Saturday, 31 January 2015

Thameslink - No way to run a railway

The London Borough of Barnet is a Borough where many of the residents are commuters. We are blessed with fantastic railway connections into London, built in the Victorian Era and good tune services, built in the early part of the last century. These links shaped the borough and brought prosperity to the locality. As a Mill Hill resident, I can get to my office on Bankside in just over half an hour on a good day, with a fast train from Mill Hill Broadway to Blackfriars. The Thameslink service was originally opened by British Rail in the 1980's, this was an extension to the old BedPan service from Bedford to St Pancras. At first Mill Hill was blessed with eight trains an hour in rush hour, four were stopping services and four were fast to Kings Cross Thameslink. Fast services took 12 minutes from Mill Hill to City Thamesling and stopping services 18 minutes. The Conservatives under John Major decided that it would be a marvellous idea to smash British Rail into hundreds of tiny pieces in perhaps the most controversial and stupid privatisation of all. I happened to find myself on the same train as Michael Portillo around the time of privatisation. He was on his way to address the Scottish Tories(yes there are some) and he explained that the whole thing had nothing to do with efficiency. It was all about destroying the power of the NUR and ASLEF. He explained that these unions were the only ones who could bring the country grinding to a halt. By smashing BR into three hundred smaller companies, all with their own agreements with unions, the likes of Bob Crowe couldn't bring the country grinding to a halt. Despite the Tories believing this was a risk worth taking, they never once have explained this to the British electorate.

The public mantra was that this was because private companies would bring innovation, modern technology and modern working practices to the system and it would become cheaper and more efficient.In the mid 1990's British Rail disappeared and we got the Thameslink Franchise run by Govia. For most commuters, this saw a deterioration in services. Services often ran late or were cancelled and no one was in the least bit surprised when they lost the franchise to First Group in 2004.

Sadly for Mill Hill commuters, any hope that First would be better were immediately dashed. They made swinging cuts to the services from Mill Hill, reducing the number of trains in rush hour down to four stopping services, with no fast services. This resulted in chronic overcrowding of slow services, which were invariably delayed as commuters fought to get on. Eventually First were forced to make some amends, so two of the fast trains were reinstated as "semi fast" trains, stopping only at West Hampstead. First had many disasters along the way, perhaps the worst was when they ran out of drivers and the network nearly ground to a halt.

To no one's surprise, they lost the franchise in 2014. Who did the government bring back? None other than Govia, who they'd kicked out in 2004. And guess what? Even though First Capital Connect were useless, Govia are so bad that many commuters are now missing them.

Over the last week, we've yet again had mayhem. Whilst the root cause was not down to Thameslink, the way they have managed the issues has been appalling. Commuters need proper information to plan their journey, but the Thameslink information website has been useless.

This has given no clue as to the extent of the problems and the information has been completely out of date. Even yesterday, when I was trying to get into town, the information was simply wrong. I had planned to take the 7.27 train from Mill Hill to Blackfriars. I checked the website at 7.16. It shpowed that the train was delayed and had not even left the first station, let alone be anywhere near Mill Hill. Knowing how bad Thamesling are at supplying information, I went to the station anyway. The train arrived bang on time and I was at Blackfriars two minutes early. If I'd believed their website, I'd have been late for my meeting, as this showed that the 7.48 was the next train.

In this day and age, there is no excuse for such an appalling lack of information. All week, I've stood on the platform as trains were halted by red lights. On Wednesday, I wanted to take th 17.00 from Blackfriars to Mill Hill. When I left the office at 16.45, the website said it was on time. When I got to Blackfriars, it was cancelled, but the previous train had not arrived. After standing on the platform, with no announcements for 25 minutes, the train finally pulled out. I arrived at Mill Hill at 18.03, over half an hour later than, I should have.

I then went on to the Thameslink website to see how I could claim compensation. It seems like I'm entitled to a couple of quid, if i go through all the rigmarol of scanning my ticket and filling in a long form. Ever wondered what you are entitled to?

What are you entitled to?

Compensation will be paid in National Rail Vouchers which can be used as payment (or part payment) towards any National Rail ticket, including season tickets.

Season ticket holders (weekly or longer)

We calculate compensation on the basis of you making one return journey every Monday to Friday and one return journey every fourth weekend. This gives 520 journeys on Mondays to Fridays and 26 journeys at weekends. So to calculate the refund value of each journey, we divide the cost of your season ticket by 546; Other period tickets are calculated pro-rata on the same basis.
  • an annual season ticket covers 546 single journeys
  • a six-monthly season ticket covers 273 single journeys
  • a quarterly season ticket covers 136.5 single journeys
  • a monthly season ticket covers 45.5 single journeys
  • a weekly season ticket covers 10.5 single journeys

 So I go through a load of hassle for vouchers worth a couple of quid, that I'll probably never use. What a complete load of bollocks(excuse my ire). I have an annual season ticket. They have caused me massive inconvenience, but I have the hassle of getting a pittance in vouchers in return, having wasted even more time. This is scandalous. All Season ticket holders should be entitled to an automatic refund when they renew or cash in their ticket, equaating to all the days that Thameslink failed to provide a decent service. They no that nearly no one claims compensation and they know that it costs them nothing. Why do the useless MP's in the Borough say nothing about this issue?

Then there is the wider issue. This cock up was partially caused by Network Rail not maintaining trackside drainage, according to Thames Water. Network Rail is the company which was set up to replace Railtrack. Railtrack was a private company, set up by the Tories to maintain the rail network. It failed when it's policy of shoddy maintenence and buying cheap steel rails from abroad caused a series of major rail crashes and the whole network ground to a  near halt as emergency speed limits were imposed on the network, whilst they found out where the dodgy batch of rails had been used. The most disgusting aspect of this scandal was that there was no accountabilty for the politicians who thought up the whole scheme. They were the ones responsible for the deaths. Wheras Portillo felt that it was bad that the unions could bring the country to a halt, the Tories never said a dickybird when shoddy contractors and badly run private companies did exactly the same thing.

The truth is that the fragmented nature of the rail industry means it is virtually impossible to get anyone to take responsibility. In the days of BR, the Thameslink line had a permanent way team based at Cricklewood, who had responsiblity for their section of track. The team knew the local issues and the lay of the land. Now different teams of contractors are bussed in as necessary. Is it any surprise that drains in tunnels are allowed to get clogged up. Anyone with half a brain would acknowledge that rail privatisation has been a disaster and should be reversed. Many Tories claim that privatisation has improved the railway. Tell me how less trains for more passengers, bad maintenance and bad customer services are an improvement. My guess is that these politicians never use the services they pontificate about. The railway is a vital part of life in our Brough, yet neither Matthew Offord or Mike Freer, our local MP's ever have anything to say about the useless privateers who make a profit from our misery. They should be leading the fight. In May, the pair of them deserve the sack by the electorate for ignoring the real needs of the people who expect their problems to be addressed.

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