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Parliamentary debate 19/7/17: Thameslink passenger services

Published Tuesday, July 18, 2017

This debate will take place between 4.30 and 5.30 pm on 19 July in Westminster Hall. The Member who secured the debate is Anne Main MP (Con., St Albans).

Parliamentary questions about Thameslink are listed here.

Thameslink – basic information

The Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise will be the biggest franchise that has ever been let when all relevant services have been incorporated in 2018: it will have the largest income, the most trains and the most staff of any franchise in the GB rail market.

TSGN is run by Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR), Govia being a joint venture between Go-Ahead Group plc and Keolis (the latter majority owned by the French state rail operator SNCF). The franchise began operation in September 2014 and will terminate in September 2021 (though the Government can extend the franchise for a further 26 reporting periods – a little over 2 years). The re-letting process for TSGN, at which any decision about the break-up of the franchise and any possible devolution of some of its services to the Mayor of London would likely be taken, begins towards the end of 2019.

In 2015/16 Southern paid a premium to the Treasury of £42.6 million, equating to a subsidy of 1.6 pence per passenger km.

The National Franchise Terms that apply to this franchise, the Franchise Agreement and associated ancillary documents are available on the Gov.uk website.

A list of the commitments the franchisee promised to deliver was set out when the franchise was awarded in 2014.

Many of the benefits from the new franchise will not be realised until the introduction of new Thameslink rolling stock and completion of the Thameslink infrastructure project in 2018.

In September 2016 GTR launched an extensive consultation setting out proposed changes to the timetable in 2018 following completion of the Thameslink Programme; further information was published on 28 June 2017.

Thameslink service performance

The level of service for many passengers on the TSGN franchise has been poor for two years. As the Transport Select Committee noted, “the initial structuring of the franchise, inadequate planning, weaknesses in the franchise handover process, infrastructure and rolling stock failures, mismanagement, poor industrial relations and the current bitter and prolonged industrial dispute have all contributed to an unacceptable level of service for TSGN’s long-suffering passengers”.

In particular the Committee highlighted the negative impacts of:

  • the major infrastructure works entailed in the Thameslink Programme, particularly the redevelopment of London Bridge station;
  • inadequate staffing at franchise handover; and
  • ongoing strike action over a number of issues, including ‘Driver Only Operation’ of trains.

The Committee told the Government to ‘get a grip’ on the monitoring and enforcement of the franchise, speed up its assessment of the franchisee’s force majeure claims, and “be prepared to restructure or terminate the agreement should GTR be shown to be in default”.

It also criticised a lack of transparency as regards performance data and said that the DfT must ensure that data on the franchisee’s performance against its contractual obligations are made publicly available.

In July 2015 the DfT issued notice that GTR had breached contractual benchmarks for cancellations on all parts of its network other than Great Northern. The causes of this were identified in a Remedial Plan, agreed between GTR and the DfT and published in February 2016.

The most recent performance data for Thameslink in comparison to other franchises is available on the Network Rail website.

On 20 June 2017 GTR and Network Rail published their Joint Performance Improvement Update. This summarised performance for the four weeks up to 27 May and offered the following comment on its performance strategy:

Huge investment is being put into the railway which will ultimately deliver more capacity through new and longer trains at the end of the Thameslink programme in 2018, as well as a transformed station at London Bridge. However, this major construction work is a significant contributor to the deterioration in punctuality across services, more so than anyone anticipated. At the end of 2015, an independent study was undertaken to better understand the impact of the work at London Bridge on the train service. The study revealed that since the work started in 2014 the network has fundamentally changed with a reduction in platforms and approach tracks at London Bridge, with more services diverted into London Victoria or via Herne Hill, leading to knock on delays being longer and being felt over a wider area than ever before.

The Thameslink programme works are at their most difficult phase with the infrastructure at its maximum level of restriction. To mitigate this challenge we have established an Alliance with Network Rail which focuses on improving service reliability and performance. The analysis provided by this study has given the GTR and Network Rail teams a fresh perspective on how to address some of the issues affecting train punctuality. As a result, GTR and Network Rail have defined joint work-streams as part of the Performance Strategy. These have been developed and teams across both businesses are working tirelessly to change performance now and in the longer term.

Delay attribution to Network Rail

The delay split shows who was responsible for passenger train delays of 3 minutes or more. The delay split over 365 days to 24 June 2017 showed that Network Rail was responsible for 61% of all delays on the GTR network, reflecting the national average.

SRFI at Radlett

A Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) is a large multi-purpose rail freight interchange and distribution centre linked into both the rail and trunk road system. It has rail-connected warehousing and container handling facilities and may also include manufacturing and processing activities.

The designation in January 2015 of the National Networks National Policy Statement (NPS) provided the Planning Inspectorate with a clear statement of Government policy on the development of SRFIs. This also provides developers with a clear indication of the evidence they need to submit in applying for planning permission.

The NPS states that “SRFIs are a key element in reducing the cost to users of moving freight by rail and are important in facilitating the transfer of freight from road to rail, thereby reducing trip mileage of freight movements on both the national and local road networks” [para 2.44]. Further information on the importance of SRFIs, the drivers of need for the same, and the Government’s policy, is given in pages 20-23 of the NPS.

On 14 July 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government granted planning permission for an SRFI at a site in Park Street, St Albans.

Further reading from the Commons Library

Railway rolling stock (trains), SN03146, 15 June 2017

Rail freight, SN00151, 15 December 2016

Railway passenger franchises, SN01343, 24 November 2016

Network Rail, SN02129, 16 March 2016

Performance of Govia Thameslink railway and Network Rail, CDP-2016-0063, 10 March 2016

Railways: Thameslink infrastructure project, SN01537, 26 January 2012

Commons Debate packs CDP-2017-0145

Author: Louise Butcher

Topic: Railways

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