15 October 2014

The Questions (Part 3 of 3)

This is the second post from our hour with David Statham talking about Southeastern. This is the middle slot (we were broken up by two news/weather/travel bulletins).

For the first part click here, or second part

The rest of this post will have summaries of the questions and answers from the panel, and a bit of commentary from me (quotes used for what was actually said, you can, of course, refer to the audio link!)

I already prepared the Thank Yous at the bottom of this post, so they’ll stay for all parts of this blog.

Of course, you can listen to the whole hour again on via Soundcloud, if you can’t wait for me to type the rest up!

David and Julia Me asking a question

# Intro

Julia: John, a Medway Commuter, you were challenging David on the question of signal failures, what’s your question?

# Signal failures

John: There seems to be phenomenal signal failures from Medway into London, probably every week. When we get these failures - why do we have to pay, as commuters, to jump on the High Speed train (HS1). I was at Victoria a few weeks ago, on a Friday evening at 7.15pm, the system failed at Victoria. I asked one of the managers if we can use St Pancras, he said we’d have to pay (approx £3.80), but for a nearly-£5,000 per-year ticket, that’s a very bad solution. It took me one hour to persuade the managers at Victoria to let us go to St Pancras and use it for nothing. We got to St Pancras, and the train broke down outside of Stratford

Julia: That doesn’t sound like a happy day…

John: Why do we have to pay to use it when there’s a delay, personally, all trains from Medway when they’re late in the morning, we should be allowed on HS1 without paying more

David: We will, on occasion, open up the HS1 services to commuters from other lines. We done it this morning with issues in the Strood area (signalling equipment). We have ticket acceptance on HS1 this morning. There is a balance to be struck, HS1 is successful with lots of commuters. We have to strike a balance dependent on the nature and location of disruption to decide if let people from one part of the network onto another.

John: HS1 from Medway Towns in the morning is not packed, it’s half empty, you could let people onto those trains so they aren’t late for work. Trains are sometimes 30 mins late into Victoria, when we’re told we have to pay, I refuse to, and could be late for work. I plan to not be late for work, and factor in an hour in case there are delays

Julia: That’s interesting that commuters have to factor in some time in case of delays, it’d be nice if they didn’t have to do that, wouldn’t it?

David: It would be, it’s really important, I wanted to pick up on an earlier point about signalling and reliability. It’s really important for us to work closely with Network Rail on infrastructure. Infrastructure causes 70% of delays that passengers experience. There is a huge amount of work to make this more reliable.

Julia: Am I right in remembering you called us on BBC Radio Kent a while ago to set a challenge, would you like to repeat it?

John: I don’t see any improvements as such, as a commuter in the past few years, the past 18 months the service has got worse with signal failures etc.

Julia: What’s your challenge? Do you want him to experience it? Maybe he has?

John: He should come out with some of the commuters and see what we have to contend with most mornings, but it’s not every day we have these problems. It’s accumulated over the past 18 months.

Julia: You’re new in the job, would you travel with commuters to experience this?

David: “Of course, I travel on the trains every day, myself, I travel through a Southeastern station, I’ll happily come out and sort of spend some time with John on the train to sort of pick up on John’s experience, you make a good point around sort of deterioration and performance over the last year and it’s massively important to us that we address some of the infrastructure issues that you’ve seen. Now Network Rail are investing £145m in upgrading the signalling systems across East Kent in a programme that will take sort of through the next 18 months, so there is a lot of investment work going in to try and make sure that we avoid some of the problems that you’ve described”

My thoughts: I typed that last bit verbatim, I thought it was important. Part of that has to be a well rehearsed line…“I travel through a Southeastern station” - so he doesn’t actually use the service, just passes through an interchange. Very well worded as a response, which was obviously prepared. He does also say ‘sort of’ a lot, sort of.

Julia: You’ve had your moment John, sit tight, he’s doing the journey with you.

Email from Sam: Hello BBC Radio Kent, Southeastern are quick to blame Network Rail for all their woes but very frequently you will see trains being delayed or cancelled due to an unspecified train fault. The service got so bad earlier this year that I advised some friends looking to move to our area to choose somewhere else if they needed to commute by train. It’s desperately disappointing that they had their franchise renewed….thank you for shedding some light on the issue.

Do people need a bit more information? ‘train fault’ that’s you guys, not Network Rail isn’t it?

David: “Absolutely don’t want to sit here and point the finger at Network Rail, passengers will rightly expect us to work with Network Rail to address the infrastructure issues and that’s what we’ll do. We’ll work with Network rail to make sure the infrastructure more reliable. However, there are issues that are entirely within our gift to address in terms of particularly the reliability of the trains - that’s why over the next 3.5 years we’re going to be investing in new kit for trains about £800k going into better monitoring of on-train equipment to fix faults before they come up while we’re investing in replacing some of the parts on the trains that break down most frequently, so things like the door systems will be replaced….and we’re doing things with the timetable, so some of the things that causes delay in the timetable, like splitting and joining of trains at Faversham, we’ll be reducing that from January so that the timetable itself is more reliable”

My thoughts: What? He’s been blaming Network Rail for a multitude of delays so far in the interview, ‘70%’ was their fault just a few minutes ago. It’s so easy to hide behind Network Rail for delays, and I don’t believe that it is as high as 70%. There are so many train failures that cause knock-on effects to services. Shying away from the problem and blaming Network Rail isn’t the solution

Julia: On Twitter, Paul says: Permit machine at Dunton Green yet again not accepting most coins, I’m not expecting you to go out fix it David - his question is: Why not just extend Oyster? I know you have been asked to extend it only in the London area from St Pancras to Stratford? Would you consider an Oyster style system? Or just extending the London one?

David: Permit to Travel machines are getting to the end of their useful life, passenger feedback has shown this. We’re actually introducing more than 60 ticket vending machines for those stations, so passengers can buy a range of tickets from a machine. For Oyster, we’re working with TfL to “extend the system to places like Dartford and Swanley” which we know is something that passengers asked for.

My thoughts: No, not places like, these are the only two places Southeastern have been obliged to add Oyster too - sometime within the franchise, not immediately. I know very few passengers that have asked for this, saving 3 seconds each way to get through a barrier vs the minutes delay we experience daily isn’t a good trade off. I know our Dartford MP loved the fact Southeastern got the new Direct Award, and would bring Oyster to Dartford (jut one station out of the 7 Southeastern stations in the Borough), though I think he was one of a handful that actually saw this as a benefit to the people of Dartford.

Julia: Samantha: Look at train drivers wages, are they really justified at that rate? I don’t know what they are, what do you pay your train drivers?

David: We pay our drivers a good amount of money for what is an incredibly responsible job (Julia: How much?). So, train drivers earn on Southeastern slightly less than some of the train drivers on other companies (Julia: People want to hear the amount, they don’t know what that means?! How much is it?). Off the top of my head I can’t tell you

Julia: Let’s get one of your colleagues to get the salary of a train driver and we’ll get that before the end of the programme.

Julia: We’ve only got 5 minutes left, we’ve got our panel of four commuters, let’s rattle through another few issues, somebody wanted to talk about heating…Phil:

Me: Over the summer there’s a lot of people complaining that the trains were heated when it was really warm outside. I went into a long discussion with the customer service team, and in the end it transpired the set point is 21C, or in some cases, higher. Do you find that acceptable given your claims of environmental credentials, that you’re blowing hot air at around 30C.

Julia: You’re roasting your commuters during the summer, what are you going to do about it?

David: So, it’s a new issue on me Phil, only having been on the role for 3.5 weeks, it’s a new issue on me, something I’ve seen on other companies before, if we could pick up afterwards we’ll have a look and see what we can do about it.

My thoughts: and the fob-off. How he didn’t know that this issue would come up is beyond me? I’ve previously blogged this and got into long emails with their team on it. This made me realise that Southeastern’s own team didn’t do any research on the panel (or maybe the BBC didn’t reveal our names). Though it’s not too difficult to have searched this out on twitter.

He came to the panel, very unprepared, with only a notebook with key points, that he wanted to get across (granted, that’s what someone who is media trained would do, I had the same, on my iPad), but made no attempt to actually engage and respond to the questions raised by his commuters.

Julia: Who wants to talk about toilets? That’s John…

John: What are the toilets like on most of the trains today? They’re pretty poor, I went into Charing Cross today, the toilet was pretty dirty, no soap, no paper, nothing. And packed with commuters. Most of the toilets out of Victoria to the Medway towns are out of order.

Julia: What are you going to do about it?

David: Couple of bits around that, I think the first is in the medium term we’re looking to upgrade and refresh the toilets on some of the older trains across the network, around 190 units will be upgraded as part of the new franchise extension. In the short term it’s important that we focus on things like on-train cleaning, £0.5 million investment to try and make sure passengers have a better environment

Julia: But you have to get the cleaners through the train more quickly cos you’re doing away with the buffet service…quick question from Chris

Chris: We’re looking at a disruption survey at the moment at Rail Future and we hope that Southeastern are able to work with customers and realise that although there’s a tremendous amount of information around…there’s 3 of us sitting here with their iPads telling David how his trains are running…

Julia: Actually when we wanted to find out why the 1009 from Gillingham was cancelled, I must say these guys got it more quickly than any body from Southeastern, no disrespect, but the information is out there?

Chris: There’s a large amount of people that don’t do that and they do appreciate a face to face contact with somebody and up-to-date information at stations.

My thoughts: I agree, station information during delays collapse, the twitter feed is usually useless, and I have a bunch of bookmarks on my phone to look up station boards - which is how I managed to report on the cancelled train to Julia within a few seconds of her asking: it was cancelled from Charing Cross, and started from London Bridge, where it terminated early, due to being delayed. Ironic as that was part of my first question of the hour!

David: You’re absolutely right, people on occasion want to talk to a real member of staff. One of the things we’re going to be doing, with the timetable changes, we’re putting 170 staff on the ground to make sure customers can talk to somebody face to face when the timetable has changed.

My thoughts: I need to look this up, but is he saying the 170 staff are merely temporary to deal with the timetable change and information about it during that period?

Julia: Final thought from Peter, you’re our Maidstone commuter, you have 30 seconds

Peter: Quickest one is have you got any plans for part-time ticketing? Quite often, a lot of people are part-time (Julia: part-time season tickets?)

David: Great question, at the moment there isn’t anything in the next 3.5 years in the deal that we signed with the Government for part time season tickets, it doesn’t mean it’s something we wouldn’t be able to work on over the next few sort-of months as we know it’s something that’s important to passengers.

My thoughts: He won’t look at the in a few months, or even in the franchise period, there’s no incentive for him to, if it’s not in the contract!

Julia: How do you feel he’s done? David Statham’s only been in the job 3.5 weeks and has come here and answered your questions, do you feel this is a man you can do business with as a group of commuters?

John: I think there should be another meeting at this time next year to see how we’ve done in 12 months

Julia: What do you say? Will you come back in 12 months time?

David: Of course I will!

Julia: Fantastic

John: Can I say something quickly about the station staff in Medway. They’re always ready to help, very informative and they’re always on the front-line and they do their very best

Julia: I’m really grateful to you John for ending on a positive note, and I’m sure David is too…and we found out what train drivers earn

David: So they earn £44,000…

My thoughts

And there you go! That was a lot of words, but hopefully a good reference to look back on in a year’s time.

I certainly want to do this again in a year’s time to see how many of the promises he’s met, and how the service has improved, or not. I’ve mailed BBC Radio Kent to tell them this on the train home from work that afternoon, and will follow up over the coming months on this.

As David mentioned, he wanted to follow up after about heating, as well as PPM figures which we briefly discussed during the second break. Unfortunately we had an ‘Inspector Sands’ alert, that turned into a test evacuation (I’ll leave you to google that), so the station got a bit loud.

However, I have his business card and he’s invited me to contact him directly. Which I will in the coming week.

I’ll be sure to post the results up on that - so follow me on Twitter @philmonkey for when I do - or bookmark the page!

Thank yous

Thank you for BBC Radio Kent, and Southeastern, for hosting the session at Charing Cross Station. I hope that the listeners and commuters got something out of it.

And Dartford Living’s Editor for putting me forward for this (as well as Councillor Jonathon Hawkes who mailed me about it a few days after!)

Oh, and Peter Mount, who has an amazing amount of stats at uktra.in - was very useful for me to get stats together for one of my questions

Next part…

And I’m done with the transcript…but…

There’s one more to go - I want to summarise my thoughts on that hour, it was particularly challenging to be the one putting the questions, when I’m normally on the other side answering them! And listening back to the recording, I’m picking up on bits I missed. There were moments where I was frantically scrolling through my notes to compose a question or feedback, on what was said - none of the questions were directly from what I had pre-written - preparation is everything and all that.

Thank you for reading what has amounted to nearly 8,000 words for 40 minutes of radio. I hope you keep watching the blog, or follow me on twitter @philmonkey

If I don’t get to engage with you again, then happy travels, and I hope you’re not delayed too much!


Related posts:

26 February 2015 | The Year So Far ...

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Related links

Southeastern Railway Action Group
Dartford Rail Travellers' Association
Dartford Rail Travellers Association (Facebook)
Dartford Rail Travellers Association (Twitter)