This newsletter contains evidence-based reports, research, analysis and discussion from the South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group [SHRUG]. Word and HTML versions will be posted on our website [www.shrug.info].


Response to Stakeholder Consultation - South Western Rail Franchise

Update on SWT's rapacious revenue protection

Not fit for man or beast: commuters have long complained of narrow 2+3 seating, so more now stand as SWT removes one seat

Babies and pensioners scalded in Gloucester, adding to the many serious and even fatal safety failures on Stagecoach buses since January 2011, including more than 40 bus fires

Safety fears: Traffic Commissioner restricts Stagecoach's Highland bus operations

Voices of despair: Passengers routinely imprisoned on SWT trains for operational convenience as punctuality plummets even more

Voices of despair: Stagecoach railways in the press

Voice of despair: Quadriplegic cross-Atlantic yachtsman still finds SWT unwelcoming

Voices of despair: Twitter continues to illustrate why belief in SWT was described before the London Assembly as being "at an all-time low" and communication as "appalling"

Stagecoach and Virgin want 'cherry-picking' of InterCity routes

Stagecoach discusses Island Line closure

In Brief

Response to Stakeholder Consultation - South Western Rail Franchise
E'mailed by Group's Co-ordinator / Acknowledgement received 16/1/2016

[NB: Since this was written, we have learned that Arriva has decided not to bid for the franchise.] I attach a response on behalf of the South Hampshire Rail Users' Group. We are grateful for the opportunity to comment and hope the following points will be helpful.


Our Group

We are an 'open' group, accessible through our website, Hampshire County Council's website, and the websites of various stakeholder organisations. We were originally founded over 20 years ago by a group of South Hampshire-Waterloo commuters, but now operate mainly by e'mail. Individually, we have travelled up to three quarters of a million miles by train, and this is not unusual among long-term, long-distance commuters. We specialise in evidence-based research. Our history of South West Trains (available on our website www.shrug.info) is a substantial record of the views of passengers, Ministers, the press and representative organisations across the past two decades, with almost 200 source references.


In preparing this response I have trawled for the views of members of our group by e'mail, and added issues raised in the media. Four of us have already had the privilege of a constructive meeting with Arriva's Stakeholder Manager and were encouraged that the company's broad thinking was very comparable with our own. We have not yet heard from other potential bidders, though we have had useful meetings with First Group and National Express in the past.

Changes to train service patterns are the most detailed issue for consideration. I have therefore taken the liberty of re-ordering your questions by placing 'Train service specification' at the end.

Since three important areas where passengers want improvements are speed, capacity and reliability, I have included a short historical perspective in this introduction, which may help explain how the current shortcomings evolved. Responses to the Consultation questions therefore start on page six.

Train service specification

Metro-style radial services in the London suburban area are relatively frequent and generally serve all stations. Services in South Hampshire are part of the national rail network and raise much wider considerations. Three timetable issues arise time and time again:

* The current operator's downgrading of services between Waterloo and Portsmouth via Guildford, particularly in respect of extended journey times and the delays caused by scheduled congestion at Haslemere;

* the poor level of service between Portsmouth and Southampton; and

* the poor service pattern on the main line south of Basingstoke.

Network Rail's Wessex Route Study identified some major infrastructure projects to cope with the concomitant increase in demand for rail travel, and we sent a detailed response (available on www.shrug.info). However, their ambitious plans leave some questions unanswered, such as how trains can be switched to increasingly busy diversionary routes during engineering work, and how a mix of ordinary, high-speed and freight trains could be routed through Southampton tunnel at three-minute intervals.

There are aspirations for much faster trains in the Wessex region, and these are strongly supported by a number of MPs. However, with the costs of major projects elsewhere soaring and delivery timescales slipping, the necessary infrastructure enhancements such as the 'Electric Spine' and Woking split-level junction look unlikely to be realised soon.

It needs to be borne in mind that achieving faster end-to-end journeys can result in poorer services at intermediate stations where stops are omitted to achieve the shorter journey times. Overall, therefore, use of the congested existing infrastructure needs to aim for the most attractive range of services possible.

People outside the rail industry cannot know exactly what changes might be practicable, especially because of the intensive operations in the vicinity of Waterloo and the environmentally desirable container train workings to and from Southampton port, which relieve some exceptionally congested and polluted roads.

In general, passenger train levels in Hampshire are better than service patterns. There is probably limited scope to improve peak London commuter services at present, though peak service patterns might be operated over a longer period, particularly in the more concentrated morning peak, to spread loadings. However, there may be more opportunities for enhancements to off-peak services. ATOC's figures for average fares consistently point to many rail journeys being relatively local in nature, yet train services for such journeys in and around South Hampshire are in many respects unattractive.

Coach and rapidly-reducing bus services generally don't fill the gaps. For example, there are few coach services between Portsmouth and Bournemouth, and the journey takes just under 5 hours using buses, whether via Lymington or Salisbury. Based on the rail mileage, this is equivalent to an average journey speed of under 11mph. So a direct Portsmouth-Bournemouth train service, even with many intermediate stops, looks like an attractive proposition.

The case for rail service changes has already been made at a high level. Michael Fallon, as Minister for Portsmouth, identified improved connectivity for rail passenger services in the Solent area as a prime aspiration for boosting the local economy.

With this in mind, and with reference to timetables back to the area's first multiple unit trains in 1957, I have attempted to identify some changes to off-peak service patterns which might help address issues which passengers have raised. These are shown as draft timetables in minutes past each hour, but they are not intended to be more than illustrative patterns which may or may not be practicable. I could not think of a clearer way of presenting the ideas. A related issue is that off-peak travel opportunities could be better advertised.

Need for change of operator

South West Trains has been an unpopular franchise with passengers, representative organisations and some ministers and we have plenty of documentation to support this view, gathered over two decades. It was therefore good to see on the Transport Focus website that you are looking for a new operator.

Passengers expect courteous and considerate treatment, whoever provides their services. Stagecoach is notorious for its often dismissive and hostile attitude to passengers. This and its inflexibility, even in serving disabled people, set it apart from other operators. It is clear from many press reports that local MPs are well apprised of this, and there is undoubtedly substantial and widespread aspiration for change.

Despite its protests to the contrary, Stagecoach is a top-down organisation, and tightly controlled from the top. This has caused PIRC to raise issues about its governance. SWT's 'independent' Passengers Panel, which now appears to have gone underground after new members were hand- picked with the considerable incentive of free season tickets, is tightly controlled by a non- executive Stagecoach director.

Because Stagecoach is a top-down organisation, it sometimes seems to have little idea of what its passengers need. Its recent timetable 'improvements' are remarkable:

* Evening Waterloo-Yeovil trains which run beyond Yeovil Junction to Yeovil Pen Mill, despite commuters having had to leave their cars at Yeovil Junction in the morning;

* Bruton-Waterloo trains toasted by some local headmasters on SWT's Twitter, despite the first arrival into Waterloo being at 19.50; and

* new Sunday evening Salisbury-Waterloo services which provide Salisbury and Andover passengers with connections at Basingstoke to the Midlands and North, and new Sunday evening services from Waterloo to Salisbury which race past Salisbury and Andover passengers who have come off trains from the Midlands and North at Basingstoke.

The Stagecoach founders have always focused on buying and selling commercial assets for personal gain, with passengers and staff as little more than pawns. Examples: Hampshire Bus (less profitable elements hived off for a large profit, including demolition of Southampton's bus station for redevelopment), East London Buses (sold and repurchased at a bargain price), and Manston Airport (sold for redevelopment in defiance of the Prime Minister's wishes).

On a personal note, most people probably recognise that those in public life occasionally make unguarded comments for which they quickly apologise. However, I was sickened to read that Stagecoach Chairman Brian Souter had used a speech to spin a complex and calculated joke making fun of people with various mental impairments. Both the Prime Minister and his predecessor have spoken movingly of their grief at losing a child. For years I was the only relative able to help support my two young nieces and nephew who suffered mental impairment and died horribly through Huntington's Disease. It's time SWT at least had a new operator with a more human face.

How the Stagecoach franchises damaged SWT

First franchise

Stagecoach won the first SWT franchise with an award of £350 million over 7 years which financial experts considered particularly generous. It disposed of so many drivers and middle managers that services were reduced and standards collapsed. Former Conservative Minister Steven Norris noted: “Awarding the franchise to Stagecoach was really taking the fight to the enemy… It was the most aggressive decision we could take, and if we had tried to dress privatisation in its most acceptable form, it would have been better to award it to almost anyone else.”

Second franchise

SWT Managing Director Andrew Haines publicised a £3.5 billion range of service and infrastructure improvements which were presented as central to Stagecoach's bid for the second franchise. He stated: “We believe that our proposals bring the most passenger benefits, and that they bring them more quickly than anyone else’s.” Crucially, they included replacement trains and 'gold-plating' to make infrastructure in the London area more robust. News was leaked only 10 days later that, “SWT had impressed the SRA by its straightforward approach to the bidding process.”

When the second franchise award to Stagecoach was announced, the BBC’s transport correspondent Paul Clifton reported: “Here’s the opinion of one regular SWT commuter, sent to me by e’mail: “The award to Stagecoach is the cruellest betrayal of passengers departing from Southampton since the unsinkable Titanic set sail”.” The company’s Head of Rail, Graham Eccles, then demonstrated its 'straightforward' approach by proclaiming that “For the big PR hit, what you do is add up guaranteed outputs, the primary aspirations and the secondary aspirations, and then you shout loudly”.

The preference for Stagecoach bore no relation to SWT’s performance. It had remained the worst- performing passenger train operator in 2001. In the first 9 months of the year, passengers spent the equivalent of over 573 years waiting at its stations for late running trains.

Transport Secretary Stephen Byers told Parliament: “I agree that the SWT franchise is not being operated as well as anybody would like. I want the Strategic Rail Authority to use the franchise renewal as an opportunity to secure real improvements for the travelling public. The Strategic Rail Authority must use the time over the next few months to negotiate an agreement with SWT – with Stagecoach Group PLC. If the SRA cannot negotiate a franchise renewal that puts the interests of the travelling public first, it will be prepared to seek a new franchise operator which will put the interests of the travelling public first, drive up standards and improve reliability.”

The SRA eventually confirmed the second SWT franchise in terms of giving Stagecoach the chance to address its abysmal performance. The period was reduced from 20 years to just three, with SRA head Richard Bowker commenting that the agreement would mean the company focusing “on what matters to passengers – recovering performance to a level that passengers deserve and expect and the replacement of slam-door trains with the biggest new train order in the UK”.

The new franchise term was then cut from 20 years to just three. 'Gold plating' of the infrastructure fell from view, and the fleet of replacement trains was reduced from 785 carriages to 665.

The Telegraph later commented that this was the franchise deal which “pulled the company out of reverse gear, since when the shares have trebled in value. It turned out to be a licence to print money.” Rail expert Christian Wolmar commented similarly that “The interim three-year arrangement agreed by Richard Bowker at the SRA in 2002 … was far too generous to Stagecoach. Under that contract, Stagecoach has been making super-profits at the expense of passengers and the taxpayer, netting a fabulous £58.9 million in the last year on turnover of around £500 million. That’s 12% of turnover. As I mentioned in my book, ‘On the Wrong Line’, a senior Stagecoach executive told me privately that the SRA had been a pushover and the company had been delighted by the deal.”

At the end of 2004, SWT tried to improve its performance by introducing a much slower timetable. The Rail Passengers Committee was scathing. Their press release stated, “On Monday 13 December, passengers will experience new timetables; and some will be shocked to find that their journey will take longer, or have a reduced service… Passengers want shorter journeys, not longer ones, but they are going to have to put up with them all the same. It will be completely wrong if targets are not made tougher and passengers do not get compensation for poor performance, even though their journey is slower than it was before and the performance figures show an entirely fictitious improvement”. The Daily Telegraph commented, “SWT has struck on one of the great philosophical truths of all time: the lower the standards that you set yourself, the easier they are to meet”.

Third franchise

With SWT so profitable for Stagecoach, the company was clearly prepared to win a further franchise at almost any cost, and bid about £600 million more than its rivals for a third term. The 120 quality Wessex Electric carriages, built at taxpayers' expense, were then removed to reduce leasing costs. The harder-seated Waterloo-Portsmouth stock was transferred to the Weymouth line, and outer suburban stock to the Portsmouth line. The new 2007 timetable on the Waterloo- Weymouth mainline was non-compliant with the original franchise specification and created some spectacular increases in journey times between medium-sized towns.

Franchising to Stagecoach had then sown all the seeds of recent problems: insufficient and unsuitable rolling stock, slowed services, and infrastructure in the London area remaining far from 'gold-plated' and failing day after day.

[Source references are in our History of SWT on www.shrug.info]

Responses to consultation questions

Passenger Satisfaction

The six specified passenger priorities are fine. Two more suggest themselves.

(7) Passengers to be treated with courtesy and consideration.

SWT's Twitter feed records daily complaints of passengers being harassed, or spoken to rudely, disinterestedly or aggressively, sometimes just for requesting information. Others feel they are treated like criminals after getting the wrong ticket or having boarded without a ticket because of unstaffed stations or malfunctioning ticket machines. A few are even left in tears. As Sir Peter Hendy commented: "People hate the suburban rail service, they hate it. If you make a mistake on your Oyster card on the Tube, we'll refund it. On South West Trains, they'll fine you. That's a big philosophical difference."

The SWT experience can be particularly bad for disabled people. Geoff Holt crossed the Atlantic single-handedly, but was seething with anger and physically injured after hostile staff didn't want to carry his wheelchair by train between Ryde Pier Head and Ryde Esplanade. Where else in twenty first century Britain are such low standards evident?

(8) Rolling stock to be appropriate for the length of journey.

A high proportion of Portsmouth line passengers now have to travel in cramped outer-suburban stock, which also forms 20% of services between Waterloo and Southampton. This is a major issue for Portsmouth area MPs, and both Claire Perry and Robert Goodwill have recognised that the situation is unsatisfactory.

In addition, SWT's rolling stock shortages have resulted in suburban stock, without toilet facilities, being routinely used on slow longer-distance services, particularly between Waterloo and Reading. Twitter confirms that this has caused serious problems for some passengers and even complaints of fouled carriages. Scarcely twenty first century standards?

Franchise objectives

These are also fine. The third franchise objective, "Deliver an excellent experience for passengers which leads to significantly improved passenger satisfaction" crucially recognises that the current SWT experience leaves 'significant' scope for improvement.

Stagecoach's prospectus for the current franchise referred to putting passengers at the heart of everything it does. Yet it is the only operator which has since lost a franchise extension for refusing to sign up to a package of customer service improvements.

Whilst Stagecoach's prospectus for the new franchise will probably have the usual title, 'Building on Success', this seems to refer only to building on the two founders' billion pound wealth. The headline figures are that they hold more than 149 million shares in their company, whilst Transport Focus' overall satisfaction scorings show that someone is dissatisfied with their journey on SWT 41 million times a year.

People understand that franchising will involve striking a balance between private profit and public service. However, as a consequence of middle management being pared to the bone, SWT has no strategic approach to problems which are raised, for example on Twitter, day after day. Dissatisfied passengers frequently demonstrate an acute awareness and frustration that their complaints will change nothing.


Capacity increases are understandably being concentrated on the London inner and outer suburban areas but, at busy times, it is not unusual for passengers to have to stand in excess of one hour on the main lines. This could be mitigated by returning the class 442 units to the Weymouth line and class 444 units to the Portsmouth line; by running 10-coach trains on these routes all day; and (with a big advertising campaign) by introducing a regularly available cheap off- peak ticket such as Southern's 'Daysave' in place of a limited quota of cheap Advance tickets.

This approach would help address an issue of unsuitable rolling stock, which Ministers have already recognised (see comments under 'Passenger satisfaction' above).

If some form of off-peak 'Daysave' season ticket were introduced, which allowed commuters to travel in the shoulder peaks at less than the normal season ticket rate, this could help spread peak loadings. In DfT's announcement of the current SWT franchise award, it was 'expected' that a cheaper season ticket of this kind would be introduced, but Stagecoach did not deliver.

There is also a case for re-introducing genuine reductions for off-peak day return travel. Outside SWT's London area, Stagecoach has reduced the savings on off-peak fares to nominal amounts, typically 10p or 20p, even for quite long journeys. So Southampton-Weymouth (63 miles) is £27.20 return in the peak, and £27.00 off-peak. The differential can help generate penalty fares but offers little incentive to travel off peak, unless the passenger is entitled to buy a railcard. Remarkably, GTR's off-peak day return rate from Southampton to Brighton (62 miles) is £15.40, and the same fare applies, beyond Brighton, to Eastbourne and Hastings.

There are two issues which arise from designing trains to cram in more standing passengers:

(1) it is diametrically opposed to the major 'passenger satisfaction' objective of better value for money. Passengers strongly resent having to pay some of the highest fares in Europe for an ever- decreasing space to stand; and

(2) while the railways have achieved a commendable safety record in recent years, public perceptions of rail will change hugely if there is an accident in which the scale of deaths and injuries is associated with overcrowding.

Future impacts on demand

Impacts in South Hampshire and East Dorset are ongoing rather than past or future. The population continues to expand and people are increasingly mobile. During December 2015, proposals were announced for a further 20,000 homes in Hampshire, with a continuingly strong focus on the Eastleigh-Fareham 'motorway axis'.

Ongoing housing developments are substantial but by no means uniform. They include green field developments; brown field developments such as on the former VT shipyard in Woolston; luxury flats in city centres; a big expansion of student accommodation in Winchester, Southampton, Portsmouth and Bournemouth (there are 40,000 university students in Southampton alone); and, spanning the Dorset border, retirement homes in the New Milton-Christchurch-Bournemouth area. All this is on top of new commuter homes in towns en route to Waterloo, such as Basingstoke and Woking.

Performance and reliability

It is clear from Twitter that performance and reliability in the SWT suburban area is highly unsatisfactory, and this is creating aspirations for suburban services to transfer to London Overground.

This is an issue where passengers need to beware what they wish for. The current franchise promised a 'right time railway', but has failed miserably in that objective. On SWT, performance enhancing measures often entail missing scheduled stops or terminating trains short of destination. This improves train performance but exacerbates overcrowding on other services and makes passengers on the affected trains unnecessarily late.

Often these changes are not announced or passengers do not hear them (eg faulty intercom or passenger using ear plugs or headphones). Home-going Richmond residents don't like being taken on to Staines, and passengers with connections at Clapham Junction don't like being taken to Waterloo, especially when it makes them late for work.

Insistence on closing doors 30 seconds early in the faces of passengers trying to board, when 10 seconds is ample for a punctual departure, is very irritating. Stagecoach is now experimenting with a countdown clock at New Malden, which tells passengers how many seconds are left before the 30-second threshold. This seems a ludicrous waste of money. It would be much more customer friendly simply to schedule all services to run one minute later than shown in public timetables.

At Weybridge connections between mainline and Chertsey line services are notoriously unreliable, yet the Chertsey trains sometimes leave up to three minutes early.

From 2007, Stagecoach slashed the service at Totton (by population, the fourth largest town between Southampton and Weymouth). Direct trains from Waterloo then took 25 minutes longer. Although faster journeys from London to Totton are theoretically possible by changing at Southampton, SWT insists on sending off the Totton train 30 seconds early, even when people are racing along the platform to make the connection.

It argues that this benefits the ‘vast majority’ of passengers. However, since these trains are allowed three minutes for a Beaulieu Road stop which few of them are scheduled to make, leaving Southampton on time simply means standing at Brockenhurst for 28 minutes rather than 25. Punctuality is indeed important for passengers, but a major reason is the need to make connections.

Further issues are covered in our comments on 'Train service specification'.

Managing disruption

Serious disruption, from events such as storms, or fatalities in the suburban area, generally disrupt services for the remainder of the day. In these cases, the operator should focus on getting stranded passengers to where they want to be. Time after time, passengers report that, once lines reopen, successive trains pass them, often empty, because Stagecoach is concerned only with getting stock to where it would normally be.

People don't expect to pay rail fares to travel by bus and, where this happens, there are particular problems such as cycles and wheelchairs not being accommodated. Early and late trains are already replaced by buses, often for months at a time, and this can cause huge inconvenience for commuters. Wherever possible, therefore, trains should be diverted via other routes during planned engineering work.

That said, this is not always possible and, even where it is, there will normally be stations without trains on the closed section of route. Our response to Network Rail's Wessex Route Study noted that service increases could make diversions more difficult. For example, will mainline services between Waterloo and Woking be able to be diverted via Chertsey when more frequent Windsor line services are introduced?

Whatever happens, replacement bus services need to be fit-for-purpose. Too often SWT passengers tweet that they do not run as advertised, are of very poor quality, miss scheduled connections with trains, or have drivers who do not know the route and get lost. There would therefore seem to be a case for Network Rail to run a fleet of dedicated vehicles which could be employed wherever scheduled engineering work is taking place and with drivers who have had appropriate route training.

Partnership working and collaboration

There needs to be a forum which interested official parties attend at specified intervals to share news and aspirations, and determine how best to meet the interests of rail users. BR Chairman Sir Bob Reid, who was held in high esteem by Mrs Thatcher's transport minister David Mitchell, was renowned for answering questions with the further question, "What's best for passengers?".

Turning to rail users and user groups, those interested could be routinely consulted on day-to-day issues and proposed developments through on-line questionnaires. SWT's Passengers Panel has always been a small and tightly-controlled mouthpiece for Stagecoach, so achieves virtually nothing. Southern's big on-line panel, conversely, has tried to reach out and test opinion. Southern notably scrapped a proposed new Coastway East timetable when they discovered passengers preferred the existing service. As stated above, there were considerable concerns about SWT's 2004 and 2007 timetable changes, including by PassengerFocus, but these were ignored.

Community rail and other local partnerships

Community rail partnerships do useful work, generally in more rural areas. They can drive up ridership on secondary rail routes, for example by making station environments more attractive, through publicity material, and by hosting special events. They can engage communities and help promote tourism. Businesses which benefit can reciprocate such help through displaying rail- related publicity.

There may not be much scope for more community rail activity on a route basis in the SWT area. However, there could be considerable scope for expanding such activities to smaller stations on longer routes, such as between Fareham and Southampton.

Island Line

The Island Line tends to be promoted as a tourist attraction, but worn-out and rough-riding Tube trains have limited appeal. It needs to be borne in mind that Island residents, including many who have retired, are big users of public transport. Bus services are much better and better-used than in most mainland semi-rural areas, including evenings and Sundays. The Island is even favoured over London in having buses operating on most routes on Christmas Day.

The truncated railway might be better suited to modern tramway operation with more passing places for a frequent service. Tram drivers would be seen as accessible, giving vulnerable people confidence to travel. This could boost all-year travel and provide an alternative kind of tourist attraction, given that there are no public tram operations south of the Croydon area. In time, it might be possible to extend the system.

As to who might want to run the tramway, GoAhead as the Island bus operator might be interested in a 'joined-up' transport operation. Alternatively, some Island buses are driven by volunteers, and various roles might be filled by retired people who often welcome such opportunities. The tramway could become a kind of Island Enterprise.

Clearly, conversion costs would be the big problem. However, there could be substantial savings on maintenance, the trams might be battery operated with re-charging facilities if the relevant technology advances, and several station sites/buildings might lend themselves to commercial development or community workshops. Given the Island's relative isolation, could EU grants be available, as for major projects in the Outer Hebrides?

A cheaper option would appear to be newer ex-Tube stock. 1979 District Line stock, including diesel conversions, also comes to mind, if the carriages could fit Ryde's awkward tunnel, possibly with lowering of the tunnel floor if necessary/possible. Whatever stock is used, the interior needs to be appropriate. People don't want to sit with their backs to windows on a scenic route. In addition, there needs to be a passing point to facilitate half-hourly services at busy times. The current 40/20 minute intervals each hour don't fit well with ferry services at Ryde.

Third party funded changes

We are not aware of any such changes.


Waiting for trains on SWT-managed stations can be a cold and miserable experience. Waiting rooms are locked when stations are left unstaffed. For example, at Totton, the fourth largest town between Southampton and Weymouth, the waiting room is locked from 10.00 on Mondays-Fridays and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.

Comparisons with some smaller Hampshire towns are instructive. At Emsworth, operated by GTR, there are staff until 13.15 on Mondays-Saturdays, and the waiting room is furnished more like a living room. At Romsey, operated by GWR, there are staff until 13.30 on Mondays-Saturdays, toilet facilities, a waiting room with a display of historic photos and good stock of tourist leaflets, and a privately run cafe.

In general terms, SWT stations have an unwelcoming feel. Toilets, where they exist, are often out of use. After one wet Isle of Wight festival weekend, a notice was posted at Southampton Central banning people in wellington boots from the waiting room. At the same station, the rotting wooden canopy edges, with pieces starting to fall off, suggest a neglected backwater.

When Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, made a 2,200 mile fact-finding trip around England on 40 trains, he singled out Southampton Central station for criticism. At 8pm there was no refreshment outlet on a station used by 5.5 million passengers a year. Writing in Parliament’s in-house journal, he described the experience as the “low point of the week”. In addition, he used the passenger helpline for another complaint but, like countless SWT passengers before him, got no reply.

A widespread problem is lack of attention to detail, such as station posters advertising local bus services which no longer exist or have been renumbered.

It's often not clear to passengers just where they need to wait for replacement buses.

Departure screens are needed at all stations, especially so that passengers know when there is disruption. Redbridge station has lacked them for years.

Engineering work notices at Lymington Pier station are frequently out of date - four weeks out of date on 10 January this year. The station's 'London and South East' route map now omits SWT lines altogether. The sun has bleached out the relevant colour, leaving places such as Woking apparently remote from a railway. At Lymington Town station, the corrugated plastic sign warning of huge fines for not buying a parking permit has split and blown away, a strip at a time, in recent years.

Door-to-door journeys

Safer access between modes of transport is currently a feature of work outside Southampton and Bournemouth stations by the relevant local authorities, and this is achieving big improvements.

There are still issues at some stations. Passengers arriving by bus at Totton station from any part of the town have to cross a dangerous main road. Drivers leaving the small station car park have a blind corner to the right. There needs at least to be a crossing with lights.

Ideally, all station sites need to be surveyed for safe access.

Fares and ticketing

With such a complex fares system, many passengers want help to ensure they get the best value ticket. The presence of staff at stations and on trains also helps engender a feeling of security, and reduces vandalism. Welcoming retail staff can also be a railway's best ambassadors and help make people want to travel again. Stagecoach's cuts in booking office provision were challenged in an Early Day Motion which attracted cross-party support.

Too often on SWT, passengers face an unstaffed station, posters warning of penalties for boarding without a ticket, and slow, difficult-to-use and/or malfunctioning ticket machines. Long queues can build up, and someone struggling to use a machine can become increasingly embarrassed by mutterings from people behind.

Extraordinarily, SWT's website often reports booking office closures during opening hours at stations such as Southampton Central, Portsmouth & Southsea, Portsmouth Harbour, Winchester and Woking.

At the very least, the railway needs an operator who concentrates on selling tickets rather than on threatening or issuing penalty fares. After Stagecoach outbid its rivals for a new franchise in 2007, it issued an infamous memo telling guards to treat passengers as fare dodgers even if they asked to buy a ticket. Guards would be accountable for accepting excuses even if passengers said they had queued for 15 minutes and could have missed their train.

The memo also said that children must be penalized, including at weekends and bank holidays when cheaper fares were available. Guards must tell passengers they could be liable for an additional £20 on the spot fine and could be prosecuted for fare evasion. “From now, your commercial duties will be measured in three main areas: the amount of revenue you collect; the type of tickets that you sell; and the number of penalty fare warnings that you issue.”

Opinion may have curbed Stagecoach a little since then, but the mean-spirited attitude to passengers constantly surfaces on social media. A passenger who had to board an overcrowded train without a ticket was told on Twitter that he needed to jump out at every station and look for the guard in order to avoid a penalty fare. Vulnerable passengers have been thrown off trains at isolated stations, for example because of problems using bank cards.

Smart ticketing

No personal experiences received. Twitter suggests that there are technical problems, for example when card reading equipment doesn't work. It is a common experience on buses that valid smartcards and concessionary passes are rejected by the card reader. The bus driver then tells the passenger it's OK to travel. Twitter dialogues make clear that card reader faults on SWT can result in the affected passenger being disbelieved and issued a penalty fare.

It's not clear why smartcard technology in particular should be used to manage passenger demand - the price of the ticket is the crucial factor.

The meaning of an integrated journey experience is also unclear. There has been speculation in the press about smartcards completely replacing paper tickets. Given the big range of fare levels for long journeys, isn't there a danger of people getting a nasty shock after their journey, and the advent of a consequent new industry for processing complaints about amounts paid?

People want smart cards, but they also want safeguards. When the penalty fares scheme was introduced, permit to travel machines were presented as an important safeguard for passengers. Stagecoach has removed them from virtually all SWT stations, presumably because penalty fares can produce big income if applied ruthlessly.

Passenger Information

Stagecoach has closed all information centres except Waterloo, even though these centres were always busy. The change means that at bigger stations, such as Southampton Central, queues build at ticket offices because passengers want information as well at tickets. Booking office closures and reduced opening times at smaller stations tend to exacerbate this problem.

Stagecoach is now saying that it will provide more staff to help passengers buy their tickets, and that this will involve the redeployment of existing booking office clerks. Presumably, therefore, efforts will be concentrated on showing passengers how to operate machines so as to promote an impersonal service for the future. Booking offices need to be open for longer hours and travel centres reinstated at major stations.

Information about the causes of delays is often itself delayed, or even non-existent.

Onboard announcements in trains which split en route are not programmed to tell passengers which coach they are in. Southern/GTR has managed to do this for many years.

Station announcements could be more helpful. In BR days, as soon as a train arrived at an interchange station, announcements would tell them which platforms connecting services would depart from. They now have to look for summary departure screens which can be inconvenient when they have luggage / small children etc, and may result in loss of a connection. The announcements meanwhile tell them things such as who operates the train they have just left.

Service quality

The time taken to obtain tickets should be monitored by independent observers. So should the quality of information offered and the state of basic facilities such as train and station toilets, and whether booking offices are open during the prescribed hours. Independent organisations occasionally undertake such exercises, with depressing results for some franchises.

Passenger compensation

Delay Repay, as operated by GTR, would be a welcome advance. SWT would be surprised to hear that they operate it already, since they protest on Twitter day after day that they don't, and blame their inferior compensation arrangements on their contract with DfT. Presumably this was to have been one of the customer service benefits which Stagecoach refused to offer in return for an extension of the current franchise.

Security and safety

Security is mainly an issue at quieter periods of the day. Twitter shows that passengers occasionally suffer assaults on trains, and it would be good if guards could be more visible on lightly loaded services. Where guards are present at incidents SWT supports their refusal to intervene on grounds of their own personal safety. SWT's community support officers have always operated in groups and focused on intimidatory revenue protection manoeuvres rather than on looking after passengers. If guards routinely walked through trains asking if anyone needed a ticket, they could promote security and increase revenue at the same time.

Although station ticket barriers are supposed to promote passenger security, they similarly seem to be used mainly to protect revenue. They are often out of use off-peak, and generally so in late evening. Guildford station is noted as a hotspot for late evening anti-social behaviour. GWR won't stop their trains at Cosham after the booking office's Monday-Friday closure time of 19.45, because of anti-social behaviour.

Train service specification

There is clearly scope for improvement on SWT. Abstract concepts such as 'skip-stopping' (is this the same as 'stop-skipping'?) and re-arranging paths may be applicable in some cases, but passengers need to be consulted on changes, especially against a background of fast-declining rural and inter-urban bus services.

First and last trains

The first London train to call at Ashurst on Mondays to Fridays is at 06.41, and it does not reach Waterloo until 08.16. It arrives at Southampton Central at 06.51 and GWR services leave at 06.53 for Portsmouth (not treated as a connection) and at 06.46 for Cardiff. There are therefore aspirations for an earlier service. On Saturdays, when there are few commuters, the first London service from Ashurst is at 06.17.

The obvious solution is for the 05.45 Poole-Waterloo service to start a few minutes earlier and call additionally at Ashurst and Totton. It previously called at Totton, and there was a big outcry when Stagecoach cut the stop, leaving a gap of one hour in the town's direct London commuter services, but the company listened with deaf ears.

Weekend trains

Saturday services generally reflect the Monday-Friday off-peak timetable, so are covered by the comments on improving service patterns below. One particular issue is that there is a gap in the Saturday Southampton-Salisbury service between the 21.37 and 23.40 SWT trains.

Sunday services raise a number of issues:

* Trains often have long station stops. Waterloo-Weymouth trains have so much slack time that they defy a scheduling convention by taking as long from Waterloo to Southampton as trains in the opposite direction.

* The journey time from London to Christchurch, an historic tourist location with exceptionally attractive waterfront, is more than 30 minutes longer than on other days.

* The Weymouth-Waterloo trains arrive at Bournemouth immediately after the departure of the Cross Country trains to Manchester.

* The two trains per hour from Southampton to Eastleigh depart four minutes apart.

* In alternate hours, when the Romsey-Salisbury trains call at Mottisfont & Dunbridge and Dean, there is only a three minute connection at Salisbury with Exeter trains. Observation has established that the connection depends on a member of staff being available to shout at passengers to hurry.

These issues might be resolved or mitigated by:

- starting London trains about 15 minutes earlier from Weymouth and Poole;

- reducing the slack in the Waterloo-Weymouth trains, and introducing a Christchurch stop in both directions;

- running the Waterloo-Poole and Waterloo-Portsmouth Harbour via Fareham trains as separate services all day (currently they are attached between Waterloo and Eastleigh until mid-afternoon); and

- stopping Romsey-Salisbury trains alternately at Mottisfont & Dunbridge or Dean.

[Note: Reasonable connections could be maintained with the token Yeovil line services at Weymouth]

Illustrative service patterns are in Table 1 below.

Some further issues:

* There is a good Sunday morning service from Salisbury to Exeter, offering opportunities for longer distance day trips. However, gaps in the GWR service between Portsmouth, Southampton and Salisbury discourage such journeys. There is no connection from Portsmouth or Southampton into the 08.51 Salisbury-Exeter. Portsmouth passengers wishing to connect into the 09.51 or 11.51 Salisbury-Exeter need to catch the 07.42 or 09.42 SWT services, and change at Southampton as well as at Salisbury (journey time equivalent to an average speed of 25mph from Portsmouth to Salisbury). Given that GWR has a diesel depot at Westbury, and SWT at Salisbury, either operator is well placed to fill the gaps.

* The GWR train which would be the 12.08 from Portsmouth Harbour to Cardiff in the standard sequence, starts from Brighton instead. This means that Portsmouth passengers have to depart at 11.42 to connect into the 13.51 from Salisbury to Exeter.

* The trains which would be the 12.32 and 14.32 from Salisbury to Portsmouth Harbour in the normal sequence run to Brighton instead. This means that passengers connecting from Exeter at Salisbury, or from Manchester at Southampton, or just travelling from Southampton to Portsmouth, have an additional change at Fareham, and additional 20 minutes in journey time to reach Portsmouth.

Since the introduction of GTR's connecting Sunday services between Brighton and Southampton, there is a question as to whether GWR trains really need to serve Brighton. Their pathing is so awkward that they take about 100-110 minutes between Brighton and Southampton with 8 intermediate stops, while the GTR trains have virtually identical timings with 20 stops. Stock saved by not serving Brighton could be used to strengthen the busiest Portsmouth-Cardiff services.

* There is a gap in the Sunday Southampton-Salisbury service between the 21.10 SWT train and 22.57 GWR train.

Illustrative Pattern 1 - Sunday southbound

London Waterloo355005
Clapham Junction425712
Chandlers Ford4242<
Eastleigh arr4949111711
Eastleigh dep5050261826
Hedge End>32
Southampton Airport3448545422
St Denys0000
Southamnpton Central arr4256050529
Southampton Central dep4357060631
Mottisfont & Dunbridge25
Beaulieu Road45
Lymingon Town2801
Lymington Pier3003
New Milton1800
Hinton Admiral05
Bournemouth arr213117
Bournemouth dep3519

A: Alternate hours; M: Cross Country service from Manchester; PH: To Portsmouth Harbour.

Illustrative Pattern 1 - Sunday northbound

Branksome arr22
Bournemouth arr2849
Bournemouth dep324551
Hinton Admiral04
New Milton46
Lymington Pier3406
Lymington Town3608
Beaulieu Road24
Mottisfont & Dunbridge26
Southampton Central arr0813384545
Southampton Central dep1015405959
St Denys0404
Southampton Airport1721471010
Hedge End58
Eastleigh arr51041313
Eastleigh dep53051515
Chandlers Ford2020
Clapham Junction255918
London Waterloo351028

A: Alternate hours; M: Cross Country service to Manchester; PH: From Portsmouth Harbour.

Changes to current service patterns
[Mondays-Fridays off-peak and Saturdays]

* Faster trains between Waterloo and Portsmouth

MPs in the Portsmouth area have been petitioning for this for years. The case seems excellent, because Portsmouth-Havant-Gosport-Fareham is the most populous conurbation on the South Coast. Portsmouth is also the principal rail/sea route to the Isle of Wight. There have been considerable housing and commercial developments in the area, and Portsmouth now ranks highly for leisure attractions.

Stagecoach routinely dismisses requests for speed improvements on the basis that they cannot omit stops because of heavy demand at intermediate stations. In fact, they have reduced the standard Monday-Saturday service at some intermediate stations as well as introducing slower trains.

YearMonday-Saturday departures from Waterloo (minutes past each hour)Number of intermediate stops between Waterloo and Portsmouth & SouthseaNormal timing between Waterloo and Portsmouth & Southsea (minutes)Normal timing between Waterloo and Portsmouth Harbour (minutes)
5314107 (overtaken at Haslemere by 08 from Waterloo)111
15n/a (terminates at Haslemere)n/an/a
4515119 (overtaken at Haslemere by 00 from Waterloo)n/a (terminates at Portsmouth & Southsea)

A station stop typically costs 2-3 minutes on the third rail electric network, depending on factors such as line speeds. Even allowing for pathing issues, it seems remarkable that a 92-minute schedule allowing 12 stops a few years ago now allows only 6. Semi-fast trains from Portsmouth to Waterloo generally have even longer timings than in the opposite direction. Those arriving at Waterloo after midday on Saturdays have a further 4 or 6 minutes added. In addition, the final semi-fast service from Portsmouth to Waterloo is at 20.45 on Mondays-Saturdays, compared with 22.30 from Southampton to Waterloo. Worse still, passengers complain of routine delays at Haslemere, where Portsmouth trains arrive as little as 3 minutes behind stopping services.

The previous paths from Waterloo have been allocated to other services and the line between Havant and Portsmouth has become busier through the more ambitious operations of GTR. That said, it should not be impossible to shave a few minutes off journey times, and the following hourly pattern is suggested:

- One semi-fast service from Waterloo to Portsmouth service to be accelerated by about 8 minutes, and both services in the opposite direction to be accelerated by about 3-5 minutes, depending on any changes to other services. This would be based on earlier arrivals and later departures at Portsmouth Harbour, helping make connections with the Isle of Wight ferries more robust;

- the Worplesdon stop to be incorporated in alternate Portsmouth services using slack time arising from pathing constraints;

- the Waterloo-Haslemere and Waterloo-Portsmouth stopping services to start from Waterloo 6 minutes earlier (in the paths of the current Waterloo- Poole and Waterloo-Portsmouth via Fareham services), with acceleration to past timings and both terminating at Haslemere. This should make the timetable much more robust; and

- smaller stations south of Haslemere to have a faster independent service to and from Guildford (to and from Woking if they could use the latter station's west-facing bay platform).

Illustrative pattern 2 - southbound

London Waterloo39000930
Clapham Junction4616
Haslemere arr3348521016
Haslemere dep495317
Rowlands Castle21
Portsmouth & Southsea284555
Portsmouth Harbour3359

W: Possible extension from Woking.

Illustrative pattern 2 - northbound

Portsmouth Harbour1848
Portsmouth & Southsea082252
Rowlands Castle29
Haslemere arr560333
Haslemere dep5604173440
Clapham Junction0531
London Waterloo51132340

W: Possible extension to Woking.

* Improved service between Portsmouth and Southampton.

Portsmouth-Southampton must rank high in the league of poor rail services between neighbouring British cities. A SWT 'all stations' local service, and GWR semi-fast service between Portsmouth Harbour and Cardiff arrive and depart at Portsmouth a few minutes apart in each hour.

An hourly semi-fast Portsmouth-Salisbury service operated from 1957 (for a few years from 1973, alternate trains extended to and from Bristol) until it was 'suspended' (sic) in 1983 during single line working for repairs to Southampton tunnel. This service, along with a Southampton- Portsmouth stopping service, provided twice-hourly departures from St Denys, Woolston and Netley.

St Denys is the principal station for eastern Southampton, close to the city's second largest suburban shopping centre which is heavily used by Southampton University students . Fifty years ago it had half-hourly services on both the main line and Portsmouth line. Today, it has an hourly Southampton-Portsmouth service and hourly Romsey-Salisbury service. These arrive and depart at Southampton Central a few minutes apart in each hour.

Woolston station is adjacent to bus stands where many bus routes converge before crossing the Itchen Bridge. Big new housing developments are under construction on the former VT ship building site. There is generally just an hourly stopping train service.

Netley has seen substantial housing developments in recent decades and could reasonably be described as suburbanised.

There is clearly an unfulfilled demand at these stations. GTR manages to incorporate some stops in its peak services, but principally westbound. As a result Netley, for example, has Monday-Friday peak services to Southampton Central at 07.49, 07.59, 08.18 and 08.34. In the evening peak there is just the hourly SWT service back from Southampton. Interestingly, the GTR services have some faster point-to-point timings than those operated by SWT.

The Strategic Rail Authority's Strategic Plan of 2002 identified the need for a half-hourly service seven days a week between Portsmouth Harbour and Bristol Temple Meads by 2005-06.

Desirable criteria for an additional service might therefore be:

- to achieve a departure and arrival at both Southampton and Portsmouth at half hourly intervals;

- half hourly services at St Denys, Woolston and Netley;

- connections at Fareham between these stations and GTR services to and from Brighton;

- direct working to and from Salisbury, replacing the current Romsey-Salisbury service west of Southampton; and

- depending on the post-electrification GWR timetable, extension beyond Salisbury to destinations such as Bristol, Swindon and the West of England via Westbury (the abandoned direct services between Portsmouth and Penzance were very well used). This might replace the current Brighton /Southampton-Great Malvern services and allow the Portsmouth-Cardiff services to be accelerated.

The following pattern is suggested:

- An additional hourly, semi-fast, train between Portsmouth and Southampton, leaving Portsmouth in the path of the current Southampton stopping service, and Southampton at around 20 minutes past the hour. This could possibly extend to Salisbury (in place of the Southampton-Salisbury leg of the current Romsey-Salisbury service) and perhaps beyond Salisbury, as a GWR service. Trains to connect with GTR Brighton services at Fareham.

- The stopping service between Portsmouth and Southampton to extend to and from Bournemouth. For this purpose, the westbound service to run from Portsmouth in the path of the current Waterloo via Eastleigh service. The latter might be re-timed to connect at Winchester with CrossCountry services to Manchester. A direct hourly service between Portsmouth and Wareham was a highlight of the new Portsmouth- Southampton electric services from 1990, but it was slowed by layovers at Brockenhurst and did not fit with the changed timings of Cross Country services to and from Bournemouth.

These changes could bring the following advantages:

- Southampton and Portsmouth both to have arrivals from the other at approximately half- hourly intervals, promoting connectional opportunities (a metro-style service).

- Doubled service from St Denys Woolston and Netley with connections at Fareham with GTR trains to and from Brighton.

- More services to and from GWR destinations to meet demand (GWR's Portsmouth- Cardiff trains are notorious for overcrowding, and a high percentage of seats are reserved).

- Direct services between Portsmouth, Southampton and Bournemouth. Besides joining three university centres, this should boost leisure travel, and would be likely to be popular, for example, with retired people living east of Bournemouth.

Illustrative pattern 3 - westbound
Portsmouth Harbour2226
Portsmouth & Southsea04253038
St Denys5426
Southampton Central arr0003081931
Southampton Central dep1032
Mottisfont& Dunbridge48

B: To Bournemouth; BN: GTR service from Brighton; C: GWR service to Cardiff; GW: Suggested GWR service continuing to destinations west of Salisbury; V: GTR service from Victoria; W: To Waterloo, connecting at Winchester with CrossCountry trains to Manchester.

Illustrative pattern 3 - eastbound
Mottisfont& Dunbridge03
Southampton Central arr0319
Southampton Central dep4705132035
St Denys5225
Portsmouth & Southsea38434611
Portsmouth Harbour4252

B: From Bournemouth; BN: GTR service to Brighton; C: GWR service from Cardiff; GW: Suggested GWR service from destinations west of Salisbury; V: GTR service to Victoria; W: From Waterloo connecting at Winchester out of CrossCountry trains from Manchester.

Note: The token diversions via Southampton Airport of GTR services from Brighton would not be compatible.

* Better service pattern south of Basingstoke

* Trains from Winchfield and Hook connect at Basingstoke only with southbound trains operated by CrossCountry, meaning that many journeys require two changes.

* In the past, passengers between Portsmouth and the Midlands / North had easy 'same platform' connections at Winchester by using the services between Portsmouth and Waterloo via Eastleigh. This connectivity now works only in respect of the few daily trains between Southampton and Newcastle. Portsmouth passengers using the hourly Bournemouth-Manchester services need to travel to Southampton on the 3-coach GWR Cardiff train, which is also their connection for Exeter via Salisbury, and their fastest connection for Bournemouth and Weymouth. The Cardiff trains have a high proportion of reserved seats, and can get seriously overcrowded.

At Southampton, passengers have to extricate themselves and their luggage and cross from one side of the station to the other. There can be as little as 7minutes to catch the Manchester train and, perhaps because of the overcrowding, the GWR train often arrives from Portsmouth a few minutes late. Some of these passengers are likely to have restricted availability Advance tickets. The same pattern operates in the opposite direction, but with a more comfortable connection time at Southampton.

* Eastleigh's services have seriously declined under Stagecoach. Eastleigh borough has a population of 125,000 and is served by 8 railway stations (Eastleigh, Southampton Airport, Chandlers Ford, Netley, Hamble, Bursledon, Hedge End and Botley). The semi-fast Waterloo-Poole services called at Eastleigh in the past but, since the extension of these trains to Weymouth, the stop has been dropped, even though nowhere west of Poole is remotely close to Eastleigh in terms of population. An Eastleigh stop was included in the original specification for the current franchise but was not delivered. Eastleigh station ticks all the boxes for connectivity. It is close to the town's thriving shopping centre and to a bus station which provides good links around the densely populated urban area. Yet passengers wanting a reasonably fast rail service now have to get to Southampton Airport Parkway station on the edge of town. The latter has famously high station car parking charges and just a skeleton bus service operates to/from Eastleigh town centre.

Eastleigh's only direct service to Bournemouth has layovers of 15 minutes at Southampton Central and 25 minutes at Brockenhurst. Winchester, by way of contrast, has three fast / semi-fast services per hour. An extraordinary shortcoming is that on Mondays-Fridays there is no train from Southampton Central to Eastleigh between 07.38 and 08.35. Buses take about 3 times as long as the trains, so are not an ideal alternative.

* Totton's services have declined even more spectacularly. Totton has a population of 30,000 and is the nearest station to Hythe (population 25,000) which is about 6 miles south and has bus links. There are strong aspirations to re-establish passenger train services to Hythe, given the polluted and congested road into Southampton. Only one diesel train would be required to operate an hourly service between Southampton and Hythe. It would be good to see a commitment to promoting such a service.

Until Stagecoach slashed the train service at Totton from 5 departures per hour to 2, passenger growth was soaring. The growth was extinguished as confirmed by official data:

Passenger usage of intermediate rail stations between Southampton Central and Weymouth (ORR data)

In the five years from 2001-02 to 2006-07:

* Total entries and exits at these stations increased on average by 22.1%.
* Entries and exits at Totton (the fourth largest town, by population, on the route) increased by 71.7%.
* Increase at Totton (almost 118,000) was more than at any other station on the line, except Bournemouth, Poole and Brockenhurst.

>From December 2007, SWT revised the timetable, slashing and slowing services from Totton.

In the five years from 2006-07 to 2011-12:

* Entries and exits at all the stations increased on average by 16.0%.
* Entries and exits at Totton decreased by 1.4%.

Town stations (in order of town population)Entries/exits 2001-2002Entries/exits 2006-2007% increase 2001-02 to 2006-07Timetable change from 2007Entries/exits 2011-2012% increase 2006-07 to 2011-12
New Milton468,700560,40619.6624,89611.5
Dorchester South382,022415,0678.7532,35828.3
Suburban stations (in alphabetical order)
Village stations (in alphabetical order)
Hinton Admiral92,690145,83957.3159,2469.2
Holton Heath9,49323,475147.342,35680.4
Station for ramblers and cyclists
Beaulieu Road8,3932,246-73.29,800336.3

Dr Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, has described the current timetable as an 'appalling outcome' for the people of Totton. In recent correspondence with him, Claire Perry has expressed her frustration at the position.

The direct off-peak journey time from London to Totton increased by 32 minutes. The time from Totton to Christchurch increased from 28 minutes to 59 minutes. The 15.35 on Mondays to Fridays now takes a remarkable 71 minutes, with no further service until 17.01. For local travel, Totton- Southampton by train takes barely 5 minutes, whereas the bus journey is scheduled for 17 minutes but can take much longer, particularly at peak times. The abysmal hourly train service provided for most of the day needs to be seen alongside the fact that pollution on the parallel road can at times present such a health risk that warnings are sent out to the most vulnerable people.

Following Transport Minister Tom Harris’ confirmation that he would welcome improvements to the prospective timetable, two members of our Group attended a meeting with DfT officials and a SWT representative on 16.11.2007. DfT had confirmed in advance that timetable improvements could be up for discussion, but the SWT representative was intransigent, illustrating the problems of franchising to operators with little focus on passengers.

* Weymouth semi-fast trains and Poole stopping trains arrive and depart at Southampton Central a few minutes apart. This means, for example that the two trains per hour between Christchurch/New Milton and Southampton provide little more than an hourly service, and results in some very long connectional times at Southampton - for some journeys, in one direction only.

* The two northbound trains from Parkstone and Branksome depart 10 minutes apart in each hour.

* Services between Fareham and London are about 10 minutes slower than in the past.

Suggested service pattern to help address these issues:

- Portsmouth-Waterloo via Eastleigh trains to move to the opposite side of the hour to restore easy connections at Winchester with CrossCountry's Manchester trains. Services to be accelerated by dropping the Micheldever and Woking stops, giving Fareham a faster London service. Woking connections are available at Farnborough. Trains from Waterloo could perhaps leave at 45-past if paths were swapped with the Guildford line stopping service as already suggested.

- The Waterloo-Poole service, with its remarkable 15-minute layover at Southampton Central and 25-minute layover at Brockenhurst, to be replaced by:

(1) a service to Basingstoke, calling at Farnborough and Fleet;

(2) extension of the 42-past Waterloo-Basingstoke stopping service to Southampton (reflecting the 1967 pattern), providing Brookwood (good connection from Alton and Aldershot), Winchfield and Hook with new direct journey opportunities. Any Micheldever and Shawford passengers could connect with faster London trains at Basingstoke. Connections could be available at St Denys for Portsmouth;

(3) the direct Portsmouth-Bournemouth service as already outlined; and

(4) an all-stations service between Brockenhurst and Poole, connecting at Brockenhurst out of the fast London services and CrossCountry's Manchester services.

- Waterloo-Weymouth semi-fast services to call additionally at Eastleigh and Totton; and

- the Romsey-Salisbury service to return to its original Romsey-Totton configuration. There is just a token bus service between Romsey and Totton, despite the two towns being only 6 miles apart.

Illustrative pattern 4 - southbound

London Waterloo0515423545
Clapham Junction12
Chandlers Ford14
Eastleigh arr1327<55
Eastleigh dep1521>3256
Hedge End02
Southampton Airport091925333742
St Denys304054
Southampton Central arr17263541454900
Southampton Central dep2836435102
Beaulieu Road15
Lymington Town5421
Lymington Pier5623
New Milton512230
Hinton Admiral26
Bournemouth arr0612203945
Bournemouth dep102441
Holton Heath30
Dorchester South5505

M: Cross Country service from Manchester; N: Cross Country service from Newcastle (alternate hours); P: From Portsmouth; PH: To Portsmouth Harbour. S; Also stops at Surbiton, Walton-on-Thames, Weybridge, Brookwood (connection from Aldershot and Alton), Winchfield and Hook. Connection at St Denys to Portsmouth.

Illustrative pattern 4 - northbound

Dorchester South3013
Holton Heath54
Bournemouth arr192654
Bournemouth dep1928455903
Hinton Admiral41
New Milton364618
Lymington Pier5927
Lymington Town0129
Beaulieu Road31
Southampton Central arr58132428<46
Southampton Central dep0015>3032384744
St Denys374352
Southampton Airport072138434751
Hedge End06
Eastleigh arr11124751<
Eastleigh dep121648>55
Chandlers Ford53
Clapham Junction15
London Waterloo2334490736

M: Cross Country service to Manchester; N: Cross Country service to Newcastle (alternate hours); P: To Portsmouth; PH: From Portsmouth Harbour; S: Also stops at Hook, Winchfield, Brookwood (connection to Aldershot and Alton), Weybridge, Walton-on Thames and Surbiton. Connection from Portsmouth at St Denys.


Update on SWT's rapacious revenue protection

DfT-endorsed posters which don't link penalty fares, a civil procedure, to threats of prosecution have replaced SWT's posters. However, the Daily Echo of 23 November reported that around 25 people had been prosecuted in Southampton for not buying a ticket before boarding a train, with a further ten cases adjourned. Significantly, most of the convicted had cases proven in their absence. This needs to be seen in the context of major concerns in the judiciary about people being deterred from pleading innocent because of crippling new court charges if their pleas fail. Unfortunately for Stagecoach, the new court charges were abolished from Christmas.

Possible reasons why people travel without a ticket

SWT ticket offices advertised as closed during opening hours, in many cases repeatedly (October to Mid-January):

Addlestone, Aldershot, Andover, Basingstoke, Bedhampton, Bournemouth, Bracknell, Branksome, Brentford, Brockenhurst, Brookwood, Byfleet & New Haw, Chandlers Ford, Chertsey, Chessington South, Christchurch, Claygate, Cosham, Crewkerne, Datchet, Dorchester South, Earlsfield, Eastleigh, Esher, Ewell West, Farncombe, Feniton, Fleet, Fratton, Fulwell, Godalming, Guildford, Hampton, Hampton Wick, Hamworthy, Haslemere, Havant, Hersham, Hinton Admiral, Hook, Horsley, Hounslow, Kingston, Liphook, Liss, Lymington Town, Milford, Motspur Park, Netley, New Malden, New Milton, Overton, Oxshott, Petersfield, Pokesdown, Portchester, Portsmouth & Southsea, Portsmouth Harbour, Raynes Park, St Margarets, Shepperton, Southampton Airport, Staines, Stoneleigh, Sunbury, Swanwick, Sway, Teddington, Tisbury, Vauxhall, Walton-on- Thames, Wareham, West Byfleet, Weybridge, Whitchurch, Winchester, Winchfield, Windsor, Winnersh, Woking, Wokingham, Wraysbury.

Ticket machines advertised as failed, in many cases repeatedly (October to Mid-January):

Addlestone, Alton, Ascot, Bagshot, Barnes Bridge, Basingstoke, Bentley, Bitterne, Bracknell, Brentford, Byfleet & New Haw, Camberley, Chertsey, Chessington North, Clapham Junction, Claygate, Cranbrook, Crewkerne, Dorchester South, Esher, Feniton, Fleet, Fratton, Godalming, Grateley, Guildford, Hamble, Hampton, Hampton Court, Hinchley Wood, Honiton, Kempton Park, Liphook, Liss, Micheldever, Netley, North Sheen, Oxshott, Parkstone, Pinhoe, Pokesdown, Portchester, Putney, Raynes Park, St Denys, St Margarets, Shepperton, Sholing, Stoneleigh, Sunnymeads, Swaythling, Templecombe, Totton, Upper Halliford, Upwey, Virginia Water, Walton- on-Thames, Wanborough, West Byfleet, Whimple, Winchfield, Winnersh, Winnersh Triangle, Wokingham, Woolston, Worplesdon, Wraysbury, Yeovil Junction.

Vulnerable people beware: Lifts advertised as out of use at the following stations (October to Mid- January):

Out-of-use station lifts can make it particularly difficult for disabled people or those with prams or heavy luggage to obtain tickets, especially as repairs can involve long delays awaiting spare parts. This problem has been advertised for Aldershot, Axminster, Basingstoke, Bracknell, Brentford, Clapham Junction, Eastleigh, Fareham, Farnborough, Fleet, Fratton, Haslemere, Havant, Kingston, Putney, Southampton Airport, Southampton Central, Staines, Twickenham, Vauxhall, Weybridge, Wimbledon, Winchester, Woking.

Not fit for man or beast: commuters have long complained of narrow 2+3 seating, so more now stand as SWT removes one seat

[From Get Surrey, 17.12.2015]

"Dog cancels journey and Elmbridge commuters packed like 'sardines' after train capacity reduced

"Shambles - worse than expected", how one commuter described impact of reducing carriages from 12 to 10 on busy morning service from Woking to Waterloo. Elmbridge commuters have been "jammed in like sardines" on a peak morning train which has had its seats per carriage reduced. One adorable travelling dog was even forced to cancel his weekly commute because it doesn't like confined spaces.

Starting this week, the first fast South West Trains service to Waterloo from Woking at 6.41am through Weybridge, Walton, Hersham and Esher, has reduced from 12 carriages to 10, with no first class.

The first train of the timetable change on Monday (December 14) was cancelled because of a staff shortage.

Then on Tuesday the train was "rammed", causing a "knock-on effect" to subsequent trains, as commuters noticed for the first time the carriages had a different configuration and fewer seats. It is believed that instead of the old three plus two seat configuration, it is now a two plus two set up. This means there are around 30 fewer seats per carriage, a reduction of around 20% and two fewer carriages.

Commuter Tim Solway estimated the train has shrunk in total by a third. “By Esher we always got a seat, I have never stood at Esher, that’s a fact,” the 55-year-old said. “[On Tuesday] we were sardines. We had to stand in the aisles. The aisles were full - we were jammed.”

Company director Mr Solway used to take his dog Reggie, a 16-week-old Kookerhondje, on the train with him once a week when his wife also goes to work but cannot do that anymore as Reggie doesn’t like confined spaces.

He reported the issue to South West Trains at a consultation session at Waterloo on Tuesday and said: “We want a reinstatement of our 12-coach train with the same model carriages as before.”

An Esher commuter, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “The reduced service was a shambles only worse than expected. It was standing room only before Esher and not everyone was able to board at Surbiton.”

For about seven years Tim Wood has cycled from Fetcham and Esher to get the train because he does not like the Leatherhead line trains. On Tuesday, the 43-year-old was on the train after the 06.41am and said the capacity issues had a huge knock-on effect. “It’s just a complete mess up,” said Mr Wood, who works in an investment bank. “It isn’t just that train, it’s all the ones after too. I just renewed my season ticket and that’s what I’m paying for.”

Speaking of the fact the train carriages are different, Mr Wood feared it would be much hotter and more unbearable in the summer.

Babies and pensioners scalded in Gloucester, adding to the many serious and even fatal safety failures on Stagecoach buses since January 2011, including more than 40 bus fires

Contrary to Stagecoach's standard line, safety appears not always to take priority over profit. The company was found guilty of “dramatic and worrying” safety breaches, with incidents of wheels falling off buses “risking death and injury and also damage to property”. An engine fire and eight incidents of wheel losses on Stagecoach buses between May 2009 and January 2010 resulted in Stagecoach Perth, Stagecoach Glasgow and Stagecoach Fife receiving formal warnings. Stagecoach Strathtay, which covers large areas of Perth, Aberdeen and Dundee, was banned from expanding its services for four months.

Stagecoach bus fires are now endemic in Britain, with some 9 in 2011; 11 in 2012; 10 in 2013; and 10 in 2014. Early in 2015 a horrified motorist flagged down a blazing bus with school students on board. One of the incidents occurred on a fast guided busway in Cambridgeshire. In Cheltenham, a shaking bus driver was told to continue his journey, leaving local residents to clear up the debris from the bus shelter he had smashed. A bus demolished part of a home in Harold Wood. Nine people were injured when a bus smashed into a house in Liverpool, and the roof of a double- decker was sliced off in Birkenhead. A woman and boy were killed in Coventry in October 2015 when a double-decker bus ran out of control and crashed into a Sainsbury's supermarket.

Two incidents involving buses severely jeopardised the safety of rail passengers. A bus smashed through level crossing gates in Devon 15 seconds before a high speed train passed. Another caused chaos when it smashed through level crossing gates in Canterbury.

Further serious incidents

(1) Passengers scalded after a radiator explodes on Matson to Gloucester Stagecoach bus [Gloucester Citizen 28.8.2015]

"Chaos erupted on a Gloucester bus today after a radiator exploded and scalded a number of passengers – including babies and pensioners. All three emergency services were sent to the scene in Barton Street when the drama struck on the packed number 1 bus from Matson at 10am. Passengers said they were terrified when they were drenched in hot water and steam after water started shooting out of the floor of the vehicle. There were believed to be about 50 people on board the bus. Police were quick to manage traffic on the road as two fire engines from Gloucester South Fire Station and an ambulance were sent to the scene.

Daniel Roberts, 24, was travelling with his girlfriend Sophie Duckett and their 10-month old son Kobe when they were blasted with the hot water. They claimed it was only Sophie's quick reactions of dousing their baby with cold water that saved him from being blistered. He was treated by paramedics before being taken to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Daniel said: "The water almost hit the roof. The pressure must have been incredible. Steam was absolutely pouring into the bus, it filled up in seconds. You could feel the heat. We were all panicking. There was a mad rush as we tried to get Kobe out, there was a woman with a newborn we had to help as well as she was at the back of the bus. We're very distressed over this. I will never use Stagecoach again. They should maintain their buses."

Another passenger, David Francis, 36, said smoke was coming from the back of the bus before he got on. He was burnt on his arm and head by the water despite wearing a thick hoodie. "It exploded right by me, it felt like a bomb had gone off. The steam was unreal," he said. "Everybody was screaming, panicking and there were young kids crying. I was shaking with fear afterwards, I have learning disabilities so it was pretty frightening."

Rupert Cox, managing director of Stagecoach West, confirmed they were investigating the incident. "We're talking with all those involved to get a clear understanding of what happened and hope to know more soon," he said. "Safety is always our absolute priority." "

(2) Gas explosion at Stagecoach bus depot caused disruption across Merseyside [Liverpool Echo 5.10.2015]

"A gas explosion at a Merseyside bus depot sparked a huge fire in Gillmoss - and is set to cause travel disruption for commuters. A gas cylinder blew up at the Stagecoach Merseyside and South Lancashire depot, off the East Lancs Road, around 1pm today.

A fire broke out after the blast and emergency services were called to the scene. Fire crews bought the blaze under control, but the depot was forced to close affecting bus services across Merseyside.

A spokeswoman from Stagecoach said: “A small gas cylinder has exploded at the Stagecoach Merseyside and South Lancashire depot at Gillmoss. No one was injured and the fire is under control, however this has caused major disruption to all services operating in Merseyside. We hope to have services up and running again this evening, but will only be able to provide an update on this at 3pm and there will be continued disruption to services throughout the afternoon peak time. We would like to express sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused and are doing our utmost to rectify the situation as soon as possible.”

The spokeswoman added: “Our priority is the safety of our staff at the location and therefore we have evacuated the depot, moving all staff to a nearby location. We will assist the fire service with their investigation into what has caused the incident. Severe disruption to services is expected into this evening and we’re sorry for the inconvenience this will cause to our passengers.”

Safety fears: Traffic Commissioner restricts Stagecoach's Highland bus operations

[Aberdeen Press and Journal 20.11.2015]

"A bus operator has been fined and had its fleet capped in the Highlands after two “upsetting and alarming” safety incidents involving its vehicles on the road. Stagecoach avoided being banned from operating in the region but will instead be restricted from expanding its operations for the next year. The firm will be allowed to run no more than 180 vehicles, and has also been fined £20,000 following a public inquiry in Inverness this week.

Traffic Commissioner for Scotland Joan Aitken reached her decision after considering two major incidents involving the company. On January 12 this year a vehicle caught fire on the A99 while carrying school children from the Keiss area to Wick. Nobody was injured but Miss Aitken heard that successive drivers had reported problems with the vehicle on several days prior to the vehicle catching fire when in service. The bus had been identified as unfit for service when it was allocated to a driver on January 12. The company has since taken action against an engineer for not acting on the reported defects.

And then on April 4 bus driver Ross Ralph hit a low bridge at Balloch whilst driving a route towards Croy in a double-decker. Mr Ralph had been using his mobile phone before the accident and admitted careless driving while talking on his phone at Inverness Sheriff Court earlier this month. Two passengers were aboard the bus when the accident happened and both escaped uninjured. Mr Ralph was fined £500 and given eight points on his licence at court and dismissed by Stagecoach.

Miss Aitken heard evidence that the vehicle had been wrongly allocated that day and that the company realised the seriousness and had implemented double checking of vehicle allocation. She said the two incidents were upsetting and alarming for passengers and disrupted their journeys which should have been safe and uneventful. Miss Aitken considered revoking or suspending Stagecoach’s operation in the Highlands. However, having heard assurances of investment and improvements from the company’s managing director Steve Walker and engineering director Russell Henderson she opted make an order to restrict expansion instead."

Voices of despair: Passengers routinely imprisoned on SWT trains for operational convenience as punctuality plummets even more

SWT's 4-week punctuality score to 12.12.2015 was 77.8% for mainline trains and 79.2% for suburban trains. The average performance figures over 52 weeks were 87.3% for mainline trains and 89.7% for suburban services. The Charter Standards are 89% for mainline services and 92% for suburban services, so performance is unsatisfactory long-term and continuing to decline.

Passengers pay the price through scheduled stops being missed with or without prior notice and trains being terminated short of destination so that others can run less late. Result: reduced service and worse overcrowding.

It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the sooner a passenger-focused company takes over the franchise, the happier passengers will be. It was almost 20 years ago that the High Court refused to block the World in Action's programme 'Cowboy Country' about Stagecoach's business practices.

A small sample of recent complaints on Twitter:

* Pretty angry my train from Norbiton to Waterloo was delayed and then didn't even go to Clapham Junction. No announcement either and just not tell anyone?? I'm in a carriage full of people going back to Clapham junction.
* Trying to get to Clapham Junction, but you keep changing the stops! Two trains in a row with no warning. The guard was shocked too!
* Second day that 7.55 Ewell West train has gone fast from Wimbledon Waterloo. Today we didn't get told until after it left Wimbledon. Many passengers needed Earlsfield and Clapham Junction. Guard very apologetic. Stinks - you meet your target as train at Waterloo 4 minutes early.
* Why do you keep skipping stops when the train is running late?? Really inconsiderate for your customers!!!! Just because the train is late it shouldn't impact on your customers trying to get home. I am now at Waterloo and out of pocket. I was forced to stay on a train so had to touch out at Waterloo to find out how I was going to get home. Not my fault!!
* The doors aren't working on the train just leaving Earlsfield. I wanted to get off at Clapham!
* Why has the train from Twickenham not stopped at Clapham Junction? MOST of the passengers wanted to get off!!
* Why didn't the 17:57 stopping service from Surbiton stop ANYWHERE before Waterloo? The conductor only piped up through Vauxhall. The driver knew, so tell people on the train and people on platforms. I'm also out of pocket now due to entering Zone 1. Staff on the ground very helpful but they're badly let down by the slyness and incompetence of you rail operators.
* Why didn't this train stop at Wandsworth Town? Guard even apologised but no reason.
* Why has the 1215 stopping service from Waterloo gone fast through Vauxhall and Queenstown Road?
* We're moving but where? We're not stopping.
* At Surbiton, said it would stop at all stations to Guildford. Short notice alterations happen to recover the train service, but why do they happen three stops before I get off with no warning???
* Whole bunch of very "happy" customers who've just had their stations skipped last minute on the 19.09 Waterloo-Guildford. Care to explain? We were all confused and are still on it, now heading direct to Epsom. Sorry doesn't cut it. No announcements?? Will you be compensating me for my evening that has been ruined?
* Cancelling yet another stopping service! I have now missed a connecting train at Clapham Junction. This is beyond a joke! Another no-stop service to Waterloo...might be an idea to tell passengers before they get on?!?
* Disgusting! Late train announces mid-journey it will now be a non-stop service! At least give us a chance to get off at next stop! So my 17.25 is delayed from Winchester and then you don't stop at Fleet?! Why not tell me on the platform not the train!
* If you could allow us to open the doors to get off at the station rather than going again that would be grand.
* 17.24 to Dorking failed to stop at Ashtead but no announcement. Already delayed by 40 minutes due to train in Wimbledon.
* 1720 late Reading train decides not to stop at Richmond without telling anyone! Lot of upset people.

Voices of despair: Stagecoach railways in the press

Evening Standard 7.10.2015 "What's going on with South West Trains? Services on the Hounslow loop line are regularly delayed or cancelled in the evenings and peak services to Reading have been taken out. Someone else should take control. Keith Ballinger."

Evening Standard 9.11.2015 "I travel to London and back to Hampshire up to four days a week, every week, to visit my 92-year-old mother in her care home. I buy my train tickets in advance to save on fares and it costs me £14 for a return. Yet from December to February the price will increase to £46.50 for a return and the same fares apply whenever I choose to travel. As a pensioner I simply cannot afford to pay these fares - I would be interested to know how South West Trains can justify them. Allen Chambers."

RAIL Issue 788 The train I needed left King's Cross at 0800. But when the conference organiser tried, several weeks in advance, to get a cheap ticket, she was told that the train was full. It was even implied that it would be risky trying to get on it.

Yet, when I did so with a Standard off-peak return, the train had an occupancy rate of (optimistically) 10%, and more likely 6%-8%. I had a table to myself, just like in the old days. When I spoke to one of my fellow speakers, she said that to get a cheap ticket she had taken the 07.30, despite having to get up far too early, and that it was "quite full".

What on earth is going on? Surely this goes against any sensible yield management? My return (at 15.59) was also very thinly occupied., and oddly had the same train crew who had waited biding their time in Newcastle for five hours. Nice overtime for them, but it seems a very inefficient use of their time.

So clearly some things to sort out on the East Coast before Virgin paints all its trains red, and people realise that it's the 'Bearded One in charge. Although, of course, he is not really, since Stagecoach owns 90% of the franchise." (Excerpt from Christian Wolmar's pages).

RAIL Issue 788 "Passengers treated badly. Richard Clinnick's poor experience on East Midlands Trains (Comment, RAIL 786) illustrates how some operators treat passengers like pawns.

This scenario is well established on South West Trains which makes daily ad hoc decisions to omit stops, with or without prior announcements. Twitter then records the complaints of angry passengers being carried past their homes or workplaces, or watching their train pass non-stop and leaving them to await overcrowded subsequent services.

In the same issue, you report that, instead of focusing on such issues, Stagecoach is pressing for inter-city franchises to be scrapped so that operators can cherry-pick train paths.

While some operators are clearly more passenger-focused than others, some of your correspondents who denigrate British Rail seem to have short memories. The railways were nationalised after being battered by war and at a time when government had more pressing expenditure priorities. But the BR model was ultimately made to work. Denis Fryer, South Hampshire Rail Users' Group."

Today's Railways UK, December 2015 "Remember the passenger! I travelled from Newcastle to York on the 16.08 on 31 August 2015. I had a First Class ticket. There were no VTEC staff anywhere on the platform, where the train originated. The steps of the HST's first carriage were a very considerable distance from the platform edge, which could have been overcome by positioning the carriages a few feet back.

No food or drink was available until well on towards York, too late to partake. At York I found an empty food trolley jammed against the carriage door. Getting that removed, lowering the window, opening the exterior handle and getting my heavy case onto the platform was quite a struggle. In fact a great deal worse than it would have been 60 years ago in the steam era. Progress!

My daughter who came on board at Newcastle to see me off, had quite a struggle opening the other door in order to get off before the train set off.

At York I had to hump my case down the steps into the subway from Platform 11 and up again for the exit as all the lifts were out of action. Again there were no staff around anywhere. I complained and a VTEC Customer Relations Advisor sent a 2-page reply, completely missing all the points I raised. It seems that this approach plus trying to convince me that black was white is the modern way of brushing off the customer. Rather ironic really, as VTEC's literature states that they are building on East Coast's excellent record to make it even better. What a hope. Don Pattison, South Cave, East Yorkshire."

Evening Standard 1.12.2015 Does South West Trains think putting a few plant tubs on Putney station will make us feel better about its train service? Some free travel would give us more festive cheer. Keith Ballinger."

Southern Daily Echo 1.12.2015 "I wonder if any of your readers have had such a poor response from South West Trains customer services department based in Southampton? I have been trying to get a reply from them with regards to travelling with an electric bicycle since May and the only reply I have had is an acknowledgement that they have received my emails. Frank Adams."

Evening Standard 21.12.2015 "I cannot recall a single occasion where my South West Trains service has arrived on time this year. Delays of up to 10 minutes or more are commonplace with all kinds of excuses given - signal failures, congestion and, best of all, the weight of passengers. My journey should take half an hour to complete but thanks to South West Trains, it's the equivalent of three stops longer. Mark Stewart"

Evening Standard 22.12.2015 Another Monday, another day of delayed trains with no information at Richmond station. Vanessa"

Evening Standard 8.1.2016 "My fondest memory of travelling on South West Trains? That one day when it was on time, not overcrowded and there were seats available. Oh no, that was a dream I once had. My mistake... Steve Trimmer."

Voice of despair: Quadriplegic cross-Atlantic yachtsman still finds SWT unwelcoming

Quadriplegic Geoff Holt made a solo and unaided 2,700 mile voyage across the Atlantic. He became the first disabled person to sail single-handed around Britain while confined to a wheelchair, and was awarded an MBE in 2010.

In 2012, he found travelling from Ryde Pier Head to Ryde Esplanade by Stagecoach SWT a daunting experience. He stated: “I can't recall the last time that I was so angry and upset. I was physically shaking, emotion choking my voice, a sense of genuine rage.” He quoted the guard as saying that wheelchairs weren’t allowed on the trains as they would damage the floors, and there was no guarantee that he would be able to alight after making the three-minute journey. When Mr Holt said he had made the same journey hours earlier the guard replied: “Rubbish, you would not have been allowed to board the train”.

On 21.10.2015 he tweeted: "Please train [staff member's name] in ticket office at Portsmouth Harbour difference between electric wheelchair and scooter. Nearly had repeat of 2012".

Voices of despair: Twitter continues to illustrate why belief in SWT was described before the London Assembly as being "at an all-time low" and communication as "appalling"

SWT’s Twitter scripts provide information, apologise endlessly, and refer people to Customer Services who, if they are lucky, will send an often unhelpful reply weeks later. Passengers hate the rip-offs, problems with trains and stations, information deficit and errors, cancelled stops, not getting replies from Customer Services, and the rudeness and aggression of some members of staff. Disabled people may be refused assistance or even told to seek help from other passengers.

It must all be pretty depressing for decent members of staff as well. What is particularly noticeable on Twitter is the virtual absence of any promise to improve the treatment of passengers. The standard reply to the more serious complaints is that they will be looked into. Then the same sort of thing happens again. This is because there is no middle management to tackle the chaos in a holistic way.

To keep this edition from becoming too long, the tweets below in most cases cover just October. These scrape the surface, as there are reckoned to be well over 50,000 negative tweets to SWT annually [Source: RAIL Issue 776].

Prize tweets

* Ticket machine at Grateley out of service, unable to collect pre-paid tickets and no conductor on train to Waterloo! [SWT's response: There will be a conductor in the train, check on the platform at every stop.]
* Yet again let down and irritated by SWT- I have a return ticket Windsor - Clapham Junction and tonight want to pay for extension on to Waterloo...Windsor wouldn't sell, told to get off with luggage at Clapham Junction and book extension.
* Why can't you buy Groupsave at your ticket machines???? [SWT's response: It was previously available but this decision was taken by our ticketing team. There are also restrictions on next-day tickets.]
* Journey time should have been 1hr 4mins - why the 31 min delay? [SWT's response: The delay was caused by the crowding on the train.]
* 6:31 Hedge End to Waterloo cancelled due to fault on train. 7:05 now says same? Bigger fault? [SWT response: Thanks. Sorry for the confusion, it started further down the line but we accidentally cancelled the whole train rather than one stop.]
* Do you need a first class ticket to walk through the first class carriage? [SWT response: In theory you do require a 1st class ticket to be in this part of the train at any time.] Tweets which typify passengers' feelings about SWT

* On a Waterloo-Portsmouth train. No working toilets at all! Am I still expected to pay a fare? Look forward to your response!! [SWT response: Apologies for the toilet facilities, I have fed this back. Please make sure you have a ticket to avoid a penalty fare.] So the question is: do we both need to adhere to rules? Answer: No, not SWT, only overpaying customers. You stay classy SWT!
* Expect a plethora of complaints, 1732 to Guildford just cancelled as no guard; train was packed too.
* Ridiculous service this morning. Only one ticket window open at Bracknell and standing room only on the 7:32. Bring back the 7:39!
* SWT's unhelpful announcement at Vauxhall: "We are sorry to announce the Dorking service has been cancelled due to" end of announcement...
* Not very impressed with the exorbitant charges for SWT's 1st class, but getting dirty and non ventilated coaches!
* Strawberry Hill train cancelled again due to staff problems. Sort it out! Terrible.
* Delays are one thing and sometimes can't be avoided but such a severe lack of information is so infuriating! Poor service.
* Sorry doesn't get me home on time, sorry doesn't get me a seat, sorry doesn't stop me paying for a 2nd rate service.
* Not content with ruining people's days with late trains, SWT are now doing so with those leaving early. Can you get anything right???
* Outraged at SWT yet again.
* To be frank I'm not interested in your plans. You have been running this monopoly long enough now that you should have it nailed!!
* You seriously need to address how packed your trains are, I could barely breathe !!!
* Lies, more lies and more lies. Uselessly incompetent service provision from a dishonest company.
* The evidence is that the service levels are deteriorating month after month and the profiteering of your company is scandalous!
* What is going on with the Reading line?! 1h 30 delay yesterday, and 20mins today with non-stop running after Staines. What about Clapham Junction?!
* Kicked off the SWT Reading service at Ascot because it's running late. Now following service is also running late. Did I say service? You are trying to avoid paying fines due to delays. It is a very poor service.
* Another SWT classic. Train now not stopping at my stop. Another £41.90 well spent... Incompetent business. No thought of customers.
* Train delays happen, you can't just cancel station stops. How on earth your **** company holds the franchise is beyond me.
* Kicking people off a train, telling us to get on a different one and then seeing the original depart half empty is REALLY annoying.
* Thanks for kicking everyone off a "defective" train at Waterloo, for it to then miraculously work and set off empty. [SWT's response: I'm afraid we couldn't wait for everyone to get back on once fixed, as this would have delayed further trains and passengers.]
* I had the pleasure of watching the train pass through the station!! This train was not faulty, you're happy to leave us stranded?
* The service this week has been abysmal. You really are a disgrace of a company and should be banned from operating trains.
* Not only are your services awful, your guards are rude and condescending.
* One train an hour leaving Twickenham for Wimbledon not good enough for World Cup quarter final peak time. I hope this is being investigated. [SWT's response: You can get to Wimbledon by going in the opposite direction and changing at Clapham Junction, which is a more frequent service.]
* Trying to get trains running on time by cancelling them?! And making everyone else late? Laughing out loud, I have just been absolutely outraged! Please contact me with someone high up within this company. * Just so you know, I tho
ught I'd point out your service is absolutely shocking. Morning commute seems to have turned from a 25 mins to 35 mins as standard in recent months, and train leaves late most evenings.
* First class is empty on this train yet we are not even allowed to stand in it. Why? The comfort of no one else's body touching your own? Not even allowed to stand there? What elitist cretins you are.
* Basingstoke station closed YET AGAIN during opening times (20:30). Again no update on Journeycheck.
* Thank you as always for cancelling my train and making me late for work! At the prices you charge for tickets it's a great service.
* The 08.48 from Kingston now known as the ghost train ... Hopeless service.
* That was my 113th delay for 2015, £2,135 for my season ticket, what a bargain.
* Four of 5 journeys messed up by you this week. Left early to catch 1630 to Portsmouth.
Not run, so on 1645, what are the chances of being on time? * Fifth day in a row of overcrowding, cancellations and delays despite high fares.
* Really unimpressed with the attitude of your staff in ticket office at Southampton Airport now. Not clued up and rather impolite. Also on delayed 1638 from Airport, one toilet out of use, another does not flush. Not a great journey all round.
* My 14 year old son is stuck at Waterloo with no cash. Lost ticket but got receipt and your staff won’t even speak to us. Gate staff won’t let him near the guard?
* Another night out in London brought to an anti climax by the utter incompetence of SWT. Misinformation, surly staff, over 3 hours to get home.
* But SWT aren't sorry as the mistake will be repeated without a second thought as you have the monopoly on the network so why care?
* I really hope you lose the franchise as you clearly are incapable of running the services or providing trains where needed. Yet again you have cancelled the 8.42 from Waterloo to Kingston. Every week for the last month!. What's the excuse this time? [SWT response: Sorry for this, the inbound train was cancelled due to congestion between Wimbledon and Waterloo.] The answer to 'congestion' isn't to keeping cancelling trains but better planning and management. Something you don't understand The service you offer passengers is appalling. You do not have enough trains to Kingston as there are constant cancellations.
* Broken driver's seat means train out of service. What the hell do I pay you for?
* To be moved to another train and then kicked off it immediately was very messy. Guard was so embarrassed.
* 'We have literally no idea what is going on' - guard at Bournemouth after Branksome passengers are kicked off the delayed 1805 from Waterloo. So poor.
* What just happened at Vauxhall? Passengers waiting for 16:39 Reading, platform alteration announced just as the train left?!
* Your useless staff cost me an hour of the evening and an extra £15 taxi fare to get home tonight. Thanks Very Much!!!
* Short platform at Chertsey and the internal door into the front carriages was locked! The conductor was just on the other side!
* Shocking, disgraceful service from SWT this morning. Delayed, then changed stopping stations, then only ran 5 car trains!!!
* There are now so many people on this train the aisles are full (on a Sunday)! You disgust me with your greed. You've had 19 years to introduce extra trains and haven't bothered.
Totally pathetic today. You should be ashamed. * Why has the 0807 from Ewell West to Waterloo been cancelled for the 3rd time in a week?! No excuse given.

Customer services

* Waiting for a cheque to cover the cost of a taxi when you discontinued a train service on 5th July! Payment was authorised.
* Wallet lost on 15.48 from Winchester to Waterloo. Cannot get through to your lost property line. have been trying to get through for half an hour. Constantly engaged.
* Incredibly rude customer service from SWT after holding for 15 minutes to get through regarding a week old complaint. Awful service.
* Courtesy of a response for a paying customer? Or is your customer service as lacklustre and appalling as your trains?
* SWT's customer service is absolutely shocking. Northern Rail has better customer service and that's saying something.

Disabled and vulnerable people

* Have you heard the joke that is passenger assistance at Waterloo? No, me neither. I'm furious. Can you explain why helping me off the train is so difficult to manage?
* Horrid experience at Waterloo when SWT staff had wrong ramp for the train and wouldn't get the right one so I had to get on the train floor.
* Disabled woman didn't have guard to meet her at Earlsfield in wheelchair as promised at Waterloo! She's now at Worcester Park on train to Dorking.
* Even when I pre-book or the train and staff call ahead, there's never anyone there to meet me anyway! Had to get ramp out after it was clear no one was coming. Today couldn't find guard anywhere. When I found him he said 'Couldn't find you anywhere'. He got snotty and gave me the usual pre-booking speech.
* You need to train your staff at Waterloo. He insisted I needed to walk down train despite medical condition limiting movement. When asked his name so I could complain, he took his ID badge and hid it so I could not read it. Absolutely disgraceful behaviour.
* Disgusted by the staff at Surbiton station who refused to help me with my pushchair when lift out of service.
* I had an awful encounter with a guard this evening. Not very helpful when I was trying to find a seat at nearly 5 months pregnant. Information

* The 07:49 from Fulwell to Sunbury. The board said it would arrive at 08:01. It didn't say it would terminate. I could have got bus.
* Some information on the delayed Windsor train would have been nice. Moved to a slower train and now the other one's just left.
* What is the point in telling us the 17:20 won't stop at Woking, when it then does? Changed plans because of it.
* Asked what platform to get to Farnborough, and only got pointed in a direction, no platform. Worked it out myself in the end.
* You are blooming useless. You need to re-consider the announcements made when trains split. It is so NOT clear and confusing to say you're in the right half of the train only to find out you're not! Not very user-friendly 1207 from Waterloo today. Turns out I was in the 5th carriage and it said it was going to Farnborough but it obviously wasn't.
* Thanks to the guard for not telling passengers they could switch to a faster service at Haslemere!! I'll just be even later then!
* The situation was chaotic with hundreds on the platform (no room to move) and no information on what to do (Woking).
* Incredibly frustrating and frightening for passengers on SWT that the tannoy is announcing all the wrong stations on wrong route.
* 11:12 from Clapham Junction was delayed and then took a diversion and didn't go to our stop (Southampton Airport). What to do about refund? We had to get a £65 cab to get to our destination. I'm guessing this counts as a cancellation?
* Had it been on the board I'd have made it in time for 30 second door closure. Missing my connecting train at Wimbledon. [SWT's response: Sorry for this - we do however remove departures from the board to avoid people rushing at the last minute for the train.] Well, you've added 30 minutes to my journey. Well done. Be pleased with yourselves. This is also nonsense. Sometimes we have to rush for a train because connections run behind. Why should we be punished?
* Rogue guard on platform 18 misdirecting crowds onto wrong train for Twickenham. Bitter England fan??
* Surbiton to Waterloo train delayed as usual. Absolute zero communication from guard. Are they now told to say nothing?
* Playing guess the platform at Clapham Junction, no announcements, no staff... Not the best start to a Sunday morning.
* Why do my family and I have to wait 3 1/2 hours to get our train home from Waterloo to Southampton Central ?? Why create an offer for half term giving great deals on train tickets for families then say they can't get on trains home.
* They are not your staff. They are a contract data collection company. Very abrupt and rude.


* Can you e'mail me the link that proves the 7.57 and 8.27 from Stoneleigh run fast and refuse to stop at all stations?. Please see proof that the 08:27 was made to run non-stop from Motspur Park to Waterloo. Can you give me a phone number or an address, I will be taking legal action.
* Connection at Aldershot to get to Farnham. I had to wait 30 minutes. This made me late for my morning lecture.
* Please don't tell me the 5:52pm train was cancelled because of a few drops of water from the sky?! No updates? [SWT's response: That train was originally cancelled but then re- instated and did run and left 8 minutes late. Are you trying to get to Addlestone?] No and there was no mention of the train leaving the station 8 minutes later. It was listed as cancelled on the departure boards
* Chucked us off the train at Ascot so you can run it fast to Reading. Absolutely no consideration for your passengers.
* Hampton Wick station... I arrived at 10:21 to see an 8am train still on the board then the 10:30 train delayed by 7, then 8, .. then 9 minutes. The train on the other side (a possible alternative) came and went and THEN we were told ours was cancelled.
* Teasing us with just a few minutes delay. THEN driving cancelled train slowly past very angry passengers.
* Any particular reason the 8.15 New Malden to Waterloo didn't stop at New Malden this morning? No announcement on platform. [SWT's response: Unfortunately I have since found out that the train did indeed not stop.]
* I was meant to get a train from Southampton Central to Upwey, changing in Weymouth! The changed train left too early!
* Please can your trains stop leaving Earley before the stated time. Have just 'missed' the 1837 service to Reading AGAIN. This was a lot more than 30 seconds. It was a full minute and a half. Please advise staff on this FREQUENT mistake!
* 17:47 Guildford-Waterloo cancelled. Not shown on Journey Check. Maybe why performance stats bear no relation to reality? [SWT's response: The train is in fact starting from Woking.]
* You stopped my train calling at Brentford and I had to change onto ANOTHER delayed train! It will take me 3 hours to get home.
* We have a driver and a crowd of people and the train is due to go in 20 seconds but doors firmly shut how can that be??
* 7.50 from Hampton terminating early again?? Why is this service always the one used to help the congestion?
* I got to Staines Station at 21:09, it's 22:50 and I'm only just pulling into Kingston.
* Well frankly this whole journey has been a joke. How long will I have to wait at Staines in the cold?
* Why would a train leave 75 seconds before departure time and leave many on the platform? Not the first time! Want better stats? A missed train means 30 minutes delay to my overall journey.
* Thanks for deciding that the 0717 should actually leave at 0716 (London Rd Guildford).
* What is the reason for cancelling the service stopping at Clapham Junction because of 8 minutes of delays?! I'm now stuck on a stopping service getting later and later by every station and will miss my connection.
* Why do you always skip Clapham Junction when your trains are late from Kew Bridge?
Busiest station, makes no sense whatsoever. * Problem at Putney with train leaving before we can board.


* Why does a Richmond to Staines Off Peak Day Return cost £6 yet Staines to Richmond OPDR cost £7.20 - a 20% premium! [SWT's response: Hi there. Prices reflect demand for travel - i.e. higher towards London than away from London.]
* Unfortunate to have lost my £15 day return train ticket, but to be charged 39.40 to get home, a bit extreme. Your thoughts!
* I'm now £51 out of pocket because your Bournemouth staff can't read the date on a rail warrant correctly. Despite warrant saying I was travelling on Monday and me telling staff member same thing, they issued me a ticket for yesterday.
* Announcement very clearly said Oyster Cards 'not valid on this service', not 'not valid past the next station' which I have heard before.
* Perhaps mishaps wouldn't happen if your machines didn't suggest 'cheaper alternatives' that are completely different tickets?
* My travel today has cost £76 rather than £41. Why I couldn't pay the difference is beyond me. I spotted the mistake straight away. Difference between day and period = £6. Criminal that I was made to pay an extra £41.50 when I hadn't even left the ticket office. Now told I have to send off for a refund rather than having ticket amended. Totally ridiculous! Fuming.

Replacement buses and taxis

* I understand the complexity, but there is simply no excuse for a significant delay because the driver wasn’t given directions, and now the driver has taken us on a tour of Woking and got completely lost. No chance we’re going to make our connection at Weybridge now. Today’s operation feels extremely amateurish. You should be doing better than this.
* I'd like to report a very rude and unhelpful service at Southampton Central last Wednesday. They told me to stand at the wrong bus stop, and only informed me once the replacement buses had gone.
* Where is the replacement bus from Totton to Southampton Central? It was scheduled for 4pm, but still not here. Had to pay for a different bus. Home now, very poor!
* Where's the 15:15 Branksome replacement bus service?! No news... * Will someone at Reading advise where the buses are? Husband has been waiting over an hour.
* 23.57 rail replacement from Guildford.. Driver gets lost, female faints, another male aggressive towards others. Magic....


* Rude and unhelpful staff again at Raynes Park station. Training urgently required. Member of staff refused to help me with my pram up the stairs and would rather gossip on her mobile phone.
* Arrive at Putney at 0831, still waiting for train 20 minutes later. Platform staff offensive and will not answer questions!
* Utterly ridiculous, couldn't pay for a ticket on the train with my debit card so late for college for the second time this week.
* 17:28 Clapham Junction to Reading, Sign on platform said first class declassified, guard onboard says it isn't and subject to penalty?
* Very unhelpful members of staff in regards to the replacement service from Basingstoke.
* Appalling behaviour from guard 5.20pm Waterloo-Salisbury. Literally pushed man off train as doors closing (when he was already on train).
* The staff at Basingstoke were very unhelpful and rude this morning.
* Just came across the worst security guard at Twickenham working for SWT. Grabbed my phone and I felt he was going to attack me. I believe the security guard is a genuine risk to safety.
* Staff need training in how to deal with customers in a polite and friendly manner instead of being rude and obnoxious. I had an issue at the barriers and your staff spoke to me in a rude way and seemed to want to make me feel uncomfortable.
* If I spoke to customers like the SWT guard spoke to passengers over the tannoy, I would not have a job.
* Ticket prices are increasing so that we can have 10-15 ticket inspectors at one station... [SWT's response: They operate in groups to reduce passengers' delay and prevent over- crowding on the platforms.]
* Thanks for the trolley that just hit me in the head. Your staff really understand the concept of great service. Not even a sorry. The lady said it was my own fault for sitting too close to the aisle.........I'm in an aisle seat!!!
* Falsely accused of having the wrong ticket. Rude train inspector from Basingstoke to Waterloo.
* Your staff at Southampton Central are very rude. I said to a member of staff 'please can I ask you a question' and she said 'No'. Absolutely appalling and I hope the staff member is reprimanded. Awful customer service.
* Workshy people walking around in SWT uniforms. Have you heard of or seen them? Arrogant and ignorant fair description.
* There are two trains an hour, yet when one pulls in the staff hide away to avoid helping anyone!
* Your man on the barrier at gate 9, right now, at Waterloo, needs a course in manners and service but I bet you'll do f-all as usual. [Second caller: I echo these comments - one of your staff in particular is antagonistic / smirks / sarcastic. I avoid him.
* Bullied this morning and in shock after treatment by two of your officials. Where to lodge a complaint?
* Same woman now shouting at another one of your employees for showing compassion at Feltham. Do you call this customer service? Intimidating behaviour by both guards, invasion of personal space, following around on the train, blocking me into seat.
* I spend hundreds of pounds a month on your service. I am fuming with your staff at Waterloo accusing me of not paying for a ticket. I'll fill out the form but want you to be aware immediately of the rude, arrogant and patronising manner I was spoken to.


* Definition of irony from SWT. No staff at ticket office yet there's a sign detailing "customer service week" at West Byfleet.
* Your customer service help point at Woolston. I pushed the button 5 times and it didn't answer once and then it was completely disconnected.
* Just had the misfortune of coming through Guildford Station, queues to ticket machines causing obstructions, No SWT staff to hand.
* Your information screens at Overton aren't working and the clock is two hours slow.
* Drove to Walton-on-Thames for ticket for tomorrow. Desks closed. Machine says "tickets for tomorrow on sale after 15:00"?? It's 2015!! Not 1915...
* Limped down steps at Basingstoke station, slipped, crashed into SWT wet floor sign! Nice try SWT, but you need a mop. Ticket offices and machines

* Can't pay for my parking at Godalming Station. Pay by Phone can't process it over the phone either. What do I do? [SWT's response: Not entirely fair on you, I will look into this for you.]
* Both ticket machines out of order in Kew Bridge. One of them doesn't recognize Oyster. Missed train and work.
* Parking machine at Farnborough broke mid-transaction - took money but no ticket printed! How do I get my money back?
* Machine is broken at Winnersh. Can't collect prepaid tickets for tomorrow. What can I do? Will you refund if I buy tickets tomorrow.
* One of the ticket machines was not working and your guards wouldn't sell me a ticket and made me queue and miss my train!! [SWT's response: Sorry for this - our policy is that you should have a ticket before you board. The guards do have some discretion on occasions.] Yes, but when one of ticket machines isn't working and i have been queuing for 10 minutes beforehand! That's just not good enough!
* I've booked tickets for collection from machine, but it is out of order and no man - please help! Pokesdown.
* Missed a train by skin of teeth due to ticket office error. Now have to wait half an hour with kids as staff refused to hold for 10 seconds. The office machine stopped printing midway through our transaction, then cancelled whole lot.
* Ticket machine at Ewell West isn't working and the other side doesn't take cash, how am I meant to top up my oyster? [SWT's response: Really sorry about this. If the machine is not working you will need to top up at a local newsagent.] I haven't got time for that! Already missed one train, riding dirty, sorry.. [SWT's response: Travelling without a valid ticket could result in a penalty fare.]
* Basingstoke: one ticket window and 14 people waiting. Customer service - I don't think so.
* At Hampton... ticket office closed, one ticket machine out of service, the other taking cash only. Recipe for chaos, please fix.
* Why only two people selling tickets at Guildford? 12 minutes to be served. People are missing trains. My ticket can't be bought at a machine.
* Yet again Woking station ticket office is closed during advertised open times (21:10). Why is this happening on a daily basis? [SWT's response: I'm afraid there's been a temporary shortage of staff in the late evenings at this station.


* What's going on with the train?! Train keeps breaking suddenly. Standing passengers thrown all over the place.
* Slept soundly last night dreaming of a lovely trip to London in 1st class only to find that it stinks worse than a Biff Bin.
* 1855 Clapham Junction to Hounslow. It said you need to be in the front 10 coaches when arriving at stations. It had 4 coaches.
* The 15.58 London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton train is disgusting. Don't even want to sit down due to the dirt and rubbish! Yuck!
* Your 15.59 Windsor to Waterloo service was so bad it had my partner in tears! The guard was good but it's was horrific.
* 12:33 Weybridge to Barnes - just turfed everyone off and gone out of service. Any idea why? And now it's just closed its doors and departed empty. [SWT's response: It's the train wasn't fit for public service.]
* An hour and a half into the journey and I just got my own seat. You should keep track of how many people are getting on a train.
* Why is the last direct train to Portsmouth 5 coaches? People with young children are standing, it's chaos. Trapped passengers

* Going to Surbiton and 19:46 from Clapham Junction was announced as going to Guildford not Waterloo. We left then were told it was an error.
* The doors didn't open so now who knows when I'm getting off! [SWT's response: Sorry to hear this - which train are you on and where did this happen?] Happened at Dorchester South. I pulled the emergency door open lever but it still wouldn't open. What if there was a fire? [SWT's response: Were you able to contact the guard about this? Do you know if other doors on the train opened?] No other doors opened and the guard wasn't available until we got to the next stop. He wasn't happy. [SWT's response: Did you speak to him about the problem? Was he able to offer any advice?] He told another passenger that the doors should have opened and became angry. What if there was a fire?
* One cancelled train and then doors not opening at Clapham Junction so we all have to carry on to next stop missing our connections.

Stagecoach and Virgin want 'cherry-picking' of InterCity routes

In their response to a consultation by the Competition and Markets Authority, Stagecoach and Virgin would like to see 'bundles' of train paths auctioned, as a replacement for InterCity franchises, and Open Access operators banned. Data for April-June from the Office of Rail and Road show Virgin Trains West Coast (49% Stagecoach-owned) as the rail operator with the highest rate of complaints in Britain for the 11th quarter in a row. Virgin East Coast scored the second highest rate. Open Access operators are consistently at the top of TransportFocus' satisfaction scores and offer useful competition on fares.

Stagecoach discusses Island Line closure

The Railway Magazine has reported that South West Trains and Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner secretly discussed closure of the Ryde-Shanklin line in May 2014. SWT said that a sustainable long-term strategy was needed before any further investment could be contemplated. In other words, Stagecoach has been quietly neglecting the line. For his part, the MP failed to attend a debate with some 250 participants, and reportedly attended a Cowes Week yachting function instead.

In Brief

Desperation on SWT In the wake of many missed performance targets, SWT is trialling a countdown clock at New Malden, so that passengers can see how many seconds are left for safe boarding before the train doors close 30 seconds in advance of departure time. Anyone thought of scheduling the whole timetable to run one minute later than advertised, or would that be too customer-friendly?

Stagecoach rejects quality improvements We understand that Stagecoach failed to obtain a two- year extension of the SWT franchise because it would not sign up to customer service quality initiatives. The Times of 18.9.2015 reported that DfT wanted future contracts to include penalties for overcrowding, rude staff and squalid toilets. It's clear from SWT's Twitter that this could have huge financial implications for the company.

Subtle propaganda The centre pages of all SWT's timetable leaflets now contain a pictorial map of the network with little pockets of investment flagged. Little red trains are shown in the suburban area, and little white trains going to Exeter and Weymouth. The Portsmouth line is train-less, presumably because of the hated outer-suburban blue trains.

Less-subtle propaganda Banner on SWT's Twitter: '57,000 extra seats a week (More useful than a logo redesign)'. Really? SWT started the current franchise by disposing of its 120 best carriages to drive up profits at the expense of passengers. If logos don't matter, why do East Coast trains bear the Virgin logo when the franchise is 90% Stagecoach-owned?

Price of 'weekend first' upgrade soars The £5 supplement for travelling first class on SWT's trains at weekends has risen from the flat rate of £5 to £5-£15, depending on distance.

First Group seeking more franchises First Group is reportedly proposing to bid for the South West Trains and West Coast franchises. It has beaten Stagecoach to win a further TransPennine franchise until 2023. Stagecoach has abandoned plans to make a joint bid for Greater Anglia as it couldn't agree terms with Abellio.

Shares: National Express overtakes Stagecoach National Express, once Britain's major rail franchise operator, saw its shares slump as it lost all but one of its franchises. The Directors refused to sell out to Stagecoach and the gap in share price values between the two companies narrowed by around two thirds. In December Stagecoach announced that its profits from bus services to Europe had slumped. Its shares then fell well below those of its rival.

Customer service SWT style During Customer Service Week a young SWT manager approached an Ashurst resident on Southampton Central station and asked if he had any comments. The passenger replied that the previous day he had needed to be in Portsmouth by 08.00 and there was no available service. The manager replied that this was a matter for Great Western, but came back and helpfully added that there is a fast Portsmouth service one minute before the first train from Ashurst arrives.

A tale of two railways Just a small example from thousands. On 20.11.2015, GTR's 20.30 Brighton-Southampton train was held outside Hove station for about 9 minutes to maintain a connection out of a Victoria-Littlehampton service which had been delayed by signalling problems in the London area. It was then further delayed on the approach to Southampton, for SWT's Waterloo-Poole service to precede it, causing long delays for passengers wanting intermediate stations between Southampton and Bournemouth. Some operators focus on passengers, some don't.

Crossrail trains Smart new trains for Crossrail will have far fewer seats than the units they replace. They are due to run from Shenfield to Liverpool Street from 2017 and from Abbey Wood, Reading and Heathrow from 2019.

SWT's suburban services may transfer to Transport for London DfT is reportedly warming to the idea of transferring London suburban services to TfL, including those of SWT. A survey by the London Assembly during October has established that 68% of people favour of the idea. [Source: Evening Standard 25.11.2015]

Swanage services delayed again Through running between Wareham and Swanage has been delayed until 2017. We understand that Network Rail requires substantial work to upgrade some components of the Swanage Railway's two diesel trains to main line specifications before it is allowed to run into Wareham station. It won't, of course, need to run at main line speeds.

Battery trains Trials of electric trains with batteries fitted for running on non-electrified branches and gaps between electrified routes are reportedly proving successful, with speeds of 100mph reached and a range of 77kms between full recharging. Trains may be introduced into regular passenger service next year. This would appear an ideal option for a cross-Southampton route to Hythe. A key objective of battery trains is to reduce pollution from diesels, and the Southampton area suffers road, air, diesel train and shipping pollution, and legal limits can be seriously breached.

Information documents on www.shrug.info The following papers are available as stand-alone items on our website:

Group's updated History of South West Trains under Stagecoach

With some 180 source references, this records, through the voices and observations of many, including Ministers and other Members of Parliament, how ethically-limited Stagecoach, with its founders as major shareholders, quickly undermined performance and expunged quality through stripping assets; abruptly dismissed critics in terms which avoided the truth; gained a second franchise, at huge expense to taxpayers, to clear up the mess it had created, delaying investment in capacity for a decade; and then gained a third franchise by offering an unrealistic premium; reduced or removed every remaining vestige of quality; and further boosted profits by wrong- footing and intimidating honest members of the public at every opportunity.

Group's response to Network Rail's Wessex Route Study

This focuses on strategic issues around handling traffic flows from Wessex in the London area; infrastructure and capacity issues between Basingstoke and Reading, and in the Portsmouth and Southampton areas; and the need for illustrative timetables to show the overall effects for passengers of timetable options.

Group's response to DfT's consultation on the Rail Penalty Fares Appeals Process This welcomes the initiative to provide a measure of protection against Train Operating Companies' unreasonable treatment of passengers, but illustrates why much more is needed in order to counteract, for example, the extraordinary rapacity of greed-driven Stagecoach.

Outline of the development of diesel and electric train services from Southampton

This illustrates how passengers' widely-held preference for journeys avoiding a change of trains was gradually met by service development, and how many of the gains were reversed in the course of franchise reshaping - a rarely discussed disadvantage of franchising.

Acknowledgements / Contact details

As always, thanks to everyone who has been kind enough to contact us. Without your support and input, this newsletter would not be possible. The newsletter is produced in good faith, based on reports and information from many individuals and sources including information identified from press and website research. Contributions are always welcome. We aim for accuracy at all times, because our good reputation depends on it. We do not use material which could be offensive or which appears unlikely to be correct.

Address for correspondence: Denis Fryer, 19 Fontwell Close, Calmore, Southampton, SO40 2TN (denis@fryer1491.fsnet.co.uk).