I live in the North and drive a car, however the drama down South about Southern Rail has been hard to ignore. The company wants to remove conductors, leaving trains to operate with only drivers and, as a result, there have been a number of strikes. These strikes have left thousands of commuters stranded or delayed, and very unhappy. The changes will, of course, save the company money, however they could find the impact of the plan costs them more in the long run.
The real damage is happening to their reputation. Southern Rail has become synonymous with bad service and a failure to operate on time. They are regularly talked about with a lack of respect on Twitter and Facebook. Their services are so unreliable that commuters seek out alternative ways to travel. Southern Rail has also had to cancel a number of its services due to lack of staff, which means less paying customers can get on board. So far this hasn’t impacted the company financially, with their profits going up in 2016, however they did receive a £20m fund from the government during this period.
The real damage is happening to their reputation. Southern Rail has become synonymous with bad service and a failure to operate on time.
The main argument for the strikes is about safety and, to be honest, I can understand where they’re coming from. The company may well be saving pennies, but will it cost the safety of their passengers? For example, the London Underground operates as a driver only service, and when I lived in London I saw a number of dodgy situations. I saw a man held by his throat because he didn’t support West Ham, a man put his hand up my skirt while I travelled to the bar I worked at, and I have lost count of the number of people I saw playing with themselves. While making eye contact… *shudder*. This doesn’t just happen on the Underground. Since being back in the North, I’ve witnessed some quite nasty incidents – I reported one to the transport police and wrote about one it in my personal blog, as I was so concerned by it.
There’s also the fact that if you’re on a train, you don’t have to drive your car, and if you’re not driving you’re free to drink. A lot. If you catch a train of on a Saturday (I’m sure other days too, but Saturdays tend to be when I use trains) there’ll be a hen or a stag party on the train and man, do those guys start early?! There’s a certain equation that can often be applied to these groups: excited people + alcohol consumption = loud, showy off folks. If you’re trying to travel into the city for a nice, chilled out trip, the last thing you want to listen to is some loud, drunk lady or fella screeching about nonsense.
There’s also the fact that when some people have a drink, they physically behave in a way that they wouldn’t if they were sober. This behaviour is sometimes threatening and frightening, particularly if you’re travelling alone. Passengers can find themselves intimidated by other travellers with seemingly no one there to keep an eye on things. This may make train travel less desirable to more vulnerable groups, which will lose more money for the company. If people don’t feel safe, they won’t want to use the service.
It remains to be seen how Southern Rail will be impacted long term by the changes they’ve brought, however, they’re playing a dangerous game.
I should also mention that Southern Rail have stated that the conductors will be replaced by some sort of train supervisor, and the passengers won’t be in any danger. This is a relief because, unfortunately, it seems that some people can’t be trusted without supervision. Just having a person there can have an impact, a bit like when people slow down if they see a police car at the side of the road. This raises another question though: if you’re going to employ a train supervisor to keep an eye on things, why not just employ a conductor? Surely that would avoid all the hassle in the first place…?
It remains to be seen how Southern Rail will be impacted long term by the changes they’ve brought in. In these days of customer competition, however, they’re playing a dangerous game. People will be happy to vote with their feet and, if they do, Southern Rail could soon be a thing of the past.