The central mystery about Southern Rail’s implosion: an open letter to the CEO
An open letter to Charles Horton, chief executive of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), operators of Southern Railway…
Dear Charles Horton
We’ve never met, I’m afraid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you quoted in the newspapers or interviewed on the radio. But I’m aware you have a difficult and stressful job, balancing the competing demands of the government and your staff.
I am writing instead as one of your long-suffering passengers. Of course I feel let down by the appalling service on the south coast lines since April. I’m sure you can understand that, as someone who pays your company quite large sums to travel regularly to London, when you regularly allow me to miss business meetings, miss picking my children up from school, miss getting my family home by bedtime at weekends, miss their teachers’ meetings. Like so many other people, crammed into your cancelled trains in the heat, I’m naturally cross – I’m staggered at how much your customers will put up with, with little more than a rant into their mobile phones.
I quote the Brighton Argus about last Thursday: “More than 50 per cent of the Brighton mainline services delayed or cancelled. More than 800 trains across the network were more than ten minutes late, with more than 250 of those registered as ‘more than 30 minutes late or cancelled’.”
But this letter is about something else. Let me explain. I had a conversation with a member of your staff, at one of the stations I use on the south coast, who I challenged about the constant repetition of the explanation your company uses: catastrophic staff shortages. She agreed with me that it wasn’t true – but told me they were not allowed to tell me the truth.
I have taken down the rest of this post for the time being because my investigations – thanks to so many people who have read it and contacted me – lead me to believe that it is not accurate enough. The truth is even stranger and I have written a short book. It is now published on Amazon as an ebook (£1.99 of which 10p for every copy goes to the Railway Benefits Fund). There will shortly also be a paperback…
43 thoughts on “The central mystery about Southern Rail’s implosion: an open letter to the CEO”
It’s a sad fact but public services run by commercial enterprises (rail, gas, water etc., etc.) are not run for the benefit of the public, but to make a profit. State-run and social enterprises have a higher level of duty to the public and are more accountable, as all public serving organisations should be, but are not. Their profits are retained and available to maintain and improve their services, not bled off to enrich their investors.
Great letter and blog, I am a fellow sufferer (it’s sounds like we are afflicted) trying to commute from Horsham to London daily. Have you had any response from Mr Horton or a representative? Don’t hold your breath, plus even more worrying is the DT are allowing this to occur and even sympathising with Southern.
Is there an end?
Until today I was one of the put upon platform staff. I have just resigned. I’m fed up with the continual abuse we receive on a daily basis and this company’s refusal to do anything about it. The article above imho is absolutely spot on.
Ask your Union could this be construed as constructive dismissal.
i agree with everything said in the open letter and comments above. Cattle is an appropriate word to use when describing how passengers are regarded by senior management at Southern Rail. Another word is contempt. In what other business would such appalling customer service be tolerated? It these ‘Staff shortages’ (everyone knows this is a lie) aren’t resolved someone will get seriously hurt or even killed. Passengers in an overcrowded train or some poor platform staff member getting the brunt of someone’s misplaced frustration. When that happens I’m sure Charles Horton will be nowhere to be seen. DT need to step in ASAP.
However, the DfT is the true master of the situation. Google Peter Wilkinson, and you will soon find out why.
The franchise has been structured and let as a tool to break unions. This is a test bed for new government imposed contracts (so much for privatisation). If you are in paid employment, this should concern you, as it paves the way for employers to impose changes on you, and if the GOVIA legal measures succeed, shows that it will be increasingly hard for you to do anything about it.
A Railwayman (who up to now has voted Tory, and in near two decades, has never even seen a strike ballot paper).
My friends are train drivers and have informed me personally that while they are standing on the train platform ready to board and drive their trains an announcement will be made stating that their train is cancelled due to lack of train crews, they also state that there are drivers just hanging around the mess rooms sitting twiddling their thumbs and wanting to work. I am affected by this appalling service everyday, they have a cheek charging me 5k for my annual ticket and then not run the service. I do feel sorry for the ground staff however, tempers get high and some of these staff are not equipped in good customer services and seem to make the situation worse by being rude. This cannot go on. People are losing their jobs due to the constant lateness and losing their minds due to the stress. This needs sorting now. Stranding your paying customers, not a good idea.
Forgive me for potentially going off on a tangent here. Here is something I am confused about. Overcrowding is viewed by relevant authorities as a very big deal at sports events for understandable reasons. But overcrowding on trains, according to the ‘Office of Rail and Road’ is just something that “can make passengers FEEL unsafe.”
So essentially when we worry that hurtling along at 100mph+ (granted, Southern rail trains often fail to exceed the speed of Ivor the Engine on one on his slow days) is unsafe when you: are unable to move, cannot reach a handrail, have no access to water, have inadequate/no aircon, are pressed up against a door/wall/other person, can’t get to the loo, cannot see an escape route if there was a fire…it’s just a FEELING. ORR acknowledge overcrowding can be ” inconvenient, uncomfortable and …unpleasant” but, it seems, this is not to the detriment of health and wellbeing.
That seems to strange to me. It also has equality implications. If you are elderly/frail (nb we have an ageing population), heavily pregnant, prone to panic attacks, can’t stand for long periods, need access to the loo regularly etc., etc., you might choose to avoid a crowded pub or public event as a matter of preference. But you might not (and should not have to) choose to avoid rail travel. How, for example, could a passenger in a wheelchair even hope to travel comfortably on some of Southern’s services at the moment? I wonder if ORR’s stand on this is possibly giving rail companies an easy get out when they run unacceptably crowded services. Along with all the other get outs they have, of course.
Did you receive s reply?
I also use the Arun valley line, and today I was 4 1/2 hours late home. I think at least 5 consecutive trains from Victoria to Bognor were cancelled during rush hour leaving all those people to fight for space on dangerously over crowded trains. There will be an accident.
I have the utmost sympathy for the guards and drivers. I too have been standing with train crew who are told they cannot take the train they were scheduled to take, and it was then cancelled. They are also showing the most amazing care and patience in the face of frustration and abuse from those who have swallowed Southern’s lies. One thing that is troubling me is that I have been informed by several people that any member of staff that went on strike had their privileged travel and free car park taken away. If this is true I do not understand how an employer can legally treat their employees this way. Whatever your view of the dispute, a member of a union which has been balloted and followed due procedure has a legal right to strike. How can Southern bully its staff in this way, and why is this not being publicised ?
I am a Southern train driver, it is true that conductors have had their travel & parking permits taken away. Their families too!!
A well written piece, but sadly almost certain to provoke either zero response,more the normal platitudes in fluent managementspeak. Might I suggest an alternative course? Almost all of the people affected by the appalling service are commuters who are also voters. Granted they live in a number of constituencies, but I’m pretty sure they would comprise a decent share of the electorate in most of the constituencies in Sussex plus a fair few in Kent. encourage the commuters to join together in a community and make it clear to the government that every single member of the community will NOT vote conservative at the next election unless things improve within a specified period. If the politicians can be made to understand that they are likely to be dumped, then all of a sudden the passengers will have some powerful allies.
I know people cast their votes for a number of reasons, but this affects people every working day of their lives and it’s getting worse. We would need to pick a party for all the votes to transfer to, which could be interesting, but we would need to make it clear that all votes are being cast together in order to make our point. I suspect it wouldn’t actually be needed, but if it was it would only be once.
Our vote is the only real voice we have, so make it as loud as possible and let’s refuse to be fobbed off any longer. Good luck.
A good post and one I wholeheartedly agree with. Tell the politicians who are undoubtedly behind this that they will be losing votes. I have abandoned rail travel both for work and leisure. I am lucky enough to be able to do this having s destination and time that allows road travel – I would much prefer rail travel but there seems little point in even setting out. Sadly, due to the nature of this contract it is not the company or its shareholders who will lose out, it is us the taxpayers!
Charlie doesn’t want to talk to you.
For those in or near Brighton, join the protest today, 14 June 2016 from 18.30 at Brighton station. For more information search #GoViaNowhere on twitter.
That’s a shame, none of the commuters will be able to make it because they’ll be stuck in London.
A distressed commuter
Thank you. Reading all of the above reassures me that I am not alone.
Its disgusting. Someone needs to be accountable for this utter shambles and changes needs to be made imminently.
Every day my trains are delayed from 10 minutes upwards, frequently cancelled and overcrowded. How on earth can this be run so badly? Ministers and these managers need to spend time with us normal commuters and experience the embarrassment that this company is.
If I ran a business like this, I would have precisely zero customers and wouldn’t last two minutes in a job. It is also so overpriced its unreal. How can Horton and co continue to run this?
This “company” and any management involved needs disbanding and banned from running any public service.
When is the next laughable “Meet the Idiot Manager” event or has that been cancelled on police advice. I would love to join the protest in Brighton this evening but I am stuck at London Bridge as apparently Southern have cancelled Brighton trains to reduce the numbers at the protest. . Where is our chauffeur driven MP?
I think this is an excellent letter as it addresses every complaint I have as a Southern Rail passenger. It’s the sheer impotence that one feels when yet another train is cancelled and another evening ruined. I loathe Southern Rail and if I had any other option I would take it. If Mr Horton is guilty of these allegations then he might find himself the subject of an HSE investigation, [EDITED FOR LEGAL REASONS]! Better take care!
With 25,000 signatures you could get a response from Government. Maybe try a petition?
I would have gone to the protest today but the train to get there on time was cancelled.
I signed a petition a few weeks ago, we reached 10,000 signatures only (I am sure that many more passengers are affected) and received a pathetic excuse for a response in exchange; govt/management speak saying very little. They feel that GoVia is doing the job it was ‘hired’ to do and unfortunately, the passengers’ feelings on the matter appear to hold no sway. I am sick of standing on over-crowded trains, being too late for plans that I have arranged because my train hasn’t arrived, watching trains leave the station empty due to lack of staff, or taking 2 hours to do a 40-minute journey when they actually run. Apparently there is another strike next week but TBH it’s not going to make a difference to me because my trains rarely run anyway!
Apart from the endless cancellations falsely blamed on staff sickness, how are disabled people such as myself supposed to manage when there are no guards to operate the ramps, most platform staff having already been dispensed with?
Stupid question I suppose. The simple answer is that cripples like me aren’t wanted on Southern’s trains. Management obviously considers us a liability.
Every time I travel, I have to book “assistance” at least 24 hours in advance, but there is seldom anyone available to provide that assistance, so again it falls to the guard to get me on and off the train, so what’s the point in booking?
On Monday this week (June 13th), I travelled from Portslade to Eastbourne, and for once the trains not only arrived, but arrived on time. Usually they’re cancelled, so again, what’s the point in booking a journey on a train that doesn’t run, or, worse, runs but doesn’t stop at any stations?
Portslade station, as always nowadays, was closed, having apparently been abandoned weeks ago, so no assistance there. What happened to the four people who used to work at this station?
There was nobody at Brighton to get me off the train or onto the next one, so again the guards had to do this.
We arrived at Eastbourne, where there were already two trains waiting at the platform, presumably cancelled, and again there was nobody available to get me off the train, so again the guard had to do it.
Staff cuts. Train cancellations. Pointless bookings. Now there’s talk of getting rid of the guards, so I won’t be able to travel at all.
I have nothing but praise for train guards and platform staff, even regarding some as friends, but where are the platform staff?
Trains are potentially dangerous things, and to imagine you can run a rail network with drivers only, and unstaffed stations, is insane and will result in fatalities.
Did you get a response? Perhaps we should go and hand deliver a letter to him at his home address? Happy to share his personal details with anyone who wants it.
What an excellent letter. Well done sir.
Best regards ed
Did you get a response from Mr. Horton ‘the best in the industry’ according to claire perry
[DELETED FOR LEGAL REASONS]
Delivering a better railway together what on earth are these clearly incompetent management banging on about! The only changes that should be made should be ‘sack the lot of them’ not staff but these morons who profess to be railway management!
Absolutely shockingly useless on a grand scale! No true private company would run a company like this! This is the worst of government interference there is! Not only does this lot need to go but the rail minister needs to go as well!
Private Eye described the arrangement with the government that Railwayman sets out. Clearly Peter Wilkinson is the man behind the stand-off. Travelling from Kent, my MP’s assistant can’t seem to grasp that I have raise d a question about the arrangement between the civil service and Govia, rather than a complaint about the service. as I said, once the MP tells me who is actually specifying the cause of the situation, I will know who to complain to! So we have a Kafka-esque scenario causing misery for thousands.
I use the East Grinstead line each weekday and the last few months have become beyond a joke. I appear unable to get any form of compensation (despite the fact that station staff inform me I am entitled to it) and any time I contact (lack of) Customer Service my questions are met with total indifference. I am about to embark on a campaign where for every 2 services that arrive late I will refuse to pay for the 3rd. Not sure if there are other service providers who expect you to pay for a service that they fail to provide (and then expect you to return the next day as I have no other way of getting into work).
Just hoping for the day, soon please, that TFL take over the franchise and run it in such a way that profits are put back into the service and not the share holders (the vast majority of whom do not have to suffer at the hands of Southern Railways). I would love to know how many of Southern’s management team actually use their own trains to commute to work.
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I am a surviver of – sorry, commuter on the Thameslink franchise. Earlier this year I kept a daily diary of my journeys, which you can see here:
It’s incomprehensible that they are allowed to carry on with this. Surely there is some service level threshold in the contract. How much worse could they do?
I travel regularly from Brighton to Southampton where there is one through train per hour. Average journey time is now 3 hours rather than 1.45. It feels like we are helpless, unable to do anything to improve our plight with the government unwilling to do anything to intervene. I have seen postulated that the reason for this is that they are backing Southern so that conductors can eventually be done away with, whatever the result is misery. There is much focus on the London Brighton line but the coastway section is equally poor.
I have been sent a link to your Guardian article by my husband who tried to come home from Victoria by train last Friday after attending training in town. I was stuck on Clapham Junction station as usual when he sent my a text saying his train had been cancelled and “welcome to your world.” I have a one hour 10 minute commute from West Norwood to Wimbledon via Clapham Junction. I used to do a similar commute from Tulse Hill to Wimbledon Chase on the Thameslink line but with only 1 train every 30 minutes a cancellation has a huge impact and most galling was when they frequently put up a delay but at the last minute cancelled the train only for them to put it through the station without stopping to make up time. I changed my route, paying more to go to Clapham Junction on the basis that the trains were more frequent but over the last couple of weeks I rarely get away with just being able to get on my timetabled trains on both the outward and return journeys. I leave the house at 7 am and should get back by 6.10pm but that has rarely been the case of late. Usually if a company delivers such a poor service you switch. I have already done that once but I am not sure what else I can do. Parking is very difficult in Wimbledon and at 56 I am not sure I can physically do the cycle but I have seriously contemplated it. It is ridiculous. One Friday a poor woman on the platform was desperate. She was supposed to pick her children up by 6pm from Crystal Palace. She was staying on my platform but her husband was going via East Croydon to see which of them could get there first. We do not deserve this after a days work and paying the fares we pay.
I’ve been spreading the word on Southern Rail’s Twitter feed as much as possible that the ‘staff shortage’ explanation is clearly an effort by the management to shift blame onto the station and crew staff. Not exactly a revolution, but I’m not sure what else I can do really. My girlfriends dad is a train driver, so I get to know some of the stories behind the story so to speak. I heard the other day how a driver offered to cover someone else’s shift and they turned him down because they’d already cancelled the train – even though he was there and happy to do it! For now I think social media is the best weapon though – if word can be spread to other customers about what is really happening we can help to keep public opinion behind the drivers and other station and crew staff.
I am being inflicted by the chaos on a daily basis and I’ve added a survey to survey monkey on Southern from my local stations. It’s open to all as the more people that complete the greater the impact.
If anyone’s not filled in the Southern customer satisfaction survey please do. I am going to collate the results and share them next week.
A brilliant letter sir! My visually impaired daughter is travelling at this very moment on a train to Bognor Regis from Kings Cross, supposed to depart London at 7.02pm – it was unsurprisingly late. She is wanting the loo but hey! Guess what? BOTH loos are out of order!!!
Shame on you sir and shame on your company.
Further to my earlier comment, this Saturday (June 18th) I had arranged “assistance” as a disabled person, but this seldom materialises nowadays.
My train out of Brighton was cancelled, seemingly at the last minute. I was able to get a train twenty minutes later, but there was no sign of the guard when I arrived at my destination. I leaned out of the door in an attempt to attract his attention, to let him know I needed a ramp, but he just looked at me, got back on the train and closed the doors.
I immediately pressed the alarm, but this too was ignored and I was taken two stations further on.
The guard then apologised, admitting that he knew where I was supposed to be getting off.
If he knew where I wanted to get off, why did he decide to trap me on the train? I wasn’t his only “victim”. There was a parent with a young child who couldn’t get off because my mobility scooter was blocking the exit.
The next train back was cancelled, so by the time I reached my destination, I was almost exactly an hour late.
I have since spoken to another member of staff, who said the “guard” who failed to get me off the train at my intended destination “was probably a manager” being trained as a guard in preparation for something planned as the “next stage” in all this intentional chaos.
In today’s evening rush hour I watched a lady get her bag and arm trapped by a closing door at Victoria, she was already on the train when the doors closed, but due to the intense overcrowding, she somehow got caught. Due to the way she was trapped, it must have been extremely scary for her as she was completely stuck and the train ready to leave. Rather than the platform staff deal with the situation in a professional manner, I witnessed them give her a torrent of abuse about how she had been told to stand away. I heard the member of staff say “if you get injured, it’s your own fault”. I was amazed at how rude the staff were. Southern are not only failing to run a service, but are not dealing with the increasingly dangerous situations on the platforms. They are not equipping their staff to deal with the thousands of angry passengers, or the incidents arising from overcrowding due to very poorly managed cancellations and train alterations. On many occasions I have listened to the drivers and conductors undermine their own management once we have left the station by announcing via the train tannoy what a farce it all is. It’s hard to see an end to the situation, but with attitudes like the ones I witnessed today, I feel it is only a matter of time before there is either injuries or assaults on their staff as a result. Perhaps then someone will take some meaningful action.
Can anyone explain why from August Southern will be operating trains with the driver closing the doors i.e. no guards, when my train on Friday was cancelled due to no guard?
Are we getting new trains which do not need guards?
Because, if we are not and the guard is needed now, why are Southern doing away with the guard?
I bet Charles Horton doesn’t travel to work on the train.
There needs to be a commuter strike – let’s not pay for our tickets any longer then they’ll take note.
Please Charles Horton (and your senior management staff)- Resign and hand over all your rail responsibilities to anybody else, I have had enough of your nonsense, I beleive you have enough money from this job role to be able to retire into obscurity. Go now and do something honourable at last!
The amount of excuses that are being thrown out about the Southern Rail delays, is quite frankly, ridiculous, what I wouldn’t give for some CEO to spell out the brutal honest truth for once.