Connex, one of the UK's largest train companies has lost its franchise to run services in Kent and Sussex.
The regulator, the Strategic Rail Authority said its decision was due to the company's poor performance and financial mismanagement.
Connex's franchise had been due to run until 2006 but will now cease at the end of the year.
An interim company will run the existing services from December until a new private operator is found.
Do you feel that Connex should lose its franchise? Can another company make a difference? What can be done to improve Britain's beleaguered rail service?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
Connex maybe should go, but problems won't stop there. The biggest problems for the public are disaffected workforce (more management should do an internship so they are not clueless) and that the competition is removed (cars subject to witch hunt by tree hugging councils, trains are run as a series of mini monopolies). By the way, those that keep saying UK has the worst railways haven't travelled. The UK has unique requirements and exceptional throughput comparing well to overseas in my opinion.
They couldn't run a bus stop.
What I can't understand is how almost every other country has a better service than we do? Why are we so incompetent? Perhaps (correct me if I am wrong) six figure salaries and bonuses are not justifiable.
Their franchise should have been removed long ago. These train companies should be self-sufficient. No subsidies, no hand-outs - make the business work or get out and let someone else do it. If they're not meeting their cost base, then challenge the automatic agreement of paying millions of pounds for a bit of track. If you're so eager to pay out so much, all your suppliers are going to take you for a ride. Our train companies are run by old-fashioned, old-minded, public sector, bureaucratic, non-customer facing imbeciles.
The biggest problem is that the operators inherited rolling stock from BR that had seen better days. So how could any of them be competitive when all depended on what they were given to start with? This didn't give a clean playing field across all operators so why pick on Connex? There were after all given the worst stock of all.
Colin B, London, UK
Public transport is too important for future economic growth to be left in the hands of small time profiteering opportunists. Let's look at Japan, they see public transport as an engineering problem, not a profit making business. If we had a time machine, we could go back to Victorian Britain and ask them how they managed to create over 11,000 miles of efficient railway network.
Victorian Britain managed to create over 11,000 miles of efficient railway network
The problem is that the whole infrastructure in the South East, from Dover to Bournemouth, needs upgrading - this is a 25-50 year investment, and no private company is going to stump up funds for that long.
The answer - re-nationalise into one company, force the unions and management to play like grown-ups rather than children, and spend money on what matters.
Today Connex, tomorrow Thameslink, next day SWT, then South Central....
David Lake, UK
As one who was in the thick of the 'preparations' for privatisation. I can attest that there was only one priority towards the end of the process as the election loomed. That was to ensure that the industry was smashed apart so effectively that an incoming Labour government could not possibly renationalise it. One major step would be to completely change the performance regime.
This was designed similarly to our legal system in being totally adversarial. The maximum amount of (taxpayers') money is spent to produce the least effective outcome. We need a system where Network Rail and the relevant TOCs are both incentivised for better passenger performance and both penalised for failure to deliver without each being diverted from real improvement by arguing with the other (at great cost) to establish that they were not to blame.
Gordon Mackley, UK
Perhaps Connex losing the franchise will be the spark that ignites a new social revolution - working from home rather than commuting?
Richard Price, UK
Connex operates quite a good bus service around Croydon so why was its rail service so terrible? I'm glad to see the back of it but the new South Central company still runs its trains late, they're still dirty and the new trains are often to be seen in the sidings because some muppet forgot that the electrification would need upgrading to cope with them.
Connex operates a good bus service so why was its rail service so terrible?
Luke Nicolaides, UK
I can't believe people still seriously think that you can run an effective rail service for a profit. Having inherited what was probably the most run down and dilapidated rail service in Europe how can people possibly expect private companies to reconcile good customer service with the need to make a profit?
My girlfriend, who works for a bank in the city, handed her notice in ten days ago because she couldn't face the commute from High Brooms to Cannon Street any longer. Despite getting up at 6am, she was still late into work as a result of the trains on average of three days a week.
Connex has been a disgrace.
Russell Long, UK
As somebody who has been tearing my hair out because of train delays and cancellations during the last two years, I can genuinely say that I feel relieved and positively optimistic now that Connex have lost their franchise. The inconveniences I have had to endure because of Connex's mismanagement are unbelievable. Three cheers for the Strategic Rail Authority! Hip hip hooray!
Paul James, Greenwich, S.E. England
I have been a commuter from Kent for over 25 years. I suspect a key part of the problem is the capacity of stations like Charing Cross to take further trains. The sheer number of trains you pass in the London Bridge area gives the impression that the whole system is running at capacity. A change in train operators will make no differences to the customers. The future is even more worrying if the number of new houses being built means more commuters.
The future is even more worrying if the number of new houses being built means more commuters
Rail travel is outdated. Now is the government's chance to tarmac over the Connex rail lines and turn them into fast, usable roads.
Mike Ward, UK
There is actually one company which has provided a reliable and efficient service since privatisation - Chiltern Railways. Mind you, that's only because the old BR staff banded together to buy the franchise and have taken pride in providing a good service to their customers rather than to their shareholders.
As a user of the highly profitable East Coast Main Line, I would rather see the profits (part of my fare) go to struggling or loss making parts of the network.
When this change does go ahead, Connex may disappear, but will the management, or will the same personnel be taken on by the next franchisee only to make the same mistakes again?
I doubt replacing Connex will have any effect on the train services, as the next company will just use the same rolling stock, staff and no doubt have the same attitude to passengers, ie complete indifference. The rail network as a whole seems to operate to suit the train operators not the users. In the West Midlands it is commonplace for trains to miss out scheduled stops so they can appear to arrive "on time" or terminate short of the timetabled destination for the same reason.
The rail network as a whole seems to operate to suit the train operators not the users
Kelvin Poulton, UK
I think this is an important event for the future running of the railways. By showing its teeth in such a decisive way, the SRA has drawn a line in the sand and served notice on train operators that they cannot get away with continual underperformance. That message alone is more important than whether or not a new company might make a difference in this particular case.
David Hazel, UK
Perhaps the worst service run by Connex, if not one of the worst in the country, is the Uckfield line to and from Oxted. To coincide with today's announcement from the SRA, the 0900 "Uckfield Cannonball" (circa 1948) train remained broken down in the station, while the staff shrugged. Will things get any better before the new appointment? I don't think so. Where's the incentive?
Paul Leader, England
I am returning to Kent later this year from Frankfurt. I say let the Germans run the trains and rail network. The trains in Germany are almost always on time and it costs a lot less to travel on them than UK.
Alan ex-pat, Germany
Out of the frying pan and into the fire? All we'll get is another profit hungry company seeking high returns on a low investment and continuing decline in services and the state of the stations.
A. Croft, UK
I worked on the railways in the UK before moving to work on the Swedish railways. The system in the UK is totally inept and unsafe due to the failure to implement the installation of ATC by declaring it was too costly. Instead we installed two different safety systems which are of little use without driver co-operation. The UK network is years behind most of the other leading European nations. Privatisation for profit was a disaster, the government needs to do something soon before the whole network fails because of its own incompetence.
The system in the UK is totally inept and unsafe
As someone who is forced to use Connex all the time (living in Ramsgate) I applaud the decision. Connex are an incompetent disgrace. The biggest problem with the South East though is the ancient unreliable unsafe rolling stock, which needs replacing. The two-three hour journey from Thanet to London (80 miles) if shortened would encourage commuters to use rail over car and generate much needed money for the Kent rail network.
Edward Blackburn, UK
With the sacking of Connex we must wonder yet again what has happened to respective government transport policies. Only last week motorists were again threatened with additional taxation by prospective congestion charging. Prescott now wants to flood the South East with green field housing, what chance will the new commuters have?
David Wright, UK
Privatisation can only work with competition. Without this what incentive is there to improve services? Every seven years a new company comes along, repaints the trains and stations and then goes away. We need long term commitment and investment. Re-nationalise the railways now before our stations and trains disappear under countless layers of paint and pigeon poo.
In defence of Connex I would like to say that I feel their services have been improving recently with the gradual introduction of new trains. I am concerned that this decision may arrest that development.
Too many franchises are in operation. South East, South Central and South West should be merged as soon as possible to allow streamlined management, sharing of staff and stock and ticketing. Connex was a disaster, Hornby could run it better!
I have recently moved from London to Tokyo and the difference in the standard of service is astonishing. Every station is manned with polite and well dressed staff. Every train is clean, modern and runs on time. The fares are comparable with the UK but that is all. Recently a train I was on was 3 minutes late arriving at Shinjuku station. When we arrived staff were there to meet the passengers and apologise in person. We were also given a full refund. Why do we have to run our trains in such a sloppy manner?
Gavin Moore, Japan
I commute daily into London on Connex from Whitstable which seems to be one of the better routes they have. Since the service is already adequate I assume it can only get worse as a result of this change. Frankly, if Connex can't afford to run the service, what makes anyone think some other company can? Rail services should be publicly owned because they simply aren't geared up to be profit-making.
Rail services should be publicly owned
To correct an earlier comment from Paul, UK, Connex have not 'bought' the right to run services from York to Manchester. These services are part of the Transpennine Express (TPE) franchise for which Connex were one of the preferred bidders, along with First Group for this franchise. A decision is expected anytime now, so I guess my money is now on First Group.
Returning to the topic in hand, Connex have incompetently managed their franchise financially. In any other business, this would result in them going bankrupt. As the railways are a public service, such a situation cannot be allowed to happen, therefore the SRA have stepped in - and will hopefully bring about some improvements both in terms of financial management and performance.
Commuters into Manchester were told recently that Connex have bought the franchise for the York to Manchester line from Arriva. Connex is dead, long live Connex!
The service has got worse every year. Last winter was the most miserable so far and I am dreading the next one. Only the longer summer days make the commute from Battle to London each day, with continuing delays, just bearable.
Dawn Enderson, England
What can be done to improve Britain's beleaguered rail service? Simple...bring back British Rail and let's have some money put into the railways instead of individual franchise companies milking the Government for extra cash to spend on shareholders and profits.
Annie, Hampshire, UK
The Kent and East Sussex lines are about to undergo a radical change, with or without Connex. New trains and the Kent commuter section of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link are all in progress with the new trains already being phased in.
I suspect the SRA felt a fresh start was required given Connex's much maligned performance. Be interesting to see what the SRA are like at direct management and if they are cheaper than the franchisees.
Ian Bartlett, UK
The poor service between my home town and London was one of the reasons for me not to take on a job in the city. Maybe Britain should have a look at their neighbouring countries to see how they manage to provide a more acceptable service and why we can't. Switzerland's rail system is by far the best I came across.
About time, but I do not believe the service will improve. Having travelled as a commuter for over 40 years, I have waited in vain for time keeping to improve. A few new carriages is not the answer, the whole issue with train companies and those responsible for the track and signalling equipment should be reviewed.
A few new carriages is not the answer
Doug Jeffries, England
It is about time some real and tangible pressure was placed on the franchise holders to improve performance, the main question will be how much will the executives take out of the company as a golden handshake for a job well done NOT?
Connex train services are some of the poorest I have ever used. As a regular commuter for the last five years, I can add that the service has got consistently worse with trains frequently running late, being overcrowded and cancelled at the last minute. I do not see how their continued running of any service could be justified. It certainly should lose its franchise. I would add, however, that in my experience the station staff are helpful and remarkably nice given the frustration frequently felt by Connex users.
I travel from Rochester to London every day and I think the service is terrible. At least once a week we suffer delays of over 15 minutes due to any number of problems with trains, tracks or signals. For the amount of money we pay a year, we are not getting the service we deserve. It makes commuting to London not seem worthwhile.
Fiona W, Kent, England
Coming from a railway family, I have seen the gradual destruction of the UK rail system by inept politicians who swear blind they have the country's interests at heart.
I have seen the North Wales line go from busy commuter route/successful freight route to an embarrassing dumping ground for out-of-date rolling stock and buckled rails.
A single solution is needed - the railway network should be re-nationalised.
People complained about British Rail in its heyday, but there was always a full complement of staff, and a single governing policy of how to run a transport network.
The likes of Connex are a blight on the rail infrastructure, and have at last been found out.
The railway network should be re-nationalised
Darren Parry, Wales, UK
I moved to Kent four months ago and now commute to work on Connex. Maybe I've been fortunate on the route I use, Medway to London Victoria, but I don't think Connex's service has been too bad. Not perfect, but far, far better than the Victoria Line on the tube which is what I had to put with before I moved.
I have no time for Connex but anyone who remembers the bad old days of British Rail will know that it will not get any better until the unions and management start to run it for the customers rather than for their own vested interests.
Kevin Larkin, England
Works well this privatisation doesn't it!! I worked for British Rail in the late 80's and everyone said what a disaster privatisation would be! Here we are 15 years later - and what a surprise - privatisation was a disaster!! Can anyone give one good example of how privatisation has been a resounding success, where standards have improved and prices have fallen?
Can anyone give one good example of how privatisation has been a resounding success?
Of course it won't! The whole structure of the railways is wrong, and no amount of petty tinkering will ever make it work.
At last! I could have run the Kent and Sussex franchise better out of my bedroom. Connex are a disgrace to the business community, and the fact that they have been kept afloat by taxpayers' money is scandalous. I don't care who replaces them, as long as it's not Connex.
Simon Pilkington, London, UK
The only way to improve these services is to update the rolling stock. Connex have polite and helpful staff, they offer a wide range of services, and try their best to keep to their timetables. However the trains they use are old, and thus tend to break down!