Saturday, 25 June 2016

They Tried to Run a Railway ...

... and Failed?
One of the best books, and surely essential reading for ALL current railway managers, is "I Tried to Run a Railway" by the late great Gerry Fiennes. (Fie as in "fie to you, good sir" with "nnes").
fbb lent his copy to a chum and has never got it back! Fiennes lost his job with British Railways as a reward for his honesty. It would be fair to say that, although he had union trouble at times, his big bugbear was with the British Railways Board [BRB] and its repeated changes of policy.

Replace the BRB with Department for Transport [DaFT] and Gerry Fiennes with Charles Horton, ...
... GoAhead's rail boss, and you have a similar challenge.

How did we get to this position? Four chunks of the privatised railway have been glued together by DaFT to form the huge GTR franchise. 

"Southern" is successor to the London Brighton and South Coast Railway, later the "Central" division of the Southern Railway operating services out of London Victoria.

"Great Northern" (formerly West Anglia and Great Northern) covers the suburban services operated out of Kings Cross.

"Thameslink" created the beginnings of the oddities by taking suburban services into St Pancras though the reopened Snow Hill tunnels and south to Brighton.

Add to the mix "Gatwick Express" which, under British Railways, was hijacked by the InterCity "Sector" and the grounds are prepared for the present "troubles". Under privatisation this created three separate railway companies vying from business south of the Thames. Commercial freedom for the benefit of passengers or recipe for utter chaos?

To finally stir the pot, the "Thameslink 2000" project staggered into life after years of alternating proposal and postponement making it necessary to rewrite the business structure. This massive engineering project, including the rebuilding of |London Bridge Station is due to take even more trains through the tunnels.

Exciting times but challenging times for management.

Which leads us to Southern's guards.
Historically UK (and US) stagecoaches needed to carry an armed guard to protect passengers and their belongings from attack. In modern railway terms the guard was/is still charged with passenger care and protection leaving the driver to concentrate on driving.

Guards, you may remember, would sprint along a train slamming the doors, blowing whistles and waving a green flag for the "off". Now, doors are controlled centrally, the starting signal is an electronic ping ping. On the London Underground and some suburban "big railway" lines, guards have gone, leaving the driver in sole charge of train and passengers.

So what's up with Southern? fbb's recent journey to spend a few days with No 3 son experienced train cancellations caused, we are told, by "staff sickness". (read again). And then there were strikes.

The beleaguered Mr Horton shot off an email to his customers.
The text went on to stress that no guards would lose their jobs; no guards would get a pay cut; all that would happen would be that the drivers would operate the train doors thus release the guards to spend more time with the passengers.
But the Union doesn't see it that way.
Of course,playing the "safety" card is nonsense. Passengers are no more or less safe whoever operates the doors. On the other hand, if Mr Horton really has no plans to remove guards from trains why provoke a hoo-hah?

Now comes the "thin end of the wedge!" argument. IF the guard doesn't have to operate the doors, then a train can "safely" run without one. So the next stage IS Driver Only Operation.

Maybe the Union is right. Maybe the paymasters and policy pushers are, indeed, the DaFT. Southern is run on a "management contract" whereby they run the trains for a fixed fee and the Treasury keeps the fares revenue. So the Company might not lose a penny if there is a strike; in which case why not force the issue.

Only the passengers suffer a bit. Ha Ha!

But it never rains but it pours (literally). The Company struggled through the strike on 21st with major service changes, (click on the map extracts to enlarge then)

Inner suburban routes ran normally (GREEN lines) ...
... because they don't have guards anyway! The main lines (ORANGE) ...
... had a reduces service. On the RED lines, no Southern trains ran.
As well as the missing links above, there was no Southern service between Dorking and Horsham ...
... and west of Chichester.
So for longer distance travellers, a day of crushed misery at best. No further strikes have been announced, but "staff absence" will continue to be a problem.

But last week, after struggling through Tuesday 21st, poor Mt Horton and his chums were dealt another blow on Wednesday and Thursday.
Oh dear. Third rail electrification and signal cables are not the best friends with flood water ...
... as you can see.
"He tried to run a railway", how he tried!

 Tomorrow a one, three and brake blog : Sunday 26th June 

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