About a month ago, in January, after a rather interesting saga that involved my train operator, Southeastern, and my MP, Jim Dowd, to whom I decided to complain about the constant misery of commuting, I made a promise. I promised to keep a commuting diary for one month to prove Southeastern that they really aren’t as good as they claim.
To refresh your memory, in my letter to Jim Dowd MP, I expressed the opinion that Southeastern services were late 60-70% of the time. However, the Public Affairs Officer at Southeastern, Mike Gibson, claimed, “train performance on the Southeastern network has been on an upward curve since we took over the franchise and with a moving annual average of just over 90% is the best since records began in the early 1990s”.
Law apparently defines trains being “late” differently than we, the normal people. For urban train services to be legally late it has to be late by five minutes or more. For long distance services, the definition is being late by ten minutes or more. For commuters, it’s obviously different as if the train is late by one minute, it is, actually, late.
Therefore I used three categories in my commuting diary: early or on time; late; and legally late. The latter then being late by five minutes or more.
During the last 21 working days, I took 42 train journeys. The morning train to the City was always the 7:57 from New Beckenham; the evening train varied, depending on how long I stayed at work and whether I had other activities in my diary.
So, ladies and gentlemen, here it is—the entire commuting diary for the last 21 working days, colour-coded according to their performance—as a PDF file. Please get acquainted with it before reading on if you want in-depth data.
Of the 42 trains I used, two (yes, that’s TWO, “2”) were actually on time. That means, 4.76% of the morning and evening (mostly) peak trains were on time. 4.76%. That’s less than 1/20.
In turn, that means that for us, the normal people, 95.24% of the trains were actually late.
But let’s go deeper. What comes out of the diary is that 12 trains were late by more than five minutes. This comes to a shocking 28.6%—over a quarter of the trains I took were actually legally late. Which means that only 71.4% of the trains were, in legal terms, on time.
However, let’s look at this further. Four trains of the 42 I used were late by more than 15 minutes. Can you imagine—twice as many trains were late by more than 15 minutes than on time! Almost 10 per cent! And as many trains as there were on time were over 30 minutes late.
People can get fired because of your shitty service
I think we can safely say that when normally being five to ten minutes late for work isn’t much to worry about. On the other hand, 15-30 minutes is something some people can and do get sacked for. Like, for example, flight attendants and pilots at low-cost airlines. They actually do get fired when they don’t report for duty on time. I do wonder, how do train companies compensate these people. A year’s salary would be fair, don’t you think?
In fairness though, we can say that if a train is one to five minutes late, it’s not such a big deal. In a big metropolis, this shit happens. But when a 20-minute journey is late by two minutes, it’s 10%. Four-minute delay—20%. Is that really normal? To add at least 10% to your journey almost every single time you commute clearly shows someone’s incompetence. I mean, really, how hard can it be? How can the UK be so fucking incapable to manage something as simple as train schedules?
OMFG it’s snowing, must mean we have to cancel everything
Of course, one could claim that we had “severe weather” in January. Because, imagine, a few snowflakes fell on the rails. That must surely mean that trains—with a carriage weight of about 50 tonnes (yes, I checked)—can’t operate properly. HEALTH AND SAFETY, you know. I mean, only God knows what can happen if the train slips on that evil snowflake and runs off the rails! TRUST ME, THAT CAN HAPPEN!
Yeah, right. The maximum snow we had in January was 5’’. Which is about 12 cm. That was the absolute peak on my patio. On railroads where there is (or at least should be) constant traffic, this gets wiped off quicker than it sticks to the ground. Moreover, the standard height of the modern rail is—surprise-surprise—12 cm. Are you really, really going to tell me that if I have 12 cm on my patio, then this is going to affect rail travel? Are you fucking kidding me?
But this is when it matters
One could also claim that I only took trains at 7:57 in the morning and around 18:13-18:35 in the evening. And that rest of the time, all trains run on time. Which means, they do get a “90% moving annual average”. But, my dear Southeastern, what does that matter?
What matters is how well you operate at peak. When most of the people commute. The 7:57 from New Beckenham is supposed to arrive at London Bridge at 8:20. This is the train most people living around the Hayes service take to make it to the City by 9:00am—when most people start work. So none of the midday or late night services matter. Peak services do. And that’s where you unfortunately fuck up.
On the other hand, the one time I took the 22:55 service from London Bridge, the departure was one minute, and the arrival three minutes late. In the middle of the night! Care to explain that?
Here’s a bit of statistics for you
Mike Gibson, the Public Affairs Officer at Southeastern, said in his letter to my MP, “I accept that we are only as good as our last journey and to the passenger whose service is delayed, statistics are meaningless”.
Well, Mike, you got the first part right. But in the above-linked PDF file you can find a bit of real-time statistics for you that is not meaningless. It’s what hundreds, if not thousands of people experience every single day. Yes, you are as good as your—or, rather our—last journey, but don’t you dare say statistics are meaningless. Because the statistics prove the service Southeastern provide is absolute and utter shit.
As a side note I should add that I am going to send this blog post to both Mike Gibson and my MP, Jim Dowd. And from Mike Gibson I will expect a reply. I will say to him that depending on his reply, I may or may not post it here on my blog. But I will definitely post if he doesn’t bother to reply.