The issues with Southern is really rather complex, so I’m going to have to break this down.

The History

Govia has been running the South Central service since 2001, renamed Southern in May 2004. They took over the service from Connex South Central that was relived of their franchise because of poor time keeping, 1 out 5 trains was late.

When the end of the franchise came up in 2009, reports suggested that TFL where interested in taking over the metro routes of Southern franchise as part of the Overground network. Nothing actually happened and the franchise was awarded to Govia again.

At the end of the South Central franchise in July 2015 it was merged into the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise which is owned Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

Southern did come under fire in 2007 and 2008 for changing timetables and where trains were split, this lead to increase in journey times for some customers and when trains were not split meant that customers expecting to go to Arun Valley where instead left in Horsham with no way to get to their destination.

They first came under fire for punctuality in January 2015 when it was reported that the 7:29 from Brighton to London Victoria failed to arrive on time on every 240 times it ran in 2014. In the year between April 2015 and March 2016, only 20% of the trains run on the Southern network arrived on time.

Before the issues with 2014, Southern was regarded as a good railway company. Not having many issues and generally offering a good service. Many of the same people who ran the company back then, run it now. So the argument that they don’t know how to operate a train company and should be stripped of such right, is frankly rubbish.

The Franchise

With the merge in 2015 to the TSGN franchise there was a change in the franchise. It became a service delivery contract, much in the same way the London Overground and London Buses work. The Department for Transport (DFT) set the requirements, TSGN must pay the DFT the rail fares they receive and collect a service fee from them. This service fee is fixed, so run your trains late or on time, they receive the same fee. However there are fines to be paid if the service is late. This type of contract is key to what is happening here. The DFT effectively tells TSGN what to do.

The idea behind this huge merger (TSGN is the largest rail company in the UK on many metrics) is that it would be easier to manage all of these payments and more if one single company is running through the lines that are restricted due to the London Bridge and Thameslink upgrade. This along with trackside issues with Network Rail lead to lots of issues with delays.

Back before nationalisation of the rail lines in 1948, historically each train company built and operated its own lines and stations. This meant that there were slight differences with how each one was run, and even under British rail these were not changed. So current day we have Southern that on its mainline routes runs with a driver and a guard. The guard controls the doors. On the Thameslink service there is no guard, all trains are DOO. The merger of these under this franchise is eventually going to see them using the same rolling stock and having one running DOO and one not, it is going to cause issues.

Trackside Issues

There have unfortunately been plenty of trackside issues. With the works at London Bridge and on Thameslink reducing lines down heavily to sink holes under the train line hitting not once but twice! These issues aren’t anything to do with ‘Southern’, they are Network Rail issues, and when the work over runs or if there are just random signalling problems these can cause huge delays on the network, which results in cancelled trains, delays or even stations being skipped. Network Rail actually compensates GTR for this, and in 2015-2016 GTR claimed in £29 million. This is meant to be used to reimburse customers for delays to their journeys, however you have to submit to ‘Southern’ your claim to receive anything.

The combination of trackside issues, employee sickness and strikes in the middle of 2016 caused real issues for customers that rely on Southern trains to get to and from work. With wide-spread reports of people getting into trouble at work (with some even losing their jobs) and it regularly taking people several hours to get home and often missing time in the evenings with their kids.

DOO

When British Rail built the Thameslink route in the 1980’s it felt that the Guards role was redundant with the stock now being electric and thus the service has always been DOO. As mentioned in the franchise section, with Thameslink and Southern looking to share rolling stock, it makes sense that they both run in the same way. At present Southern already does run a DOO service on its metro, Gatwick Express and Brighton Express routes.

It has been mentioned by the RMT that as part of the Service Delivery Contract GTR will get a large bonus if they meet targets for reducing ticketless travel. It’s suggested that they are moving towards DOO so that guards can spend more time checking tickets. They also wouldn’t be compulsory (they are now) so the trains could run if they were not on board. I do recall that 10 years ago guards on Southern trains did check tickets when they could move about the train. I can’t recall any such activities recently, but that could be down to my usage of the train being very different now.

Staffing Issues

GTR runs Southern with a shortage of staff, they rely on overtime to get the trains back to locations where the next shift can take over. With the plan to update the stock and with changes to London Bridge, staff needed to be taken out of work and trained on the changes, leaving even less drivers for the trains.

The conductors are also run on a shortage, but Southern doesn’t appear to be training/hiring many. Instead looking to turn more services DOO. Some are mentioning that this is coming from the DFT

It was heavily reported that members of staff were pulling sick days as a form of protest and that this caused issues with services as they couldn’t run. It’s believed this was an issue at first, but the RMT have reported that Southern were using this as an excuse for months after. I recall reports of Southern removing staff parking privileges and travel cards, but I’m struggling to find any sources.

The Unions

The main player has been the RMT, with ASLEF striking in December 2016. From my understanding, the RMT are asking for the same agreements as Arriva Wales and First Scotrail, however the DFT aren’t agreeing to that.

The Unions are claiming an objection to DOO on the grounds on safety. Various reasons have been brought up. Mostly around passenger and driver safety. As the driver is not expected to leave his cab at all, and with the member of public not being able to get in contact with the driver if they are not conscious, then if there is an issue either side of the door, it isn’t something that can be easily dealt with.

It’s been commented on the quality of technology available in the cab for viewing the doors, and that on long trains the driver can’t possibly see if everyone is clear of the doors, especially on a curved platform. However, neither can the guard, although they may be more strategically positioned in the middle of the train which gives them a better view. Sometimes however they are only using a monitoring system within the train. At stations such as East Croydon, you have a dispatcher on the platform, sometimes even two, who let the guard/driver know when it is clear and safe to depart. And doors are often closed and locked up to 30 seconds before the train is leaving to make sure it is visible to all that there is no one stuck in the doors. At stations in London there are mirrors and monitors where drivers pull up and they use those to view the platform.

I can’t see any cases where DOO has specifically been a cause of an incident in the modern era of the railway. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. The British railway system is one of the safest in Europe.

Aslef have said the following on why they are striking:

The reason for today’s strike action on Southern Rail is because of a dispute with the company. Southern is withdrawing safety trained guards from its trains without consulting its staff or negotiating with their trade union reps. The driver of a 12 car trains carrying 1,100 passengers in the rush hour will have just two seconds to check 24 sets of doors. Professional train drivers know that this risks passengers’ safety. They may not see someone falling between the train and the platform, nor someone caught in the doors. And in an emergency, passengers may be at risk if the driver is working alone on the train.

With government backing, the company has broken longstanding agreements with the union that make sure train drivers can do their job safely. And worse, they haven’t properly consulted but have tried to impose changes through bullying and intimidation. No wonder there’s been such a huge loss of trust and goodwill on the part of union members towards the company. And it is this that has left us no option but to go on strike.

ASLEF’s constructive relationships with other rail companies show there is a better way. Earlier this year, we negotiated a positive agreement with ScotRail in Scotland. Southern have not been willing to follow this example and negotiate an agreement with us.

The dispute between ASLEF and Southern has also been made worse by political interference. It was clear that the Southern franchise was failing even before this dispute – it doesn’t even employ enough drivers to run all its scheduled services! Nonetheless, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has lined up behind the discredited company as it has made a mockery of its passengers and staff.

With record passenger numbers travelling on the trains, we need more rail staff, not fewer. We will get better services for passengers by investing in modern railway infrastructure and rolling stock – not by downgrading guards, taking them off trains and leaving drivers to manage trains on their own, something they are not prepared to do, given the risk to passengers.

We understand the anger felt by of regular commuters on the Southern franchise area and we share their frustration. Thank you for supporting your professional train drivers to keep you safe when you travel. If you want to show your support, tell @southernrail to abandon their plans to take safety trained guards off their trains.

This further backs up a few things said here, “government backing” although I think it’s more than just backing, more pushing. It probably isn’t fair to say that Southern has been failling before this despute, espcially if it is regarding staffing, as the franchise has been run that way with some success for quite some time.

As part of the strike, Aslef have told their drivers to not do overtime, basically banning it. This causes a problem when drivers have been needed to do overtime to get too and from locations. This appears to be something that is happening outside of the strike dates, so the foresable future could be even more painful for Southern users.

The DFT

As I mentioned previously, this isn’t a typical franchise. The DFT in effect tell GTR what they must do with TSGN. David Boyle received the following comment on his blog post The real reason Southern Rail services have imploded from a member of staff at Southern that wished to stay anonymous.

This is in fact a management contract which differ’s from every other agreement throughout the country. All other TOC’s hold something called a franchise agreement. Everyone is different but essentially they are responsible for the day to day running of that network. They have specific requirements they have to meet but they generally make the decisions, however with govia’s management agreement they have no control or make no decisions. All he terms, targets and and plans have been set out by the DFT. Govia are simply there to implement the changes.
This is unique and has occurred for one reason and one reason only. A test bed for the rest of the country.
In 2011 a report called the McNulty report was published and set out a number of wide ranging proposals for cutting cost on he railways. Since then the DFT has been putting together a plan to ‘streamline’ costing on the railway. One of the major changes was to rid the network of guards. (Along with many other members of staff)
What we are seeing (along with arriva Wales and first scotrail) is the beginning of these changes. Many people have asked why MP’s and media outlets have been so quite on the matter and as to why govia have no fear of losing the franchise. This is because they are purely the axemen. The DFT will not remove them as they want the company to be the face of the changes to avoid huge public objections aimed at the conservative government. The senior management are purely being told what to do. It’s written in their agreement. I have been through the 668 pages of the agreement and they are given financial bonuses based on the inline notation of the changes. However only a freedom of information request will allow us to obtain the actual financial figures. The CEO Charles Horton was brought in to do a similar job (albeit in a smaller scale) at connex. Peter wilkinson speech was an insight into the DFT’s and governments plans. It also per toy aligns with the plan to rid the country of unions.
After many failed attempts with filed bills both in the House of Parliament and House of Lords, the conservatives see this as a perfect opportunity to kill of the unions. No staff = no members = no unions.

This would certainly explain why there has been little action against GTR, as mentioned previously, GTR took over the South Central franchise in 2001 because it was performing badly. History certainly would suggest that the DFT would step in and attempt to sort this out. However if they have an alternative motive, then why would they?

The News and Politicians

It’s been widely reported in the news, but not in any real detail. We’ve only heard issues of guard sickness and unions striking. With all blame being pointed towards Southern.

There have been calls from MP’s and the Mayor to remove Southern of their franchise. With no hint of this ever happening. I personally see such calls from such people as a highlight of their lack of knowledge of what is going on. For example the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, calling for TFL to take over the metro routes is just pure pointless. As I’ve pointed out, the metro routes are already DOO. Taking that out of the TSGN franchise is pointless. Do we really think that the DFT would hand it over? I see ‘Southern’ as the puppet and the DFT as the puppet master, replacing the puppet with someone else isn’t going to change anything, the same strings will be pulled and we will only see the same results as passengers.

Summary

Is it even possible to sum this up? There hasn’t been any clear word from the DFT, but it is suspect that they are playing a part of this. Them being the puppet master is a great analogy, they aren’t visible but control everything we see and hear. Changing the puppet, in my opinion won’t change a thing. They are taking this opportunity to attempt to break the unions and roll out DOO across the board in an attempt to reduce costs on the train line. The usage of Southern is an attempt to keep the government out of the limelight.

Are we going to see the light at the end of the tunnel in 2017 or is our bumpy ride to work about to get stuck at a red signal?

Sources:

City Metric – The Southern Rail mess isn’t a privatisation failure – it’s a return to the 1970s

David Boyle – Southern Rail: mutualise not nationalise

London Reconections – Meltdown Monday: How Southern’s Problems Run Deeper Than Disputes

Turning the corner

December 9, 2016 — Leave a comment

British Cycling launched the campaign #TurningTheCorner. A campaign to simplify the rules around turning at junctions, to make it safe for cyclists and pedestrians and to reduce casualties.

I can’t fault the idea of making the roads safer. I’m 100% behind that. However I am concerned with how this is actually going to be implemented. If we look at countries which already have such rules in place, they usually A. have better infrastructure. B. the rules have been established for a while C. More people cycle, more people know people who cycle and generally cycling is more accepted, as such people are more aware.

I can just see now a stream of cyclists going northbound on CS7 past Clapham Common on approach to Rookery Road and a vehicle waiting to turn left, they will be there for one hell of a time. Approach speeds can easily be greater than 20mph and I would struggle to trust a driver to not turn across the path of the cyclists.

And I have many more examples of exactly the same at this junction.

We have a real life example of how a change to the road can fix this. A few years ago I witnessed a truck overtaking a cyclist at Oval and turning left across her, it very nearly resulted in her going under the wheels of said truck. Read about that case.

The junction as it used to be, cyclists going straight had to share a lane with motorists turning left.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-22-37-59

The junction now is very different, cyclists are separated from motor traffic and turning cars have a different phase of light.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-22-37-24

 

One way the dutch do it (when space is available) is fantastic. The turning traffic is 90 degrees to the cyclists, and as such do not need to rely on their mirrors to see cyclists, they look out their side windows and windscreen. Cyclists in this situation have priority and cars can only go when it is clear for them to do so.

To summarise. Changes need to be made, and London has been making some fantastic changes recently that has resulted in an increase in people cycling. But we need to improve the areas that don’t have such facilities and the rest of the country. I know that personally I would be cautious of passing a left indicating vehicle on the left, even if the law states that they must wait for me to pass.

That is what is being reported over the following video

But it is a little more complicated than that. As someone with extensive experience in dealing with the Police, CPS and the Courts in similar cases I thought I could shed some light on this, however I saw that a user called Dan S on road.cc posted a very good summary, it is listed below.

  1. It’s a hire car.
  2. The police did what they should have done and served a s172 notice, requiring the hire company to tell them who hired it.
  3. The car had been hired out to a man but with two permitted drivers: him and a female. They were also served with s172 notices requiring them to say which had been driving.
  4. They declined to say who had been driving. This is obviously extremely reprehensible. Note that at this point the fact of its being a hire car becomes irrelevant. It is exactly the same situation as if my car hits somebody (or just goes througha red light/speed camera) and my wife and I refuse to say which of us was driving.
  5. A few people have said that the failure to find out who it was shows that the police either don’t care or are incompetent. This is simply wrong. It is conceivable (likely, in fact) that the car went outside the view of CCTV. In any event the police would not have gone to CCTV until it became apparent that the car was a hire and the hirer wasn’t complying. Doing so would have been a complete waste of resources as most people do comply. By the time they got that far it is likely that any CCTV other than city council would have been wiped – most provate companies keep their CCTV for short periods only, to save space. You can only check out an alibi if they give one – they may not have done so.
  6. The same goes for mobile phone positioning, with the added complication that it is very difficult and very expensive to do a precise triangulation of mobile phone position. The bit that can be done relatively easily is call data. That just shows you which cells were used and this is not sufficient to say exactly where you were (it can be a range of several kilometers). It also only works if you are actually using your phone at the time. Anything beyond that rough position requires very time-consuming and expensive work. By which I mean that police resources are such that it is very rare to get it in cases like organised burglary and drug dealing gangs. This does not mean that the police don’t care about this case or about cycling generally. It means that they do not have infinite resources. Add complications like showing who had which phone at the time (basically impossible in some cases) and the decision not to go down that route is entirely right.
  7. Both were summonsed for failing to stop, failing to report and failing to respond to their s172 notices. The CPS (rightly) took the view that there was no prospect of conviction on the failing to stop and failing to report for exactly the same reason that there is no prospect of a conviction for dangerous driving: it is impossible to identify the driver. This, by the way, is not the CPS being incompetent of uncaring or a bunch of car drivers who cyclists. It’s the CPS applying the law.
  8. The male (presumably it was he who hired the car) was convicted of failing to answer the s172 notice. The female doesn’t appear to have been convicted, which makes sense – she would only be lawfully required to reply if she was the driver. Since we would only have the male’s word for that, she wouldn’t be convicted (the Prosecution not being able to rely on a Defendant’s word in their case).
  9. The male was fined £150. This is shockingly low. The maximum is £1000. This low fine is not the fault of the police or the CPS. It is a decision taken my magistrates. They have sentencing guidelines that they have to pay heed to but are free to excedd in appropriate case. Personally I would have thought that this justified a higher fine but I (like everybody else here) don’t know the details of what led to the decision, so cannot say for certain.
  10. The male received 6 penalty points. This is the maximum penalty in terms of driving punishment. The fact that this is the maximum is not the fault of the police, CPS or Magistrates. It is the fault of the Parliament of 1988 that passed the Road Traffic Act and of every Parliament since that has not increased it.
  11. Personally I feel that the penalty for willfully failing to provide details should be the same as the penalty for whatever offence the unidentified driver committed. It isn’t. If those who are talking about writing to MPs want to put something useful in their letters, leave aside calls for expensive infrastructure and education that will probably be ignored. Write and suggest an amendment to make wilfully failing to supply driver details punishable with the same penalty as the offence that the driver committed. That’s the actual lesson from this case.

This is not a case, as far as the reports show, where the police have been lazy, incompetent or uncaring about cyclists. Nor have the CPS. The only reprehensible behaviour has been by the driver and possibly by the other eligible driver (I say possibly because it may be that each said it was the other, in which case the non-driver has done nothing wrong). And possibly the court sentenced too low but really would a £1000 fine have reduced the justifiable sense of injustice here?

It is also a case that highlights a problem with the current legislation. That is not something that can be fixed by the police, the CPS or the courts. It needs a Bill in Parliament.

I shall add to point 9 that these fines are usually based on the income of the individual. I say this based on being involved in cases of the same nature where people have declined to say who was driving.

A mantra that I try to live by. Treat each commute as an adventure, don’t take the shortest route. Explore more and push yourself to travel further! But most of all, enjoy it!

A few months back TrafficDroid posted a short video of him being knocked off by a Taxi in London. Recently an update has been posted with the results.

So the basics of this is the cyclist was travelling in a straight line, thought the overtake was too close so sounded his horn. Driver stopped whilst moving to the left in an attempt to block the cyclist, cyclist carries on, driver passes again this time much closer, moving left and knocks the cyclist over and in between parked cars.

The results of this are 6 points on his license and a £700 fine + court costs.

Some might say, good result. But if I’m honest, I’m disappointed in our system. This was clearly a purposeful act and yet he only gets done for driving without due care, 6 points and a £700 fine.
Because Taxi drivers are self-employed, it is hard to say how much one earns. It’s often thrown around that they are tax dodgers. I don’t think the £700 fine is that much.

But lets put it this way. A professional driver purposefully used his vehicle to knock a vulnerable road user over and into some parked vehicles. If anyone in any other occupation did something comparable, they would be fired from their job and struggle to work in the same field again. Yet when it comes to professional drivers they are let off, back into the street to do the same to the next cyclist that doesn’t agree with him.

Why does our legal system allow this to happen? This sort of driving is not by mistake and it’s clear from his response of “what are you doing?” And not “oh my god are you ok? I’m so sorry” that he did this on purpose.

I won’t even mention the false witness statements that other taxi drivers who didn’t witness it are willing to put forward to help their buddy.