New Judicial Review case starts today – led by passenger group Bring Back British Rail

The passenger-led campaign group Bring Back British Rail announced this morning that they have started a Judicial Review on the East Coast and have already dispatched a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

In the letter, they highlighted Chris Grayling’s words to Parliament on 5th February this year when he said that Stagecoach had “breached a key financial covenant” and “Stagecoach [had] got its numbers wrong”. Despite the breach of this “key financial covenant” the Transport Secretary has already decided that Stagecoach may be permitted to run the East Coast franchise again, and has even included them on a shortlist of bidders for the East Midlands franchise.

Bring Back British Rail believe that the franchising farce can’t be allowed to continue. In their letter to Chris Grayling today, their lawyers Leigh Day have asked him to confirm:

  1. that he will revoke the Franchise Passports granted to Stagecoach and/or Virgin and/or suspend them pending a full investigation of what went wrong.
  2. whether the costs of terminating the franchise have in fact been met or could be expected to be met by the fulfilment of Stagecoach’s obligations.

To date, the Secretary of State has failed to answer the second question in full, despite the fact it is crucial for everyone to understand how much Stagecoach and Virgin will have cost us taxpayers.

Bring Back British Rail now aim to raise a minimum of £15,000 in the next 30 days. We’ll be supporting them as much as we can and hope our followers will do the same – you can read more about the case and donate here.

A Recent History of Judicial Reviews in Rail

A Judicial Review of the Department for Transport is essentially the holy grail of transport campaigning. Over the last decade, we have seen the DfT go to great lengths to avoid the scrutiny that such a legal case could provide. If BBBR’s new case is successful, we can expect the smokescreens to finally lift on the practices of the entire department.

2012 – Virgin’s Judicial Review over the west coast franchise

In August 2012, Virgin began judicial review proceedings to challenge the award of the west coast franchise to FirstGroup. Just a month into the pre-action proceedings, the DfT withdrew from their decision, announcing the discovery of ‘significant technical flaws in the franchising process’ and suspending several key civil servants in the process.

The sudden cancellation of the franchise award cost taxpayers at least £50 million and the Public Accounts Committee warned that the cost might be “very much larger”. You can refresh your memory of the PAC Committee’s view of the affair here.

It was this fiasco that led to the Brown Review on rail franchising, which claimed that rail franchising was not in fact broken and made a set of recommendations for its improvement. A short while later, the Govia Thameslink Railway management contract was put together, based on a very radical interpretation of Brown’s recommendations (and leaving 100% revenue risk with the taxpayer).

2017 – ABC’s Judicial Review over the GTR management contract

In the midst of the Southern Rail crisis of 2016, we launched Judicial Review proceedings into the GTR management contract, crowdfunding an initial £25,000. Over six months later, our application to JR was turned down on paper by a single judge. Convinced of the merits of our case, we crowdfunded again to take the DfT to an ‘oral hearing’ on whether the JR case could go forward.

In June 2017, we met the DfT in court and discussed our main ground for JR in the High Court for 2.5 hours. The ground discussed was the delay to the force majeure decision on GTR’s continual franchise breaches since the very beginning of their contract. As was widely reported at the time, the DfT argued strongly that the force majeure decision was already “imminent” and about to go public. In a move that nobody expected, the Judge made a conditional judgment, requiring the DfT to announce their decision within two weeks. You can read our full report of the court case here.

On the final day of the two week deadline, the DfT announced that it was asking GTR to pay £13.4 million in the form of an ‘improvement package’ to go straight back into the company (including hiring an extra 50 OBS staff). In claiming they had fulfilled the Judge’s condition, they then came to us for over £17,000 in costs, which we paid shortly afterwards (narrowly escaping bankruptcy).

In January 2018, the NAO report on the TSGN franchise was finally released, giving the full background to how the force majeure decision had been made. Pages 39 to 41 of the report clearly state that a rushed and ‘verbal’ agreement was made in the days after our court case, in which it was agreed that GTR could buy out two years of their liability – even extending into the future (until Sep 2018). This meant that they could completely avoid ever having to prove the often cited effect of “unofficial industrial action” or “sickness strikes” that they had claimed throughout the course of the Southern Rail Crisis. To date, these claims have never been proven, despite providing the thrust of the DfT’s anti-union messaging.

The man behind this hasty force majeure deal was the MD of Passenger Services at the DfT, Peter Wilkinson. A further investigation into his alleged conflicts of interest had been conducted in early 2017 and had been expected to conclude in the NAO report with an enquiry into the circumstances of both GTR and c2c franchise awards. Though we had previously published the first half of this NAO investigation, there was no mention of it whatsoever in their final publication.

Our inquiry into what happened in court last year is far from over. Please follow ABC on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with more revelations coming out this month and throughout 2018!

And please, if you can, support our friends at Bring Back British Rail. Cases like these are always David vs Goliath and they will need all the support we can give throughout this time.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Peter Wilkinson under investigation by the NAO for alleged conflict of interest at the Department for Transport

Today, we publish documents from a National Audit Office investigation into Peter Wilkinson’s alleged conflict of interest over Southern Rail. The investigation has been underway since January, when it was revealed by the Guardian that he had awarded the TSGN and C2C rail franchises while a director and joint main shareholder of First Class Partnerships – a consultancy that had been advising both companies. The full NAO report is due to be published in mid-November.

Shortly after the revelation of Peter Wilkinson’s alleged conflict of interest in the Guardian, it was reported that the National Audit Office had begun an inquiry into the DfT’s handling of the GTR contract. This inquiry forms a parallel report to the NAO’s investigation into the Thameslink programme, and was quietly added to their website in January; without an official announcement. Though a summer 2017 release date was originally anticipated, both reports are due to be published in mid-November.

We have now acquired advance information from the NAO’s inquiry into Peter Wilkinson – detailed in an Appendix sent out to the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport in March. A further assessment of the role Wilkinson played in the award of the GTR franchise has been underway since this time, and will be included in the NAO’s final report.

To download a PDF version of the letter and appendix, click the link below:

Investigation into Peter Wilkinson by the National Audit Office

To contact us, click here. We are a volunteer-run organisation, so please bear with us if you do not receive an immediate response.

3

4

5.jpg

 

 

 

EXCLUSIVE: New documents revealed suggesting further cover-ups around nationwide plans for DOO

Today, we reveal email correspondence raising serious questions about the impartiality of the RSSB. The emails demonstrate the intention to move staff away from disabled access and towards a ‘mobile’ revenue protection role. They also lead us to the discovery of an unheard-of report on DOO that has been buried for four years – where is the #SDGreport?

In June, we published a controversial Rail Delivery Group report on access that had been buried for two years. Though we received a lot of media interest upon our publication of this report, nobody outside certain sections of the rail press went forward with the story. This is despite the fact that Peter Rayner, one of the report’s co-authors, had broken ranks with the rail industry months earlier and spoken publicly of his concerns that GTR is now normalising a permanent breach of the Equality Act in its plans for DOO.

Today we publish further documents:

We now reveal further documents relating to the issues in the buried access report, which was quietly published on the Rail Delivery Group website a few days after we brought it to the public domain.

The following email correspondence takes place in June 2014 and begins with an email from Peter Rayner, a co-author of the buried RDG report and Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’s Accessibility and Inclusion Forum.

In the following correspondence you will see that Peter Rayner wrote of his concerns to CILT’s Head of Policy, Daniel Parker-Klein; who then forwarded the email to Michael Woods, Head of Operations and Management Research at the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB).

As he describes in his email response, Michael Woods was responsible for a major piece of research into DOO at that time. He is referring to the RSSB report on DOO, which was itself hidden from the RSSB website when the issue of DOO became controversial. You might remember us providing a link to the document in November 2016, after the report was exposed in Private Eye.

The correspondence ends with an outraged email from Ann Frye, another co-author of the buried RDG report and Vice-Chairperson of CILT’s Accessibility and Inclusion Forum.

The email from Michael Woods portrays a shocking attitude to Peter Rayner’s concerns, and a great deal can be learned from it about what has been going on behind the scenes regarding plans for DOO. We point out two points in particular here and include the full correspondence below:

1. Michael Woods comments on the controversial RSSB report, the independence of which has long been denied by the rail unions:

“I am responsible for a major piece of research, complementing a previous study by a well known consultancy Steer Davies Gleave (you know the owner), into how to significantly extend the coverage of Driver Only Operation for Passenger Services (DOO(P)) to much more of the network, on behalf of RDG and ultimately DfT.

The Steer Davies Gleave report on DOO has never been mentioned publicly until now. We have tracked down the only reference – it appears as a footnote in the RSSB report:

SDG report.PNG

Given that so many buried and controversial documents are now coming to light – it is essential that we raise a call for the publication in full of the Steer Davies Gleave report, and ask why – as a foundational document to DOO – it has been buried for the past four years. We will be using the hashtag #SDGreport, and hope that you will join us in raising the attention of MPs and press to this issue.

2. Michael Woods comments on the rationale for DOO, confirming allegations that it is part of a project to move staff over to revenue protection duties:

“Having mobile teams of customer service staff able to check that customers have authority to travel (we are coming to the end of paper or card tickets, which will disappear in the next five or so years) and provide other assistance, but not one-per-train, is the way forward.”

A close reading of Michael Woods’ email will show that the RSSB considers the pre-booking of travel sufficient for those with access needs, and suggests that this forms part of their long-term solution for disabled people in regard to DOO: “PRM [Persons of Reduced Mobility] customers will still have access to the ATOC managed booking system to ensure they are met and aided…”

Read the full correspondence below:

Peter Rayner email 1.jpg

Peter Rayner email 2.jpg

Peter Rayner email 3.jpg

Peter Rayner email 4.jpg

Peter Rayner email 5

The time has come for ABC Phase Two: help us campaign for justice and transparency in UK rail!

After a year of hard work and dedication to the #SouthernFail cause; ABC and its 2,000 financial backers are finally starting to see their efforts bear fruit! On 29th June, we pulled off the biggest democratic check on Chris Grayling yet; in the form of a court decision that forced the DfT to finally decide the issue of Force Majeure – 16 months after their deliberations began.

The resulting £13.4 million fine was enough to satisfy the Judge’s deadline of 13th June, meaning that our judicial review cannot go forward. This money is now being channeled back into Southern Rail in the form of yet another remedial plan – and there is certainly irony in the fact that £5 million of the ‘fine’ is now being used to fund extra staff on Southern Rail, when their well-known understaffing model was a major cause of the service’s collapse in the first place.

We believe that this reinvestment of Govia’s ‘fine’ is nothing more than an attempt to re-balance contract specifications that were so catastrophically conceived that they were bound to fail from the very start. In the words of a recent article in Railway Magazine:

“…the Department for Transport’s desire to merge the Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express operations into the biggest rail franchise in history has instead simply created a monster – one that is now out of control.”

There is so much more to do in unravelling the causes of this ongoing rail crisis; and ABC plans to be bigger, bolder and more influential than ever in the next phase of building our non-profit organisation – dedicated to the cause of justice and transparency in all UK transport policy.

We are still crowdfunding to pay our legal fees, survive bankruptcy by the DfT, and fund further legal investigations into: 1) the full Southern Rail franchise agreement; and 2) an Equality Act challenge on driver-only-operated trains. We really need to hit £30,000 in the next 20 days – all of which will go into our legal fighting fund to help us take new actions forward. Please donate whatever you can!

There is so much more to do…

This has been a David vs Goliath battle from the start. Our crowdfunder of September 2016 raised £26,000 – which has been our total legal resource for almost a year. The vast majority of all legal and publicity work has been done on a voluntary and skill-sharing basis among a close network of lawyers, commuter researchers and citizen journalists. To date, ABC has received just one £5,000 grant (from the Foundation of Integrated Transport) – and yet, we have already achieved more than anyone thought possible.

The ABC ‘project’ has never been just about the judicial review case. Our legal action instead formed a backbone to extensive legal, lobbying, publicity and research efforts that will continue exactly as before – and in fact, will only get bigger. We now have an excellent platform from which to promote change in UK transport policy and we intend to use it.

Our innovative “digital DIY” techniques and unique experiments with crowd-sourced investigative journalism have already changed the face of transport campaigning, and this is just the start. What our critics do not realise is that we’ve not only been campaigning on Southern Rail for a year – we’ve also been creating a radical business plan; one that we can’t wait to implement in the creation of “ABC 2.0”. Through collaborative work and grass roots organising, we are now set to take our campaigning model all over the country – at a time when rail passengers have never needed it more.

We urgently need to keep our independence, and continue our work:

In the last two months, we have had some of our biggest successes yet. We have published exclusives on: 1) urgent health and safety concerns at Victoria station; 2) information from the Gibb report, which possibly lead to its release; 3) an RMT offer (declined by GTR) that represented their biggest compromise yet; and most controversially of all: 4) a two-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on disabled access, which strongly argues for keeping the conductor on the train.

All of these issues (and many more) are still being investigated by ABC, and there is much work to do in fully uncovering the truth behind them. This is the reason for our appeal – we must urgently restore our legal fighting fund if we are to have adequate legal support and resources to continue our work.

Every contribution makes a difference – so please donate the price of a train ticket today, and ask a fellow commuter to do the same! Our future is in your hands, and we are forever grateful for the help and support from our community – without it, none of this would have been possible.

We aim to hit £30,000 by 16th August! Please help us by donating here.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news – and more exclusive releases that the government and rail industry don’t want you to see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve achieved our biggest victory yet… but will ABC survive?

With our legal decision last month, we have finally managed to force a decision on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches. But our work is far from done, and ABC’s survival is now under serious threat…

We had some very big news today – a decision has been announced on some of Southern Rail’s contractual breaches (force majeure); bringing the Department for Transport’s 14 months of deliberation finally to an end. At the same time, ABC is facing its biggest threat yet…

The DfT is now coming at us for costs – to the tune of £17,278. If we cannot pay by 28th July, our co-directors will have to fold ABC Ltd. immediately; and furthermore will not be able to take on further judicial review actions whether as a group or as individuals.

Please help us and donate whatever you can afford – so that ABC can go on to fight further, and bigger battles!

Our lawyers are still in discussion with the DfT and are determining whether the Judge’s order was fully satisfied. But, whatever happens, we are sure that the DfT will be willing to satisfy the order enough to prevent our JR going forward. They simply will not risk the level of exposure that a judicial review would bring.

The outcome of today’s news is that we’ve proven that a group of volunteer passengers can indeed have an effect when all other means of representation fail us. With the force majeure decision, we have achieved more than any MP or even the Transport Select Committee has so far.

But, there is so much more to do and we don’t want to give up! We are busy innovating a whole new model of crowd-sourced legal action and investigative journalism, and we are only just getting started. With our recent leaks on disability access, we feel that a further Equality Act challenge (this time on the issue of DOO) would be an almost certain win. Anyone who has been following our campaign will know how regular these assistance failures are, and how distressing for passengers.

Please, please, help us now or we will have to draw the campaign to a conclusion.

We currently have funds of around £13,500 – with only 5 days to go.

If we reach £15,000 – we will be able to pay our lawyers, but ABC will be over.

If we reach £27,000 – we will be able to pay our lawyers, the DfT’s costs, and survive.

If we reach over £27,000 – ever penny will go towards further legal advice so that we can keep making the biggest impact possible in demanding justice and accountability on Southern Rail.

DfT costs letter

 

EXCLUSIVE: ABC presents…The Great Gibb Giveaway! What’s your Magic Loophole Station?!

We’ve discovered discounts and savings for South Coast – London Victoria passengers! Find out how to get yours in this easy ABC guide…

The Gibb report has given us a wealth of material about the failures of ‘system resilience’ on the Southern Rail network – and over the next few weeks, ABC will be following many of these up in depth. However, we wanted to start with an exclusive tip-off that will benefit commuters right here, right now. And so we present the first Magic Loophole Station; a technique inspired by section 3.2 of the Gibb Report, and from which several of our commuter campaigners are already enjoying great savings.

Before proceeding, please note: this is still a work in progress that we invite you to try, and investigate further. We do not guarantee success and all of these methods are to be used at the individual’s sole discretion and responsibility.

Important: we are still urgently raising funds to pay our lawyers for our recent court victory, which has forced Chris Grayling to finally make a decision on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches. There could be no better use for the money saved through the #GreatGibbaway than donating some to help us pay our lawyers!

How to use the Camden Road Magic Loophole:

Inspired by the “fare anomalies and split-ticketing opportunities” highlighted by Chris Gibb in section 3.2 of his report, members of ABC have been looking at other routes and trying to identify similar “Magic Loophole Stations” to the Eastbourne – Aldershot example that Gibb describes.

We have since discovered that Camden Road Station is the “Magic Loophole Station” for South Coast – London Victoria routes, and now invite all our supporters to join the investigation and find similar loopholes for other routes.

GIBBAWAY-FINAL2.jpg

The Camden Road “Magic Loophole” works for:

  • Passengers on the South Coast going to London Victoria
  • All peak day tickets
  • Some off-peak tickets
  • Some walk up fares, e.g. 7 day return tickets (peak and off peak)

The Camden Road “Magic Loophole” won’t work for:

  • Season ticket holders (7 days and upwards) – unfortunately it turns into the same ‘travelcard’ ticket type for both scenarios at that point
  • Anyone travelling from Haywards Heath or further north

The best thing about this technique is that the saving on day return peak tickets will really help whose who are self-employed or part-time – i.e. those who are already penalised most by the current fare system.

These types of passengers will be able to save money on every journey using the “Magic Loophole” technique. ABC members have explicitly asked Southern Rail ticket staff if Victoria is a valid route for Camden Road, and it has been confirmed that it is (i.e. one can take all usual direct peak/off-peak trains and there is no need for this to be specified on the ticket.)

Examples of how much you could save on a peak day ticket:

Worthing: £41.70 instead of £56.70 saving £15 or 26% discount

Eastbourne: £44.20 instead of £60.40 saving £16.20 or 26% discount

Brighton: £43.60 instead of 50.10 saving £6.50 or 13% discount

Lewes: £39.30 instead of £51.10 saving £11.80 or 23% discount

Shoreham: £40.50 instead of £54.20 saving £14.70 or 27% discount

How you can help our investigation:

  1. Write and tell us about your success and any further “Magic Loophole Stations” you uncover. You can email us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com, or contact us through Twitter. Please note that we are volunteer-run and extremely busy, so Twitter is always best for a quick response.
  2. Donate to our legal crowdfunder – we need your help more than ever if we are to pay our lawyers for their work on our recent high court decision and keep ABC alive!
  3. Keep following our campaign and thinking outside the box! We must all join together to insist upon a better quality of investigative journalism; and much more action from MPs/Ministers, if we are to ever bring the Southern Rail crisis to a end!

Donate to our legal crowdfunder here.

Follow ABC on Twitter and Facebook for all our news, exposes, and updates!

Please note, The Great Gibbaway was inspired by section 3.2 of the Gibb report:

Gibb 3.2

EXCLUSIVE: Why did GTR refuse this very reasonable offer from the RMT, which guarantees accessibility?

With the media and MPs slower than ever to pick up on the real story – we prove once again that there is a battle over disabled access going on between the unions and Southern Rail. RMT’s latest offer to GTR is published below, for the first time.

Today, we exclusively reveal the most recent proposal made to GTR by the RMT. This “six-month accessibility guarantee” represents a major compromise; where the drivers’ control of the doors is accepted, and an offer is made to finally recognise the OBS role.

Most significantly of all from passengers’ perspective, the RMT’s offer asks the company for a commitment to the same levels of accessibility that were guaranteed as of 21st August 2016. That is to say, it seeks to stop the growing frequency of unstaffed trains running to unstaffed/rural stations; which leave disabled and older people unable to spontaneously travel with the confidence they used to prior to August 2016. It is enormously significant that the number of unstaffed trains is now admitted by Southern to be 2.75% – already a significant shift from the 0.06% that Southern Rail originally claimed in a letter to MPs last year.

The logic, taken to its conclusion, is that this offer represents an attempt to ‘freeze’ Southern Rail at the level of access it provided previous to August 2016. It is hard to understand GTR’s refusal in any other way than it is happy for guarantees regarding accessibility prior to August 2016 to be removed; and that it is happy for its services to become less accessible. When one considers the latest offer made to Aslef alongside this (which contained the weakest solution yet for accessibility), it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Southern Rail are shifting the goalposts still further on disabled access.

Once again, it seems that the loophole that GTR (or whoever is deciding this dispute) is intent on keeping has the purpose of breaking the RMT, and that this is being done quite consciously at the expense of accessibility. Those in doubt may wish to ask the Rail Delivery Group their thoughts on this issue, especially in light of the 2-year buried report on access we leaked on this blog two weeks ago – a report that strongly argues for keeping the conductor guaranteed on trains outside the metro area.

The following document was circulated on Tuesday 4th July during a meeting between the RMT and MPs in the House of Commons. Those who watched the Gibb Report debate later the same day may remember certain MPs arguing that 2.75% of unstaffed trains running to unstaffed stations was, in their view, acceptable. It is now clear that this figure must have come from their morning meeting where the following document was shared. We object strongly to the normalisation of this “provision, criterion or practice”, which represents a clear breach of the Equality Act according to the Rail Delivery Group’s own leaked report!

The following offer was, to the best of our understanding, made to GTR in late April, and immediately refused. Anyone following this situation in depth will see what a reasonable attempt is made here to find a resolution. If such a compromise as a “six month accessibility guarantee” was trialled, we could finally see this dispute come to an end.RMT offer to GTR page 1.pngRMT offer to GTR page 2