Easiest/hardest franchises to manage?

willgreen

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First post here so apologies if I've put it in the wrong place or the formatting is incorrect.
I was wondering earlier about which franchises are the hardest, or easiest, to manage. There's obviously a large range of factors affecting this - passenger volume, character of areas served, extent of operations, interactions with other freight and passenger operators, mixes of services, infrastructure quality, availability of rolling stock, political considerations etc...
To kick things off, I'll give two examples which jump to mind:

Hardest:
Northern. Covers a huge area, with a wide variety of lines and services - long-distance (Blackpool-York), commuter (CLC), semi-rural (Tyne Valley), rural (Esk Valley) - and a multitude of stock, hemmed in by inadequate infrastructure and highly complex interactions with other operators, especially TPE and with freight (and even light rail) in certain areas.

Easiest:
C2C (Essex Thameside is the name of the franchise I think). Essentially a pair of glorified, electrified branch lines, operating almost all of its own stations and catering largely for traffic into London in the morning and out of London in the evening.
 
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Romsey

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Hardest:
Cross Country - you're everyones enemy / pain in the a*** for trying to impose a standard hour which doesn't fit with their service.
Exhibit 1: pathing time between Basingstoke and Reading to fit into gaps on Bournemouth ML and GWML.
Of course, the practice of "first on the graph" is now in their favour having had the same basic service to over 10 years.
C2C isn't easy unless you get on well with the freight operators.

As an alternative any franchise where DfT have specified everything down to how many coaches on each service and demand correspondence for every STP change for shopping/football/local celebration formation change.

Easiest
Merseyrail

Edited at moderators request
 
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London Trains

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Hardest:
Govia Thameslink Railway. Similar to Northern, it covers a very wide area, and has longish distance and short metro services. Due to the Thameslink core, delays can cross London and wreak havoc, such as a problem on the Welwyn Viaduct messing up services on the BML. There are also many conflicts with other franchises (SWR, GWR, SE, EMR, LNER, Hull Trains, Grand Central, LNWR, Avanti, LO, freight) which add to the delay problem. Frankly a massive problem on the network could potentially cause delays across the country all the way to Wales and Scotland.

Easiest:
I agree with C2C. On weekdays and Sundays at least, their network is completely self contained. The stations they dont operate are operated by NR or LU so are not operated by other franchises.
 
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Merseyrail falls into a similar category to c2c - homogeneous fleet, manages almost all its own stations, simple self-contained network. To the extent that Merseyrail often seems to pretend it isn't part of the National Rail network at all, e.g. regarding its attitude to through ticketing.

I'd guess Chiltern sits at the next notch up in complexity, but still relatively easy - much of it is self-contained, controls its own moderately-sized London terminal, but with limited tentacles out into West Midland territory at the extremities.

Depending whether "easiest/hardest to manage" in the title means just running your trains, or refers to the amount of political meddling and interference in its business, then maybe Merseyrail management gets more distractions & mithering from Merseytravel.* I don't know much about c2c's day-to-day operations but, to me, it mostly seems to be "left alone to get on with it".

I agree with the other posts about GTR, CrossCountry and Northern being hard, for a wide range of reasons.

* - does the Merseyrail TOC operate as a normal franchise, or a concession/management contract these days? I can't remember.
 
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LNW-GW Joint

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Merseyrail is in year 17 of a 25-year concession with Merseytravel.
So very stable on both sides, with the same owners (Serco/Abellio) earning a modest return.
Big changes coming, though, with a new fleet after 45 years of the same 507/508s trundling around.
The infrastructure has improved over the years, and the 15-minute service on most lines seems to work well.
 

Horizon22

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If we're basing it on franchises failures, then clearly LNER / East Coast is the hardest, presumably because all the revenue projections are hopelessly inaccurate. Otherwise GTR - in its current form - which also had to try and combine 3 similar but still different TOCs into one whole and manage a huge infrastructure project with additional DfT requirements such as DOO.

C2C probably the easiest, especially with the long franchise length and limited service complexity.
 

si404

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<C2C> catering largely for traffic into London in the morning and out of London in the evening.
That might be the case, but there's a lot of other significant flows.

Last time I travelled with them it was the shoulder of the evening peak and the train I boarded into London at West Ham was very busy.

C2C have, in recent years, had the problem of balancing the needs of the high volume short distance traffic and the more traditional mid-distance commuters.
 

Metal_gee_man

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I would argue that EMR have a relatively simple franchise, the 2 services they run that make no decernable sense are the Norwich to Liverpool and the extension to Leeds everything else isnt too complicated
 
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Easiest: C2C. I agree with most of you here. It's largely self-contained and doesn't really do anything "exciting". It operates from one terminal to a small handful of destinations - the only complexity that they have to deal with is engineering diversions to Liverpool Street, and I expect that isn't very difficult.

Hardest: I'd say Southeastern. A busy mixed and intertwined commuter network that operates from more London Terminals than any other operator. Cannon Street, Charing Cross, London Bridge, St Pancras, Victoria, as well as peak services and weekend diversions to Blackfriars, all juggling Metro and Mainline work. They get more flak than I think they deserve for trying to run this network, and that's before you bring in the overlaps with Southern and Thameslink. Then look at Charing Cross, and how many platforms it has (only six) and that they only have 6 minutes turnaround time, leaving very little room to recover from disruptions.
 

Metal_gee_man

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I'd say Southeastern
100% it has one of the largest train fleets and most complex termini in the UK, equally, it has some of the most universal fleet in the UK (375,377,465,466s) can run to all stations barring HS1, but could you say that about the other largest rolling stock operator Northern?
 

Horizon22

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100% it has one of the largest train fleets and most complex termini in the UK, equally, it has some of the most universal fleet in the UK (375,377,465,466s) can run to all stations barring HS1, but could you say that about the other largest rolling stock operator Northern?
Operationally definitely tricky with the intensity of metro services and the capacity restrictions at terminals. But as for the rolling stock, 375s and 377s are fairly similar mechanically (as are 376s don't forget) as are 465s and 466s.

Easiest: Id say southeastern... Then look at Charing Cross, and how many platforms it has (only six) and that they only have 6 minutes turnaround time, leaving very little room to recover from disruptions.
An absoloute minimum is 7 minutes, (4 car is probably less but they're practically non-existent) but on principle I'd agree; with so few platforms everything is in, turns around as quick as possible and then something else arrives immediately in the peak. Let's not even start talking about Lewisham area...
 

dorsetdesiro

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Larger franchisess seem like operational nightmares, would it make more sense to break up SE, Northern & GW into smaller more managable franchises?

As I understand the western part of Northern suffered more than the eastern part also there was the abandoned proposal of splitting GWR into two.
 

Fraser 73A

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GTR is by far the hardest to have managed over the course of its franchise. Had to deal with the Thameslink Programme shutting one of its main termini, it has a range of services, major fleet replacement and standardisation. It also had to deal with the timetable crisis of 2018, of which a number of external sources appear to be at fault. It is far from self contained, with the WCML, ECML, MML and a range of the third rail network being shared with many other operators of differing natures. They currently have the oldest mainline fleet in the mainland along a somewhat busy commuter route with spares getting harder to trace.

Biggest TOC in passenger numbers and (originally) ageing fleet with added operational problems would be certainly make it the hardest to manage, in my opinion at least.

The main things that have prevented the franchise from completely failing would be the management contract nature and the fairly standard fleet following the 387 and 700/717 standardisation.


As for easiest, it would be Pre Metro Ops (Stourbridge Shuttle).
 

Horizon22

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Larger franchisess seem like operational nightmares, would it make more sense to break up SE, Northern & GW into smaller more managable franchises?
Lots of proposals to split up SE metro world to the Overground but politics (as well as other logistical issues) have put a hold on that. It would likely require adding terminals to split operators unless some rationalisation takes place.
 

Horizon22

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GTR is by far the hardest to have managed over the course of its franchise. Had to deal with the Thameslink Programme shutting one of its main termini, it has a range of services, major fleet replacement and standardisation. It also had to deal with the timetable crisis of 2018, of which a number of external sources appear to be at fault. It is far from self contained, with the WCML, ECML, MML and a range of the third rail network being shared with many other operators of differing natures. They currently have the oldest mainline fleet in the mainland along a somewhat busy commuter route with spares getting harder to trace.

Biggest TOC in passenger numbers and (originally) ageing fleet with added operational problems would be certainly make it the hardest to manage, in my opinion at least.

The main things that have prevented the franchise from completely failing would be the management contract nature and the fairly standard fleet following the 387 and 700/717 standardisation.
Not to mention the DOO strikes on Southern. Oddly enough May 2018 for Southern was actually a big improvement, whilst TL became the "bad apple".
 

London Trains

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It is far from self contained, with the WCML, ECML, MML and a range of the third rail network being shared with many other operators of differing natures.
I believe they run on the same lines somewhere with every TOC in England other than Northern, TPE, Merseyrail, C2C and Chiltern.
 
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pompeyfan

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I don’t know whether to feel sorry for first MTR or not. Operationally SWR falls into 3 categories. These are then further split into more groups.
Mainline;
Pompey direct
Bournemouth mainline
WOE

windsor:
Windsors
Readings
Various rounders

inner;
Hampton court
Chessington/Dorking
Guildford via Epsom and Cobham.

it’s all quite simple until they start getting in the way of each other or freights and other TOCs start getting in the way.

the infrastructure is worsening, and yet NR are now finally getting round to fixing long term issues.

I’m not entirely sure what PPM and R/T score stagecoach hit, but I get the opinion it was higher than the current operator. Same would go for MTINs, stagecoach were well known for cooking the books and putting fault delays on crew, but the current operator act in a similar manner. Even with that said, reliability, especially of the diesel fleet has noticeably reduced.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that SWR should be tricky franchise to run because of the routes, the traction and the sheer volume of passengers, and yet stagecoach managed to make it run well and return a huge profit. Regular passengers were quick to grumble about SSWT, but in comparison I’m sure most would love to go back to how it was.
 

Andy1673

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I think the hardest are Northern and CrossCountry (in terms of routes and geography). Southeastern in terms of rolling stock usage and diagramming (as Northern is).
Easiest are Merseyrail and Island line )))))
 

Eloise

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Hardest:
Cross Country - you're everyones enemy / pain in the a*** for trying to impose a standard hour which doesn't fit with their service.
Exhibit 1: pathing time between Basingstoke and Reading to fit into gaps on Bournemouth ML and GWML.
Of course, the practice of "first on the graph" is now in their favour having had the same basic service to over 10 years.
C2C isn't easy unless you get on well with the freight operators.

As an alternative any franchise where DfT have specified everything down to how many coaches on each service and demand correspondence for every STP change for shopping/football/local celebration formation change.

Easiest
Island Line. ( I know they are part of SWR, but they still function separately. )
No such thing as “first on the graph” these days. And if there were trains capable of doing 125mph wouldn’t be the first on mine...
 

ChiefPlanner

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No one mentioned GW ? - Thames Valley and London - the North Downs , Cotswolds , "Crossrail " - Far West Wales and Cornwall. Rural branches

Oh - and just a few changes to electrification , rolling stock procurement , infrastructure etc......

Not an easy job.
 

Tomos y Tanc

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It depends whether you mean inherently easy or difficult or easy or difficult in the current (pre-Covid) circumstances.

The Wales & Borders franchise should be inherently easy since, apart from the two main lines, it has a single passenger operator and, apart from the SWML very little freight traffic.

Throw in chronic under-investment over decades by BR, Railtrack and Network Rail and a clapped out inherited fleet though and it's no wonder TfW struggles at times.
 

Eloise

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c2c had a timetable revamp undone a few years back after commuters raised concerns. Not easy...

TOCs have vocal user committees which are difficult to please and meet the expectations of.

Arriva Rail London isn’t easy, goes over four Network Rail Regions (Eastern, North West & Central, Wessex, South East) so adds in complexity.

Any TOC that dares to do away with legacy rolling stock faces the difficult task of annoying and upsetting many. In fact speed services up, slow services down, add in calls, remove calls, try and do something different and it gets challenging as you can’t please all of the people all the time.
 

Fraser 73A

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Not to mention the DOO strikes on Southern. Oddly enough May 2018 for Southern was actually a big improvement, whilst TL became the "bad apple".
Yes, another thing arguably caused by the DfT that they had to work around.

I believe they run on the same lines somewhere with every TOC in England other than Northern, TPE, Merseyrail, C2C and Chiltern.
Currently, they also do not meet TfL Rail, nor Heathrow Express.


Which isn't a franchise in itself.
Apologies, you are correct. For some reason, I thought the thread was about TOCs rather than franchises when writing that.
 
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Last year, the National Rail Passenger Survey was published. Link to report is at:
https://www.transportfocus.org.uk/r...assenger-survey-nrps-autumn-2019-main-report/

Highest overall satisfaction ratings in this report went to three Open Access operators:
  • Heathrow Express (surely the easiest-to-manage operator of all, but not a franchise)
  • Grand Central
  • Hull Trains
Of the mainstream franchised TOCs, tops for overall passenger satisfaction were ranked:
  • Merseyrail (91%)
  • Chiltern (90%)
  • ScotRail and LNER (both 89%)
Lowest for passenger satisfaction were:
  • Northern (72%)
  • West Midlands Trains (73%)
  • South Western Railway (74%)
Of course, lots of factors go into the satisfaction judgement, and there are various apples-with-oranges comparisons plus some special causes in there. But quite a bit of the passenger satisfaction ranking mirrors the easiest-to-manage ranking.
 

GetTaeFalkirk

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Larger franchisess seem like operational nightmares, would it make more sense to break up SE, Northern & GW into smaller more managable franchises?

As I understand the western part of Northern suffered more than the eastern part also there was the abandoned proposal of splitting GWR into two.
Split up further?

In the olden days, Network South East managed a significantly larger area.

My view is if you have a good and effective management abilities and structure you can scale that up or scale that down.

If you aren't starting with a good structure, you're just going to end up with multiple bad organisations if you split it up and be in an awful state if you try and scale it up.
 

Romsey

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Split up further?

In the olden days, Network South East managed a significantly larger area.

My view is if you have a good and effective management abilities and structure you can scale that up or scale that down.

If you aren't starting with a good structure, you're just going to end up with multiple bad organisations if you split it up and be in an awful state if you try and scale it up.
What NSE did drive through was Thameslink which had been in the shadows developing slowly. It also instilled some pride in the "can do" attitude that was always there keeping services running.

It did make the politicans take notice how the London Suburban network was short of investment as was just about surviving.

NSE on a day to day basis functioned to a large degree in the old operating divisions. There was the overarching publicity, marketing and policies, but there was no more connection day to day connection than there had been before. Apart from the livery and publicity what was there in common between South Central and say WCML outer suburban??
 

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