/ 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.