JEREMY CLACKSON, our transport correspondent, on a report that confirms the bleedin’ obvious
A National Audit Office report has confirmed what Croydon commuters have known for more than three years: they daily endure the worst train performance in the whole of Britain.
And worse: because of the failures of Tory minister Chris Grayling’s Department for Transport, it looks like taxpayers are going to be paying “tens of millions” more each year for the privilege of Govia Thameslink’s failing services.
In the week of the multi-billion-pound collapse of outsourcing specialists Carillion, the NAO report on the railways highlights more serious failures in the Government’s approach of using taxpayers’ money to create massive private profits, while providing a failing service for the public.
“These latest delay statistics and the National Audit Office report show that there are fundamental problems with this rail franchise,” Sarah Jones, the Labour MP for Croydon Central, said today. “It should be handed over to Transport for London as soon as possible, something a clear majority of Londoners want.”
And Sir Amyas Morse, the head of NAO, has said, “Over the last three years long-suffering passengers on the Thameslink franchise have experienced the worst performance on the rail network.
“Some of the problems could have been avoided if the Department for Transport had taken more care to consider passengers in its design of the franchise.”
Jones has released an analysis showing that the performance of Croydon’s rail service remains at rock-bottom, even in strike-free months.
Southern Rail resolved their industrial dispute with ASLEF train drivers on November 8 last year. Over the following two months, the Southern network did not experience a single strike action, yet Croydon commuters continued to suffer widespread delays and cancellations.
Using Raildar data, Jones has identified eight rush-hour services through Croydon that have been late or cancelled 94 per cent of the time in a strike-free period.
The average delay for each train over the two months was between six and 12 minutes, meaning that over the 39 working days, commuters will have wasted more than five hours of their time on these delayed trains.
Two of the services, running from Victoria to East and West Croydon respectively, were late every single working day over the period.
As reported by Inside Croydon, a Southern Rail service through Croydon was also recently revealed as the “worst train journey in the country”. The 09.24 Southern Rail service from Caterham to London Victoria, calling at South Croydon and East Croydon stations, was late 240 times in 2017.
The new figures emerged as commuters suffered yet another substantial New Year fare increase, and a report into the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise confirmed its trains “have been the worst performing across the whole rail network”.
The damning report from the National Audit Office revealed a host of failures from the DafT and Southern owner Govia Thameslink, including a change to GTR’s franchise requirements which could see more taxpayers’ money paid to the underperforming operator, amounting to “tens of millions” per year according to the National Audit Office.
The report also questioned a £13million payment from GTR to the Government, which means the operator cannot be fined for poor performance again until September.
In a debate on rail in the House of Commons, Jones called again for a £1billion investment in the railway around Croydon. “We must alter the track and sort out the Windmill Bridge junction in Croydon to stop the service from collapsing in the future,” she said.
The Tories continue to resist growing calls for suburban rail in London to be put under the control of TfL, which has transformed service on the London Overground network. A report commissioned by the Transport Secretary himself and published last year recommended that TfL take control of some Southern services, including some services from Croydon, as soon as possible.
“The management contract handed to GTR means the Government pays them a guaranteed £1billion per year and the state shoulders the risk of ticket revenues,” Jones said. “This is the reverse of what we see on other rail networks across the UK.
“We were promised £3.5billion of profit from this huge franchise, but Southern’s abysmal performance meant that passenger journeys dropped last year, cutting ticket revenues and causing a loss to the public purse of more than £90million.”
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A key plank of the DfT’s strategy for cutting railway costs is structural ‘de-staffing’ (see McNulty Report), which is basically where closing ticket offices and DOO comes from. GTR took this strategy on and basically operate on a day to day basis with fewer staff than actually required to maintain ‘normal’ operating levels. The hole in staffing is plugged partly by massive reliance on overtime and partly by regularly cancelling service due to a ‘temporary shortage of staff’. If TfL takes over there would have to be a massive re-staffing exercise defeating the DfT’s whole objective, for example TfL promises all stations staffed first train till last, but many stations on the current GTR operated metro routes don’t have any staff even at the busiest times.
I think the report recommending transfer of services to TfL that you refer to is the one published in 2016 and commended by the then Mayor and Transport Secretary.
Since then both those posts have been replaced and the current Transport Secretary has different views.
It’s in the Gibb Report, Nick.
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