(Charing Cross departure board, via @dollyrockaUK)
Southeastern’s managing director Charles Horton is to be asked to explain the rail company’s performance to MPs as its service crumbled following a second night of snow in south-east London and Kent.
Responding to complaints about the company’s performance on Twitter, Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless said he and other MPs would be asking the rail boss to “explain [the] current service failure”.
The Conservative representative has been a critic of the beleagured company in the past, last week criticising its steep fare rises for passengers outside London.
Wednesday saw Southeastern implement a contingency timetable on all its routes, but in practice many passengers found trains were not running at all – and found information given online clashed with what they found at stations.
Company spokesman Jon Hay-Campbell told BBC Radio Kent there’d “obviously been some breakdown in communication” between Southeastern’s own website and the National Rail Enquiries site, which many passengers use for train information.
Individual applications for refunds would be looked at he added, maintaining the company had been prepared for snow, but had been caught out by a band of bad weather on Tuesday afternoon.
Labour London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone attacked the government and mayor Boris Johnson, saying there was “not a peep” from transport secretary Phil Hammond on getting Southeastern to “raise its game”, adding: “Why is the mayor not speaking up for London over road and Southeastern train chaos?”
UPDATE 3PM: Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon said: “If Southeastern cannot maintain a full train service at the very least it must keep its passengers fully updated about the reduced service they are currently providing, starting with far more accurate and useful information being provided on their website.
“In addition there are simply no excuses for any station not keeping its passengers fully updated. At a time of such a disrupted service it is vital that information is continually made available via electronic boards and audible announcements at every station.”
Incredibly, the above was the only reliable info coming out of Southeastern on Wednesday morning – the unofficial Twitter account of a train driver, with the @Train_Driver being much more of a credit to the company than any of its official PR staff.
Coincidentally, a report was released by a rail watchdog on how companies can deal with delays – with Southeastern’s head-in-snow attitude demonstrating just how not to do it. Filling the vacuum left by the company’s refusal to communicate directly with customers on the medium, passengers have been swapping tips using the #southeastern hashtag on Twitter, and a number of spoof accounts filling the breach.
I had a quick peek at Southeastern’s website at around 7.30am, saw a claim of a half-hourly service on the Greenwich line, then checked the live departure board to discover this was actually cobblers. Thankfully, I got to stay in bed…
A quick peek on LinkedIn reveals the hapless Jon Hay-Campbell’s CV proclaims he has “extensive experience of crisis management”. Ouch. His other roles at Southeastern include “sensitive financial media announcements on fare rises and subsidy enhancements to protect corporate reputation” – after all, we wouldn’t want to know how much taxpayers’ dosh Southeastern trousers each year, would we?
Looking deeper into the @Train_Driver account, it’s easy to see that all is not well at Southeastern, which has found that revenues from its much-publicised high-speed trains haven’t been as successful as planned. Tales of staff cutbacks abound, with one telling tweet from April: “Heard a rumour that #southeastern offered franchise back to the government, but they would have wanted last year’s subsidy back.”
Last year’s subsidy was £107m, this year’s is £87m, according to these figures. Parent company Go-Ahead’s last pre-tax profit was £88m. Add this to the insane way the railway is split up, with many of Southeastern’s woes being down to Network Rail’s problems, and it’s not hard to see an unholy, costly mess where the only winners are Go-Ahead’s shareholders.
With that in mind, and watching Ed Miliband’s dismal display at Prime Minister’s Questions, a thought struck me – if he’s looking for a policy that’ll restore his party’s appeal to the “stressed middle”, perhaps reversing Labour’s support for rail privatisation might just be a start for the thousands screwed over by Southeastern.
I could have contacted Southeastern about this post, but they “don’t respond to blogs, etc,” etc…