Mixed messages

South West Rail (SWR) the company that runs the line through Somerset from Crewkerne, Yeovil, Templecombe to Exeter and London Waterloo is sending mixed messages.

On the one hand yesterday it filed accounts at Companies House showing a loss of £137m for the year to March 2019. Bear in mind that some of the worst troubles to hit the company happened after that date. continued strike action by the RMT, delays in the arrival of new trains (are there any other trains in the UK that still don’t have power points in the carriages?) will all make an impact on the March 2020 accounts.

The RMT are calling for the franchise to be taken back into public control. They would say that wouldn’t they, but this time they may have a point.

Two statements in the accounts stand out. On the one hand in their report the directors suggest there is “material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”. Then in their audit report auditors Deloitte draw attention to the statement in the director’s report. When auditors draw attention to something it should not be taken as a casual aside.

Yet even as the newly filed accounts were being poured over, SWR announced the appointment of a new Managing Director, Mark Hopwood. It did not sound as if he had read last year’s accounts. With over 30 years’ experience of managing rail businesses and delivering improvements for passengers, he expressed confidence that he could deliver a noticeable difference for passengers on South Western Railway. If nothing else, Mr Hopwood is a master of understatement “Frankly, our service has not been good enough in recent months and years…” he explains before going on to add “We will focus on changes that can make an immediate difference to the number of trains running on time.”

Among other things Mr Hopwood is promising things that we have been promised before, new and refurbished trains, more trains running on time, and address problems like trains running with fewer carriages than they’re supposed to and trains missing out stops to make up time.

He also notes “there’s no silver bullet to solve these issues overnight, and I expect we’ll still have bad days like everyone else.”

I guess he realises he has a long and difficult journey ahead. Let’s hope that he isn’t taking that journey on one of his SWR trains.

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