A critical report by the National Audit Office (NAO) says passengers on Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern services have dealt with the worst disruptions in recent years, pointing the blame at Govia Thameslink and the Department for Transport.
The report shows that franchises run by Govia Thameslink make up for 19 per cent of timetabled services and only 62 per cent of those arrived at their destination within five minutes of the scheduled time at the peak of disruption in November and December 2016.
The NAO found that 7.7 per cent of services were cancelled or delayed by more than 30 minutes between July 2015 and March 2017, compared with an average of 2.8 per cent on the rest of the rail network. In damning statistics, the NAO calculated that 60 per cent of all cancellations and delays were caused by Govia Thameslink, mainly due to industrial action and shortages in drivers and crew.
While £300 million of funding has been provided to carry our work to improve the resilience of the network infrastructure, Network Rail estimates that up to £900 million of work is needed to improve reliability on Thameslink services.
The NAO report points partial blame on the Department for Transport, saying the department did not take sufficient consideration of the risks involved when it agreed to retain fare revenue rather than allowing Govia Thameslink to keep it. The NAO believes the contract is one of the most complex in the country and that the department did not fully develop a plan for the individual elements to work together.
Furthermore, the report says the Department for Transport did not plan accordingly for industrial action even though it knew there was a risk owing to Govia Thameslink’s plan to change the role of train guards. The NAO also believes the department did not seek assurance that Thameslink would have enough drivers when it took over the franchises, something for which Great Northern is still suffering.
Despite efforts by the Department for Transport and Govia Thameslink to improve services, the operating statistics on the franchises are still below initial expectations and network averages, according to the report. As a result, the NAO believes Thameslink passengers have not received good value for money up to this point, but there is the potential for the franchises to improve services for customers.
In response, Govia Thameslink CEO Charles Horton said: “The Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise is making good progress in delivering a major upgrade programme to improve reliability and boost capacity on the most congested part of the UK rail network, a complex project whose success is critical to the national economy. As part of the drive to modernise, we are pioneering improvements in trains and technology, and have updated practices for train drivers and crew that other operators are only now adopting.
“TSGN is the UK’s largest franchise – carrying almost a million passengers a day – and the report identifies numerous root causes for the challenges it has faced since its formation in 2014. These difficulties have sometimes been greater than expected and we regret the disruption caused to our passengers.
“It is only right that a franchise of TSGN’s unprecedented scale and ambition receives scrutiny, and I am more confident than ever that its trailblazing achievements will be felt by rail travellers for generations to come.”
Read a summary of the report here.