Tag Archives: meet the managers

Meet South Eastern face to face tomorrow morning

Sliding Blue Door that SouthEastern have decided to lock
As pointed out on the newly formed myblackheath blog (hopefully not run by estate agents), SouthEastern Trains are holding a Meet The Managers morning at Charing Cross station on Thursday (tomorrow) from 8am-10am. This is a monthly event whereby the SouthEastern managers stand around explaining that very few things are their fault, most things are either due to the government’s reduction of state subsidy, or Network Transport’s problems.

Please try and speak to them tomorrow if you can… A few things to consider:

* SouthEastern are owned by Govia. Govia is owned by Go-Ahead Group and Keolis. These two companies made a profit of £23.5m and £93m (€106m) respectively last year. These figures are both up from 2009. For bittersweet irony check this out: Keolis is majority owned by France’s nationalised state transport provider, SNCF. So France is allowed to have a nationalised rail system, but takes profit from our privatised system.

* Network Rail own Blackheath station, but it is managed and run by SouthEastern (see how nothing is one organisation’s fault?)

* If they wanted to open the bloody door, they could! Please sign up to the request to open the sliding door!

* They don’t like speaking to bloggers or press at these events. They also don’t like tape recorders. Go as an individual. Here’s an idea: wear your iphone headphones around your neck, and hit record before you wander up…

* Ask them how fixmytransport.com should contact southEastern. So far they don’t seem to be responding to any messages!

Here’s how it went when I met them last year.

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Meet the SouthEastern Managers…

Blackheath Station, in need of decoration
Yesterday the SouthEastern Trains managers did their regular Meet the Manager thing at Charing Cross Station.  Managers stand around in the main part of the station, answering questions from commuters.

It’s a good idea, and I imagine it takes some guts to do, especially after the recent snow chaos, and subsequent allegations over stats massaging.

So I had the bright idea of going along, trying to find the most senior manager, and putting some questions to them, for the blog.  The first man I approached happened to be Charles Horton, the Managing Director.  He absolutely refused to be recorded, saying that today was for customers, not for interviews.  Despite explaining that I am a customer, and much waving of season tickets, he would not talk to me unless I switched it off.

So I did, which means that none of the following is verbatim.  Your loss, Charles.

We spoke about the snow and the revised timetable.  He completely denied that the reduction in timetable was designed to avoid big customer payouts, saying that their only concern was avoiding trains full of passengers getting stuck.  When I asked him what was different about SouthEastern, compared to the adjacent networks which operated a better service, he claimed it was due to the way SouthEastern’s lines were structured compared to the others – for example SouthWest Trains run a straight line in and out of Waterloo, whereas SouthEastern’s route has junctions and forks in it.  This sounded thoroughly unconvincing, but hey, I guess he has to come up with something.

I desicribed the difference between claiming a refund from London Underground (fill out a form in the station or online, and send it in) with that of SouthEastern Trains (several different methods, each more byzantine than the next).  He agreed that theirs was more complex, but claimed that this was due to the rules set in place by National Rail and the government.

I asked him whether he believed that the breaking up of the railway into multiple train operating companies allows everybody to absolve themselves of responsibility.  He refused to be drawn on any personal opinions about anything around this, and basically took a pragmatic attitude – “we are where we are”, claiming that the procedures drawn up by the government mean that SouthEastern are highly sensitive to customer satisfaction.  One example he gave was “discretionary travel” (people without season tickets), which he said SE trains relies on heavily- if they can’t operate a good service, then people will use other means of transport.

When I asked which of his competitors train companies I should be using from Blackheath if I wasn’t happy with his service, he acknowledged that they have a monopoly in a given area, but again went back to “that’s just the way it is set up”.

I pointed out the poor state of Blackheath station – not because I expect the managing director to have an intimate knowledge of every station (he was quick to point out that he could not), but because walking through a station with peeling paint, ceilings covered with plastic bags and gaffer tape, and plaster falling off the walls, sends a clear psychological message to your customers that you don’t give a shit about them.  He muttered something about “water-egress” at that station.  I have no idea what that means… I’ve seen water flowing down the steps occasionally, but you’d think that a lick of paint wouldn’t break the (£61.5m profit last year) budget.

To conclude, the problem isn’t SouthEastern trains per se.  They’re a private company, looking to maximise revenue for their shareholders within the boundaries set out by the government.  The problem is the splitting of the railway into multiple companies.  If there’s anything worth campaigning for, railway-wise, it would be the re-combining of the TOCs into a single body.  At this point, I wouldn’t even care if it was a private company – at least it would stop the buck-passing…

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