/ Travel & Leisure

Update: what’s it like being a Southern rail passenger?

Southern rail

Being a Southern passenger is no easy feat. Cancelled trains and delays have made passengers feel like it’s virtually impossible to travel on their service, with not enough being done to compensate them.

As long-suffering Southern commuters, Pareeta and George explain what it’s like to use this troublesome rail service

Tales from Southern passengers

PareetaPareeta: I wake up a little before 6am every working day, and the first thing I do is check the trains from Crawley to Victoria.

Southern advises passengers to check trains before they leave the house. Just to be sure, I check once more before walking to the station. But I often find that upon arriving at Crawley station, my train has been cancelled. I certainly won’t be making it in to work on time.

From a shortage of train crew to an amended timetable that did little to favour to commuters, Southern has made it an absolute misery for those who use its trains.

To really add insult to injury, passengers pay thousands for an abysmal travel service every year. Week-long strike actions ensure that I don’t travel at all, leaving that money to go to waste.

Passengers aren’t only losing out on money – they’re also losing out on time. There have been reports of people getting fired because they cannot make it into work on time, or getting home so late that they don’t see their children. I’ve pretty much given up making mid-week plans, as I’d only miss out on them thanks to the unreliable Southern service.

I’ve had to claim for over 20 cancelled or delayed trains over the past eight weeks.

The process isn’t easy. If you have a paper ticket, you’re required to take a photo and attach it to an online form. The online form is long and tedious to fill out, and then you have to wait for your vouchers to arrive… eventually. Those of us who receive vouchers then have to visit a station to exchange them for money.

Claiming for a delay is a nightmare – and I know I’m not alone. Commuters are constantly reminded to only claim for trains delayed by more than 30 mins, but more often than not my claims are rejected or ignored.

Train delays are only the half of it

GeorgeGeorge: Never before have I seen a company getting it wrong on so many fundamental levels.

The lack of information, the misinformation, the perceived uninterest in genuine passenger concerns, the excuses and an inadequate delay repay system on top of a customer service response time of 20 working days – that’s nearly a month.

I use the Southern-operated Metro line (zones 1-6), so I haven’t got it nearly as bad as Pareeta, but I still get a fair share of delays, cancellations and overcrowding.

It’s been this way for as long as I can remember, yet the excuses remain the same. And all the while, fares continue to rise.

The redevelopment of London Bridge station is frequently trotted out as a reason, yet more often than not the reasons for delays and cancellations are shortages of train crew; train ‘fault’; broken down train; and congestion caused by earlier delays. I’m tired of London Bridge being cited as a reasonable excuse.

From what I’ve seen, there never seems to be a contingency plan in place. When a delay or cancellation happens the station goes into meltdown mode with little or no information available.

On several occasions I’ve been squeezed into one train for 20 minutes, before rumours spread that it doesn’t have a driver. Hundreds of people are then instructed to change platform and board a different train. Twenty minutes later it’s revealed there’s no driver for that train either, so it’s back out on to the concourse for more screen-gazing and confusion.

I’ve seen elderly people and pregnant women struggling to deal with the overcrowding and horrible conditions. Tempers flare on a daily basis as people are forced to squeeze onto the trains.

Although First Class is permanently declassified on Southern Metro trains, it doesn’t tell anyone about this perk, so people are scared to take an empty seat.

And I haven’t even mentioned the emergency timetable, which is doing little to help matters and leaving some on the South Coast without a train service at all…

Southern has been keen to blame the quality of the service offered on this industrial dispute, but commuters aren’t fooled – we’ve been suffering for years, not months, and things are deteriorating further with no end in sight.

Make rail refunds easier

Train companies need to face up to rail delays, which is why our campaign is calling for the rail refund process to be made easier for delayed passengers to claim the refunds they deserve.

Update: 28 February 2017

Southern passengers caught up in last year’s travel chaos have been promised compensation, which can now finally be claimed.

A compensation scheme and online compensation portal, first announced in December 2016 and promised for January 2017, is finally live on the network’s website.

But if you were one of the estimated 84,000 eligible passengers, you only have until 30 April to claim.

To qualify, you must have held a minimum of 12 weeks’ worth of season tickets between 1 April and 31 December 2016.

Southern says it has made efforts to contact 40,000 customers directly to let them know about the scheme, so that means that as many as 44,000 are yet to claim.

Our Director of Campaigns and Communications, Vickie Sheriff, said: ‘Southern passengers have endured months of misery and a frustrating delay in being able to claim this extra compensation. Southern need to make sure that their customers are fully aware of what they are entitled to as a result of the disruption they’ve faced.

‘We urge season ticket holders to get their claim in before the end of April.’

It isn’t just Southern though. Our railways are plagued by delays, cancellations, constant overcrowding and hideous train conditions.

We deserve trains that run for passengers, not just the rail industry. That’s why we’re taking the rail industry to task to demand a better service – if you agree too then back our campaign today.

Are you a Southern rail passenger? Have you claimed back compensation for last year’s delays yet?


What’s it like being a Southern Rail passenger? I’m so glad that I actually don’t know. I really feel for the passengers who do, however, I hear about it often enough on the news.

Passengers claiming for their money back and signing petitions are one thing, but what about employers joining in? The other morning it was a lady I heard on the radio complaining that not only she wouldn’t be able to get to work on time, but also she would have to leave early to be able to pick up her children. Where does that leave the employers? They too should be encouraged to protest against this shockingly bad service.

No amount of money back will compensate for the worry, the stress. I would be so scared I was going to lose my job!

I don’t expect it will, but shouldn’t the Government step in and give the contract to someone else?? How bad does it have to get??

When are ?Which launching their “Shonky” Award? I know now from another conversation that we should use another word in this country, so what about the Crock Awards? Crock of lies I keep hearing from Southern Rail every time I hear them interviewed, lies about them wanting to provide a good service. If they genuinely want to provide a good service they should be sacked for incompetence. I’m angry at them and I’m not even affected by them. Lord knows how their passengers feel.

In the meantime I have signed the petition.


There are two sides to this. One is a management that seem unwilling to reach a compromise, the other is a union that……..seems unwilling to reach a compromise. Both sides must face the reality of a situation and neither side should be, in effect, going to war with passengers (not customers are they really?) caught in the onslaught. A pity people don’t grow up and behave in an adult way.

If this is principally about guards and the possibility of trains running with a driver only, then the management need to consider practical issues, like drivers tiny screens to check doors, station CCTV that cannot be seen occasionally because of the sun, and stations that are unstaffed so no one to help passengers or despatch the train.

If it is about the second person – the guard – undertaking other duties on the train then the union need to recognise the sense in that. If it is about insisting on double manning on trains where it is unnecessary they need to recognise that also; unnecessary staff means higher fares.

I don’t know the arguments except that reasonable people on both sides should work through a logical solution, and set aside entrenched attitudes and simply “protecting” jobs.


It looks to me like both sides have actually offered each other compromises, but the key to it all is the safety-critical part aspect of the current role of the guard.

The huge issue for most passengers though is this: say the dispute ends tomorrow – one of the two sides backs down and the ‘normal ‘ time table is introduced…. then what do we go back to?

The company is perennially and openly short-staffed – delays, cancellations and overcrowding were commonplace before this dispute, and that won’t magically disappear when it’s resolved. The dispute may have hit the headlines, but these problems have existed for years – to say passengers are sick of it is an understatement.


“The company is perennially and openly short-staffed” – surely the free market solution for that is to pay much higher wages, to attract more staff?

“the key to it all is the safety-critical part aspect of the current role of the guard” – and yet other railway operators can manage without guards. As far as I know, the Tyne & Wear Metro commuter trains have never needed them.

Londoner says:
20 August 2016

Indeed, and many trains run by Govia already run without guards. The dispute is the front line of the rail unions’ attempt to hold back technological progress on the railway system as a whole.


The reason often given is “to protect jobs”. However, as we have seen from so many disputes in the past, protecting jobs, also called overmanning, in fact destroys those jobs as the industry or business becomes uncompetitive and withers away.

neil coram says:
26 August 2016

your point about unnecessary staff means higher fares is wrong on 2 points.1) having a guard on the train in my mind is not unnecessary it is a vital member of staff.2)the fares are the same if you travel from Epsom to Clapham junction on a southern train with only a driver you pay the same fare as passengers travelling on a south west train service from Epsom to Clapham junction with a guard on the train the government want to get rid of the guards on trains so profits can be bigger not for lower fares.


If the Rail Safety & Standards Board and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch do not consider a guard is necessary, and if thousands of train services have been operating everyday without guards for decades, there must be unnecessary costs in the system where train companies continue to employ guards.

The South West Trains system is fully equipped both on trains and at stations to enable Driver-Only Operation yet it continues to employ guards; to me that seems to be an unnecessary expense. I don’t know which train operator sets the fares for the Epsom – Clapham Junction service but the fare obviously has be the same. Since Southern has hitherto employed guards the operating expenses are probably similar and Southern will not make much saving by employing On-Board Supervisors instead of guards and converting to Driver-Controlled Operation but there is considerable potential for avoiding costly delays [and compensation] if an OBS is not available. On SWT’s routes where there is no other operator its continued employment of guards must have an impact on operating costs and ticket prices, the more so on unregulated fares. I cannot believe the DfT will ignore this in future franchise awards.


neil, many trains run without guards perfectly safely, according to rail safety experts, so on such trains a guard would appear to be unnecessary.
Fares are split across the network, not on the way individual trains are staffed. So you would not expect a particular train with one man operation to be charged differently.
Overall, if a company has excess staff its costs are higher and the customer will pay for that.
However, the point here is whether guards are necessary on (some or all) Southern trains when they are not on other networks. That can be discussed rationally by the parties concerned, if they so chose.

Rob Barnes says:
18 August 2016

You feel more like a refugee than a passenger on their overcrowded services. The poor Southern staff are left to face angry passengers on a daily basis with no information and no support from their Management. Both staff and passengers are being treated like something you scrape off your shoe, with Govia and the Government seemingly happy to think this is acceptable (and the fares are still going up).

My wages are increased based on inflation (0.6%) – if my company deem fit to give me one, but Train price rises are based on the Retail Price Index measure of inflation (1.6%). How is this fair ?

Mars says:
18 August 2016

This problem is spreading rapidly to South Eastern too I have lost count how many times my husband is getting home late on the Victoria to Margate line as they put everything into the more expensive Hi Speed link (for Margate you only save 10 mins and pay about £1500 more for a season ticket). He leaves the house at 5.30 and often not home till almost 8pm the worst was last week when he did not get home till 10 – he should be home by 7pm. For this he pays almost £5200 a year, he has phoned me tonight to say his train is “cancelled” again so when he does get on the train the whole 2 hour journey will be so busy no-one can sit. He is disabled (visibly) but nobody ever leaves disabled seating free either.


Sorry to hear about the situation with your husband. You’ll probably be unsurprised to hear that Govia own and operate both Southern and South Eastern.


Both Southern and the RMT, and to some extent the Department for Transport, are treating the passengers with contempt. Most of them are entirely captive because they have no realistic alternative way of getting to work in London. The roads don’t have the capacity and would be ten times more unsafe than the railways. Greater London cannot possibly house everybody who works there so commuting is unavoidable. The slanging match between the train company and the trade union has been an unedifying spectacle that only adds insult to the injury to their lives being suffered by the train travellers.

If drivers operating the doors is so unsafe, how does London Underground move four million people a day by this method [and without a second on-board operative]? And how does Southern’s sister company Thameslink operate services from Brighton to London over the same routes and stopping at the same stations with drivers opening and closing the doors? I think the Southern management have behaved badly at times during the dispute [and before because, as George points out above, they have one of the worst passenger performance records on the British network], but the Union is also bigging this up using safety as a decoy for their real issues; they have rights, but they also have a responsibility to be honest and fair, especially when they are causing serious inconvenience to millions of the people that pay high fares for a decent service and get a very poor one. I understand the dispute has gone to arbitration at last and I just hope the outcome is binding.

Robert Maidment-Wilson says:
19 August 2016

For 175+ years the Guard has been in charge of he train, not the driver. There are good reasons for this, only one of which is that it is the Guard’s responsibility to protect the train from the rear in the event of a failure or derailment. He should walk back down the track for a prescribed distance and place detonators on the track to warn anything approaching from the rear that his train has stopped in the section. If the driver is on his own, or is incapacitated, he can’t do that, or at least will have to walk the length of the train plus the prescribed distance behind it, thus leaving it unprotected for longer. While he is away, the train and its passengers will be left completely unattended. You may say that modern signalling systems obviate the need for this procedure, but we all know that the more technology you have, the more there is to go wrong, trains do pass signals at danger and the inherant danger in such systems is that they are very attractive to metal thieves (just look at how many delays are attributed to cable theft and signalling faults and you will know what I mean). The old ways really are the best ways to run a safe and delay-free railway and no amount of lies,deceit, profiteering and penny-pinching by cowboy Train Operating Companies is going to change that.


That is certainly how trains used to be operated Robert but much more reliable modern technology has made such procedures obsolete. With track-circuits, axle-counters, train management systems, modern signalling and control systems, GPS tracking, and radio communication to the signallers, the days when the guard used to need to find the detonators and walk back down the line to place them on the track are long gone. British Rail started phasing out guards on commuter trains in the 1980’s. The Rail Safety & Standards Board and the Rail Accident & Investigation Branch have both said the presence of a guard is not essential for safety compliance and that in some circumstances [like miscommunication with the driver] it could impair safety.

I can understand why the RMT wish to push the safety argument: once it is established that trains can operate without a second crew member on board [which Southern are not proposing except in specified circumstances] the Union will lose its leverage and bargaining power as it will no longer have the ability to call a strike that brings the trains to a standstill [unless the drivers’ union ASLEF is also in the dispute]. This is where I see the hand of the DfT as eliminating the need for a guard or second operative across the remainder of the network not already under driver-only control will bring about massive savings.

Peter Young says:
19 August 2016

“to some extent” ” the hand of the DfT”
In my view this dispute is entirely driven by the DfT. South West Trains abandoned attempts to introduce Driver Only Operation (DOO) during their first franchise in the late 90s/early 2000s. Because Southern is operating a management contract and not a franchise, they don’t lose money if the fares income drops.

The fact remains that DOO has been proved safe in operation of freight and passenger trains whatever the RMT may say. In fact DOO may result in quicker journeys as the can release the doors immediately the train comes to a stop. This compares with guards who, under modern safety rules, cannot open their own door until the train has stopped, and then only after checking the platform can the release the passenger doors.

RMT’s intransigent attitude is going to lead to more staff cuts not less.

mike Alexander says:
19 August 2016

Disgraceful state of affairs. Talks, talks and more talks. All leading to nothing except for luncheon at passengers expense. The time for talks is over, remove their franchise and forget about golden goodbyes and soft landings. The operators should be prohibited from further Government employment in any office.


And the union?

Robert Maidment-Wilson says:
23 November 2016

That’s all well and good in theory, but in practice, modern technology has more to go wrong and is constantly subject to cable theft. There is no substitute for the belt and braces effect of a two-man (preferably three) crew. One driver can’t be in two places at once and someone needs to be looking after the passengers while the driver is dealing with safety-critical matters. Who looks after the passengers and and train when the driver is incapacitated? There is no substitute for tried and tested so-called old fashioned methods.

Brian Childs says:
20 August 2016

Whether or not the guard/conductor is necessary to control the doors their presence must be required as “the member of staff” to whom announcements require us to report the presence of “unattended baggage” or “suspicious behaviour”, although experience suggests finding them to do this would be far from an easy task. A driver sealed in a driving compartment cannot possibly fulfil this role : halting the train and carrying out an inspection is hardly feasible, not least because a lone driver becomes more vulnerable outside the relative safety of the driving cab. Like it or not the unwelcome possibility of a terrorist incident on a train in this country cannot be dismissed as fanciful or completely far fetched. Passengers on a train cannot flee so the operator must be responsible for their protection since they cannot be left to protect themselves. Airport style security before boarding ?? Do not think so. In truth an unarmed (or even an armed) sole conductor is virtually no protection against terrorists operating whether in numbers or even alone BUT such a person does provide the possibility of an authoritative reporting agent, to signal an incident is occurring and trigger some kind of response. The idea that this could be done( ie that a response would actually take place) by a passenger with a phone is a non starter : the virtual certainty of innumerable malicious or mistaken false alarms makes it so. If we think that the risk of such an attack is too remote to be worth the trouble of guarding against then what exactly is the point of the messages about unattended luggage constantly being relayed at stations ? Is it entirely a cynical ploy the only function of which is to allow the disclaiming of any responsibility should such an incident ever happen ?


Good point, Brian. These irritating messages are completely impractical. They mainly apply to baggage left on station platforms but even then there is not necessarily a member of staff available to take emergency action. Dialling 999 is probably the only protection.

As regards the presence of an operative on the train, this is probably why Southern is proposing to change the role of guards to being On Board Supervisors so, on the vast majority of services where there is currently a guard, there will be an accessible crew member trained in emergency procedures and evacuation. The emergence of suicide bombers has changed the landscape for security protection on public transport and there is no effective protection. There are no guards/conductors on most commuter lines so Southern is not out of step and indeed considers it is being more responsible than others. Some commuter trains have guards but they provide no passenger assistance of any kind and remain out of reach inside the rear cab.

David Nissen says:
20 August 2016

The only way to stop this outrageous incompetence by a very profitable Southern Rail is to Nationalise this operator and while we are at it – ALL railways. Stop taxpayers money subsidising profit for the benefit of private ownership.

grahamssw says:
20 August 2016

It seems quite clear to me. Southern have offered job security for several years, a salary of £35k – £40k for Conductors in the local newspaper, and already operate 60% of their trains with just the Driver. New trains are waiting to be introduced, designed for one person operation, yet the RMT still remains in the past, refusing to accept modern technology, probably for political reasons. The only persons who will be losers in this dispute are the Conductors themselves.

Keith Morgan says:
20 August 2016

I only ever need to use Southern Rail if I am travelling to Gatwick Airport. Changed platforms, frustrated passengers and staff, cancelled or delayed departures always makes the journey extremely unpleasant. The Government could and should do something about the Company that runs this route, immediately!


What I like least about these sorts of disputes is that hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of “innocent” ordinary people’s lives are totally disrupted and made unnecessarily miserable with no though of this on either side.

I would suggest that all employees should have a significant proportion of their pay dependent upon the degree of service achieved each year, so all had a direct stake in the running of the business. The same %, irrespective of status. On a passenger railway, perhaps, based on the proportion of passenger journeys achieved within say 5 minutes of timetabled time. It might make them feel part of the business and avoid supporting or tolerating disruptive practises.

In many civil disputes that cannot be resolved amicably both sides present their cases to an expert panel who should consider the arguments and make a pronouncement that is binding. Industrial disputes seem to avoid this where possible, relying on bullying, blackmail and disruption to get their way (either side). I’d suggest this should be made to happen much earlier, as soon as the amicable approach fails, and the arguments should be in the public realm so we can all see the merits or otherwise and avoid deals behind closed doors.

The worst part of these type of disputes is the total disdain for those affected – disruption aimed at holiday times, bank holidays, let alone essential commuter journeys. Denied by the participants of course, but that’s just crocodile tears (well. you know what I mean). You would think grown-ups would have a more considerate attitude towards their fellow men (and ladies).

David Quinn says:
20 August 2016

Govia have always been untrustworthy. I bought a ticket a while ago (it was just after Govia had taken over Southern and it wasn’t obvious they had). The ticket, from the Trainline, said Thameslink-only and was for the 11.12 train from London Bridge to Brighton. But at 11.12 the only train to Brighton was a Southern train. I figured two trains wouldn’t be going to Brighton at the same time and we took the train. Nobody checked our tickets on the train but I wrote to Southern and asked them to clarify whether we could have been fined. They said we could. I asked again (these were “emails” on their site) and was told that the 11.12 WAS a Thameslink train. Now the liveries are quite different and I am not blind. I rang up and spoke to someone. he again refused to admit that they had merely switched trains within the company (I by now knew they had merged). He said it was Thameslink. I said how would I have known that. He said I should have asked someone in the station. Actually I did and they didn’t know either but suggested, as I thought, that the 11.12 train was the only one to Brighton so I should get it. I have never worked out why they were so defensive about this but came to the conclusion they are just prepared to lie rather than admit they might be wrong. BTW I tried to clarify via a couple of train customer “ombudsman” orgs but none of them were any use at all.

Lord Denzil Paul Jonah. says:
20 August 2016


Jim Hawkins, (aaargh) says:
20 August 2016

Wouldn’t it be much easier if all the people who commute into London and other large cities to spend the day sat in front of a computer had regional centres where they could work, or even work at home, without having to cram themselves aboard trains and buses etc. It would be much easier and less disruptive to run fibre optic cables, or whatever they use nowadays to get all the high speed broadband which modern communications need.
In the early 70’s the old GLC had a madcap plan to bulldoze vast motorways through central London etc (Ringway 1,2,and3). In 1973 the price of oil almost quadrupled overnight, petrol shot up in price, and the whole barmy idea was dropped.
The answer is simple, whack up the price of season tickets at rush hour so that only the really essential people will travel at that time and things will be much more relaxed. Flexitime seems to ring a bell.
As for nationalising the railways, anyone who ever commuted in the 70’s when BR used to have a 24 hour stoppage on a Thursday will know what they were like, there were no ‘umble porters, “Carry yer bags, sir”, it was soddoff matey. I used to commute out of London on a 7am train, only a couple of people in a compartment, and used to enjoy watching the commuters with their faces jammed against the windows.


We should reduce the need for commuting – expense, overcrowding, inefficient use of time – and start to relocate work to nearer where people choose to live.


Rail passenger numbers from south of the Thames into London termini during weekday morning peak [Autumn 2015 – DfT figures]:

Victoria – 64,600
Waterloo – 110,300
Blackfriars – 29,300
London Bridge – 137,400

[There are more : To Stratford & St Pancras from Kent, to Cannon Street, Holborn Viaduct, & Charing Cross, and some Thameslink passengers to through stations in London]

[For comparison: Birmingham – 42,900]

And don’t forget the number of commuters coming from south and south-west London on the London Underground and Overground.

Arrivals from the north, east and west are more modest but Liverpool Street has 70,500.


Quite agree Mr Hawkins, I particularly like your comments on the ‘good old days’ of BR, a reality which, it would seem, the vast majority of commuters today have never experienced! However, it’s all about the current situation and I travel on Southern too, the last time on 28/9 having spent all day out on trip……last trains delayed by up to 20 minutes for no apparent reason! It seems all too familiar.

Jim Hawkins, Aaargh says:
2 October 2016

In the mid 70’s British Rail said that they were removing seats from trains “for more comfortable standing”, I believe that the self same thing is happening now, tho’ with the current sausage machines on the Overground that would be hard to do. At least we haven’t gone like the New York subway where they have a metal trough down each side for passenger seating, though time will tell.

Judith Elbourne says:
21 August 2016

If you are on the Uckfield line you don’t get a reduced service when there’s a dispute. You get no train service at all, nor any rail relief services to elsewhere. Tunbridge Wells, for example is not ‘operated’
by Southern.


It has been suggested that Southern have deliberately worsened the impact of the dispute in places as a weapon in the prevailing hostility with the trade union. They claim to have optimised services on the main lines at the expense of the branches and one can only conclude that the DfT have approved of their reallocations even though it is a reduction in the scope of the service under the management contract. Not to provide a rail replacement service to an alternative station because it is on a different operator’s system is disgraceful [the more so as they are both under the ultimate control of Govia].


I had the misfortune to use Southern Railways in the past week. I was attempting to reach Bexhill on Sea from Gatwick during the morning. Every train on the platform I waited on was delayed. The original train I intended to travel on was nearly half an hour late,and as I had to change to reach Bexhill,the connecting train had of course gone. I then waited for the next train which was also late,and by the time I boarded I had been on the platform for nearly an hour. Coming back that day was no better,and I just felt I had spent all day travelling. My final destination was London Bridge where I was heading for Liverpool Street to catch a train home to Essex(will not complain about this service again). However, as late into London Bridge missed my connection. Southern trains simply dire. I cannot understand why the Government has not stepped in and removed the franchise. Failing hospitals and schools are put into special measures so why not the Railways?


That’s a good suggestion, Rosealee. The problem with Southern is that it is already in a form of ‘special measures’. It is not operating a normal franchise but is performing a management contract for the Department for Transport whereby virtually every aspect of the service is specified and directed by the DfT which also takes the revenue risk [so the operator is not affected by the decline in ticket sales and income during the period of substandard services]. The DfT could theoretically strip Southern of the contract but the same people and the same limited number of trains and the same unreliability problems would persist for some time until a new franchise could be awarded [and who would bid for it without a hefty financial comfort cushion?]. Since Southern is just one of three conjoined operators in an enormous single franchise that extends from the south coast to the Wash it is not conducive to an easy solution.

Barry says:
23 August 2016

Glad to see that a number of comments here are drawing attention to the intransigence of the main trade union involved (RMT). A number of commentators in the media seem inclined to let them off lightly and put the blame for the mess firmly on Southern’s management. But with the latter having given assurances of no redundancies over the door-operating issue, I find it hard to believe other than that the RMT are stirring up trouble for the sake of it.

As others have pointed out, the particularly stupid thing about this is that the suburban services of Southern and its predecessors have been driver-only operated for years and years without problems attributable to that fact. On long-distance services such as London to Scotland I can see the case for a conductor on the train to work the doors, check tickets and generally assist passengers (as shown on more than one television series in recent years) but I wouldn’t have thought any of Southern’s routes were long enough for that. Apart from cost, a further point in favour of one-person operation is that, if you go to two, you double the risk of a service being delayed or cancelled for staff not being there for whatever reason. Last year I was at Horsham when the train leaving for Victoria via Sutton was delayed nearly half an hour because the conductor was “arriving on another train which was running late.” I knew the driver was there because I’d seen him getting into his cab (train cab not taxi!).

A final point I’d make to those who see a change of management as a magic wand is that, as well as the union, Network Rail – a public sector body – will still be there. As well as the London Bridge rebuilding, it is they who are responsible for the track, points and signals, a failure in any of which can and often does have far-reaching consequences.


I’m glad you draw attention to Network Rail. It seems a great many people – although rightly hacked off at the poor service – seem not to understand that the rail network around south London is an absolute spaghetti mix of lines. In my view, the one single factor in running trains on time is just that, as on the roads, too many users and not enough tracks. Others have made suggestions about working times etc but none of the arguments focus on the one single issue that contributes the greatest difficulty – the overpopulation of the area both in residential and business terms. You just cannot go on cramming ever larger numbers of people into a small area and expect there not to be problems. Still, I expect it will all be resolved by knocking down loads of houses, businesses and installing superrail tracks all over the place etc etc etc. Those who press on with this sort of growth know nothing about how systems work!


Thanks for all your comments so far everyone. I’m sure most of you will have seen that yet another strike has been called for the 7th and 8th of September – will it ever end?

Elsewhere in train-related news…. I challenge anyone to find some floor-space to film in on a rush hour Southern service in to London.


“He (RMT) added: “Our fight is with the company and the government who have dragged this franchise into total meltdown.
“We share the anger and frustration of passengers and we cannot sit back while jobs and safety are compromised on these dangerously overcrowded trains.”
Mr Foulds (Southern) said claims safety was at risk were untrue.
“The independent rail safety body has said so, and nearly half our trains run without conductors already.”

Perhaps if they all stopped behaving in such an intransigent way and realised their revenue, and their jobs, depend upon running a rail service for passengers, not for staff, we might make a little progress?


Perhaps the DFT/Southern (if there’s a difference) should poll passengers directly: would you like us to make these OBS changes to YOUR service? Yes/No.

I’d be interested to see the results.


To run a poll means acquainting all concerned with the key facts. For example if passengers are not given any information on safety, but are led to believe it will be compromised, then that will skew the results. Equally if the terms (financial and other) offered to staff are not honestly disclosed then again the result will be skewed. It’s like asking people “would you like to pay less tax” without pointing out the consequences.


The RMT case is given here:
It is largely based on the role of the “conductor” (= guard) for safety – a specially trained (and well paid) crew member. This argument should be resolvable by reference to safety records of the one man operated trains already in service. Unless the Southern is different from them in some significant way. It also cites the lack of help for disabled passengers. Fair comment. But perhaps staffing unmanned stations would get round that.

Legitimate points, I assume, have been made eldewhere that for certain stations drivers cannot see visually all doors because of curved platforms, platform tv monitors might be poorly visible due to the sun position, and the in-cab tv monitors are too small, and some stations are unstaffed.

It is reported that Southern say “The union is fighting plans by Southern owner Govia Thameslink (GTR) to turn conductors into “on-board supervisors”, with drivers taking over responsibility for opening and closing carriage doors.
“We have guaranteed all our onboard staff a job until the end of the franchise, as valued members of our future operation, with no reduction in salary.”

So they have said, seemingly, there will be a second crew member on board.

All these points can be addressed; any unsafe situation can be identified and dealt with. If both sides want to. If we put trying to protect jobs and trying to maximise savings to one side the practical problems should be independently looked at, a decision offered, and made binding without pandering to one side or the other. But that’s not politics, is it?

Chris says:
29 August 2016

Govia have claimed that they have had to reduce the available trains from the timetable due to Force Majeure – this is not the case as the cause of the strike is due to Govia management implementing a change that is not wanted by the employees and has not been discussed and agreed. It therefore cannot be classed at forec majeure when it is entirly due to the company’s decision to implement the changes irrespective of and in the sure knowledge of the fact that, the issue would creat an industrial dispute.


A change is not “wanted by the employees”. It is the company that is responsible for deciding to make changes, with the cooperation of employees if it is soundly based. In this case the change is in line with what seems to be perfectly satisfactory elsewhere so on that basis seems a reasonable change. What is not reasonable is the intransigence adopted by both sides (all three if you include the government). So all three need to adopt a sensible approach and instead of digging heels in on shaky pretexts, decide ways to resolve the situation. Compromise is always the way where neither side wins, but in this case the passenger might. They are the ones who matter most.

Norman says:
7 December 2016

The railways should not be in private hands mainly for the shareholders convenience. I would revert my vote to labour if it was not wasted as they might renationalise the system. Germany,France and Italy can run a Nationalised service and so can we if the Government provide the same amount of money as is thrown at the privatised railways. British Railways was always starved of Government support, both by Labour and Conservative


Take a close look at Germany. Actually many regional services are contracted out and well run. This is in the teeth of legal action from the nationalised operator, DB, every time it failed to win a contract. DB has lost all of these cases but occasionally manages to scare away the private operator. Is that the kind of nationalised railway you were thinking of?

Changes that would improve services in this country would firstly be to abolish franchising contracts and replace them with concessions. These are much more successful where they are in operation in London (Overground), and Liverpool (Merseyrail). Secondly, to line up the track management with the train management. It will take time to see whether the government’s latest announcement in this regard will be sufficient. These changes will have much more effect than a change of ownership, whether the organisations involved are private or public. Remember it took 40 years for the nationalised British Rail to become efficient. Since all that was destroyed at privatisation, we need to start from where we are.

Frankly, these calls for nationalisation are just like the calls for a return to a grammar school system. It is a harking back to a golden age which may never have existed.