South West Trains and Network Rail announced a joint 10-point plan to deliver more punctual and reliable journeys on one of the busiest and most complex rail networks in Europe.
The move follows a significant drop in performance in the past three months on the rail network in the south and south-west of England, which has more than 200 million passenger journeys a year.
Annual performance is running at 92.5%, but punctuality for the most recent four-week period to 7 January has dropped to 86.8%. Over the last year, fatalities on the line have more than doubled, and delays caused by cable theft incidents have increased by almost 500% year on year.
Latest results from the independent National Passenger Survey published today also show that overall customer satisfaction with South West Trains has dropped from 87% in autumn 2010 to 84% in autumn 2011.
South West Trains operates nearly 1,700 trains a day in and out of London Waterloo, which is used by 86m passengers a year making it Britain’s busiest station. There are eight different lines alone between London Waterloo and Clapham Junction, Europe’s busiest rail interchange. Network Rail has responsibility for some 482 sets of points between Waterloo and Berrylands / Wokingham, some of which are moved 40,000 times a year.
The network serves more than 200 stations and has more than 600 miles of electrified track as well as 1,750 signals. The route is managed on a day-to-day basis through a joint 24-hour integrated control centre at London Waterloo station, staffed by South West Trains and Network Rail operations teams.
The new action plan has been developed following detailed work and feedback at South West Trains and Network Rail. It will focus on:
more preventative track and signalling maintenance, with improved access for engineers
better prioritisation of infrastructure work
strengthened arrangements at London Waterloo to help run more trains during times of disruption
better reporting of train and infrastructure faults
faster service recovery after fatalities and cable theft incidents
training for volunteer managers to provide extra assistance when required
extra shift support for the integrated control centre
investment in new station radios at London Waterloo
more customer information screens at key stations
better customer information, including alternative route plans to help passengers plan their journeys during disruption
The plan will build on measures already underway to improve journeys for passengers. South West Trains has already launched a dedicated Twitter-feed, personalised email travel alerts and a new mobile website to help customers to access information on the move.
Network Rail has also started a series of infrastructure improvements, including the replacement of 100 pieces of track at Clapham Junction. In addition, it checks hundreds of points every morning on the critical lines between London Waterloo and Clapham Junction, and has invested millions of pounds in technology to remotely check the condition of track and signalling.
Richard O’Brien, Network Rail’s route managing director for Wessex, said: “In recent months South West Trains passengers have not had the high levels of service and punctuality they have been used to for which we apologise.
“There is no single cause of the problems which have affected passenger journeys recently and unfortunately a number of them have occurred between Clapham Junction and Waterloo, which is the busiest part of the route and causes the most disruption. The new plan we have developed with South West Trains will make it easier for our engineers to access the railway to try and prevent infrastructure failures before they cause delays and help us respond better to incidents, both those in and those out of our control, such as fatalities and cable thefts.”
Tim Shoveller, managing director for South West Trains, said: “Running one of the busiest and most complex commuter rail networks in Europe is a challenge for us and Network Rail. The volume of passengers using our rail network continues to grow, and just like the road network, it is particularly difficult when problems happen at busy times and at congested interchanges.
“But our customers rightly expect a reliable train service and we understand their frustration. When disruption happens, they deserve clear information and a quick response to get trains running normally. We are sorry we have let our passengers down recently. We are absolutely determined to work closely with Network Rail to restore their trust and our normal high levels of service.”
Earlier this week, Network Rail and South West Trains confirmed it was in discussions about moves to build on current partnership working through a potential “deep alliance”. This could see the establishment of a single, senior South West Trains/Network Rail joint management team to look after both train and track on the Wessex route.
The aim is to deliver a better service for passengers, ensure faster and more customer-focused decisions, give better value for money for taxpayers and create a more efficient railway for the long term.