A TRAIN operator failed to get Brighton’s most popular morning commuter train to London on time even once last year, damning statistics reveal.

Southern Rail could not get the 7.29am Brighton to London Victoria train in the capital within its scheduled time on any occasion out of 240 attempts.

The service is the most essential to Brighton residents working in London as it is scheduled to arrive at its final destination at 8.35am – just in time for a 9am start at work.

The revelation comes a week after commuters, some of whom pay up to £5,000 a year for a season ticket from Brighton to London, were dealt 2.5% price rises on their rail fares from January 2.

Trains either side of the 7.29 service to London Victoria, specifically the 7.14 and the 7.44, only arrived in the capital on time on 1% and 2% of occasions respectively.

Southern Rail deputy managing director David Scorey apologised for poor performance but stressed work was underway to improve the service.

However when The Argus quizzed Mr Scorey on whether commuters were getting their money’s worth at a face-to-face interview last week, he declined to answer yes or no.

Instead, after the interview was interrupted by Southern’s head of customer relations, who told The Argus it could not get a yes or no answer, Mr Scorey eventually said: “I don’t think we’re delivering the level of performance customers expect.

“We are delivering in a lot of areas, including investment and innovation, but not on performance. We’re doing more in that area, that’s a major area we’re focusing on.”

Southern say the poor performance of the 7.29 train and other services across the network is primarily down to high demand and congestion.

However the 7.29 service was cancelled twice last week – on one occasion because of a faulty door lock.

Asked what the problem was with the 7.29, Mr Scorey said it was “all because of the balance between capacity and performance on the network”.

He said: “Our network is very busy and congested. An analogy that I’d use is the M25 at its busiest time. Our network is a bit like that and what we’re trying to do is run as many trains as we can because the capacity is needed. People want those trains, want seats on the trains, want trains to be as long as they can because there is demand for it.

“But it does mean that trains are running very, very close together – particularly as they approach London. If there is the most minor of problem or delay on a train, another train can be thrown off its path or slot on the network by a couple of minutes which can sometimes then snowball a little to five or six minutes late.

“We’ve identified some issues with the 7.29, with the way it interacts with other services, but the timetable and the capacity demand is so intense that some of the options of what we can do are quite limited.”

Southern gained more than £700 million in revenue in 2013. Its parent company Govia – a firm jointly-owned by the French National Railway company Keolis – last year received more than £700 million in net public subsidies from taxpayers. Its shareholders also enjoyed more than £21 million in dividends.

Mr Scorey added: “There’s the delay repay system which compensates passengers for delays over a certain threshold, but I think it’s worth reflecting if you look back over the Southern franchise, that we’ve done a tremendous amount of work.

“I’d ask people to reflect on how the network has changed over the past decade, say. We’ve introduced a complete new fleet of trains, the Electrostar fleet, we’ve introduced extra seats from Brighton and in fact a lot of those trains still have spare capacity today.

“We’ve invested hugely in stations, and Brighton station is a great example of the work that’s been done.

“We will continue to work on performance but it’s about setting that off against successes as well that I think we’ve achieved on the network.”

When The Argus asked to speak to Mr Scorey, Southern invited a reporter and photographer to visit its new state-of-the-art signalling centre in Three Bridges. The building is shared by Southern, Thameslink and National Rail for a more coherent operation and controls the railways across Sussex and Surrey. It will eventually replace more than 800 signal boxes and other operation locations currently used.

Opened in October 2013, it boasts advanced signalling tools and technology that will help reduce delays, improve performance, provide better information to passengers and increase capacity.

The new signalling centre at Three Bridges, combined with the £6.5 billion Thameslink project primarily based at London Bridge, which when complete in 2018 will link Brighton and Gatwick with central London and stations north of the Thames, is being billed as the light at the end of the tunnel of misery for commuters.

Mr Scorey said: “We’ll have 24 trains an hour through London when Thameslink is done in 2018. The idea of the Thameslink project is to provide extra capacity and new journey opportunities. It will be a great help.”

Asked if he apologised for his firm’s poor performance over the past 12 months, Mr Scorey said: “What I’d say is that yes the service overall on the network hasn’t been performing at the levels we expect or what passengers expect. Now we understand the reasons for that and that’s why we have the plans in place that we’ve got.

“We expect to deliver a better level of service in the coming year, but we’re not satisfied with what we’ve delivered over the tail end of last year, since the end of August. And yes, I’d say to passengers we’re sorry for that but we’re working hard to improve it.”

He added: “We can also look at this in two ways. One as a very negative story, and I’m not saying performance is not an issue, it absolutely is, but one of the reasons for that is because of the significant growth the railway has achieved.

“It’s outstripping the capacity that’s available. It’s a success story that’s turning into a problem because of demand, but in a couple of years there’s another success story with the major investment programme that’s currently underway to address these issues.”

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, who commutes most days to the capital from Brighton, has called for an urgent summit to address the ongoing rail misery impacting her constituents.

On Friday she wrote to Charles Horton (pictured inset), the chief executive of Govia, and Mark Crane, chief executive of Network Rail, calling on them for a meeting to ask how they will “urgently improve services in the coming weeks”.

Ms Lucas said: “My constituents are fed up with unreliable, overcrowded and over-priced trains. I’ve been inundated by letters and emails from passengers who have had to experience cancelled trains, late running services, overcrowded trains and platforms, and pitiful communications systems. “While I understand the redevelopment of London Bridge will cause some inconvenience, the knock-on impacts to passengers are currently completely unacceptable. Moreover, we need to ensure when delays and cancellations do happen, passengers are swiftly and fully compensated.”

Ms Lucas invited fellow MPs to join the meeting with rail chiefs, set to take place at the beginning of next week.

She added: “Longer term, we need to fix the fragmentation of our railway system through bringing rail back into public ownership.”

In an attempt to reassure customers, Southern’s David Scorey concluded: “There are a number of other changes coming this year, including a timetable recast in December.

“Southern becomes part of Govia Thameslink Railway in July and that gives us the opportunity to review the Brighton mainline timetable and to construct it in a better way. We’re out for consultation on that at the moment.”

What commuters think

Magnus Kemp, from Brighton: “I don’t expect to arrive on time. The train always slows down. The Brits put up with it but it’s always been the same, trains have always been bad in this country.

“Where’s there a good train service in the UK? Should we renationalise? I mean, on certain levels yes.

“But I can’t see how doing that will make it a better service because when it was nationalised it was rubbish then as well.

“On a different level, maybe it should be but it won’t make a great deal of difference. Do Southern staff get performance-related pay? Maybe that will help.”

Joe Casson, 24, from Brighton, said: “You budget 10/15 minutes for the end of the journey on this train. It’s always late, it never fails. It’s a case of putting up with it as far as I’m concerned.

“You shouldn’t have to assume your train is going to be late every time, you should have dedicated times for your arrival so you can plan your commute to work.

“If targets aren’t met then some money back on a season ticket would be nice.

“You could also adjust the timetable so the arrival time is 10 or 15 minutes later. That way people won’t be misled and Southern will hit their targets. Just an idea.”

Giles Wheatley, 44, from Brighton: “To hear that this train never arrived on time in London at all last year is absolutely of no surprise to me. I can’t remember when it did. It’s frustrating.

“It’s scheduled to arrive at 8.35 which should be enough time to get to work for 9am. But what I have to do, if I have an important meeting, is get up earlier and get the earlier train. That is still late most of the time too but at least I can make work on time.

“There’s also a receptionist at my work in London who also gets this train from Brighton and I’ve heard from her myself that it’s a real problem for her too – like everyone else. It just seems to go slowly when it nears London and you lose time.”

Good value for money?

THE ARGUS asked Southern deputy MD David Scorey if he thought his customers got a good deal for their money.

A transcript from the audio recording is listed below.

Ben Leo: David, do Southern customers get a good deal for their money?

(15 seconds of silence) Southern Press Officer: “I think we’re going over old ground that we’ve probably covered.”

Ben: It’s just one last question, perhaps the most important.

Press officer: “I think what we’ve explained is that we’ve said the service customers are getting, we don’t think is what they deserve or what we want to give them.”

Ben: So is that a no then? Can we get a yes or no answer?

Press officer: “No you can’t. I know you’d like to Ben but you can’t, ok? We can’t turn it into a yes or no answer. It’s not a yes or no answer is it?”

Ben: Well...

Press Officer: “We’ve explained to you that, we’ve been open and said the service at the moment isn’t at the level they deserve or what we want to give them, and we’re working hard to change that. We’ve said fares are something which are set by government.”

Ben: I understand that...

Press Officer: “We’re apolitical, we’re not going to be making political statements. I think we’ve got there on that one.”

Ben: With respect, it’s not a political question. David is the deputy MD of Southern and I’m asking him if he thinks his customers are getting their money’s worth at the moment.

David: “I don’t think we’re delivering the level of performance customers expect. We are delivering in a lot of areas, including investment and innovation, but not on performance. We’re doing more in that area, that’s a major area we’re focusing on.”

Ben: So you can’t answer yes or no?

David: “In terms of what customers get in terms of ticket prices and who sets them and how they’re set, I’m not going to say any more on that.”

Our Brighton to London experience

REPORTER Ben Leo took the 7.29am Brighton to London Victoria train on Thursday.

He said: “I’m glad I’m not a commuter. All I ever see or hear about is angry men and women who have yet again been failed by the trains in one way or another.

“I started my journey from Brighton to Victoria with relative ease. The train was warm, there were lots of seats and we left on time. We called at all the stops advertised and the catering man was attentive.

“People I spoke to on board were not surprised to hear the service never arrived on time last year. I felt sorry for them. Some had got past the stage of anger or frustration and instead accepted that they could do nothing about it.

“One man told me he had no other option. If he wanted to get to London from Brighton at that time, he had to use a Southern service. The firm could essentially treat him how they wanted and he’d still be forced to use them the next day, he said. What a sad reality.

“The train arrived two minutes late to Victoria. That kind of delay won’t cause a great fuss, but when you’re forking out thousands of pounds for an advertised service and fail to get it, even once, you can understand why people are fed up. Not to mention increasing rail fares.

“Here’s a suggestion. How about season ticket holders from Brighton to Victoria get a free cup of warm coffee every morning if the train the previous day was late?”