DfT should carry can on security

There is a big kerfuffle in London over the staffing of stations, with the Evening Standard attacking the train companies for making big profits while paying little regard to security.

It is difficult not to have sympathy with the paper and its commuters. South London suburban services are largely a free railway between most stations after 8pm and the local hoodies know it, which does not make for a pleasant travelling experience.However, the Standard’s target is the wrong one. Sure, the rail companies could afford to shell out a few bob more on extra staff and security cameras given the excess profits some, notably South West Trains, have made on franchises. But essentially the ball is in the Department for Transport’s court.

This is made clear from the contents of the Invitation to Tender document for the new Integrated Kent franchise which was released to the RMT union under the Freedom of Information legislation. The union was infuriated by the fact that the document mentioned that reducing the number of ticket staff at stations should be part of the bid.This suggests that such details as staffing arrangements are being specified by the DfT rather than being left to the operator.

As it happens, the incumbent operator, which was a management team installed by the Strategic Rail Authority, had already set this plan in motion intending to increase the number of customer facing staff on the platform while reducing the number holed up in ticket offices.However, the key point is that the DfT is continuing to set out in great detail what happens in franchises and Derek Twigg, the very cautious rail minister not known for departing even by a millimetre from his brief, rather let the cat out of the bag in a Parliamentary answer on March 21 in response to a question about staffing at stations on the Greater Western franchise.

He said: “We have to look on a station-by-station basis at the business case and at affordability, in terms of achieving the best value for money through improvements in the whole franchise‚Ķ.we want improvements in those areas, but we have to look at things station by station.”

Not only does this show a ludicrous degree of governmental micro-management, but those words ‘business case’ make my heart sink. I have always been rather wary of them since the time when, wearing my Cycle England hat, I was lobbying the Strategic Rail Authority to install more cycle parking at stations.

“There will have to be a business case” I was told, and the SRA promptly produced one which had all the costs laid out, but no coherent revenue line. It was really all a sophisticated and expensive guess, and I could have done the work in day, but some consultant was paid tens of thousands of pounds to produce the methodology.Do they then go back and check the model after installation to see if the stands attract more people onto the railway?

After all, just a few extra users would pay for the stands several times over. But I was told they only work with the ‘ex ante’ model and not ‘ex post’, presumably because they might be embarrassed by the findings.I digress. If Mr Twigg seriously wants to micro-manage the railway to the extent of determining what stations are staffed and which are not, then we can expect chaos and inertia in equal measure.

Ultimately the question is one for society to answer and not bean counters playing with fatuous ‘business models’: do we think that stations should be safe for people to use at night or not? Simple, really.

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