Dear Mr Drax,
I’m now 4 weeks into my job at South Western Railway, and since I joined my focus has been on getting more of our trains running on time, something I know our customers want.
We are gradually seeing signs of improvement, but still face some big challenges – like the derailed freight train at Eastleigh which shut down a good portion of our mainline last week, causing disruption for most of our network as trains were diverted or cancelled.
We run one of the busiest networks in Europe, so there’s no easy fix, but there are a number of things we’re doing to make the improvements our network needs. Here’s some examples of what we’re doing:
1. Making every second count – saving time is crucial on a network such as ours, with a train leaving or arriving at Waterloo every thirty seconds in the morning rush hour.
So, we’re taking a detailed look at stations from which our trains leave a couple of minutes late. Doing this allows us to find small but important ways to get more of our trains running on time.
This can include: helping passengers get on the less busy parts of the train to speed up boarding, working with stations teams to create action plans so that trains leave their first station on time, and our plans to give our teams tablets to provide live information about where our trains are to help passengers plan their journeys better.
We also have more contingency guards on call across the network, meaning if another guard is ill or delayed by a late running train, we have someone ready to stand in, giving us more opportunity to provide a replacement, so the train is less likely to be cancelled.
And we’re recruiting more guards and drivers, as we’re running more services and we’ve promised there’ll always be a guard on our trains.
2. Improving particular lines and routes – we’ve been working hard to analyse some of our worst performing lines, so we can make the improvements they need. Often a problem on one line, can cause issues across the network, so doing this will help improve performance across the board.
The Shepperton Line was one route that was underperforming, so since the start of the year we moved our newer Class 707 trains on to it. Wider doors and more space on these trains helps everyone board quicker, allowing the trains to leave on time. Using just one fleet of trains on this line makes it easier to operate for our teams, helping to reduce delays even more. This has already seen more of these services join the mainline at Norbiton on time, preventing delays on other parts of the network.
Next up we’re looking at the Windsor Line, so we can find each and every point where journeys can get delayed and make the changes needed to reduce delays. We continue to manage performance across the network, but these routes are benefitting from this targeted approach.
3. Speeding up our service recovery – when things do go wrong it’s important for us to get our services up and running as soon as possible. When delays happen during the morning rush hour, we’re making sure our focus is on preventing these delays building up, so we can get our service back to full speed by the evening.
To do this we look in-depth to find ways to claw back those vital minutes and seconds that add up, taking a line-by-line and hour-by-hour approach to analyse what’s gone wrong.
We also want to get our response teams to incidents faster, so we’re trying to get permission for them to use bus lanes, so they don’t get held up in traffic and they can fix the problem quickly, so everyone can be on the move sooner.
4. Improving our infrastructure – disruption to our services is often caused by issues with the railway infrastructure, and whilst this isn’t our fault, it is our problem.
So, we’re working to reduce the number of speed restrictions on our network, making the case to Network Rail for their safe removal, and so help save those crucial minutes from our journey times.
We’re also looking at using more sidings along the route, so when trains do need to come out of service or be stabled when not in use, they can be quickly moved out of the way, so they don’t delay other trains.
There’s a lot going on, and these initiatives are beginning to make some positive changes. Both ourselves at South Western Railway, and our colleagues at Network Rail are working hard to deliver these changes. The difference may not be overnight, but I’m sure our customers will soon start to see the benefits of the work we’re all doing to keep everyone moving.
South Western Railway