Notes of an informal meeting held between members of the Lewes District Council Scrutiny Committee and representatives of Govia/Southern Rail held 10 November 2016
Cllr Gardiner welcomed Martin Grier - Head of Drivers, Stuart Meek - General Manager (Operations) and Deborah James from the communications team. It was noted with disappointment that Angie Doll, who had originally agreed to attend the meeting, was not able to be present.
- Govia representatives delivered a presentation which aimed to provide context and aid understanding. They explained that the franchise had started in 2014 with their management of Southern starting from 2015. The franchise had been set up with the aim of delivering the Thames Link improvement programme. An integral part of this has been a significant driver recruitment and training programme.
- Govia had been working with Network Rail to improve capacity, efficiency, quality and reliability in the face of increasing growth in passenger numbers. Modernisation and improvements, including increasing the number of trains, would be taking place over the next 2 ½ years. It was noted that these had been an historical underinvestment in infrastructure (in relation to track and signalling).
Q. What data can be provided to evidence this?
- Govia explained that 97p in every £1 went back into railway investment.
Q. How much per £1 went into investment previously? How much of an improvement is this?
- Govia would provide information about this following the meeting.
Q. what is Govia’s relationship with Network Rail – who is responsible for what?
- Govia explained that Network Rail were responsible for signalling and infrastructure and Govia responsible for station facilities, train facilities and ticketing. However, it was noted that Govia was heavily involved in planning future infrastructure changes with Network Rail.
Q. Is your driver training programme sufficient for future demands?
- Govia said that they had 200+ drivers in training which was as 13 month programme. However drivers did leave the service, so they constantly had recruitment and training taking place. They had 937 drivers currently in place which was enough in terms of the business model but more always needed to be trained. Martin Grier - Head of Drivers noted that he had been in post for 2 years and constantly planned to deal with shortages, but the best of planning does not always solve the problem.
Q. Reliability has been poor since 2015, so this is not a new problem. What are you doing about it?
- Govia explained that it was not just about the quantity of drivers but also ensuring they are in the right location at the right time to meet the business need. It was noted that more trains were being operated across the network which put more pressure across the network as a whole. Brighton mainline in particular was running more trains. More information about this was requested by Members and Govia agreed to provide this.
Q. How are communication issues being addressed so that customers know what’s going on?
- Govia explained that running the control centre is straightforward, but managing and fixing the flow of information is one of the most challenging aspects to solve. They explained that staff are trying to deal with communicating with customers alongside other aspects of problem solving when things go wrong – but that they expect staff to do this, and make it a priority. Govia explained their process to deal with moderate disruption, but explained that this could breakdown when dealing with severe (multiple) disruptions
It was noted that Brighton mainline was often the problem and that the only solution in the long term would be to invest in more railways to take the pressure off this route.
Q. Do you believe in the long term, once improvement works are complete (at London Bridge), that performance will improve?
- Govia said that this should be by 2018, and, yes, that performance should improve.
Q. A question was asked in relation to a graph in Govia’s presentation. The highlight on high peaks on performance was considered misleading.
- Govia agreed to provide an additional slide which would capture the projected improvements in the period leading up to 2018.
Q. Can you explain the current industrial action relating to the guard’s role?
- Govia explained that a change was being made from ‘conductors’ to ‘on-board supervisors’ (OBS). The only difference between the two roles was that the OBS was not required to close the doors of the train, this role being undertaken by the driver. This would enable the train to run in the exceptional circumstance of an OBS being unavailable. However, it was noted that Govia were still fully committed to running trains with two staff.
Q. How would this change impact on those needed additional support such as older or disabled people?
- Govia indicated that if they were aware there was someone on the train in need of additional help, that help would be arranged at the relevant station. However, they conceded that this could only be done if they were aware of the person’s needs. It was noted that some rural stations are un-staffed and that this, together with the lack of an OBS would make it difficult for customers.
- Govia stressed their desire to improve customer service and explained that the OBS would be in a position to provide better customer service because they could focus entirely on this, without the need to operate doors.
Q. Will the OBS have safety training?
- Govia indicated that all OBS would receive the same level of safety training as conductors.
Q. Why has the industrial action continued for so long?
- Govia explained that they were doing all they could do resolve the situation. They had made 100% commitment to continue to run all services with both a driver and an OBS. They had offered increased salaries to staff taking the OBS role. They stressed that it was not about cutting costs but about improving customer service. There were no redundancies being made and no reductions in staff numbers. Govia expressed the view that the Union were stuck on a point of principle regarding the conductor’s role in closing doors.
Q. How will the 2018 changes to the timetable affect our area? Will there be less trains to Newhaven and Seaford?
- Govia offered to provide further documentation about the 2018 timetable consultation which would make clearer the changes proposed and the impact for the local area.
Q. What can we do to help as a Scrutiny Committee?
- Govia asked that the Councillors help others to understand their intentions with regard to the OBS role and to communicate that they are working really hard with the Unions and Network Rail to try to make things better. They asked that Councillors encourage others to respond to the 2018 timetable consultation.
Q. How do you define a ‘good service’ – have you asked customers what they want in relation to 2 person operated trains and the OBS role?
- Govia explained that they have listened to customers views. They said that attend stakeholder groups, public meetings etc in order to hear views and then make changes in response to the views expressed. However, they noted that it was a part of their franchise agreement that they move to being able to offer single operator trains in exceptional circumstances. They noted that the government intend to add this requirement to other franchises when they are renewed.
Cllr Gardiner thanked Govia for attending and requested that a channel of communication be maintained for future dialogue. It was confirmed that Gavin Bostock would provide first point of contact for Govia for this purpose.