/ 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?

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.