Southern franchise ‘needs to be broken up’

The Government has faced calls to strip GTR of Southern services

The Government has faced calls to strip GTR of Southern services

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The franchise including Southern is ‘too big to handle’ and ‘needs to be broken up’, one Sussex MP has suggested.

Govia Thameslink Railway also runs Thameslink, Gatwick Express, and Great Northern services as part of a management contract signed with the Government.

Passengers using Southern trains have faced almost unrelenting misery since November 2015 due to a combination of staff shortages, mismanagement, Network Rail track issues and upgrade programmes, industrial action, and operational incidents.

Both train drivers’ union ASLEF and the RMT, which represents conductors, have called strikes over GTR’s plans to extend driver-only operation to Southern services, which would leave drivers responsible for opening and closing train doors.

The two unions have raised safety concerns about the potential loss of a second safety-critical member of staff on trains.

Speaking at a BBC debate on Southern aired on Monday night, Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said the franchise was ‘too big to handle’ and ‘needs to be broken up’.

He added: “I have no problem with them being stripped of their franchise, but the franchise was defective in the first place frankly. Nobody comes out of this strike well.”

But he added: “The thing that is completely undermining any train operating company running the service at the moment is a completely unreasonable strike action.”

A report by Ian Prosser, HM’s chief inspector of railways and director of rail safety at the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), concluded that the proposed form of train dispatch ‘meets legal requirements and can be operated safely’.

But Mick Cash, general secretary at the RMT, labelled the report a ‘whitewash’ that proved the ORR is ‘not fit for purpose’.

A spokesman for the ORR responded: “ORR is an independent, evidence based regulator. Our report was produced following a thorough review of all proposed and existing processes, as well as site inspections. We have worked with unions as well as GTR-Southern during this process and are continuing to do so.”

Last week Charles Horton, chief executive of GTR, said: “Because of their unjustified and pointless industrial action, the travelling public have faced months of misery and hardship to their work and family lives for no substantive reason.

“The RMT and ASLEF are being wholly unreasonable and they are abusing their trade union powers to call strikes.”

ASLEF strikes yesterday (Tuesday January 10), today and Friday (January 13) mean that no Southern train services are running on these days, with a very limited bus replacement service operating instead.

The union is also due to hold walkouts on three days in late January.

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