South Western Railway Independent performance review

Our blueprint to help us improve performance

South Western Railway and Network Rail recognise that we haven’t delivered the standard of service expected or that we want to deliver. A number of challenges have contributed to this and we took action earlier this year to commission an independent review of performance on the network. 

Following the completion of that review, chaired by Sir Michael Holden, we now have a blueprint to help us improve performance – and the good news is that many of the recommendations in the report had already been identified and are underway. Network Rail is also investing a record £2 billion1 over the next five years to run the railway and help give passengers more reliable journeys.

The independent report commissioned by South Western Railway and independently chaired by experienced railwayman Sir Michael Holden, looked at every aspect of performance on the South Western Network to establish why it has been in decline since 2011.

The report concludes that a number of factors have caused a loss of timetable resilience and a degradation in service recovery capability during and after disruption over a number of years. It lists growing passenger numbers,  the management of train crew , the operation of longer trains, increasing numbers of speed restrictions, , and ageing infrastructure as having contributed to the decline over the last eight years. More recently the Waterloo works in August 2017 and the move of the joint Control between Network Rail and the train operator to Basingstoke in early 2017, have exacerbated the situation.

As well as identifying the causes of decline the report makes a number of recommendations to address these issues. In some cases these areas had already been identified and remedial action has been underway for some time.

  • Our arrangements for reviewing and analysing train service performance and developing performance improvement plans have been comprehensively reviewed and changed.  
  • A review of the control centre is underway to ensure we better manage disruption and minimise the effect on passengers.  This includes SWR procuring support software to be installed in the Control Centre early next year to improve the way decisions are made during disruption, taking account of rolling stock and train crew.
  • South Western Railway has taken significant steps in addressing the inherited shortfalls in driver route and traction knowledge which can hamper service recovery and rostering; and began recruiting additional drivers even before it took over the franchise. The first of these is about to complete their training.  
  • The report also highlights the potential performance improvement opportunities a consistent suburban fleet would offer, something South Western Railway identified before the start of the franchise, when it ordered a 750-vehicle fleet of modern trains, offering not only performance benefits but also WiFi, air-conditioning and a range of features to improve customer journeys. The £895m fleet will cover the entire suburban network, and is due to start to enter service from late 2019.
  • Network Rail has invested in technology to better monitor key infrastructure assets to stop them failing, and additional maintenance teams to respond to incidents faster.
  • Network Rail is already delivering a robust plan to remove speed restrictions across the network and expect to have removed 60% of them by the end of the financial year.  

Some of the recommendations are longer term and have funding implications, such as infrastructure improvements and reuniting some functions separated when Network Rail and the previous franchisee moved the control centre to Basingstoke. We are working through these with Network Rail and the Department for Transport.

South Western Railway Managing Director Andy Mellors said: 
“I want to thank Sir Michael for compiling such a comprehensive report. Many of the problems identified pre-date South Western Railway, but in addition to having confirmation that the actions we were already taking and had committed in our franchise bid are the right ones, we also now have further recommendations to consider.

“This year we will invest £5m in performance improvements and towards the end of next year we will see the first of our £895m new suburban fleet arrive. Eight years of decline will not be reversed overnight but, working together with Network Rail, we are determined to arrest that decline and put performance back on track to the levels our passengers expect, and we want to deliver.

“Some of Sir Michael’s recommendations will require substantial investment and we are working through these with Network Rail as the infrastructure owner, and the Department for Transport.”

Becky Lumlock, Network Rail Wessex route managing director, said: 
“I welcome Sir Michael’s report, which will help us give passengers a better train service.
“We are already hard at work delivering on many of the recommendations and are carefully considering, with South Western Railway and the Department for Transport, how to take forward others.
“As this report recognises, our ageing infrastructure supports one of the most intensively used parts of the UK’s rail network with almost a quarter of billion passenger journeys every year. 
“While our work to meet this incredible demand has seen a 23% reduction in the number of infrastructure faults that disrupt service since 2014, we know there is more to do. 

“We will be investing a record £2 billion over the next five years to run the railway and help give our passengers more reliable journeys.”

Sir Michael Holden said: 
“Passengers on South Western’s routes have put up with substandard punctuality for too long. 

“However, there is no one silver bullet that will quickly restore SWR punctuality to 2011 levels. 

“Instead it needs relentless and focused effort over a long period of time, and some incremental funding. 

“All of the parties involved - SWR, Network Rail and the Department for Transport - have a vital role to play in ensuring this can happen. 

“SWR’s passengers deserve nothing less.”



Sir Michael Holden has made a number of recommendations in a number of areas as outlined below.

Performance Management
Contracts and Relationships
Train Operations
Infrastructure Changes
Infrastructure Maintenance and Renewals
Control and Resourcing
Download the full report

1 Draft determination for Network Rail’s Wessex route budget through Control Period 6, as set out by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). Final budget to be confirmed with publication of ORRs final determination in October 2018.
2 RSSB define Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) as “where the train driver is responsible for door operation and determining that it is safe to start the train, although other auxiliary members of staff may be provided on the train”. SWR has committed to continuing to roster a guard on all services.