COUNTY NEWS: Protest by Southern Rail commuters in London backed by MPs

A protest by Southern Rail commuters at London Victoria station.

A protest by Southern Rail commuters at London Victoria station.

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A protest was staged by Southern Rail commuters last night at London Victoria station, with vocal support from MPs in the South East.

The Association of British Commuters (ABC) said around 100-200 people attended the one-hour event to highlight the failure of the Department of Transport to act during the collapse of the Southern Rail franchise.

A crowdfunding project by the ABC for a judicial review into the DfT has now raised over £20,000 with well over a thousand backers.

In a statement, ABC explained that it was ‘incomprehensible that a shambles of the scale of Southern Rail should be allowed to continue’ and called for clarity as to accountability measures for the company.

Among those who attended were Tom Brake MP for Sutton and Kelly-Marie Blundell, Liberal Democrat candidate for Lewes.

Messages of support from Andy McDonald, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, and Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, were also read out at the protest.

Mr McDonald said: “Rather than sticking up for passengers who are suffering the country’s worst rail service, the Government have defended Southern to the hilt, allowing them to miss performance targets and cancel hundreds of trains a day.

“It’s unacceptable that commuters have to resort to legal action to hold Southern and the Department of Transport to account.

“Passengers who have endured overcrowded, delayed and cancelled trains for too long deserve clarity over the nature of the agreement with Southern and deserve to know exactly why the Department of Transport has their incompetence to continue under a cloak of secrecy.”

The protest comes in the wake of fresh strike action announced by Southern staff over changes to conductor roles.

A Government bailout of £20million was agreed earlier this year in an effort to prop up the Southern franchise, just a day before parent company Govia Thameslink Railway declared profits of just under £100million.

The full statement from ABC read: “Having been front-line witnesses to the unravelling of Southern Rail through the course of the last 18 months, we are well aware of the long-term and entrenched mismanagement behind it.

“We remain frustrated with the lack of answers and accountability from the DfT and urge them to step up and give the public the transparency it deserves.

“This is all the more troubling when we remember that the Southern Franchising agreement is actually unique in the UK as a management contract where the company is paid a flat management fee to run the network.

“The DfT’s failure to act or provide clarity means, therefore, that there is a total vacuum where an accountable body should be.

“It’s incomprehensible that a shambles of the scale of Southern Rail should be allowed to continue - the public have a right to clarity, and a right to the service they are paying extortionate fares for.”

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