By ITV Meridian's Transport Correspondent Mike Pearse
Months of misery with delays and cancellations at South Western Railway (SWR) have been slated as “simply not good enough” by the Government who have ordered an urgent “independent review” to find out what has gone so badly wrong and put it right.
It comes as the latest figures reveal almost half of trains (47%) are running late.
The review will investigate both the operator and Network Rail (NR) who run and maintain track and signals who are responsible for many of the problems with track and signal failures.
The former boss of Southeastern trains and one of the rail industries most respected figures, Michael Holden, will lead a far reaching review.
650,000 passengers use SWR every day which is the busiest commuter rail network in Europe.
Performance has not been at the level we want, or expect, to deliver and we are determined to put that right.
First Group and MTR, owner of the Hong Kong Metro, took over the company form Stagecoach last August.
On a daily basis passengers have suffered misery caused by track and signal problems and strikes.
It comes as thousands of passengers have signed an online petition demanding the company, who took over last summer, be sacked because services have become so bad.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said that he is "very disappointed" with the performance of SWR over recent months.
In a letter to MP’s he said: "Whilst it is important to recognise that a significant proportion of the delays on SWR routes are attributed to Network Rail and that we have seen some good progress in performance in recent weeks, overall performance has simply not been good enough and I am determined that we see a long term, sustained performance improvement across this route.
"That is why I have commissioned an independent review of SWR and NR, to ensure all possible steps are being taken to improve performance and the passenger experience. The review will be independently chaired by Sir Michael Holden, who has over 40 years' experience in railway operations and will be completed in summer 2018."
Winchester MP Steve Brine has welcomed news that, following pressure from local MPs, the Government is to formally review the performance of South Western Railway.
Steve Brine said: "This is extremely welcome news, and shows how seriously the Government takes what has been a poor start to the franchise. I have made no secret of the fact I am very disappointed by the opening months of the SWR franchise, and I know my constituents very much share that view. The operator has had some bad luck to start its tenure including a politically motivated strike which is beyond its control but it's right we hold them to account at this stage.
"This SWR Franchise Agreement actually has provisions that incentivise SWR to improve their own performance, and to work jointly with Network Rail. Where performance falls below expected levels, SWR are required to invest additional sums into initiatives to address the causes of the poor performance. As a result, SWR have committed to investing around £5 million in performance improvement initiatives in 2018/19 and I know that Mr Grayling and us MPs will be closely monitoring progress."m