27 February 2008
Maybe things aren't getting better
Patrick Crozier
FGW train at Paddington

One of my recent themes here has been that the TOCs1 are beginning to sort themselves out.  Trains are cleaner, brighter, safer, more reliable, easier to use etc.  This has certainly been my experience.  And the other day this was confirmed by South West Trains’s latest results which indicated that they are having success in growing their market.  The only fly in the ointment seems to be Network Rail2 which (to no great surprise amongst libertarians) is gaining a reputation for being as arrogant as it is wasteful.

And then came this:

The country’s worst-performing rail company has been warned it could lose its franchise unless services improve over the next 12 months.

In a move unprecedented since privatisation, First Great Western has been told it faces being stripped of its licence unless standards are raised.

Personally, I get a feeling of yet another last chance.  I can imagine why.  You can’t exactly re-let the franchise immediately.  It took 18 months in the case of SouthEastern (yes, such a move is not “unprecedented”) which means if the government strips Great Western of the franchise it is going to the government that gets the blame every time a train is late.  From a minister’s point of view best to procrastinate in the hope that he gets moved before he really, really has to do anything.

Whether First Great Western really is as bad as everyone says it is, I really don’t know.  In my experience it seems just fine but I know at least one commuter who bought himself a car rather than rely on their service.  And The Truth About First Great Western has gone awfully quiet recently.


1. See the Wikipedia page for a description.
2. See Wikipedia page on Network Rail.


  1. Living in a town served by both FGW and SWT I can tell you that the difference between the two is night and day.  SWT is extremely reliable and clean.  On the rare occassions that things have gone wrong (usually Network Rail or vandalism issues), the staff are at pains to keep passengers informed.  If a train stops at a signal for a few minutes you usually get an apology over the PA system.

    In contrast, FGW is completely unreliable.  I am willing to acknowledge the role of the DfT and Network Rail in FGW’s decline, but there is no excuse for the failure to address basic operation issues.  Train interiors are filthy, the platform information screens frequently out of service or showing departures from three hours ago, and the constant failure to post platforms for Paddington departures until within five minutes of the scehduled departure time is simply annoying.

    Posted by Rory Maxwell on  29 February 2008 at 01:53 am

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