The News Shopper has the story that Southeastern has replied to the Chair of Transport Committee of GLA Caroline Pidgeon AM that requested the company an explanation for the three days of railway mayhem at the beginning of January.
Here’s the original letter in full, it’s an 11 pages dissertation of the company Managing Director Charles Horton where he explains why Southeastern decided to operate the way it did. Frankly it doesn’t explain convincingly why it didn’t operate a better service.
What this does well is to clarify who took decisions and based upon what, and this clarification is found in the paragraph authored by Network Rail’s Kent Route Director Dave Ward:
In times of service disruption, it is Network Rail’s role to coordinate the industry’s response. Based on a detailed forecast predicting adverse conditions, together with dialogue from Directors at Southeastern it was my decision to request Southeastern to operate an amended timetable for the 6th 7th and 8th January. My decision was based on the forecast of adverse conditions, the challenges posed by operating electrical rolling stock on an infrastructure susceptible to rail icing and lessons learned from the 18th December 2009 where upon operating a full timetable in adverse conditions we experienced multiple train failures often leaving passengers stranded on freezing trains for long periods. It is the responsibility of train operators to put together an amended timetable, and on this occasion the timetable specified by Southeastern offered services into and out of London for essential travel based on resources available to Network Rail and Southeastern. We will jointly be reviewing the service on 6th 7th and 8th January including the service levels and hours of operation so that we can learn lessons, should the condition repeat in the coming year and beyond. I must assure you that my decision was not taken lightly, and was done to maintain our duty of care for the travelling public and the industry workforce.
So here you have it, Network Rail has all the information to assess what they and Southeastern can deliver and given what they knew they decided that a reduced timetable was best advised, but the extent of the reduction was completely down to Southeastern and despite the length of the response Charles Horton fails to convince that stopping service out of London at 8pm was needed. His assertion that the amount of service was measured against the reduction in demand on days with adverse weather also clashes with passengers’ experience that found trains overcrowded and insufficient to serve all those that were present at platforms.
We need to change the way this system operates, we need transparency, even in operational decisions, so that next time a reduced timetable is needed, it is measured against the need.
In the past few years large subsidies were handed out to Southeastern, and large dividends were distributed to the shareholders, if the capacity to run better services in adverse condition is not there then it means that shareholders may have helped themselves above what they should have, even at the cost of the company’s capacity to respond to not ideal situations.
All the reasons given by the Managing Director for the decisions they took bring back to one overarching consideration, the same consideration that Network Rail did, that the capacity of the company falls short of what’s needed to run a full service in bad weather.
Another reason to sign our petition.