Karl urges Ministers to 'get a grip' on monitoring rail franchise agreements

Lessons must be learned from the woeful experience of passengers on Southern Railway, say Members of Parliament on the Transport Select Committee, including Karl McCartney MP. 

The TSC Report has concluded that passengers have been badly let down by Government’s failure to structure, monitor and enforce franchise agreements and the planning and management of major rail infrastructure projects.

The Transport Committee’s call comes as it publishes a report, Improving the Rail Passenger Experience, in which they examines the railway from the passengers' experience. The evidence was dominated by the problems faced by Govia Thameslink Railway (operators of Southern Railway) passengers for more than a year: poor management of the franchise from the beginning; inadequate staffing; rolling stock issues, mismanagement and prolonged industrial action complicated by the huge Thameslink infrastructure programme. The report considers whether GTR is now in default of its contractual obligations. The proportion of services cancelled on GTR's network is now substantially in excess of the default level. In normal circumstances, this would be grounds for termination of the contract.

GTR has made claims for force majeure (which would revise its contractual benchmarks due to events beyond their control). The Committee is critical that crucial processes have been delayed by the 'tardiness' of GTR in supplying the information required to assess the claims. Should the company be in default, the Department for Transport must take the opportunity to restructure or terminate the agreement and deliver services in a more effective way for passengers. The Committee concludes that the DfT's claim that "no other operator" could do a better job in the circumstances is no longer credible.

The scrutiny of GTR's performance against its contractual obligations was made more difficult by lack of access to essential information. The Committee is calling for this information to be made publicly available. On parts of the rail network, passengers struggle to receive the service they deserve on a daily basis. Lack of access for disabled passengers, overcrowding, delays, complex ticketing, poor deals for part-time commuters, a lack of timely information on delays and insufficiently informative updates available through websites and apps - add to the misery of passengers across the rail network. MPs cast doubt on the value of the official measures of overall passenger satisfaction and call for operator performance measures which reflect the reality of passenger experience.

Karl McCartney JP MP, Lincoln’s Member of Parliament, said: "It is clear that passengers have been badly let down by a combination of the Rail Union's representatives specifically, GTR the operators of Southern Rail especially and the Government’s failure to monitor rail franchise agreements. 

“Southern Rail performance in particular has been and is continuing to be diabolical and it is passengers who are paying the price in their time and money and inconvenience.

“Our Committee is sending out a clear and unambiguous message to the Government to ‘get a grip’ of the situation, and fast, in the interests of all rail users.”

Further information:

The report recommends:

  • The Government should immediately put in place an automatic compensation scheme, in which TSGN's passengers are refunded directly, without the necessity to make a claim;
  • The current systems of measuring passenger satisfaction should be reviewed and the Public Performance Measure should be abandoned. An alternative, updated ‘right-time’ measures, should be in place by summer 2017;
  • The Department for Transport (DfT) should refine mechanisms to gather information on overcrowding with a view to more clearly identifying train services which operate overcapacity;
  • The DfT should develop a more coherent strategy for tackling overcrowding and find better ways to alleviate the worst examples of persistent overcrowding on particular services;
  • A coordinated, industry-wide strategy should be prepared in order to provide networkwide smart ticketing by April 2017, and combat the unfairness and complexity of current ticketing arrangements;
  • A better deal for part-time rail commuters;
  • A detailed plan from ATOC/RDG to provide websites and apps which improve the passenger experience;
  • Improved information from National Rail Enquiries on service provision including delays and/or disruptions;
  • The Committee welcomes the commitment to identify the best solutions to deliver Wi-Fi to all passengers and recommends a plan is published by summer 2017.

This report, Improving the rail passenger experience, is one of a series of five inter-related inquiries by the Transport Select Committee into the ‘Future of Rail’. The current problems on Southern Railway emphasise key barriers to the railway functioning effectively within the current structures of the rail sector. This issue will be explored further as the Committee continues to take evidence for the inquiry into rail franchising. Next in line for publication is the report on proposed new rail technology, including updated signalling, rail technology and rail traffic management systems as part of a “digital railway”. The safety of the railway and the strategic issues of rail finance and governance will complete the series.

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For further information, please contact Karl McCartney JP MP at karl.mccartney.mp@parliament.uk / 020 7219 7221.