Southern has finished rock bottom in several categories in the latest national survey of passenger satisfaction.
Independent watchdog Transport Focus’ data, gathered between mid-January and mid-March before the strikes and staff shortages led to huge levels of delays and cancellations in Sussex, showed that just 69 per cent of respondents were satisfied with Southern and Southeastern services, the joint lowest in Britain.
Southern finished with 16 per cent of passengers being dissatisfied, the highest score across the country.
Southeastern was ranked the worst for value for money, with Southern second worst, just ahead of the Gatwick Express.
On punctuality and reliability Southern scored the lowest with just 53 per cent being satisfied, followed by Southeastern and Thameslink.
Southern also finished bottom when graded on how well delays were dealt with and satisfaction with the stations it manages,
Alex Foulds Southern’s passenger services director, said: “We are disappointed but not surprised with these results. The survey was carried out after a prolonged period of poor performance due to the constraints of London Bridge.
“The effects of a new timetable introduced in December to improve performance were then lost amidst a series of infrastructure failures which severely affected punctuality and reliability during the survey period.
“These coupled with the after effects of Storm Imogen and two train failures in key locations made for a pretty miserable time for passengers.
“Once through this challenging period we did start to see performance begin to improve, although this has now been overtaken by the recent industrial action.
“We recognise there is much to do and we continue to work hard with Network Rail to improve the performance of our network and our plans to improve customer service on our trains and stations, should ultimately deliver a better experience for all our passengers. We thank them for their patience.”
According to Southern, plans to improve customer service include the introduction of On-Board Supervisors on trains who will be more visible and available to passengers; making staff at 83 stations more visible and available to customers on the concourse, at the same time as cutting ticket office opening hours, real-time passenger information systems on its more modern trains and smart phones for platform staff.
Angie Doll, Gatwick Express passenger services director, said: “We fully understand the reasons why Gatwick Express didn’t score as well as the same time last year.
“A series of infrastructure failures which severely affected punctuality and reliability during the survey period, coupled with some cancelled trains while we trained our drivers in readiness for our new trains made for a difficult time for our passengers.
“However, we have plans to introduce improvements that will be of great benefit for our passengers over the coming weeks. Since March, passengers have continued to see and experience the benefit of the introduction of our brand new 387/2 trains to replace our 30-year old trains.
“These new trains have real-time passenger information systems, power sockets throughout, are Wi-Fi enabled, fully air-conditioned and are much more suited for airport passengers than the trains they are replacing. We also plan that every Gatwick Express train will have an On-board Supervisor between Gatwick and Victoria to offer great customer service.
“Gatwick Station we will see a new Gatwick Express Lounge including a dedicated entrance portal to platforms 5/6, new seating and a ‘countdown’ clock to the next Gatwick Express service to London and we’ll also be launching a new Gatwick Express phone app to assist with customer journeys from train to plane and plane to train.”
Steve Knight, Network Rail’s area director, said: “Our job is to provide Southern with the best infrastructure possible so they can run a reliable service. We faced some challenges during the winter, both with the weather and our equipment, but by working closely with Southern I’m pleased to say our railway infrastructure has been improving.
“We are continuing to work closely with them through this current industrial dispute and I’m confident that passengers will see improvements when that is resolved.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive at Transport Focus, said: “Many passengers are feeling the strain. As passenger numbers rise and welcome investment is put in place some passengers are having a difficult time with delays and cancellations making journeys stressful. Simply getting on a train has become a struggle for some.
“Passengers’ main need is for a reliable railway. Our latest NRPS results, in London and the south east in particular, clearly show that for many this is not happening right now. Passengers want their reliable railway back.”
Southeastern scores are the subject of a technical query and may need to be revised at a future date – as such their current scores should be treated as provisional. This could also affect the overall and sector score.
David Statham, managing director of Southeastern, said: “The latest National Rail Passenger Survey figures are a snap shot of a very difficult period for Southeastern passengers last winter.
“The survey was undertaken during the winter months when severe weather and infrastructure issues meant we were not able to give our passengers the services we want to provide and that they rightfully expect.
“Together with Network Rail, our job is to improve reliability, and I want to reassure our passengers that is what we are completely focused on. We have worked very closely with Network Rail to bring about a number of improvements since then. These include investing in more frontline employees and in track infrastructure in the areas where major disruption is most likely to occur.”
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