9.Much of the severe disruption affecting passengers on the TSGN franchise has been due to the effects of the major infrastructure works entailed in the Thameslink Programme, including the substantial redevelopment of London Bridge station. The inevitable level of disruption has been exacerbated by a combination of the sheer size of the franchise; inadequate planning and management on the part of the franchise holder, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR); poor industrial relations, including a bitter and long-running industrial dispute; and a number of unfortunate infrastructure failures, such as the emergence of a “sink hole” under the railway line at Forest Hill.
10.Meanwhile passengers, many of whom have paid thousands of pounds for season tickets, have often been unable to go about their essential business. Many have been routinely late for work, and some have claimed that their jobs have been put at risk. Parents have often been unable to collect their children from childcare or arrive home in time to help with homework or put children to bed at night. Passengers are justifiably frustrated and angry.
11.On the day before our oral evidence session with the newly appointed Rail Minister, Paul Maynard MP, performance on some sections of GTR’s diverse network was extremely poor, with less than a third of services on the Southern Mainline arriving within five minutes of schedule and just 12% arriving on time:
Table 1: GTR daily performance report, 19 July 2016
PPM: % of trains arriving at their destination within five minutes of their scheduled time
Right Time: % of trains arriving at their destination at their scheduled time
Source: ‘Daily performance report’, Southern Railway, accessed 20 July 2016
Mr Maynard, who had been in post as the responsible DfT Minister for a matter of days, told us that he “immediately and wholeheartedly” acknowledged that the level of service on Southern was “unacceptable”. Below we consider the range of issues that led to this woeful situation.
12.The current TSGN franchise combines the previous Southern (including Gatwick Express) and Thameslink/Great Northern franchises, including First Capital Connect services. The constituent parts of the franchise continue to run as separately branded operations, but under a single franchise agreement with GTR. It is the largest franchise ever let by the DfT—it yields the largest income, runs the most trains and employs the most staff. Journeys on the franchise’s network account for about 20% of all passenger rail journeys in the UK. It covers a huge geographical area from the Sussex south coast, to central London via the Surrey and south London suburbs, to towns and cities as far north as King’s Lynn in Norfolk.
13.Some services under the current franchise agreement commenced in September 2014, replacing First Capital Connect’s services. A small number of Southeastern services transferred into the franchise in December 2014. The bulk of Southern and Gatwick Express services transferred from July 2015. The agreement runs until September 2021.
14.Witnesses told us that, with hindsight, amalgamating a number of existing brands into a single, highly complex and mammoth franchise was a significant error on the part of the DfT. Chris Fribbins of the rail user group, Railfuture, told us that that contracting a single operator to provide passenger services over such a large, diverse and busy part of the rail network was “a bit ambitious”. The Association of Public Transport Users’ (APTU) view was more nuanced, acknowledging both pros and cons in having a single operator; however, Neil Middleton, Chairman of APTU, which represents passengers on Thameslink services, believed that there may be a case for once again splitting TSGN into smaller, more manageable franchises, once the lessons of the current situation have been fully learned.
15.Bernadette Kelly, the DfT’s Director General, Rail Group, confirmed that:
[ … ] when we look at the shape and nature of future franchises, I do not think that we would readily create another one that had this level of challenge and complexity in it.
16.We welcome the Department’s acknowledgement that, in hindsight, it was a mistake to amalgamate four existing railway brands into one huge, diverse and highly complex rail franchise delivered via a single operator, on a part of the network undergoing very substantial infrastructure works. The sheer size and complexity of the franchise has seriously hindered effective monitoring and enforcement of the contract (see chapter 3). Our current rail franchising inquiry will consider how this came about, and the broader lessons for the structuring of future franchises.
17.With such substantial infrastructure works planned during the franchise period, the DfT structured aspects of the franchise in a way that protected the operator from excessive financial risk. It was not thought appropriate in the circumstances for GTR to bear the revenue risks of a franchise that would inevitably experience significant and prolonged disruption to services. Revenue from ticket sales on the TSGN network therefore passes directly to the Government, which bears all of the financial risk of revenue lost through compensation claims as a result of the disruption.
18.The bulk of GTR’s income comes from an annual DfT management fee in the order of £1 billion, which is intended to cover operational costs and provide a small operating margin. While the arrangement is legally a franchise agreement, the revenue aspects are akin to a management contract or concession, such as those deployed by Transport for London and Merseyrail, but on a much larger scale and managed centrally from Whitehall rather than through more locally accountable transport authorities.
19.The DfT put in place an incentive regime for GTR to meet quality standards around customer experience, with extra payments for meeting key performance milestones and financial penalties for missing contractual performance benchmarks, including for the proportion of delayed and cancelled trains.
20.It is clear that the effects on passenger services of the redevelopment of London Bridge station and the wider Thameslink Programme were substantially underestimated.
21.Charles Horton, Chief Executive Officer of GTR, emphasised that the redevelopment of London Bridge station effectively involved “digging up the railway [ … ] while continuing to operate services”. He confirmed that it was widely understood across the rail sector that the effects on passenger services had been substantially underestimated. Dyan Crowther, GTR’s Chief Operating Officer, reported that the planning assumption, supplied to GTR by the DfT, was that the works would result in a 1% reduction in PPM (Public Performance Measure, the percentage of trains reaching their destination within five or ten minutes of schedule—for a further discussion of PPM, see chapter 4). As it turned out, the reduction in PPM was 7%. The number of additional “delay minutes” as a consequence of the works was forecast to be 10,000 per year; the actual effect was 10,000 additional delay minutes per week.
22.The effects on Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern’s (TSGN) passengers of the major infrastructure works entailed in the Thameslink Programme, particularly the redevelopment of London Bridge station, were very substantially underestimated. The greater than anticipated effects have been a key cause of the unacceptably poor service experienced by many of TSGN’s passengers. The planning assumptions supplied to the operator by the DfT were wildly inaccurate, which raises serious questions about the Department’s competence to run an effective franchising programme. We are continuing to examine these broader issues in our current rail franchising inquiry.
23.We recommend that the Department for Transport (DfT) lead a review, in conjunction with Network Rail, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) and an appropriate passenger group, of the lessons learned for maintaining acceptable levels of passenger service from the planning of the Thameslink Programme. The review should ascertain how the planning assumptions for the franchise were so poorly forecast. The report should set out a clear plan to better anticipate and avoid the unacceptably severe levels of disruption to passenger rail services during future major infrastructure works. We recommend that the review be undertaken as a matter of urgency and report its findings before summer 2017.
24.At the commencement of the current franchise agreement, GTR immediately found that it did not have enough staff to run services as planned. This exacerbated the level of disruption, with many planned services delayed or cancelled because of train crew shortages. Initially, a shortage of drivers was particularly problematic. Charles Horton told us that, “At the start of the franchise, we had fewer drivers than we anticipated based on the evidence that we had in the data.”
25.We wanted to know how it could be the case that a TOC could bid for, and be awarded, the largest rail franchise in the UK and then discover that it had insufficient drivers to deliver the contracted services. Mr Horton reiterated that GTR had made its staffing assumptions on information provided by the previous franchisees. On handover, GTR expected to take on 650 drivers; as it turned out there were only 607 drivers ready to drive GTR’s trains.
26.Charles Horton and Dyan Crowther said that the shortfall came about due to a higher than anticipated turnover of drivers in the period before handover of the franchise and, at the commencement of the new franchise, lower than anticipated “driver productivity”. Pushed further on how such an apparent failure of basic due diligence could have come to pass, Mr Horton insisted that:
[ … ] we are given the number of drivers we inherit at the start of a franchise. There were fewer than we expected and we immediately took action to put in place additional driver training and resources. We opened a new training centre. We tripled the number of courses. We put in place a significant programme of recruitment, and we have now established the UK’s biggest driver training programme. We could not have taken action more quickly than we did. The challenge for us, of course, is that, given that it takes 14 months to train a driver, there is no magic answer and no magic wand I can wave in these circumstances.
27.The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Works (RMT), representing a range of staff on the TSGN franchise, reported substantial problems around staffing quotas for other roles. Mick Cash, General Secretary of the RMT, told us that there was also a significant shortage of on-board Conductors. Paul Cox, RMT’s South East Regional Organiser, said that there were 458 GTR Conductors at the commencement of the franchise—in the RMT’s view this was some way short of being sufficient.
28.The union reported that it had reached an agreement with GTR in February/March 2016 that the number of Conductors should increase, first to 470 then to 490. The RMT told us that the agreed increase had not materialised:
They gave us their word that they would do it by May  at the latest. They had sufficient time to train people up. [ … ] but they never materialised. Then in May when the annual leave period started, when people take two blocks of summer leave between May and the end of September, they were still working to an establishment of 472 [ … ]. They had some people in training but the whole gap between what was a realistic establishment of Conductors and what was actually available was incredible, to be perfectly honest.
29.The Minister indicated that ensuring smoother handovers from one TOC to another, with all the necessary and robust management information, including around staffing levels, was a key area for improvement:
[ … ] I want to look particularly at franchise handover procedures. What was and was not foreseen? How could it be done better? As we progress with franchising, there may well be more handovers between franchise operators. I want to make sure that I fully understand whether everything was done that could have been done at the time of handover to make it as smooth as possible.
30.It is unacceptable that Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) was awarded by far the busiest rail franchise in the UK only to immediately discover that it had insufficient staff to deliver the contracted rail services. This reveals serious inadequacies in the process for handing over a franchise from one franchisee to another. Any potential staffing issues should have been clearly foreseeable.
31.We welcome the Minister’s intention to consider improvements to the processes for handing over rail franchises from one operator to another, ensuring that the new operator has access to the robust information it needs to run an effective service for passengers from day one of its operations. We recommend that the Government set out in its response to this Report its analysis of the problems at handover of the current TSGN franchise and the work it plans to undertake to ensure that these problems are avoided in future franchise handovers, particularly in relation to ensuring appropriate staffing levels at the commencement of operations. We will monitor progress towards improving franchise handover processes in our ongoing inquiry into rail franchising.
32.In July 2015, the DfT gave notice to GTR that it had breached contractual benchmarks for service cancellations on all parts of its network other than Great Northern. While the effects of the infrastructure works, and Network Rail’s part in this, were acknowledged as one of the root causes of the breach, it was found that a range of other rolling stock and staffing problems had also contributed to the breach of contract, confirming some of the problems described above:
33.In February 2016, GTR agreed to implement a “Remedial Plan” to address these problems, including by maintaining a specific number of trainee drivers and driver managers; appointing several senior managers, including a “Business Excellence Improvement Manager”; and actions to address specific rolling stock failures.
34.The Remedial Plan, which was made public (albeit with significant redactions) in May 2016, set out revised contractual cancellation performance benchmarks, the practical effect of which has been to allow GTR, while taking the above remedial actions over a number of months, to cancel a greater proportion of its services without breaching its franchise agreement (see chapter 3).
35.Notwithstanding GTR’s Remedial Plan, its PPM levels had increased from 73.2% in December 2015 to 83.9% by March 2016, suggesting that GTR, and other stakeholders, had begun to improve on some of the issues discussed above. However, from April 2016 disruption was exacerbated by industrial disputes, culminating in several strike days by members of the RMT. The union initially balloted members over strike action in relation to some of the staffing issues described above. There are also ongoing disputes between the union and GTR over “rest day working” (overtime) and about proposed closures of ticket offices. The then Minister, Claire Perry MP, acknowledged on 11 July that GTR’s approach to industrial relations had been “poor”.
36.The dispute that ultimately led to official strike action, and at time of writing remains unresolved, is over GTR’s extension of “Driver Only Operation” (DOO) on a greater proportion of its services. DOO entails the driver of the train, rather than an on-board Conductor, having responsibility for opening and closing the doors at stations, using cab-mounted cameras and monitors to check that it is safe to do so.
37.DOO has been in use on a significant and increasing proportion of the rail network since the 1980s. Around 30% of passenger trains are now operated solely by the driver of the train. DOO is widely considered to be “entirely normal” on many routes in conjunction with modern rolling stock. GTR is introducing new class 700 trains into service across its network; these new trains are fully DOO-compatible.
38.The 2011 independent study on value for money in the rail sector, Realising the Potential of GB Rail (the McNulty report) recommended that, “the default position for all services on the GB rail network should be DOO with a second member of train crew only being provided where there is a commercial, technical or other imperative.” The report noted that, where DOO operates:
The driver must be able to see the whole train—on curved platforms a camera and screen, or station dispatch staff, are required. The driver must also be able to communicate with the signaller from the cab of the train.
39.In March 2012, the DfT endorsed the findings of the McNulty report, stating that:
The rail industry and the unions now need to consider how working practices could become more efficient. One example is the scope, facilitated by new communications technology, to move more train services to driver-only operations where appropriate. [ … ] There will be cases where a second member of staff is desirable for commercial, technical or safety reasons, but more widespread use of driver-only operation could assist industry efforts to reduce costs and deliver better value for money for passengers.
40.Alongside the introduction of DOO for train doors, GTR is replacing Conductors and Revenue-control Inspectors and replacing both roles with a new role of “On-Board Supervisor” (OBS). By relinquishing the narrow responsibility for opening and closing train doors (Conductors) and control of fare evasion (Revenue-control Inspectors), GTR’s intention is that the OBSs will be freed up to undertake a greater range of tasks, including checking and selling tickets and greater interaction with passengers, including provision of information and assistance.
41.The rail unions have consistently and vociferously opposed DOO and related changes to the role of Conductors. The RMT has conducted strikes on Southern Railway on nine days since April 2016, substantially affecting GTR’s performance. On 22 September, the union announced plans for a further 14 strike days in October, November and December 2016. Throughout the period since April 2016, GTR has maintained that unofficial industrial action has occurred, leading to delays and cancellations to GTR services. GTR pointed to a doubling in sickness absence since April 2016. The RMT disputes that this increase is driven by “unofficial industrial action” and points to the increased pressures on Conductors as one reason for the increased levels of sickness (see chapter 3).
42.The RMT’s key stated concern about the effect of the extension of DOO, and the introduction of the OBS role, on GTR services is about passenger safety. The union is concerned that the new OBS role will not, unlike the current Conductor role on some non-DOO services, be “safety critical”—it claims that, while the OBS will receive safety training, their presence on the train will not be considered essential, and trains can be dispatched without them on board. Therefore the RMT argues that, on DOO services, there is no guarantee of a second staff member on the train to deal with emergency incidents such as fires and suspect packages.
43.In June 2016, the RMT produced a “dossier” listing 10 serious incidents since 2011 at the “passenger/train interface”. The union reported that eight of these incidents—including passengers falling into the gap between train and platform and passengers being trapped by the doors and dragged along the platform—had occurred where DOO was in operation. It also listed 11 incidents in which a Conductor had proven critical in an emergency situation, including where a driver had been incapacitated by a severe electric shock and a number of derailment incidents.
44.Official rail industry studies, by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and the ORR, have broadly endorsed the safety of DOO. The RSSB recently issued a statement that its research had found “no evidence to suggest that there is an increased risk of harm to passengers where drivers operate powered doors, provided the correct procedures have been followed”. The ORR has made similar statements.
45.Despite this, the RMT continues to claim that GTR, supported by the DfT, is intent on forcing through the expansion of DOO without due regard to potential safety implications. It claimed that:
[ … ] although there have been pronouncements on the subject [of DOO and safety] by various national industry bodies, such as the Rail Delivery Group and the Rail Safety and Standards Board, no effort whatsoever has been made by the industry and government to sit down with the unions on a national basis to discuss how best to safeguard passenger service and safety and seek our views [ … ] no forum exists to discuss staffing issues on an industry-wide basis.
It emphasised that a senior DfT official, Peter Wilkinson, Managing Director of Passenger Services, had made what it regarded as inflammatory statements in February 2016, which appeared to indicate that the Department was prepared to force through the changes in the face of industrial action.
46.The rail unions have long-held concerns about DOO in relation to future staffing levels on the railway. The RMT included in its submissions a number of comments from a “whistleblowing GTR manager”, including that: “History has shown that once the operational side of the Conductor’s role has been removed it is only a matter of time before the second member of staff is removed completely”. The comments refer to Thameslink and Southern metro services where DOO has already been introduced, claiming that “those services now almost never have a second member of staff.”
47.GTR state that they have made job and pay guarantees to every Conductor for the life of its franchise, including above-inflation pay offers, and a recent offer of a one-off payment of £2,000 for each staff member in the new OBS role. GTR and the RMT have, however, failed to reach an agreement to end the damaging industrial action. It has recently been reported that the RMT has reached an agreement with another TOC (ScotRail) that no train will operate without a second member of staff on board. We understand that GTR’s approach has been to try to identify a set of “exceptional circumstances” in which a driver can operate the train without a second member of staff on board, but this issue has not yet been resolved between the RMT and GTR.
48.GTR told us that, while OBSs would not be “safety critical”—i.e. DOO trains could be dispatched without an OBS—they would be “trained to deal with emergencies, to deal with evacuations from the train and to deal with the on-board emergency equipment we have on trains in those circumstances.” In relation to workforce numbers, it was prepared to “guarantee the number of On-Board Supervisors to the end of our franchise ”. The company emphasised that the introduction of the OBS role would not entail any compulsory redundancies during that period.
49.We asked whether the DfT could give a longer term commitment on workforce numbers. Bernadette Kelly noted that the previous Transport Secretary (Rt Hon Sir Patrick McLoughlin MP, replaced as Secretary of State by Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP on 14 July) indicated that he would:
[ … ] be willing to have a conversation about the long-term investment that train operating companies in general make in the future workforce of the railway, but very much on the basis that the first priority was for GTR and the RMT to resolve this dispute, in order to stop the disruption happening.
50.On a number of occasions the then DfT Rail Minister, Claire Perry MP, who was a Minister until 15 July, emphasised that it was not for the Government to enter into negotiations over working practices or arbitrate industrial disputes, but later, during a Westminster Hall debate on 13 July, she said:
I do want to meet the unions and the management. I have been advised repeatedly to stay out of it—hell no! I want to sit people around the table and say, “What the hell is going on? Let’s try to sort this out”.
51.Asked what he, and the new Transport Secretary, would do to facilitate a resolution to the dispute, Paul Maynard MP said that the Department continued to urge the RMT and GTR to “keep talking”. He told us he was “moderately perplexed as to what the RMT’s genuine concerns are, but I believe that they can be resolved”. He was satisfied that the Department had “given all the assurances on workforce investment it could”. Pushed on whether he and the Secretary of State would play a more active role than their predecessors in negotiations, he would only commit to “take advice” on what was possible.
52.The rail unions’ opposition to Driver Only Operation (DOO), on both safety and staffing grounds, is long-standing and well known. The industry and Government’s commitment to it from an efficiency perspective has long been equally apparent. Whilst the dispute can ultimately only be resolved through negotiation between GTR and the RMT, given the Department’s unusually direct involvement in the TSGN franchise it should take a greater degree of responsibility for fostering productive negotiations. We therefore urge the new Rail Minister and Secretary of State to engage more actively and substantively with the rail unions’ safety and workforce-related concerns in relation to the expansion of DOO on the TSGN franchise, as a matter of urgency. Whilst the RMT rightly has an interest in ensuring the safety of its members and passengers, responsibility for monitoring the safety of the railway lies with the RSSB and the ORR—both of these organisations have broadly endorsed the safety of DOO. Prior to, and during, the RMT’s industrial action on GTR services over the introduction of DOO, the RMT’s members have continued to perform their functions on DOO trains across parts of the UK without industrial action. Given the official conclusions of the RSSB and the ORR it is of concern that industrial action is continuing over this issue. The failure of GTR and the RMT to agree to a set of circumstances in which a DOO train can be operational is deeply regrettable. We will return to this issue as part of our ongoing “future of rail” inquires.
53.GTR, the RMT and the Government are each to some extent culpable in the current damaging industrial dispute that, in the main, adversely affects passengers. The impact has been catastrophic for passengers and local communities covered by GTR services. We urge GTR, the RMT and the Government to take on board the criticisms and recommendations made in this Report, and each party to consider further compromises to bring this matter to a rapid resolution. It would be unacceptable for any party to instead use sections of this Report to emphasise the shortcomings of another.
54.Concerns have been raised in relation to DOO’s potential effects on disabled people’s access to the railway, as it could entail a greater proportion of trains running without a second member of staff, in addition to the driver, on board. This is problematic where a disabled person requires assistance getting on and off the train at unstaffed stations. While disabled people can book the assistance they require—at least 24 hours in advance—through TOCs’ Passenger Assist schemes, research has shown that only a very small proportion of disabled people are aware of and use such schemes. This suggests a strong reliance on “turn up and go” services; DOO could reduce the number of services on which this is possible.
55.We asked the Department whether it had conducted any equality analysis of the effects of DOO on disabled people’s access to the railway. It told us that it had not, and that it was the TOC’s responsibility to ensure that it meets the needs of all passengers. It was aware that GTR was introducing a number of measures “to ensure their staff are more visible and available to assist passengers with accessibility needs.” GTR sent us an update on the measures it was taking, including bringing staff out of ticket offices and onto concourses at 83 of its busiest stations. These stations would be staffed from the first to the last train, seven days a week. The new “Station Hosts” will receive disability awareness and ramp deployment training, and will be “proactive in assisting disabled passengers”.
56.We are concerned that no official impact assessment has been made of the potential effects of DOO on disabled people’s access to the railway. We recommend the DfT and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) jointly commission research into the potential effects of DOO on the “turn up and go” accessibility of the railway to disabled people who require assistance getting on and off trains. The Department should draw on this research to issue guidance to train operating companies on the measures that should be taken to mitigate potential detrimental effects on disabled people’s access. It should ensure that actions are taken to guarantee that disabled rail passengers receive the support to which they are entitled. The research should be conducted, and guidance published, before summer 2017.
9 “”, The Guardian, 18 July 2016
10 An annual season ticket from Brighton to London costs at least £3,764, for example.
11 See, for example, “”, Daily Mail, 2 June 2016
13 Railway passenger franchises, , House of Commons Library, August 2015
14 Office for Road and Rail, Passenger Rail Usage: 2015–16 Q4 Statistical Release, May 2016
15 ‘’, DfT, accessed 7 September 2016
16 “”, Go-Ahead Group press release, 23 May 2014
20 “”, Go-Ahead Group press release, 23 May 2014
21 [Charles Horton]
22 “”, Go-Ahead Group press release, 23 May 2014. For a discussion of devolved “management contract” approaches see, Campaign for Better Transport, Going Local: Lessons for rail policy from London Overground and Merseyrail, February 2013
23 Railway passenger franchises, , House of Commons Library, August 2015
28 [Dyan Crowther]
29 [Dyan Crowther and Charles Horton]
36 ORR, ’, accessed 10 October 2016
37 See, for example, “”, BBC News, 14 June 2016
38 BBC Radio 4, Today, 11 July 2016
39 , May 2011, section 12.1.5
40 See, for example, “”, Rail Magazine, 24 June 2015
41 “”, Rail Technology Magazine, 24 June 2016
42 Realising the Potential of GB Rail: Final Independent Report of the Rail Value for Money Study, May 2011, section 12.1.5
43 Department for Transport, Reforming our Railways: Putting the Customer First, Cm 8313, March 2012, para 4.77
44 “”, Southern Railway press release, 19 April 2016
45 “”, BBC News, 22 September 2016
46 [Charles Horton]
47 [Paul Cox]
48 RMT, Govia Thameslink Railway dispute—the facts [updated 2 August 2016]
50 “”, RSSB statement, 11 August 2016
51 See, for example, “”, Surveyor Transport Network, 15 June 2016
52 RMT ()
53 “”, Croydon Advertiser, 22 February 2016
54 RMT ()
55 Southern Railway, ‘’, accessed 10 October 2016
56 “”, BBC news, 5 October 2016
59 HC Deb, 13 July 2016, col
61 See, for example, Action for Rail, ‘’, accessed 1 September 2016
62 Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee ()
63 DfT ()
64 Southern Railway, “Making our staff more visible and available to assist passengers with accessibility needs”, May 2016 [not published]
13 October 2016