Modernisation….and other problems

21 June 2016

The increasing numbers of passengers using many parts of the railway are well aware of the need for modernisation. But at the minute it feels like all this much-needed investment is bringing no end of problems.

Jam tomorrow (and welcome investment meaning future improvements) is all well and good but we’re late for work/missing appointments now. Passengers’ primary need is to get the trains back on time.

In the London and South East area, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) is proposing changes to ticket selling and staffing at 83 stations. We had more than 8000 responses when we asked for feedback. We responded to the consultation and objected to the plans as we had a number of concerns.

GTR responded to these and made some changes to its plans. It also agreed to carry out pilots, which we and London TravelWatch will monitor. A trial is a sensible approach as we can’t be sure whether or not we support the changes until we see evidence of the impact that they will have on passengers.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the network, passengers are stuck in the middle of bitter industrial disputes. On ScotRail and Southern services, passengers are feeling the pain of the impact of a breakdown in industrial relations as the two operators try to bring in driver-only operation.

Driver-only operation has been implemented successfully elsewhere. The safety regulator ORR has said that, as long as suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff are in place, it is safe.

This issue is decades-old, and needs to be addressed. Unfortunately it seems to have come to a head at the worst possible time for passengers already suffering disruption.

For Southern passengers, London Bridge redevelopment work will have a huge positive impact in the long-term; but the pain and disruption to be expected in the short term just wasn’t communicated effectively.

While passengers will be understanding – if given the chance and a proper explanation – what can be done to lessen the pain?

Firstly, a bit of honestly. Be frank about the scale of the problem and the timeline for recovery. If this isn’t known, tell us that too!

Next, make a gesture. Bringing in the Government’s welcome commitment to a 15-minute trigger for compensation could send a strong message that they and the operators are truly on passengers’ side.

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