In this inquiry, we set out to examine the main aspects of rail journeys from the perspective of the passenger: from planning a journey, arriving at a station, making the journey, and any necessary post-journey information. Inevitably, given the current situation, the majority of the evidence focussed on the level of service on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) rail franchise. This is reflected in our Report.
The level of service for many passengers on the TSGN franchise, particularly the troubled Southern Railway brand, has been woeful for more than a year. The initial structuring of the franchise, inadequate planning, weaknesses in the franchise handover process, infrastructure and rolling stock failures, mismanagement, poor industrial relations and the current bitter and prolonged industrial dispute have all contributed to an unacceptable level of service for TSGN’s long-suffering passengers. The Department for Transport (DfT) should consider how these passengers can be appropriately compensated, as a matter of urgency.
The DfT must “get a grip” on the monitoring and enforcement of Govia Thameslink Railway’s (GTR) franchise agreement to deliver services on the TSGN network. It must expedite its assessments of GTR’s force majeure claims, and be prepared to restructure or terminate the agreement should GTR be shown to be in default. It is unacceptable that the process should be delayed by GTR’s tardiness in supplying the information necessary to support its force majeure claims. There is no valid reason why the necessary assessments should not be made by early November 2016.
It is simply not credible for the DfT to continue to claim that no other operator could do a better job; if it is the case, it is a consequence of the structuring of the franchise, for which the Department is ultimately accountable.
In the interests of transparency and scrutiny, the DfT must ensure that data on GTR’s performance against its contractual obligations are made publicly available—our lack of access to these data during the inquiry was totally unacceptable. It hindered our work and delayed publication of this Report.
The DfT has wider lessons to learn about the structuring, monitoring and enforcement of franchise agreements, and the planning and management of major rail infrastructure projects. The TSGN debacle must never be repeated.
The passenger railway appears, according to official measures, to be performing relatively well for passengers—but headline measures of passenger satisfaction and train operating company (TOC) performance do not accurately reflect the real experience of many passengers, particularly commuters on overcrowded parts of the network. The measures should be reformed, to reflect these real experiences more accurately, and to help restore trust in the industry. The National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) should be carried out more frequently, using a broader sample of passengers and non-users of the railway. The current headline measure of TOC performance, the Public Performance Measure (PPM), produces perverse incentives for TOCs to take actions—most obviously missing out intermediate stops on a train’s journey—that are clearly not in the interests of passengers. PPM should be abandoned and replaced with an updated “right time” measure that takes into account punctuality at all stops.
The Department’s official statistics on overcrowding should be redesigned to more effectively identify train services operating at substantially over capacity. The DfT must develop a more coherent strategy for tackling overcrowding, including by incentivising TOCs, through franchise agreements, to alleviate the worst examples of persistent overcrowding on particular services.
Parts of the rail ticketing system are overly complex, opaque and unfair—a situation that has persisted for a least a decade. Progress towards a network-wide “smart ticketing” solution, and the introduction of part-time season tickets, has also been far too slow. In the short to medium term the DfT and the Office of Rail and Road must use their respective franchising and regulatory powers more rigorously, and work together to resolve ticketing issues. In the longer term, changes to the rail sector’s regulatory structures, and consumer protections, may be required—we will examine this further in a forthcoming inquiry.
The advent of the internet and the provision of real-time information has brought about improvements in the provision of information to rail passengers, but there is considerable scope for improvement. National Rail Enquires (NRE) has lagged behind other websites and apps in terms of its design, functionality and effective use of available data. We will keep a close watch on the industry’s efforts to raise standards.
While it is important to ensure that support and advice for passengers is available from railway staff during journeys, the most important, and potentially transformative, factor in improving information for all passengers and railway staff will be expanding Wi-Fi coverage across the rail network. The benefits of reliable Wi-Fi on the railway are manifold: more enjoyable journeys for leisure passengers; more productive journeys for business passengers; and the potential for reliable information, in real-time, to the benefit of all rail users and railway workers. The sector urgently needs a clear plan for investment in Wi-Fi technology on the railway.
13 October 2016