Details of meeting with Southern Rail
Following a drop in session for MPs in Parliament, I discussed a number of topics with Chris Burchell, Managing Director of Southern Railway, and members of his senior management team. As well as discussing a number of individual constituent’s queries, a number of key topics were discussed during the session, including punctuality & information provided during disruption. Southern has provided me with a summary of the work they are doing on these topics together with a brief overview of other key discussion points.
The majority of complaints were to do with Southern’s communications in the event of a disruption, if it be technical or an event out of their hands, such as s fatality. They have informed me that they are undertaking some major communication infrastructure work so that they can keep passengers informed of disruptions as and when they happen. I also received complaints regarding their compensation scheme for tickets, overcrowding at London Victoria and timetable changes. The details of which are explained below.
After safety, running a punctual railway is our highest priority. Over the last 12 months, on average 90% of our trains have run on time, which is slightly higher than was the case this time last year. However, services during January and February have been impacted by a variety of incidents, most of which have been outside of our control such as a fatality at Norbury, signal failures on the Brighton Mainline at both Balcombe and Clayton Tunnel (near Hassocks), and a gas leak between Portchester & Fratton. These clearly present an enormous logistical challenge, particularly when they occur during the peak period, when the network and demand for it is at its busiest. We have been jointly working with Network Rail to focus on mitigation against incidents such as fatalities, and protecting critical areas like the corridor between East Croydon and London Victoria.
Management of Service Disruption
We are implementing an internal project to improve the way we provide better information to staff and our customers. We realise that keeping our customers informed and improving the quality and flow of information is critical to delivering excellent customer service. The project is fundamentally about enabling our teams to provide good customer information at times of major disruption as well as for small delays of 2 minutes or more and, of course, during severe weather.
Our main consideration is meeting the needs of our customers and allowing them to make informed choices about their travel plans by enabling our staff to answer customers’ key questions such as “What is happening?”, “What alternatives do I have?” and ensuring that all information is consistent.
Some of the actions that are already happening through this project include:
- Depot and station visits to establish staff needs and suggestions for improvements regarding information during disruption.
- Ensuring that all staff have on hand the equipment they require to provide information during disruption.
- Providing a ‘Service Disruption’ guide for all station staff which contains useful information and checklists of actions to follow during disruption and a guide on when to book taxis.
- ‘Customer Action Teams’ – volunteers from within the business who have been briefed and trained in assisting with customer service; how they can best help out at stations during disruption and severe weather and whose deployment is centrally coordinated.
- ‘Announcing Guides’ for frontline employees– these have been produced for Conductors, Drivers and Station Staff to ensure confidence, quality and consistency across announcements.
- Temporary timetables – these are in place for extreme weather and agreed with Network Rail. If we are unable to run our usual service, passengers will be notified by 16.00 the day before the timetables are to be used.
- Better training for staff in use of our train tracking system in use at stations, and provision of BlackBerrys to station staff and conductors to improve the flow of information.
- Disruption mode on Customer Information System – we have started to make improvements to our information displays so that during severe disruption we will only show trains that are actually running rather than what is not-so that people can see when their next train will be.
- Improving the information flow to drivers during disruption who are operating driver owner trains (i.e. trains operating without conductors).
- Making improvements to online systems to ensure that information on the Southern and National Rail Enquiries websites are consistent.
- Alternative train route maps to help customers identify other options for getting to their destination.
- Information posters to help guide customers toward sources of information such as our website, twitter and National Rail Enquiries.
The ‘Eyewitness’ scheme allows the reporting of low level crime by email. The system has been successfully used internally with staff reporting incidences of vandalism, anti social behaviour and fare evasion to members of Southern’s Safer Travel and Revenue Protection Teams with over 18,000 reports so far received.
Following a public pilot on the Arun Valley route, we recently launched this award - winning system to passengers who use our services between Hove and Warblington on the West Coastway route. We are gradually extending the scheme to the remainder of our network, with the East Coastway due to follow shortly.
Other key topics raised in brief;
We discussed the work that we and Network Rail are doing to combat cable theft, and our support for legislation to prevent the unlicensed trade in scrap metal.
We discussed what Southern has been doing to make our services more accessible for passengers with both mobility and learning difficulties, through for example our Assisted Travel service, our priority seating scheme and our communication guide for those with learning difficulties.
We also spoke about our Assisted Travel service to help passengers with booking assistance on and off trains and arranging alternative transport from stations that are not currently step free to the nearest step free station.
Please follow this link for access to our bi monthly Stakeholder Brief. In the meanwhile, if you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact either myself or Yvonne Leslie (firstname.lastname@example.org) who will be returning to the Stakeholder Relations Manager role from 2 April 2012.
We have rolled out a relatively new scheme called ‘Delay Repay’. Most Train Operators still use the alternative ‘charter’ schemes which are generally aimed at season ticket holders. Charter schemes provide compensation based on the performance and reliability averages only if either measure falls below an agreed and specified level. For non-season ticket holders, compensation is, generally, only considered for delays of an hour or more and is further restricted to causes deemed to be within control of the railway. ‘Delay Replay’ includes all delays, including cancellations) so opportunities to claim compensation are greater.
Passenger Focus supports this scheme and the 30 minute delay criteria was also widely considered to be a fair length of delay at which compensation would be payable.
Overcrowding at London Victoria
Passenger safety is never compromised when overcrowding occurs at London Victoria due to a delay or cancellation. Our staff are trained in crowd control and recognise dangers as part of out disruption plans.
In 2010, service on some Southern trains into London Bridge and Victoria had to be retimed and their paths changed to accommodate the introduction of London Overground services between West Croydon/Crystal Palace and London Bridge. The high frequency of these popular services meant that we could not continue with our original services to and from London Bridge.