Thursday, 9 June 2016

The real reason Southern Rail services have imploded

NOTE: This blog was written in June 2016 and is now largely out of date. The latest situation is covered here...

“The thing is, I don’t believe this stuff about staff shortages.”

That is what I said, and it doesn’t sound like a magic phrase, but it was as if I had said ‘open sesame’. I had gone to a different station to usual, and the conversation with the member of the station staff went like this.

I had asked why there were no trains on their running timetable to London. It was odd, even by the low standards of Southern Rail, to have them take the trains they couldn’t run off the timetable altogether. Usually, they just mark them as having been cancelled.

“Well,” she said. “It’s still the problem with staff shortages.”

It was then that I finally expressed my disbelief. It wasn’t until I said it that I realised how very little I did believe in the train company’s standard excuse. I mean, only few weeks ago, Southern Rail was claiming it was unprecedented sickness amongst the train crew. Now they appeared to be saying the train crew didn’t exist at all.

And in any case, why should any competent company experience a sudden, prolonged and catastrophic staff shortage, immediately after the short train strike in April, that prevents them from running a large chunk of the trains they are contracted to run?

“You’re right,” she said. “It isn’t true.”

“So what is the truth?” I said hopefully.

“I can’t tell you that because I would be sacked.”

I had to ask a number of other staff members to find out – and I had the chance to see a number of them yesterday because it was such a struggle getting to London (there are supposed to be two direct trains every hour).

The trouble is that their roster system relies on overtime. Without overtime, they can’t run the train service that people rely on. The result, as anyone unfortunate enough to live on the south coast at the moment, has been absolute chaos – a wholly unreliable service which at weekends becomes dangerously overcrowded. Sarah had to climb over a table to get off the train late on Sunday night because it was so full of passengers who had been let down time and time again by cancelled trains...

I have gone some way towards answering these questions and written a short book to do so. It is now published on Amazon as an ebook (£1.99 of which 10p for every copy goes to the Railway Benefits Fund). It is also now out as a paperback. It's a surprising read and you can have the added advantage of really annoying Southern Rail by reading it!

Subscribe to this blog on email; send me a message with the word blogsubscribe to dcboyle@gmail.com. When you want to stop, you can email me the word unsubscribe.

70 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I think that the latest Private Eye issue 10th of June Page 16 "Signal Failures" column by "Dr B Ching", may show some light on what is going on behind the scenes. The contract terms for GTR seem to be different from all the other Rail Franchisees, which possibly would explain their attitude to the effects of "Industrial Action" and it's aftermath. That and the absolutely disgraceful comments that a senior DfT official made at a public meeting in Croydon during the recent strike action by Train Drivers - see http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/Rail-unions-DfT-retract-comments-official-vowed/story-28784847-detail/story.html#ixzz414yPbOKy

Cheers

Dave Eastham
p.s. I have not checked to see if the url is still current on the Croydon Advertiser site. If it is not I do have a copy in a word file. If needed let me know

David Boyle said...

I've just received this comment, which I reproduce here in its entirety: Hi David,
I have just seen your blog post on the current situation at southern rail and would like to clear up some confusion around the situation.i, as most of you commuters am extremely fed up of the company spun and lies and am looking for a platform to shed some light on he situation. I tried to comment but as a non gmail user I was unable to do so. You have my permission to post my email however if you chose to do so I want it posted in its entirety if that's ok. I am an employee of southern so would appreciate it if you would refrain from making my email address public.

I know the current situation is extremely infuriating but it needs to be looked at from two sides. firstly the current agreement between govia and the DFT.
This is in fact a management contract which differ's from every other agreement throughout the country. All other TOC's hold something called a franchise agreement. Everyone is different but essentially they r responsible for the day to day running of that network. They have specific requirements they have to meet but they generally make the decisions, however with govia's management agreement they have no control or make no decisions. All he terms, targets and and plans have been set out by the DFT. Govia are simply there to implement the changes.
This is unique and has occurred for one reason and one reason only. A test bed for the rest of the country.
In 2011 a report called the McNulty report was published sand set out a number of wide ranging proposals for cutting cost on he railways. Since then the DFT has been putting together a plan to 'streamline' costing on the railway. One of the major changes was to rid the network of guards. (Along with many other members of staff)
What we are seeing (along with arriva Wales and first scotrail) is the beginning of these changes. Many people have asked why MP's and media outlets have been so quite on the matter and as to why govia have no fear of losing the franchise. This is because they are purely the axemen. The DFT will not remove them as they want the company to be the face of the changes to avoid huge public objections aimed at the conservative government. The senior management are purely being told what to do. It's written in their agreement. I have been through the 668 pages of the agreement and they are given financial bonuses based on the inline notation of the changes. However only a freedom of information request will allow us to obtain the actual financial figures. The CEO Charles Horton was brought in to do a similar job (albeit in a smaller scale) at connex. Peter wilkinson speech was an insight into the DFT's and governments plans. It also per toy aligns with the plan to rid the country of unions.
After many failed attempts with filed bills both in the House of Parliament and House of Lords, the conservatives see this as a perfect opportunity to kill of the unions. No staff = no members = no unions.

Secondly you have to appreciate the serve lack of staffing and staff moral within the company. For years the franchise has relied upon staff working rest days to cover the basic timetable. It's estimated the company is operating at 80% staffing levels. Hence you have the current problem. The company has indeed removed rest day working from striking staff members causing the problems you are experiencing. This will unfortunately never change to conserve profits. They would rather be under staffed and pay overtime when needed then have the required number staff and have some being 'spare' when staff sickness/holiday levels are low. I can also confirm that morale is at an all time low. The pure nastiness and bullying from senior management has been on a level never experienced before.
I hope this has cleared up some issues and hopefully opens the eyes of many of the travelling public.
I hope you are able to spread this to as many people as possible.
Kind regards

Oh la la said...

Maybe a can of sardines would have been more appropriate to illustrate the problem with SR than a diagram of a British Slave ship, no?

Toby Jenkins said...

The question is, what can we humble south coast commuters do about this? This cannot just carry on and passengers just accept it. Thank you Southern Employee for shedding light on the situation, your time and trouble taken to post this information is very much appreciated. It's depressing and scary, I've seen what a mess the DfT are making of south coast rail travel, it's terrifying to imagine that replicated across the country! The majority of us commuters are with you the staff of Southern Rail. We are slowly but surely understanding what's really going on. Just a quick glance at Twitter shows that the travelling public understand it is Southern management and the DfT rather than the customer facing staff that are to blame. Now we just need to figure out what, if anything, can be done before the entire south coast rail infrastructure grinds to a complete halt.

Anna C said...

Thank you for taking the time to set all this out. I am aware, from talking to SR staff, of the very low staff morale, severe under-staffing and the heavy reliance on staff working their rest days. This disgusting manipulation by the franchisor is shocking! We NEED to make this widely known and to protest in some way!

Anonymous said...

You've rather shot yourself in the foot with the image. The tastelessness of that is what will be discussed rather than the very important content of the post and the comment. I'm certainly loathe to share it on that basis, and I think it ought to be shared. Best to change it.

@My_Happy999 said...

As disgusted as most passengers using Southern,it is now apparet the GTR senior managment are just meat muppets purporting the work of the Tory government. The only way for any resolution is to form daily protest in line with the staff, to stand up and say either give us free travel or run 95% of services on time, like evey other TOC. They are making complete idiots out of the passenger and is tantamount to fraud. The fact the police are protecting their interests by enforcing revenue protection tells you everything you need to know about them also.

@My_Happy999 said...

@Anna C I completely agree

Anonymous said...

Definitely. I appreciate this piece, but I agree it's a poor choice of illustration. These two situations are incomparable, and any suggestion otherwise is deeply insensitive, at best.

Anonymous said...

Maybe change the image, it doesn't help.

Anonymous said...

I was going to share this excellent piece, but it's really let down by the choice of illustration. Come on, change it.

Anonymous said...

slave ship = overcrowded train ... perhaps next time you write about this issue you might use an image of survivors from Belsen, or Cambodian labour camps, or migrants from Syria on a boat about to capsize? Just trying to plug into your mind set ...

Anonymous said...

I can't and won't share this post with that header image. It's completely inappropriate.

David Boyle said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I've removed the illustration.

David Boyle said...

I'm grateful to Rachel Martin for this reply:

I, too, am a hapless Southern commuter to/from London and was struck by the "staff shortages" blanket excuse of late. So I checked Southern's vacancies webpage (hey, I'll be a train driver!) and they dont seem to be hiring much at the moment. Odd, isnt it?

Anonymous said...

I can agree with a lot of what is said.

As for their being hundreds of staff waiting in depots I'd say no. If they were being paid to work but standing around in the depots then they had better do some work.

The Fundamental issue is how much money that the Department For Transport has made available to run the Management Contract. They stipulated the amount of stock (trains) available, this has meant they have to utilise stock at 96% against a more normal 85% - that means when one breaks down due to lack of time for maintenance there isn't a spare and trains get cancelled.

DfT didn't make the previous franchisees on the routes had sufficient staff for the new contract which required many more staff due to train diversions and the London Bridge bottleneck. In any case they are leaving as fast as they are trained because they are all so demoralised. I would add here that GTR's management is also very much demoralised trying to run a network without the tools and staff to do it properly.

The DfT now have contracted their Contractor (GTR) to make all of their trains Driver Only Operations, knowing full well the unions would object and fight, which in turn has forced this deplorable situation with shortage of staff across the network. GTR are going through the process required by Employment Laws to force the change of role for guards and will be resolved when this is complete. Unless there is an all out strike coordinated by the Unions

It is all a mess, co-ordinated behind the schemes by the incompetence that is the Department for Transport. I don't think it is even a Tory plot just full scale incompetence in Whitehall.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I agree.
I did share it in the end because the content is really interesting but why that image? It's not at all relevant.
Also after sharing the first comment was about that image, it's distracting from an otherwise very good post.

David Boyle said...

Thank you. The image is no more. But in my own defence, if you believe that monopoly leads to slavery (as I do), then the image of a slave ship was not as inappropriate as you imply. Especially if you travelled to London and back yesterday, as I did, packed in with flagrant disregard of the health and safety of the poor passengers, who (in this case) are paying for their own imprisonment. But I take your point and I'm grateful for your advice, and I've acted on it.

Anonymous said...

I was so f****d off with the shambles that was yesterday and the fact that I saw someone faint in front of me that I called my local paper on the way home - this is now the most read news story on their website today - won't change anything but at least alerting the wider public as to what's going on

http://m.theargus.co.uk/news/14548893.Woman_faints_on_overcrowded_Southern_train_following_cancellations/?ref=fbpg

Ben

Oh, la la said...

Thanks for the removing the image.

When you become troublesome to SR, you are not thrown overboard to drown or to the sharks and you are just figuratively chained to the passenger next to you. You have a voice and you are a free person, not owned by another human being risking death everyday.

I once sat at a dinner thing with an American woman who banged on about her Scarlett O'Hara tour ( You dress like her and bla bla ) and had to ask her if they did the Slaves tour as well, to see how the other side lives. I learned what throwing shade meant that night.

Anonymous said...

My god, I am so pleased to see this.
Finally the truth, but I can report it's only part of the sad and sorry story!

Trains are being cancelled at an alarming rate despite train crew (driver and guard) being in place and booked to work the trains. This is happening dozens of times per day! I know because it has happened to me.
Turn up ready and willing to work the train only to be told it has been cancelled due to no train crew.
Due to the court injunction on ASLEF drivers, we can't even openly express our anger at this. If we do so it might be found in so called e-search that is being conducted on driver’s personal phones and computers looking for evidence of incitement to strike! Make no mistake GTR are coming after their own staff like the KGB and Stasi!

The reason why we are not working rest days and overtime (as a driver) is because the work place is so utterly depressing we can't face being there any more than we have to and because GTR have fostered a deep seated hatred that will take many years to clear away unless GTR go.

Going back to my guard co-workers the blatant bullying and harassment meted out on them by GTR management has to be seen to be believed!

Yes they have taken away their contractual staff parking and travel passes.
Yes they have informed other train companies that if they see their staff on trains they might be travelling without a pass and should be fined.
Even more destructive from the point of view of covering trains, they have stopped the guards from swapping duties with each other (something they have done since the beginning of time) Some guards don't have cars, they use the train to get to work, normally they swap very early starts or late finishes with other guards so they can simply get to work, but this vile company have said local managers must not allow this anymore thus causing more train cancellations.
Guards have racked up taxi bills exceeding their wages just trying to get to work.

All train crew want to do their job and get you the passenger to where you want to be, its the most satisfying feeling in their work to roll in to your destination on time. GTR are fining ever more creative ways to prevent this in the hopes that you the travelling public will turn against us.

I am delighted to see that this horrid plan is not working.

My job is now an embarrassment. Well done GTR.

Dear members of the public, we know you ultimately pay our wages and we are grateful but we need you now to help us save our railway from this scandalous company and a bent DFT. Pour pressure on your MPs, write to the papers, get the word out. Thanks

Anonymous said...

My personal experience is that everyone knows that the GTR scam is complete BS and everyone is behind the poor staff that are having to catch their slack. When commuters see a member of staff getting it in the neck from a member of the public, they rally behind the staff member and try to help him/her out.

The biggest evil of it all is that the so called 'GTR' is a ghost. We can neither see nor touch them. And this they know. The staff are being used as a blooded shield, intentionally bashed about time and time again. But we, the daily commuters, are the wood that makes up that shield and we are loyal to those that serve us. The hard working and genuine conductors, drivers, station staff who are being mercilessly put on the front line of what is proving to be a shameless and spiteful battle.

Man up GTR. Get a grip and get on with it. For the sake of us all.

Anonymous said...

Back in May, the timetable changed and they needed a number of extra staff to maintain the new service level as well as recruiting extras - I believe 40 in total - and none have been recruited. That's part of the problem. The conductors have tried their best to do the extra work required but are now burnt out, stressed by the abuse they're getting from management as well as the abuse from many customers day in day out.

Other front-line staff are now bearing the brunt from the cancellations and it's only a matter of time before other grades start to crumble - and that's before the threats to conductors over DOO, drivers balloting for action because they feel an extension of DOO is unsafe, and the threats against ticket office staff with the "modernisation plans". Not forgetting of course the platform staff, trying to maintain a service where trains suddenly get cancelled with hundreds of extra people dumped on a platform, no staff to move the train so it's blocking a platform, and the lack of "on the spot" managers who can make decisions and the lack of information from Control who don't seem to know what is going on either because they have to try and work out what to do - all the while staff trying to answer customer queries about how to get to where they're going and being shouted at by customers who are being fed the "sickness" lie.

You also have the ridiculous situation below, if you'll bear with me.

As part of the management contract, GTR are trying to force through "Driver Only", which the guards and drivers are unhappy about, and GTR will face a hefty fine if it's not all in place by August apparently.

But until the various stations that are not DOO enabled are equipped with the appropriate equipment, they cannot run DOO services to those stations.

Network Rail have said that they cannot install the appropriate equipment as they do not have the budget or manpower to do so by the deadline.

Who set the contract term and deadline? Department of Transport.

Who gets the fine if GTR don't do it in time? Department of Transport.

Who owns Network Rail? Department of Transport.

Who sets Network Rail's budget and priorities? Department of Transport.

So who's stopping the stations being DOO equipped? Department of Transport.

The DfT is effectively fining itself for not implementing a policy it wants, because another part of itself cannot do the work required to allow its own plans to happen.

You really couldn't make this up.

Regards,

One of many unhappy GTR employees, eagerly awaiting the results of the current staff survey to see how they spin the fact that 99% of staff wouldn't piss on Charles Horton if he was on fire.

Anonymous said...

Having seen the shenanigans at one operator I contracted for none of this surprises me.

To the Southern staff that are posting - get evidence, get it to the press. Publicity is king. Use a phone camera, hide a go pro in your bag or whatever. All the time there is nothing concrete for the public to see, there is an element of doubt.

Anonymous said...

GTR management are deliberately screwing over their staff because they have been told to bring in driver only operation come hell or high water by the DfT dispite it being totally unsafe anywhere other than closed systems such as the underground (and even then it's only fully safe if there are platform screen doors and staff on the platform monitoring the dispatch.)

Out of the recent Platform-Tain interface accidents (basically where passengers are trapped in the doors and dragged along the platform or where they fall down the gap etc) roughly 75% are on driver only services, and all of the most serous ones are! This is hardly surprising, I have seen a photo of the view the drives get from the CCTV when it's raining, you would be hard pushed to make out the doors themselves let alone a child trapped in them! I have also seen the letter tht was sent out to all GTR guards after the first strike and it is abosolutly shocking

GTR know their contract is safe as they are only obeying the commands of their masters and it is the poor passengers and front line staff that take the flack when the only thing the managers are takin is their multi Million pound bonuses

Anonymous said...

I have found that the way this company have treated their staff (I work for them) by taking away the travel passe from their partners and children truly disgusting.. In the pursuit of reducing costs as demanded by mcnulty, ordered by the dft and executed by senior gtr management morale is at rock bottom. The company's response to the situation has at best been cold and uncaring. They wonder why morale is low then issue letters hoping that bridges can be built between the company and staff. They justify taking travel passes off families of staff by telling staff that 'we did warn you that strike action comes with consequences '. By doing this the company has destroyed the goodwill (overtime) that it has relied on for many years to run the service. This goodwill will never be recovered whilst the current situation is happening. In the 20 years on this job., I have never known anything like it. On a daily basis staff are bearing the brunt of passengers understandable frustrations at a crap service. Even I have been on the recieving end of things whilst in uniform on my way t work at east Croydon. On this occasion another passenger stepped in and helped me out. Clearly this company does not care about its staff. The senior management should be ashamed of themselves by the way they are treating their staff. I am ashamed to wear the uniform of the company and to work for them. I'm seriously thinking of quitting.

Anonymous said...

I really want to share this article but the slave boat illustration comes up when I post the link. Can you please do whatever you need to do to remove it? Thanks

David Boyle said...

Just press reload and it will be gone!

Anonymous said...

I find all this very interesting and appreciate the comments made by the Southern rail employee. My thoughts are very much with them - I know what its like to work in a company run by inefficiecnt bullies. However, there has to be some kind of pressure on the service provider itself. If you went into a restaurant, waited for 2 hours and then was told the kitchen was closed you wouldn't dream of paying. In addition, if honest, I don't think you'd want to become involved in any staff dispute that has precipitated this result.

Whatever the reasons, we, the customer should NOT be left with effectively no reliable service and pressure should be bought to bear on the Company itself and if that means MPs getting involved then so be it. The situation is absolutely ridiculous in the 21st century. A huge number of people in the South of England rely on trains to get to work and are experiencing delays, cancellations and hideous conditions which has a huge knock-on effect on everyone trying to juggle busy lives, or even enjoy a satisfactory work/life balance.....

Steve Willmott said...

What is so shocking is that this is a company that is so blatantly mismanaged and profiteering. For the level of shameful performance to have gone on for so long without action or redress means the DFT must be complicit. I simply do not understand how this situation is allowed to continue for an essential public service. It is so abundantly clear that they only care about profit and keeping operating costs at bare minimum. That is why we experience stock and staff shortages. They treat staff and customers with abysmal disdain. MPs who appeared to be outraged and supportive of the travelling public earlier in the year now appear to have fallen silent. It's a conspiracy and it's a prime example of how modern Britain operates purely in the interest of private wealth at public expense. It's a scandal and needs to be fully exposed.

Anonymous said...

I have been trying to share this on FB, but the slave ship image still appears frustratingly.

I have read these postings with much interest and have full sympathy and support for the Southern Rail employees as much as I do for the deeply frustrated commuters. I am not a regular commuter, but like many have been deeply angered by the deterioration and unreliability of the service that I do rely on when I need it. My attempts to complain to GTR directly have simply been ignored and as a fare paying passenger I feel that to GTR regard me as just an inconvenience. It feels like our rights are being undermined as much as it is for their employees

The situation is beyond unacceptable. Is there any thing else, we can do?

Anonymous said...

While difficult to organise and time consuming your only real hope is a public protest outside the offices of the DFT, or a letter sent from every constituent to their local MP with a vote of no confidence. Unfortunately you not fighting the company, your are fighting the government. Only the possibility of losing seats will force their hand. unfirtunately you and your network are the Guinea pigs. It is only people power that will change what your are experiencing.

Anonymous said...

Do we have a Southern Rail passengers group? If not then we need to form one PDQ. The unions are doing their best but are being bullied mercilessly. Individual passengers are being ignored. Group action is the only way forward.

Rob A.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you mention the e-searching of your personal phones and computers to look for evidence of dissent. I don't think it is any coincidence that the new IP Bill would enable this kind of invasive checking without you even knowing about it. The pathetic amendment that one Labour MP was claiming to be proud of, giving "protection" to union members, was worded in such a way that the slightest hint of industrial action would make that amendment irrelevant. Best of luck in your battles!

Anonymous said...

Goodwill? Demanding 12 hours pay for 2 hours work is not Goodwill. You all complain about MPs with their expenses, maybe a public enquiry into train crews grossly inflated pay and coupled with ridiculously great terms and conditions? Get some perspective these people are not victims. They have great jobs and great pay and are just spoilt children.

Anonymous said...

Much needed information! Also let's stop comparing slavery to anything but slavery [Transatlantic slavery, modern day or anything in between]. I skipped over GTR and complained to National Rail directly. I will continue to do so until GTR are held accountable for this horrible mismanagement and lack of care for employees and customers.

Just paying the bills said...

"Goodwill? Demanding 12 hours pay for 2 hours work is not Goodwill. You all complain about MPs with their expenses, maybe a public enquiry into train crews grossly inflated pay and coupled with ridiculously great terms and conditions? Get some perspective these people are not victims. They have great jobs and great pay and are just spoilt children."

Go ahead and push for an independent inquiry, you'd find out just how wrong you are. To believe that tripe you're either a DfT/GTR sympathiser, or an idiot, or both. If anyone needs some perspective, it's you!

Anonymous said...

Just paying the bills could you please tell me another industry in which overtime is not paid at above salary rate? Are you suggesting staff should work on their days off and not be compensated for it? Would you agree to work overtime in your role at a standerd rate? I think not. Paramedics, doctors, police, fire service, bus drivers, tram drivers, etc. Ridiculously great terms and conditions? Are you referring to 30 minute breaks working a 9 and a half hour day? Or maybe referring to not be able to go to the toilet for up to 4 hours at a time or it could be only having 1 in 3 Saturday's off with your family? Would you like me to continue? Could you clarify are you also told in your role when you are allowed to eat and use the toilet. Staff are paid in accordance with the nature of a role. On a daily basis they C ould be responsible for 5000 people's lives, one mistake and someone could be killed or injured. One mistake and they could be sent to prison, one mistake and livelihoods and more can be lost. Out of interest do you begrudge a pilot their salary or there terms and condition even though the smaller they carry a smaller responsibility and there are a minimum of 2 of them yet train crew member are alone? commenting on something with not enough knowledge can make you look stupid can't it?

Anonymous said...

I think that just paying the bills has completely missed the point. What about crews being asked to be flexible and do overtime, change their booking on times and swap duties at the last minute tot help the service. Would you as a supposedly baled member of staff go over and beyond your contracted hours to help the service out when the company treats you with the contempt that Southern gtr have done so in recent times ?

Anonymous said...

I don't know what it's like for train crew as I work for a different part of customer-facing ... but believe me I don't get a 'great package', and for the 8 hours of abuse we get for a problem that is of management making and not our own, £100,000 wouldn't be enough.

I bet half of the people who say "how hard can it be" wouldn't last a week in our jobs.

Anonymous said...

For me, stories like this: http://www.railforums.co.uk/showpost.php?p=2582821&postcount=2756 just exemplify why Southern guards are needed - and also valued by the public - whilst at the same time been victimised by the company they work for...

Anonymous said...

I travel off peak from Northampton to Brighton, so although I get less of the woes of working commuters, I get the same rubbish company north of the Thames. I can see both going the way of Connex. Staff are TUPED over if the company changes so one hopes they get a company worth working for! As a passenger, I'd quite like Network South East back. The only people I can see who might fit that picture now might actually be Stagecoach.

David Boyle said...

I'm so grateful to everyone who has left comments, but particularly employees of GTR. I'm really keen to write something at greater length and want to get to the bottom of some of these issues. If you work or have worked for Southern, and you'd be prepared to chat to me off the record - especially any recently retired managers - I would be ever so grateful. You can contact me via dcboyle@gmail.com

Wookiee said...

I have the misfortune to have to commute from the Southampton area to Croydon every day and, as I have a 'via Barnham' ticket, I'm stuck with using Southern for my entire journey.
The current situation has caused me considerable inconvenience. Aside from rarely rarely getting to work on time (and subsequently having to make up my hours) I seldom get home in time to pick my daughter up from nursery now. Many evenings I don't even get home in time to eat with my family, as it's not fair on them to have to wait indefinitely while I struggle home.
Do I feel a bit sorry for myself? Yes. But this pales into insignificance compared to what the Southern conductors are currently going through. I've read as much information as it's possible to find on the internet about the dispute between Southern and their staff and the whole thing leaves a pretty unpleasant aftertaste. The more information like this blog gets into the public domain, the better.
I don't hold the conductors in the least bit responsible for what is going on. In fact I wish them the very best of luck but, sadly, I think they are doomed. On the one hand they have the DfT pushing detrimental changes through in the guise of GTR management, on the other hand they seem to be stuck with utterly ineffective union leaders who seem more interested in issuing soundbites about taxpayers' money going to European companies than in actually defending, representing and supporting their members. The RMT should be the ones publishing blogs like this!

Anonymous said...

What a great blog. As a commuter from Lewes on Southern I have been searching for a place that is collecting the truth. A friend of mine is systematically taking photographs on Lewes and Haywards Heath stations in the belief that it is quite inevitable that overcrowded platforms will end in a fatality and she wants to have a portfolio of evidence for the coroner for when this happens. She is a criminal lawyer and believes that a verdict of 'unlawful killing' is likely and that in turn could lead to criminal charges against the managers who have deliberately created this dangerous situation.

Mike said...

I happened to be bored enough on the way into London on a delayed Southern train this morning to search for the GTR franchise agreement. A couple of questions: Firstly, is the 2014 agreement still effective? If so, from the financial section it looked like DfT (and therefore the taxpayer) picks up the tab for delay repay claims through a balancing payment at the end of the year. Has anyone else looked into this? If true, it would seem like a pretty fundamental error in contract drafting if DfT were trying to ensure any kind of incentive for GTR to provide a decent service to the end user..

Anonymous said...

Just paying the bills - you are clueless. Staff don't get paid 12 hours pay for two hours work, more like they are rostered 9.5 hours, volunteer to work an additional 2 hours and if they're lucky the company will pay them twelve hours. Considering overtime is paid at the standard rate this effectively a small sweetener to get staff to volunteer, in reality it's probably an extra £5/£10 bonus for agreeing to work extra!

Anonymous said...

Mike @ 1812. It's been suggested that it's quite deliberate and not a fundamental error, it allows GTR to push through these changes on behalf of the DfT.

Neil Young said...

Interesting blog, really helped put this in perspective. As a daily user of the metro service, I face random luck on getting to work on time or getting home. Today my train from Epsom downs was cancelled, 2 buses to Sutton to catch the 7:10 and I arrived to that being cancelled as well. Now I'm on a Victoria train which was full by carshalton. Every stop now is a heated exchange between people trying to squeeze on with chaos at every station. This is a near daily occurrence... what a mess this company is.

Steve Wedd said...

Monday evening at 1830 the press of passengers on Platform 1 & 2 at Brighton was so great that the staff closed the platform and hired in BTP to stop more joining. Was this due to a cancellation westbound?

If so or if not, it really is a bit much to have to get coppers to stop users using your trains.

Andrew Williamson said...

Haven't read the Eye Piece yet but Dft involvement might go some way to explain the almost spooky absence of coverage and comment on this disgusting spectacle.

I tried to make an appointment to discuss it with my MP (Maria Caulfield, Con) - auto reply tumbleweed.

We passengers need to organise somehow - but how? I've finally felt the need to get a Twitter account; I have tweeted about this blog and it's alrady been retweeted, so that's something I guess. hashtag sackGTR anyone?

Ziz said...

Let's get another petition up online?
Sadly the other petitions calling on Govia to sort their sh!t out never really got many signatures.

Just paying the bills said...

I was quoting someone ("Anonymous") for the first bit, that post has since been deleted it seems, sorry you missed it.

Unknown said...

Agree with Ziz. It's time for another petition to go up.

Anonymous said...

Andrew I have been in regular contact with Maria Caulfield about this shambolic situation and she assures me that it is very high on her agenda - in fact she is meeting the Secretary of State for Transport tomorrow. Whether anything comes of that is another question but she is at least making the right noises which is a lot more than can be said for many of the other Sussex MPs.

Barney said...

I'm disabled, so need ramps to get on and off trains. I have to ring Southern Assisted Travel at least 24 hours before I want to travel, to arrange "assistance" that seldom materialises, so I have to rely on the guard to get me on and off the train. Get rid of the guards, and people in my situation won't be able to travel.

One week recently, the Southampton to Brighton train I was booked on was "cancelled" without warning, but they ran it empty. I watched it go through the station without stopping, five minutes before it would have been due.

One of the stations I use has recently been abandoned. The ticket office remains locked, and large gates have been erected at the entrances/exits. So far these are open, but for how long?

Southern have posters displayed at this station claiming that it "will be" manned from the first train to the last each day, so why have they got rid of the four people who used to run the station if they're planning on replacing them?

This Monday (June 13th), despite my having arranged "assistance", there was nobody to get me on the first train, nobody at Brighton to get me off this train and onto the next, and nobody at my destination station. What would I do if they were driver-only trains?

I have nothing but praise for train guards and platform staff, who are always friendly and helpful, however difficult their job becomes, but there are fewer platform staff every week.

Brighton and Hove buses are operated just as badly by the same parent company. I have friends living on the outskirts of Brighton, who often have to wait up to an hour for buses that are supposed to run every ten minutes. Drivers say the company needs around 80 additional drivers to run a full timetable, but it seems the management isn't interested in recruiting. Like the train crews, bus drivers too are being bullied.

I've heard of drivers getting 'phone calls in the middle of the night "asking" (demanding?) that they work their days off.

Buses take short cuts, leaving people stranded, but the company denies this. Sometimes they go completely off-route to avoid the busy Churchill Square area. If they're running late, they display a "Not in Service" message. I've personally seen as many as three successive buses on the Brighton-Eastbourne route go through without picking anyone up.

In central Brighton the service is pretty good, but move out a couple of miles and it's usually quicker to walk.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous, you have no idea what you are talking about, I drive trains, I get up at 0200 every day for 5 days and am out of the house for 12 hours, I have a couple of days off then get in at 0200 for two weeks with a couple of days off in between and work 3 weekends out of 4 and if I cock it up, then YOU don't go home to your family - and I don't see mine for a week at a time due to rostering !

Andrew Williamson said...

Anonymous I have since received a reply from Maria Caulfield, and actually yes she does seem to be very active on the matter! All power to her elbow in this regard at least!

Anonymous said...

I am a train driver who has driven both DOO and with a guard. DOO is a ridiculous.

If there is a crash and I am killed or injured physically or for that matter psychologically and cannot do anything, there is no one to protect the line, or evacuate passengers. Railways are dangerous It is not the same as the road in any way. Not only will passengers be frightened and confused, but trespass on railways is a criminal offence for good reason, because they are dangerous, and without a suitably qualified person there, passengers can put themselves in more danger than they are already in.

As for train dispatch, mirrors and monitors can become useless in darkness or extreme sunlight, and the traditional way of dispatching using eyesight is required, and often the front of the train is the least suitable place for viewing what is going on. Guards are often told to dispatch from the safest place to get the best viewing, which may be the rear, may be the centre of the train and in rare cases towards the front. Naturally once the doors are shut, we drive and cannot view the train as it pulls out of the platform - nor should we it distracts us from signals and what lies ahead, so if someone jumps on the side or falls under, we won’t know, where as a guard can stop the train as the railway rulebook states that the guard must remain at the window at all times until the train has passed the platform.

On staffed stations with DOO (which the vast majority are not), the platform staff have no way of stopping a moving train other than contacting the signaller which takes time, or gesturing to the punters to pull the cord, which is highly ineffective. Prosecutions and sackings are now commonplace for dispatch incidents, despite the fact that the bulk of them happen under DOO. Drivers do not want to take on the risk of prison having to deal with anti social idiots jumping on the side of trains, or gangs of youths banging on the windows and kicking the train as it pulls out. Assaults and threats can act as a distraction to drivers, who can end up having safety incidents, because they are concentrating on thuggery, rather than signals.

The companies spin getting rid of guards as technology making them unneeded. In reality it means the driver does two people's work (or three people's work if the platform staff are removed) putting criminal liability onto drivers at the platform. Technology would mean the process is automated, not lumping all the work onto one person who already has a serious safety critical job to do. CCTV is inferior to physically standing on platforms, no matter what these "experts" at the top say. They do not drive trains, guard trains or dispatch trains from stations.

Customer service with just a driver on board is non existent. When things go wrong we are often driving on yellow signals or even from red signal to red signal. You cannot use the PA when on restrictive aspects, and attempting to find out what is going on using mobile phones or any electronic equipment will lead to dismissal, no phones or laptops or anything switched on in the cab whilst the train is in motion, and rightly so.

DOO trains are also rampant with anti social behaviour. First class / quite coaches are always abused, blatant smoking of both cigarettes and illegal drugs, criminal damage to the train and so forth. A guard can deal with these miscreants, either as a visual deterrent, or ejecting them from the train, and if the situation is too dangerous, they can still move passengers out of the way and get the police far more quickly, as well as act as a witness. As a driver we can do very little at all, and have no clue what we are ferrying around.

Well done for allowing rail workers to speak their mind on this page. I hope trade unions, passenger user's groups and MPs are able to work together, regardless of political affiliation to sort this mess out, to defeat nonsense such as DOO, and to improve the rail service for passengers and staff alike.

Oliver Brocklehurst said...

Talking to a train driver at Horsham this morning (Tues 14 June) after the 08.07 was cancelled - he said that the drivers are refusing to work their rest days because they are fed up with Southern and that is why the trains are being cancelled. He said that had he not agreed to work his rest day, the train that I was on would have been cancelled as well!
Just another variation on the story...

Anonymous said...

In relation to your opening paragraph, Drivers can't just 'do some work' if there is no job or duty being provided for them. They can't just waltz into the depot and take a train! They need to have a duty provided to them. If a duty isn't provided, all the Drivers can do is wait for one.

Anonymous said...

More lies from the utterly incompetent, and loathsome rail minister Claire Perry, who doesn't know one end of a train from another.

http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/14557427.Rail_Minister__Unions_are_launching_a_war_on_passengers/

Anonymous said...

Boss of the UK's worst rail franchise sees pay packet soar above £2 million

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/boss-of-the-uks-worst-rail-franchise-see-pay-packet-soar-above-2million-a3270111.html

Anonymous said...

Fact is that Driver Only Operation is used by 30% of all mainline UK train services, so absolutely not limited to the Underground or similar. There is no evidence whatsoever that it is less safe than trains run with a guard. Check out Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-man_operation

Anonymous said...

But surely what is being proposed is DOO whilst retaining a staff member on the train to collect tickets and help passengers isn't it?

Anonymous said...

So Govia claim. But if this were the case, why would they endure months of disruption and reputational damage for a trivial change in staff duties? There would be very little incentive to continue pushing forward with the change, and passengers are clearly fine with the current conductor role. The only realistic incentive to continue pushing such a trivial issue is that it enables them to eliminate a large number of conductor jobs in the future. How long do you think their word that conductors will remain to perform "customer service" (read: revenue protection) duties? There's nothing binding Govia to honour this statement, and given the management contract structure that's in place, they won't pass up any opportunity to save money for long.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with the above. Why would the TOC go through all of this if it was just about a trivial change in staff duties. Clearly it isn't and what this is really about is them putting themselves in a situation where they can cut staff as much as they want in the near future. The unions and the guards are aware of this too, that is why the safety issue is so important for them, it is the only reason the TOC cant implement staff cuts now.
The other part of this is the nature of the franchise if you can even call it that. The whole thing absolutely stinks. Both the TOC and the DFT are putting lives on the line (quite literally) and making every commuters life a misery because of this. The press have been incredibly show to pick up on what is actually happening which is very annoying.

Anonymous said...

Is it a co-incidence the revised service is now limited Guildford Gatwick and Chichester to Portsmouth where DOO infastructure is not ready and some guards staying on contracts are being kept for this but not enough. Strange How all this has been agreed now indefinitely until the work and other TOC agreements get agreed. Seems government backing these reforms with GTR to comply with the managed franchise.
It seems customers are not getting a revised service for them but for for the GTR and government cost cutting of reducing safety responsiblity to guards so to reduce pay in future to new people on railway. Should be questioned for a enquiry

Anonymous said...

It is really sad that our government deliberately sets out to cause so much destruction. Sadly nearly all our MPs have betrayed us. Commuting from Worthing to London is seriously affecting my health, not sure I can carry on.

Anonymous said...
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