“The thing is, I don’t believe this stuff about staff shortages.”
That is what I said, and it doesn’t sound like a magic phrase, but it was as if I had said ‘open sesame’. I had gone to a different station to usual, and the conversation with the member of the station staff went like this.
I had asked why there were no trains on their running timetable to London. It was odd, even by the low standards of Southern Rail, to have them take the trains they couldn’t run off the timetable altogether. Usually, they just mark them as having been cancelled.
“Well,” she said. “It’s still the problem with staff shortages.”
It was then that I finally expressed my disbelief. It wasn’t until I said it that I realised how very little I did believe in the train company’s standard excuse. I mean, only few weeks ago, Southern Rail was claiming it was unprecedented sickness amongst the train crew. Now they appeared to be saying the train crew didn’t exist at all.
And in any case, why should any competent company experience a sudden, prolonged and catastrophic staff shortage, immediately after the short train strike in April, that prevents them from running a large chunk of the trains they are contracted to run?
“You’re right,” she said. “It isn’t true.”
“So what is the truth?” I said hopefully.
“I can’t tell you that because I would be sacked.”
I had to ask a number of other staff members to find out – and I had the chance to see a number of them yesterday because it was such a struggle getting to London (there are supposed to be two direct trains every hour).
The trouble is that their roster system relies on overtime. Without overtime, they can’t run the train service that people rely on. The result, as anyone unfortunate enough to live on the south coast at the moment, has been absolute chaos – a wholly unreliable service which at weekends becomes dangerously overcrowded. Sarah had to climb over a table to get off the train late on Sunday night because it was so full of passengers who had been let down time and time again by cancelled trains...
I have gone some way towards answering these questions and written a short book to do so. It is now published on Amazon as an ebook (£1.99 of which 10p for every copy goes to the Railway Benefits Fund). It is also now out as a paperback. It's a surprising read and you can have the added advantage of really annoying Southern Rail by reading it!
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