Broadcaster ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton, who lives near Horsham, reflects on the state of rail services. He writes:
Until Christmas, 2014, rail services between Horsham and Victoria were pretty reliable. There could be the odd delay of five or ten minutes, but nothing one couldn’t handle. Since the beginning of 2015 they have been disastrous and totally unreliable. As a regular commuter between Horsham and Victoria, I have witnessed the remarkable decline in this service over the past twelve months. Trains have often been late or cancelled. What has made this even worse is that in many cases passengers have been given no proper explanation of what is happening. Often we`ve been waiting on a station where advice on the illuminated board is completely different from what tannoy announcements are saying. Speaking to members of staff on the platform, we discover that they are as confused as we are.
What has brought about such a decline in a railway in the space of a year prompted me to write to the railway`s chief executive, Charles Horton asking for an explanation. To be fair, I had a very long reply from his customer relations man, James Ward. The year began badly, he said, because of development work at London Bridge which caused a knock on effect to services in and out of Victoria. Then there was the flooding on the line, problems with Network Rail`s infrastructure including signalling and power lines and a regrettable increase in trespass incidents, some of which tragically resulted in fatalities. There are also the problems of broken down trains and shortage of drivers. With that in mind, the railway is undertaking a driver recruitment campaign and, once found, it takes a year to train a new driver.
Regarding telling passengers what was happening, he wrote that the very information we need is extremely hard to come by given the fluid nature of the situation and that they would rather give out information later knowing it is correct that risk giving out contradictory messages every few minutes – although contradictory messages were one of the things I complained about. They are now, he said, recruiting `customer ambassadors` who will be tasked with delivering information to front line teams and passengers. Finally, he told me that when the Thameslink Programme is completed in late 2018 many services to central London will be changed to Thameslink using the new class-700 trains.
Meanwhile, we`re about to face a new hike in fares, though not as big as in recent years. With new houses being built all over the place, more and more people will be using the trains and they will become even more overcrowded. People have gone back to the railways because it takes so long to get to London by car. Then you face the congestion charge and finding somewhere to park. So Southern Railway have got us and, as they have a monopoly, we have no other other choice. A recent survey showed they are just about the worst performing railway in the country. More of us should complain. When trains are late we can ask for a refund. Unfortunately, finding out how to do that is almost as difficult as finding a train that runs on time.