The story so far – We have reason to believe that Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), who operate the Southern brand, is mismanaging the Tonbridge to Redhill line. In particular we have concerns over what happened on 30 December, when a number of trains were cancelled. GTR has been really unhelpful in communicating with us over this issue.
We first drew public attention to this issue on our website earlier this month and you can read the story here!
We originally raised our concerns with GTR on 1 January. The next we heard was a holding email on 21 of January and a more substantive response was not received until 31 January. These are serious issues and yet GTR took 30 days and sent a junior member of staff to respond to us.
Their response blamed staff 'unavailability' and late notice emergencies. Now a genuine late notice emergency (such as a driver being taken ill) is one thing, but we are sceptical as to whether this is the truth. It certainly goes against the credible information that we have received which suggests that staff were given a roster which did not match the public timetable and managers simply decided to cancel trains for hours on end rather than rejigging the roster. We have responded to GTR with some forensic questioning to try and ascertain the truth.
Meanwhile, we asked our local MP, Tom Tugendhat, to see if he could get any answers from GTR. In the response he received, GTR incorrectly claimed to have run all the trains that they expected to run that day. In fact, GTR cancelled two thirds of trains that day and managed to only run 12 trains despite scheduling 36. GTR have since corrected this to say they intended to run all services but driver sickness meant they could not.
Something does not add up on this and so we are pleased that Tom Tugendhat asked the organ grinder (the Department for Transport) rather than the monkey (GTR). This took of the form of a question in Parliament on the 14 February:
Tom Tugendhat MP’s Parliamentary Question on GTR’s Operation of the Tonbridge to Redhill Line
Whilst we are grateful that Tom brought our case to Parliament, we are disappointed with the minister’s response. As per the politician textbook, the minister answers a question that was not asked. The minister blames speed restrictions and states that punctuality is up to 90% in January 2019. Neither of which address Tom’s very specific point about the 30 December.
On the morning of this question, our dedicated contact at GTR (who had deigned not to get involved thus far) messaged us and asked for a telephone call to clear up any confusion. We do not believe there is any confusion on our part and urged GTR to respond in full in writing as soon as possible. GTR has since told us it does not have the capacity to do this for at least a week because of the Brighton mainline upgrade. This only confirms to us that the Tonbridge-Redhill line is unimportant to GTR and will always come second best to its other services. We of course appreciate that the Brighton mainline is an exceptionally important section of track, but GTR is a big organisation and it is not unreasonable to expect them to be able to cope with more than one issue at a time.
We have told GTR that part of solving a problem is accepting you have a problem. The users of its rail service deserve better.