Private rail companies fail to keep on track

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The Independent Online
Private rail companies are failing to meet their minimum service levels, according to a report by railway campaigners.

The Railway Development Society, which represents passengers on the network, said specially laid-down Passenger Service Requirements - PSRs - were being broken or changed to suit new timetables developed by private train companies. The report mentioned service levels on South West Trains - which has recently had to cut services because of a shortage of drivers - and Connex South Central as well as on the South Wales and West line - run by Prism. Campaigners point out that many early services that are specified by the PSRs are missing, and that on some services "maximum'' journey times are being exceeded.

Government officials from Opraf, the body which leased British Rail's passenger services to the private sector, admitted that they had failed to spot that the private firms' services did not exactly match the legal minimum.

South West Trains' woes are compounded by a rigorous penalty regime where the company is fined for every train which is cancelled. The train company's poor service, caused after 70 drivers took redundancy leaving the company short of experienced staff, began in January. The changes could mean Stagecoach, which runs the train company, has its monthly subsidy of pounds 5m cut by up to pounds 400,000. South West Trains managers are due to appear before the House of Commons Transport Committee on 19 March. Randeep Ramesh