BACK in the 1980s, British Rail ran a famous, award-winning TV advert. To a sleepy jazz track, it showed passenger’s shoes transforming into slippers, a young boy and an old man playing chess, the Penguin Logo on someone’s book sliding into a sleeping position. ‘Relaaax,’ crooned the singer.

Last week I travelled abroad for work. On the way there, I had to stay overnight at the airport because of the Saturday train strikes. On the way back, my train from Clapham Junction was delayed (‘that’s every day this week,’ sighed the commuter next to me). Then when it did arrive, it was so overcrowded with people standing I couldn’t get on with my suitcase.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a bad journey on the railways recently. I travel to London every couple of weeks for work, and the number of times I have arrived late has felt increasingly disproportionate. Have I just been unlucky, or is this part of a wider pattern?

Last year, the rail franchise for the region switched from South West Trains to South Western Railway: Stagecoach, who had run the line for twenty years, lost to a consortium led by FirstGroup. That didn’t feel a great decision: FirstGroup is the company behind Great Western Railway, and anyone who travels from Salisbury to Bath and Bristol knows how unreliable that service is.

South Western Railway offered a gleaming prospect of a different sort of railway: ‘better trains, more seats and faster services’, promised the launch. But the company got off to an inauspicious start: the train revealing its new livery arrived at the media photocall fifteen minutes late. Since then, services have worsened to the extent that by April, the Transport Secretary ordered an independent review.

This report, written by Sir Michael Holden, was released a fortnight ago. To be fair to South Western, the review spreads the blame around: it also criticises Network Rail, struggling to upgrade ageing infrastructure. The fall in punctuality, too, stretches back into the previous franchise. Even so, the rate of decline is shocking: one graph in the report shows how the number of trains arriving on time on the Salisbury-London line has dropped by 20 per cent since summer 2015. The most recent monthly figures for the line show that only 75 per cent of services arrived on time: 25 per cent were late, very late or cancelled.

Other parts of the country might have it worse when it comes to their train services, but there is a steady deterioration here that is in danger of slipping under the radar. And while the Novichok Poisoning affects tourism in the short-term, the quality of the train service has a longer-term effect on people living in the city.