Partnering for Progress, an interview with David Statham

Prospect Magazine Article published on 23rd August 2018

Partnering for Progress

Enabling 178 million rail passenger journeys each year requires a committed belief in the power of partnerships. In this interview David Statham, Managing Director of Southeastern, shares his views on how collaboration will shape the future of rail across his region and the UK.

Why are you such a passionate believer in the power of partnerships?

I’ve been working in rail for 26 years and it’s really shown me what collaboration can achieve. Every day brings new challenges, but you can succeed if you secure the support of people you’re working with. That’s everyone from the passengers on platforms and 4,500 colleagues running our services through to policy-makers shaping the future.

Everything we achieve is through collaboration with organisations ranging from community groups to government. My belief in the power of partnerships comes from real experience, not wishful theory.

But don’t you think people perceive the rail industry as incapable of working together?

It’s been hard to watch the news over the past year without seeing stories about people calling for significant change in rail. It’s clear people expect improvement, which is why all of us are working together day-in, day-out to provide a better service for passengers.

This is an important year for Southeastern. In a few months we’ll find out if we’ve retained our franchise contract with the Department for Transport. We’re doing everything we can to be awarded the opportunity to continue connecting the millions of passengers that use our services.

Finding innovative ways to work with industry partners is central to our approach. A great example is One Team Victoria – a new initiative with Network Rail, Southern and Gatwick Express. All staff at London’s Victoria station now wear the same uniform, regardless of who they work for, to embed a ‘one team’ ethos and improve passengers’ experience.

Are you clear what’s expected from Southeastern?

It’s very clear. Around 610,000 journeys are made on our services each weekday – making us one of the busiest UK rail operators. The majority of our passengers are commuters, so punctuality is the biggest factor affecting their satisfaction.

With around two-thirds of delays related to infrastructure, the best way to improve punctuality is through partnership. That’s why we agreed a collaborative strategy with Network Rail in 2017 and set-up a ‘Joint Performance Team’ responsible for delivering it. Their proactive work anticipates problems and helps keep our service running to meet strict targets on punctuality, disruption, capacity and communication.

Our National Rail Passenger Survey scores have seen marked improvements in recent years and despite a temporary dip earlier this year, passengers say they have noticed the impact of £78m invested to improve our services.

The rail network serving the south-east is under growing pressure. What have you been doing to help tackle this?

Anyone who works in rail will tell you that you can’t stand still. Our network has seen a 40% growth in passengers since 2006, and nationally, numbers have more than doubled since the 1990s.

That’s why in 2017 we worked with the Department for Transport to introduce 68 extra air-conditioned carriages to our fleet, providing over 5,000 additional seats in the morning peak. We now have the lowest overcrowding of any rail operator in London and the South East.

These new carriages were the latest milestone on our journey to deliver improvements for passengers through collaboration.

In 2009, we partnered with HS1 and Hitachi to launch Britain’s first domestic high-speed service. Our iconic 140mph Javelin trains have slashed journey times between Kent and London, supporting regeneration and growth.

In recent years, we’ve been a key partner in the £1bn rebuild of London Bridge. The transformation has included major track and signalling upgrades, platform extensions and a new rail underpass – meaning 30% more trains can use the station. For passengers, this means improved connectivity, new journey options and more space on-board.

How important is the railway for growth and prosperity in your region?

The railway is fundamental to the prosperity of our region. It connects workers to jobs, businesses to markets and people with each other. That’s why earlier this year we joined with Network Rail, HS1 and a range of partners to launch In Partnership for Britain’s Prosperity - a new plan to secure economic growth, improve journeys, boost local communities and create more rewarding jobs in south east London and Kent.

But will passengers see or feel the benefits on a personal level?

A great deal of our investment has been, and will continue to be, about improving the experience of passengers. Take fares and ticketing for example, where we know customers would like to see greater transparency, simplicity, flexibility and value.

I’m proud to be leading the industry’s work with Transport Focus on Easier Fares - Britain’s first ever public consultation on making fares simpler and easier. Once completed, we’ll work with the Department for Transport to reform out-dated fare regulations.

What’s the future role of innovation in helping improve the passenger experience?

Our region has seen plenty of railway innovation. Back in 1836, the London and Greenwich railway introduced the first regular passenger services in the world. In 2009, we introduced Britain’s first high speed service which now achieves some of the UK’s highest passenger satisfaction scores and played a key role in the success of London 2012.

Today, thanks largely to technology, consumers’ expectations are changing faster than ever. That’s why we’re collaborating with Go-Ahead on the Billion Journey Project. Launched in July 2018, this new ‘accelerator lab’ will help scale-up businesses find new ways to improve travel with the support of transport experts from Southeastern and the Go-Ahead Group.

For Southeastern passengers, all of this means that the future is bright. We’re working day-in, day-out with partners to continue improving our services. We won’t stop until we’ve achieved the vision of delivering our best ever passenger experience.