Train commutes can be stressful enough, fraught with: disputes over seating arrangements; unpleasant body odour; noise pollution; invasion of personal space; worry about offending that lady by offering her a seat (is she younger than she looks/is she pregnant not?); the smell of fast food or worse on the late-night ‘vomit comet’ – the list is endless.

All this anxiety before the real frustration of trying to actually arrive to work and home again on time.

Southern Rail are the main offender

Passenger train operators across the UK strive to be punctual and safe, yet commuters in the Southern Rail region find themselves constantly complaining about the service which consists of repeatedly delayed and cancelled trains which ruins their professional and private arrangements completely. 

Reasons given for delays and cancellations range from lack of staff, speed restrictions, sunlight, sink holes, track-side fires, weather (of course!), objects on overhead wires and all-too-many suicide attempts. Some of these unfortunate incidents cannot be helped of course, but on a day-to-day basis inside sources are blaming disjointed management for the terrible service. Southern are uniquely being used as guinea pigs by the Department for Transport - the DfT have set out new targets and strategies but it is Go Ahead transport company franchise Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) which is challenged with the implementation. Low morale among the customer-facing workforce following changes to their employment terms and conditions is also rife, which does not help placate irate passengers. Just this week staff have voted in favour of further industrial action following GTR proposals to close or reduce hours at 83 ticket offices which could lead to over 100 job losses.

According to Network Rail, the national public performance measure (PPM) – the percentage of trains pulling into their final destination on time – was 87.4% for the period 26th June-23rd July 2016. While Merseyrail beat them all on punctuality with 96.1%, six out of twenty-three train companies fell below this level. Five only failed marginally, but GTR seriously neglected the public with a horrendously poor 70.4% success rate. 

Southern Rail company information states that they provide 2,242 services each weekday, 2,076 on a Saturday and 1,242 on Sundays. By my calculations, based on the latest 70.4% PPM, this means that a whopping 223,600 train journeys could run late during 2016 – that’s 4,300 each week. No wonder people are complaining!

Some that have given up hope of a decent train service have instead turned to satire

The Daily Mash produces regular comedic articles about current affairs, and Southern Rail has fallen prey to their content writers several times. Snippets of articles include “A five-day strike has left commuters with about the same chance of getting to work as usual”, “A group of New York mobsters has visited Britain to get tips on exploitation from train companies” and “Rail bosses have given up trying to control their trains and have set them free to roam wild”.  

And Brighton-based web developers RamJam launched Southern Rail Tycoon last month – a game in which you aim to cancel train services by preventing guards from alighting, and collect profits from the waiting passengers. In addition to whimsically killing time on the platform, when the game ends it informatively gives you the link to Southern Rail’s compensation procedures!

Fair fare protests

Clearly commuters to London do not feel they are getting value for money, with a Southern Gold Card season ticket currently costing up to £4,844 depending upon the embarkation point. Despite the terrible service fueling rage among passengers, rail bosses have announced that fares will increase across the UK yet again by 1.9% in January 2017 following this week’s release of July’s Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation report. That’s an extra £92 a year for a season ticket holder travelling from Haywards Heath to London zones 1-6. 

Way out of sync with pay rises over the past five years, this price increase has disgusted campaigners who are now calling for nationalisation of the UK’s rail network. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined protesters at London Bridge station, promising that his party would “rebuild and transform” the UK’s rail network if elected into power, and suggested that nationalisation, i.e. transferring ownership to the public, could raise sufficient funds to reduce fares by 10%. 

While MPs demand that Southern Rail should be exempt from the hike, Frances O’Grady of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) summarised: “Rail passengers are paying more and getting even less. Fares go up while trains remain overcrowded, stations are unstaffed, and rail companies cut the guards who ensure journeys run smoothly and safely. Enough is enough. It’s time for rail services to be publicly owned, saving money for passengers and taxpayers alike.”

Isn’t it about time someone simply listened to the disgruntled masses and put Southern Rail customer satisfaction ahead of profit?