Rail franchises operators & contracts


SWR facing ORR investigation for providing passengers with incorrect service info

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has written to South Western Railway (SWR) to outline “serious concerns” over its compliance with the conditions of its passenger licence.

In a letter to the TOC’s managing director, Andy Mellors, dated 23 January 2018, John Larkinson, ORR’s director of railway markets and economics wrote that ORR had “serious concerns regarding the information that SWR provides to consumers about its rail services.”

In a meeting on 18 January 2018, ORR gave examples where customers had not received correct information about the train operator’s services over the previous weekend, highlighting similar issues in the forthcoming weekend of 20 January.

Larkinson wrote that the ORR was “disappointed” that the day after the meeting customers were still able to purchase tickets from the operator’s website for trains that were not running on 20 January, with no information on the website to flag that this was incorrect.

Furthermore, Larkinson expressed concerns that at the time of writing the letter, information on the website for the following weekend was also incorrect.

He explained: “The ability to be able to plan or make a journey with a reasonable degree of assurance is a requirement of Condition 4 of SWR's Passenger Licence and GB Statement of National Regulatory Provisions: Passenger (SNRPs).

“The provision of information that affects consumers’ purchasing decisions such as the provision of inaccurate or false information or the omission of material information may also fall within the scope of the Consumer Protection Regulations.”

He warned that failure to comply with the train operator’s regulatory obligations could constitute a breach of Condition 4 of the passenger licence and SNRP, which could prompt a formal investigation and enforcement action.

SWR ‘not content’ with its delivery of information to passengers

In his response, Mellor said that SWR was not content with the timing of information that it had been able to provide to passengers and that the matter was receiving a high level of priority.

He added: “In the medium term this involves addressing the underlying issues of the availability of reliable timetable information where engineering works are planned which, as you recognise in your letter, depends to a substantial degree on working with Network Rail to address industry issues about timely production of timetabling information.”

In the short term, Mellor explained that SWR had improved its process for checking services affected by engineering routes, and improved the information available on its website, including reinstating the direct NRES feed of disruption data.

However, whilst Larkinson welcomed the steps being taken by SWR, he has said that more is needed: “Whilst the addition of the banner and PDF timetables to the SWR website is welcome, we note that there is no similar facility or warning on either the company's mobile phone app or journey-check site.”

In response to Mellor’s issues with the availability of timetable information from Network Rail, Larkinson continued: “As you will be aware, the weekly report from National Rail Enquiries provides information to industry and ORR on the number of errors in journey planners up to 12 weeks ahead.

“The extent of SWR's engagement with the relevant team is unclear; it appears that errors have been raised with SWR but not corrected.”

Top image: VictorHuang

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Sonning Cutting   14/02/2018 at 14:07

As I commented to all those lauding SWR when they took over from SWT; be very careful what you wish for! From my casual observations of the services on the Salisbury line , we have gone from "best in class" to no better than average. Could this be due to Mellors alleged claim that maintenance standards set by Christian Roth [SWT] were too high. Not for nothing did Salisbury and Wimbledon Depots previously win awards for reliability.

M.   17/02/2018 at 11:01

How much of SWR's woes (and the rest of the passenger industry's - with reference to GWR's issues with passenger information a few months back, for example) actually lie with Network Rail? Two factors stick out - firstly NR have been known in recent months to be "throwing in" extra line blocks (and in some cases quite significant - like all-Sunday jobs) with less than a month's notice, giving operators little time to replan services (and putting the normal planning work to meet the 12-week deadline out at the same time). Secondly, as keepers of the timetable data which gets passed out to online journey planners, Network Rail seem remarkably unable to keep that data up to date with the latest changes from operators (generally as a result of Network Rail's own late-notice jobs), so even if the operator submits their changes a month out, they often don't even get processed until the week before the blockade actually happens.

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