Published: 31st October 2016
The Parliamentary Transport Select Committee (TSC) says the Government must 'get a grip' on monitoring rail franchise agreements.
The TSC has been looking at the main aspects of rail journeys from the passengers’ perspective starting with planning a journey, arriving at a station, making the journey, and any necessary post-journey information. They said that the poor level of service on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) rail franchise was reflected in evidence submitted to them for their report.
The level of service for many passengers on the TSGN franchise, especially the strike-hit Southern Railway brand, has been woeful for over a year. The report also says that the initial structuring of the franchise, inadequate planning, weaknesses in the franchise handover process, infrastructure and rolling stock failures, mismanagement, poor industrial relations and the current bitter and prolonged industrial dispute have all contributed to an unacceptable level of service for TSGN’s long-suffering passengers.
The TSC suggests that The Department for Transport (DfT) should consider how these passengers can be appropriately compensated, as a matter of urgency.
The DfT must “get a grip” on the monitoring and enforcement of Govia Thameslink Railway’s (GTR) franchise agreement to deliver services on the TSGN network. It must expedite its assessments of GTR’s force majeure claims, and be prepared to restructure or terminate the agreement should GTR be shown to be in default. It is unacceptable that the process should be delayed by GTR’s tardiness in supplying the information necessary to support its force majeure claims. There is no valid reason why the necessary assessments should not be made by early November 2016.
It is simply not credible for the DfT to continue to claim that no other operator could do a better job; if it is the case, it is a consequence of the structuring of the franchise, for which the Department is ultimately accountable the TSC report says.
In the interests of transparency and scrutiny, the DfT must ensure that data on GTR’s performance against its contractual obligations are made publicly available—our [TSC] lack of access to these data during the inquiry was totally unacceptable. It hindered our work and delayed publication of this Report.
The DfT has wider lessons to learn about the structuring, monitoring and enforcement of franchise agreements, and the planning and management of major rail infrastructure projects. The TSGN debacle must never be repeated.
London Midland ran two Ghost trains for families on the Bedford to Bletchley branchline on 28 October. Unfortunately one of the trains failed and the other was delayed by other problems before entering service so passengers had to wait 90 minutes at Bedford for the second spooky train.
How helpful were the Thameslink staff at Bedford? Not very as the ticket barrier staff when asked about what was happening replied; “that it was not one of their trains as London Midland were a different company so they did not know”.
If public-facing staff treat passengers in this fashion, then it is no surprise that passengers become disaffected. In fact, London Midland and GTR are owned by Govia so it really is the same company. This little incident is symptomatic of the TSGN problems.
Fines totalling £483,000 have been levied on ScotRail under a performance regime seen as the toughest in Britain.
Inspectors found that ScotRail had failed to achieve some of its targets for standards, including station toilets and ticket machines and passenger seats and toilets on trains.
ScotRail said that the information announced by the Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland showed that it can never stop striving to improve.
The performance system in Scotland is known as SQUIRE, requiring the operator of the ScotRail franchise to maintain service quality under a performance regime.
Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, said the operator had signed up to an even tougher inspection regime than in the past.
"We did this because we know that being part of a tough scheme will mean that our staff will always be focused on delivering the best possible service to our customers,” Mr Verster said.
"These figures show that, even although we are delivering in lots of areas, we can never stop striving to improve even further."
Mr Verster added that ScotRail had recently announced the biggest-ever improvement plan. Some £475 million would be spent on new and refurbished trains as well as enhanced services such as better wi-fi and power sockets on trains.
Humza Yousaf MSP, Scotland’s transport Minister, said: “The SQUIRE Service Quality Incentive Regime is a fundamental part of our efforts to improve the passenger experience and it is the toughest regime of its kind in the UK. A dedicated band of inspectors check trains and stations every day of every month, handing out penalties to the operator wherever faults are found.”
The latest results showed a combined penalty of £483,000 for three months over the summer.
“This indicates further improvements can, and will, be made in terms of aspects of service delivery such as improvements in station shelters, train doors, train toilets and train announcements,” the Minister said.
Mr Yousaf commented: “Scottish Ministers and indeed passengers up and down the country quite rightly have high expectations of our railway.”
He added that in the current franchise there had been significant changes with penalties being retained in the SQUIRE Investment Fund. Several projects had been financed through this fund, such as upgrades to Leuchars station in Fife in advance of the Open Golf tournament at St Andrews.