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National Audit Office offers strong criticism of Southern Rail

National Audit Office offers strong criticism of Southern Rail

The National Audit Office has concluded that high levels of disruption for passengers mean that, to date, the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern rail franchise has “not delivered value for money”.

The department for transport franchise to support the delivery of the major Thameslink upgrade programme and improve passengers’ experience of services.

While the recent report on the Thameslink programme found that it had a realistic chance of being value for money, today’s report from the NAO finds that between September 2014 and September 2017, passengers on the franchise have experienced the “worst service performance” on the national rail network.

Since Govia Thameslink Railway started operating the full franchise in July 2015, around 146,000 services (7.7 per cent of planned services) have either been cancelled or have been delayed by over 30 minutes, compared to 2.8 per cent on the rest of the network.

The number of trains arriving at their destination within five minutes of their scheduled arrival time fell to 62 per cent in November-December 2016 during industrial action.


Based on data produced by Network Rail and Govia Thameslink about services cancelled, around 56,000 cancellations (38 per cent of the total) were related to the availability of drivers and other train crew.

The department and Govia Thameslink consider that industrial action was the most important cause of train crew shortages.

Other important causes of delays and cancellations (37 per cent) include the reliability of some train fleets, Network Rail’s management of the rail network, and failures of track and other infrastructure assets such as signalling.

Since March 2017, the percentage of trains arriving within five minutes of their scheduled time has exceeded 80 per cent, however this is still below the national average.

In response Charles Horton, chief executive of Govia Thameslink, said: “The report identifies numerous root causes for the challenges it has faced.

“These difficulties have sometimes been greater than expected and we regret the disruption caused to our passengers.”

The Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern is one of the largest rail franchises in the UK, carrying almost one million passengers a day.

Following the release of the report, the RMT union demand Govia Thameslink be stripped of the franchise immediately.

RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “The solution is simple. 

“GTR should be stripped of the franchise for gross and repeated failures, the routes should be taken under public ownership and the cash-led cuts to safety critical staffing should be halted and reversed.

“Anything else is just another cop out and will spark a furious backlash from the passengers and staff caught in the middle of this grotesque chaos.

“This report should be the final nail in the coffin of more than two decades of rail privatisation in Britain.”

See the full report here.