Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Hip, hip, hooray for Govia Thameslink Failways


This week started well; for the past two days my morning train has actually gone to where it was supposed to and the afternoon one has only been a few minutes delayed. Last week Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) only managed to complete the morning train once in four attempts (I worked from home on the Monday so it got a wildcard that day).
Last Tuesday morning I was thrown off at East Croydon when the rostered driver remembered he wasn't trained to stop at the next station (London Bridge) and the service had to be diverted, on Wednesday it was cancelled completely, and on Thursday the driver again wasn't trained to complete the route. On that occasion passengers were told to get on the next service only to be thrown off that too because the next driver wasn't trained to complete the roster either. According to station staff they genuinely don’t know if a driver will be able to complete the trip till it’s on route, and the drivers themselves don’t seem keen to announce their lack of capability till they have no other option. As London Bridge is the most popular station on this route (and my stop) the result is a mass detraining with hundreds desperately scrambling across platforms for the next dangerously overcrowded train.  
Since the botched implementation of the Rail2020 timetable last month GTR ‘services’ have declined from unreliably shite to shambolically unreliably shite. Long-standing failings having been exacerbated by changes it simply wasn't capable of implementing. Absolutely nobody was surprised by the failure, especially not GTR which appear to have ignored all evidence as well as its own track record.
The abysmal performance of GTR and its puppet master the Department of Transport over the past few years has been documented by journalist David Boyle; he’s debunked much of the false narrative seeking to lay the blame on belligerent trade unions and staff sickies. It’s clear the DfT hired GTR as a hatchet man to hollow out the services in the name of cost cutting. The arrangement designed specifically to give the DfT plausible deniability about the disaster this experiment created whilst also creating a moral hazard whereby GTR still get paid whilst running the operation into the ground.
GTR doesn't employ enough drivers to deliver all its scheduled services, it hasn’t since it took over the former franchises it operates (it has a management contract not a franchise). It doesn’t appear to have done much to recruit and train drivers to plug this structural understaffing; that would incur costs and as it gets paid regardless there is no incentive. Instead GTR relies on massive use of overtime to maintain 'normal' service, which means absolutely no resilience in the system. Sustainable operations run at 80% of capacity in normal times, the other 20% being contingency to handle shocks. Organisations that run at close to 100% all the time are not sustainable because no organisation has perfect operating conditions all the time.
Much has been made of Network Rail's delay in signing-off the new magnum opus timetable. There is some truth in this, but it's an excuse stretched too far. The new routes are materially the same as those consulted on two years ago, GTR should have begun training drivers on the changes earlier and adjusted for any small changes after sign-off. But GTR doesn't have enough drivers, so it doesn't want to take them out of service for training and the DfT didn’t want to delay the new timetable even after a clusterfuck became inevitable.
So now we have ‘short notice service alterations’ where services mysteriously vanish only minutes before their scheduled departure time, where drivers get rostered on to routes they’re not able to complete and where you simply cannot trust any information provided through official channels.   
Charles Horton, the CEO of GTR fell on his sword last week, even the DfT's favourite puppet realised the sheer level of shiteness had moved beyond parody. Transport Minister Chris 'Failing' Grayling hangs on by the skin of his teeth, narrowly surviving a vote of no confidence today, the grim conclusion of the disintegrating Conservative Party being that it doesn’t have anyone to replace him. But ‘Failing’ say it’s okay, he’s sure it’s not his fault and just as soon as he works out why the industry he has been in charge of for the last two years has collapsed he’s going to start doing something about it!

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