatwick to make sure trains get away on time. Gatwick of course is managed by Network Rail.
The DfT admits that these extra measures follow unacceptable disruption for passengers in recent months and say that GTR and Network Rail (NR) must work together to resolve issues earlier improving the passengers’ lot.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: I want the Southern network to be run by a team of people who work together to make sure passengers get decent journeys and that problems are dealt with quickly. This review will suggest how we achieve a joined up approach to running the train and tracks and make things work better for the public.
We also need to get to grips with things that go wrong on this part of the network. That is why we are putting in place a £20 million scheme to tackle the cause of breakdowns that too often cause frustrating and damaging delays on the network.
Chris Gibb said: I look forward to helping the rail industry improve the passenger experience on the Southern network. Committed railway people across the industry work hard round the clock to provide the best possible service to a growing number of passengers, during a time of much needed major investment. I will bring together the energy of these people to find ways to improve the delivery of this service in the short and medium term.
• £2 million to be spent on more rapid response teams to fix faults more quickly, located close to known hotspots (So why aren’t these being dealt with already by NR?)
• £2.5 million to be spent on accelerated train maintenance. (This should also be in place already).
• £0.8 million investment in extra signal supervisors to keep trains moving across the network. (This should also have been dealt with by NR).
• £0.9 million investment in a series of measures to minimise the impact of bridge strikes. (So why hasn’t this already been dealt with by NR?)
Chris Gibb has worked in key leadership roles in rail industry for more than 35 years and is currently a non executive director at Network Rail and was previously chief operating officer of Virgin Rail Group.
GTR has issued the following statement: Govia Thameslink Railway CEO Charles Horton said: “We welcome the benefits this £20 million improvement package will bring for passengers, tackling some of the key infrastructure challenges on the network. Network Rail and Southern will continue to work closely together to ensure this investment delivers real, tangible benefits for our passengers and the new project board will ensure the programme is effectively delivered.
Great Northern and Thameslink have increased security at stations and on-board trains by introducing 22 rail enforcement officers (REOs) with almost as many Special Constables working across the entire Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) network. The REOs are patrolling between London and Hertford, Peterborough, Cambridge and Kings Lynn and St Pancras, Elstree & Borehamwood, Luton and Bedford.
The team is in addition to the British Transport Police and the two organisations are currently working together targeting bike theft and patrolling overnight Thameslink services.
Adam Dear, Rail Enforcement Manager, said: “There is very little crime on our railways but it’s important to provide our passengers with a reassuring presence. Our REOS are an active force against low level crime and anti-social behaviour, reducing anti-social behaviour and help build an even safer rail network.”
All the REOs have police radios and are set to be issued with body-worn closed-circuit TV cameras and qualified with specific legal powers that allow the confiscation of substances such as alcohol and cigarettes from young people. They can also request names and addresses for fixed penalty notices and offences likely to cause harm or distress to another person or cause damage to their property or acting in an anti-social way.
GTR is sponsoring up to 20 employees to become Special Constables on these two routes as well as the Thameslink and Great Northern and already have 15 trained and fully operational across its network.
Perhaps this is the best news rather than a quick fix ordered by politicians? Time will tell!