Following last week’s debate on rail services, I received an update from GWR’s Managing Director, Mark Hopwood.
With Mr Hopwood’s permission, I have copied his email below by means of an update to commuters. As I mentioned in the debate, I will continue to hold GWR and the Government to account on cross-border rail services.
I heard your contribution to the Stephen Doughty MP Westminster Hall debate on GWR Performance this morning and I thought it would be helpful to write and address some of the key issues that were raised.
I should start by acknowledging that MPs were right to raise concerns about performance on our routes last year. It was not good enough and it did impact our customers and the regional and local communities we serve.
We apologised at the time and put a robust joint performance plan in place to deliver improvements. We are not complacent, and there is more to do, but I am pleased to report that this is showing results, and we are now showing consistent better performance.
Punctuality is now 11% better than last summer, and cancellations caused by GWR have fallen by two thirds since the most challenging periods last year.
This comes from:
- completion of much of the improvement work for electrification and Crossrail
- completion of key reliability infrastructure improvements such as Filton Bank, Cornwall resignalling, Reading to London corridor
- completion of almost all the training for our drivers and train crew on the new rolling stock. This includes recruitment of over 300 additional staff
- arrival of more of our new Intercity Express trains
- software and engineering improvements to the new trains by Hitachi
- closer working between GWR and NR to manage disruption and to recover more quickly from incidents
As well as a steady improvement in performance, which will continue, there has been a marked reduction in the number of trains running with fewer carriages than planned. We are now consistently delivering nine and ten car formation trains on our long distance high speed services, with up to 24% more capacity per service. This, plus the introduction of a new fleet of electric trains in the Thames Valley and a cascade of newer trains to the South and West means we are now addressing capacity issues, with far fewer customers standing on their journeys. This work is not yet complete and more new trains are due to come into service, releasing further vehicles to cascade within our business.
The National Rail Passenger Survey figures referred to in the debate relate to last Autumn. Quite rightly customers felt then that services needed to be better. More recently our own customer surveys have seen an increase in customer satisfaction and I believe we are starting to regain some confidence and trust from our customers. There is more to do and one of the areas we are looking at is compensation. We are in close discussion with the Department for Transport about changes to our delay repay scheme and I will make sure you are updated as soon as this concludes.
We are also working on improvements to the customer experience on board the train. Some of our Intercity Express Trains operate as two five car trains coupled together. While this is not new for the industry, it is different for Great Western’s long distance services, and are developing platform zoning and better station information to help customers.
We are also looking at how we can improve the delivery of food and drink. We know customers would prefer that food and drink is brought to them rather than leaving their seat. This has not always worked as well as customers would want and we have plans in place for improvement.
Hitachi has made good strides in managing some of the software issues that impacting seat reservations and on board information. This is something we are continuing to pursue together and while customer satisfaction with the IET is now higher than with the HST we believe it can be better and we are working together to get the best from the new trains.
We are also working on timetable improvements. These are later than expected following the national decision to stagger timetable changes, but we are working on a generational change for December 2019 that will mean more services, additional capacity and faster journeys, something that would not be possible without the investment in new trains and infrastructure improvements.
The key issue for our customers right now, and the driver for modal shift to rail is reliability. This is our focus and I firmly believe that the reduction in delays and cancellations will continue.
So that you can monitor that and hold us to account, I will send you updated performance figures every four weeks, along with some commentary about actions taken and plans to come. If you want to meet to discuss these in more detail, or to discuss any aspect of our service, I will be happy to do so.
I know how important the railway is to your constituents. We know we have a major role to play in economic regeneration and social inclusion, and I am determined that we play that role well.
As well as Network Rail and GWR substantially investing in our infrastructure, in new trains and in other areas of benefit to the local and regional economy, we also need to run our trains punctually and reliably. We have some encouraging progress recently, but I am very clear we need to ensure this is sustained and improved in the coming months.