Govia Thameslink Railway say they are “very sorry” for the shoddy service they have been providing all year, but particularly in August, on Southern and Thameslink trains, but they continue to blame the “Pingdemic” for driver shortages and short-notice cancellations.
GTR this week revealed plans for increased service levels across their networks from September 6, reinstating many of the trains which they removed from the timetables as recently as July 26 in their latest round of cuts.
But the services provided from next month will remain considerably below February 2020, pre-pandemic levels – the service which GTR is contracted to the Department for Transport to provide – with railway officials warning this week there will not be a return to their old, rush-hour dominated timetables for “a very long time to come”.
In another letter to a senior City Hall official, notably sent from a member of Govia’s PR staff (rather than anyone in their operations team), the rail operators simpered, “The challenges facing my colleagues are not unique, and amended timetables are currently in operation across the UK…
“I do recognise that the current service does mean more challenging journeys for our customers and we are very sorry. We know that short notice cancellations are the most disruptive and are doing everything we can to create as much certainty as possible for customers.”
The PR spinner was at pains to deny any responsibility for the company’s failure to conduct adequate recruitment of drivers – something which has been seen as a cause of service disruption long before Govia could rely on covid-19 or even Brexit for aconvenient excuse.
“The current issues are not related to a shortfall in driver recruitment,” they claim.
“GTR employs 2,100 qualified crew, providing a ratio of over 2.3:1 in terms of drivers to scheduled workings.” They claim that this is “one of the higher levels in the sector”.
“Clearly, however, the progress of new trainees to replace retiring staff through our academy has slowed over the past 18 months, given challenges of social distancing and smaller group sizes with instructors. This has resulted in the process becoming less efficient.
“The challenge has been how to manage a mixture of short-notice coronavirus-related absence, in combination with the knock-on impact of disruption to our businesses,” they say, the closest thing to an admission that GTR has failed to manage their staffing adequately.
They offer an example from a week ago when two members of staff at two depots tested positive for coronavirus. This “meant we then lost over 20 drivers to test and trace within 72 hours”. GTR claims that such loss of staff availability could account for as many as 100 cancellations per day.
“Since the [covid] rules have been relaxed this week, we have seen an increase of drivers who can return to service, previously unable to work due to test and trace. We expect this to increase in line with the rest of the country,” the Govia PR spinner wrote.
“My colleagues have spent the last few weeks planning the 6 September timetable, which as well as setting up the network to best support schools and colleges, will help to ensure services are as reliable as possible when people return back to offices.
“We are doing everything we can to improve reliability and to support the gradual return of customers to public transport and look forward to working with you and other stakeholders to shape and improve services in the future.”
Of course, commuters, as they return to their daily shuttles from south London to the city centre, season ticket-holders and passenger groups will be watching closely to see whether Govia really can up its game, or to discover what they next use as an excuse.
- For a summary of the service changes from September 6 and how they might affect you and your journeys, click here
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