Why train companies should serve their customers, not their investors

Mark Stammers's picture

I travel into London each weekday morning from the South Coast of England. A journey that should take and hour and a half. I've been making the journey now for over eight years so I'm pretty used to the routine, but the recent levels of service of my train operator Southeastern has caused me to see red.

When I first started my long distance commute the line was run by Connex. They became synonymous with poor standards of service, cancelled trains and lateness which was so bad it put them outside the government's very generous punctuality targets. In the end Connex was sacked from the franchise in 2003.

The line was then effectively re-nationalised as the next operator South Eastern Trains was owned by the Strategic Rail Authority. Punctuality improved. Passengers were happy and rolling stock was updated.

Eventually the line franchise was awarded to Southeastern (which operate another line franchise in the South under the name Southern). With shareholders to once again placate, cost cutting is the order of the day. Staff numbers have been cut, especially amongst support staff such as those who operate the de-icing machines. The heavy snows of this winter has exposed these cuts, with trains unable to move over iced rails and frozen points.

A new timetable, which trimmed some services, has proven unreliable for passengers. Trains are now often delayed by the non-arrival of train crew who are stuck on other late-running trains.

My fellow passengers are usually a fairly stoic lot. Meeting news of yet another delay with a tut and a sigh before grabbing their mobiles to call loved ones or bosses to tell them they will be late yet again. But the mood is starting to turn. When information about why delays are occuring is not forthcoming from guards or drivers (often because they themselves have been left in the dark) tempers are flaring. It's reasonable I believe to expect to be slightly late maybe once a week, but four or five times and often for more than an hour is unacceptable.

Business and Industry relies on their staff arriving at their places of work on time. It's estimated the recent Winter snow cost British companies in excess of £230 million a day. A functional transport infrastructure is essential, and should not be left to whims of companies which serve their investors before their passengers.

Individuals can exact some small measure of revenge against their rail companies by complaining and claiming back compensation for the delays and poor service. Each rail company has its own system for compensation, and none of them make the process easy. But persevere and you will at least get the satisfaction of trimming their profits even if it is by a tiny amount.

Your Comments

I agree that train companies seem to get away with constant late and delayed trains using "excuses" like staff shortages when really it just means they have cut staff to such a level that it's impossible to cover reasonable cases of people being off sick or on holiday. But claiming compensation might be easier than you think so definitely look into it. In my case First Capital Connect trains relies on train drivers volunteering for overtime on weekends - when drivers were disgruntled about pay they stopping turning up. The result was weeks of bus replacement services on Sundays. How can that be allowed? But FCC actually does make it easy to claim for delays, as you can apply online and upload a scan of your ticket to claim. They reserve the right to request the original but I haven't been asked. If more people claimed then maybe the economics of short changing staffing and maintenance might not be so attractive.

tough thats what you get for living in london

I'm a researcher for a TV production company called Hardcash Productions - www.hardcashproductions.com - and I'm currently researching a documentary looking at conditions on the UK's rail network, as experienced by regular passengers. We would like to know if your experiences reflect recent reports of overcrowding, high cost of tickets and unreliable services on some lines.

We would very much like to talk to anyone who is a regular passenger/commuter and has strong feelings on any or all of these subjects either way.

If you are interested please call us on 02072532782 or email us your contact details and a time to get in touch with you at

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