Southern has been fined £13.4m by the Government for disruption suffered by passengers last year.
Services run by rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway were affected by almost daily widespread delays and cancellations from late 2015, with RMT and ASLEF unions then organising a number of strikes since April 2016 over the introduction of driver-only operation.
In a letter to GTR, transport secretary Chris Grayling explained that although rail industry expert Chris Gibb’s report had ‘found the primary cause of disruption was industrial action’, the Department for Transport had determined that ‘this does not fully explain the poor service that passengers received’.
The rail operator will now be required to fund a package of performance and passenger improvements worth £13.4m.
Southern said it was pleased the Department for Transport had settled its force majeure claim for disruption, and ‘regard this as a fair outcome which draws a line under an issue that has been hanging over the franchise for many months’.
However the RMT union described the action taken by DfT as a ‘slap on the wrist’, while transport campaigners said it was ‘too little, too late’.
Charles Horton, GTR’s chief executive officer, said “We are pleased that this issue has been concluded, and accept and are sorry that our service levels haven’t been good enough for passengers.
“We run the most congested network in the UK where passenger journeys have doubled in the last twelve years.
“This has meant we have been running services for more and more passengers while also allowing stations to be rebuilt, platforms extended, track and signalling replaced and new trains and technology introduced too.”
Mr Grayling said: “Passengers who depend on Southern have been badly let down. The union industrial action that has so often disrupted services is totally unjustified and must stop now.
“But GTR must also do better in providing services to its passengers. When trains are cancelled unnecessarily it can cause huge disruption. And when trains are shorter than they ought to be, it can leave already busy services unbearably overcrowded.”
Passengers and campaign groups, most notably the Association for British Commuters, have been pushing the Government to make a final decision on whether GTR was in breach of its management contract between September 2015 and September 2016.
The group took the case to the courts, with a judge giving Mr Grayling until 4pm today (Thursday July 13) to inform GTR of its decision on its force majeure claims.
His decision was published this morning.
Driver-only operation involves drivers opening and closing train doors.
The RMT, which represents conductors transferred to the roles of on-board supervisors, has raised concerns about the potential loss of a second safety-critical member of staff.
Train drivers’ union ASLEF has called a ban on overtime working and is also currently balloting its members on further strike action in a separate pay dispute.
In response to the fine, Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, said: “This pathetic response to the abject failure by Southern/GTR to deliver on their contract doesn’t even stack up to a slap on the wrist.
“No wonder the company are gloating. Chris Grayling has let them off the hook big style.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, added: “There is still no end in sight to the problems of Southern.
“The DfT has failed, the Transport Secretary has failed, and Southern has failed.”
The breakdown of the £13.4m fund is:
• £7m will be put into a fund for DfT to allocate to projects and improvements that will directly benefit passengers
• £4m will fund 50 on-board supervisors over the next two years (from January 2018) to improve access to staff for passengers on trains
• The remaining £2.4m will target performance improvements.
Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “We welcome the fact that the Government has finally issued a fine and applaud the work of Association of British Commuters in bringing the case that forced this action. But it’s too little, too late.
“The Southern fiasco is estimated to have cost the economy over £300m, and the Government has already covered millions of pounds in delay repay on behalf of Southern as well as handing GTR £20m of public money last year as part of an emergency package.”
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