Chris Grayling remains Transport Minister – will he continue to bury vital Southern Rail report?

It was announced in yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle that Chris Grayling is to remain in place as Transport Minister. A quick glance at our Twitter timeline will tell you just how outraged commuters are about this – Grayling is widely blamed for his refusal to solve the Southern Rail crisis, despite the company being in special measures for nearly two years.

It is exactly six months since hundreds of commuters marched to the doors of the Department for Transport, demanding that Grayling either intervene in the Southern Rail management contract, or resign. He did neither: instead he chose to lay insult upon injury to southern passengers by withholding an essential report into the causes of the Southern Rail crisis.

The star railwayman Chris Gibb was touted by the Transport Minister back in September as the best person to analyse and fix the problems on Southern. However, the “Gibb report” has now been under lock and key at the Department for Transport for nearly six months, denying the public their right to a solution – and their right to answers – after suffering through this unprecedented rail crisis.

ABC protest at DfT December credit - Bradley Rees

The General Election results – is there a “Southern Fail vote”?

Yesterday’s reshuffle came after disastrous election results for the Conservatives in many vital seats in the Southern Rail region. Conservative MPs lost their seats in Brighton Kemptown, Croydon Central and Eastbourne; while Amber Rudd narrowly hung onto her Hastings seat with a 346 majority, and Labour’s Peter Kyle achieved a landslide victory of 18,000 votes in Hove.

Nobody can prove how much the public sentiment on Southern Rail affected these results, but we can remind you of the responses to our ABC Passenger Survey of December 2016, based on an in-depth questionnaire completed by 1000 commuters.

MP doing all they can

next election conservatives

The Gibb report must be released immediately – and in full.

Nobody who is watching our campaign could have failed to notice our pursuit of the Gibb report over the past six months. This vital report into the true causes of the Southern Rail crisis remains under lock and key at the Department for Transport, and has been reported by Graeme Paton of The Times to be heavily critical of the DfT’s role – Paton’s source said: “Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.”

While ABC campaigners have spent months pursuing FOI requests on the Gibb report, Caroline Lucas MP led the pursuit in the House of Commons, asking two Parliamentary questions and finally forcing Paul Maynard MP to admit they would be holding it back until after the election – a decision she called “deeply undemocratic and an absolute disgrace”.

Our election demands went viral last month, receiving support from many Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates on the urgent need for DfT accountability, disabled access, and the stripping of the Southern Rail contract. We were especially pleased to see the Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald pick up the baton on Gibb – his stance on Southern Rail is reasonable and well-informed, as you’ll observe in this recent interview.

Andy McDonald tweet

Meanwhile, Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing, has tweeted that the Gibb report “must now be published without delay”. We are glad to gain support on this issue from at least one Conservative MP; after all, this is a crisis that affects the daily life of every southern constituent and should always have been a cross-party issue.

Loughton tweet 2

We are now asking all MPs to ensure that the Department for Transport stays true to its commitment to publish the Gibb report by the end of the second financial quarter – as they have already promised us in response to our FOI requests. This means that the Gibb report must be released by the end of June at the latest – and furthermore, must be published in full.

This is a matter of urgent public interest in the south, and has ramifications for transport policy all over the UK, not to mention our country’s democratic values. For Theresa May’s government to be talking about bringing in further restrictions to the right to strike when they have not even appraised the causes of this unprecedented crisis is at best premature, and at worst, ideologically motivated.

With a recent interview putting the Director of Operations Planning at Southern Rail on record as saying he “hasn’t seen the final Gibb report” we should all be asking louder than ever – to what extent is this failing rail company being micro-managed by the Department for Transport?

Please follow ABC on Facebook and Twitter to get daily updates on our campaigns – we have lots of news on the way this month.

 

 

#SouthernFail election demands from the Association of British Commuters

With the snap general election fast approaching, there is no better time for the Association of British Commuters to restate the demands we’ve been making throughout the Southern Rail crisis. We will be addressing all former and prospective MPs with these demands and requesting their full response – so we can tell you which candidates have the best positions on Southern Rail in advance of June 8th.

1. Independent Public Inquiry into the relationship between Govia Thameslink Railway and the Department for Transport.

2. The return of guaranteed assistance for disabled passengers on services currently branded as Southern Rail – best achieved through the “Guard Guarantee”.

3. Immediate removal of the TGSN contract from Govia and passenger representation in any solution; which must take into account the findings of the Chris Gibb report.

Why are these demands so important and how will they solve the Southern Rail crisis? – our demands in depth:

1. Independent public inquiry into the relationship between Govia and the DfT, to encompass civil service ethics.

Southern Rail is not a typical franchise. It is a subcontractor to the government in what has been one of the UK’s most poorly judged and catastrophic rail management contracts. The company has been in special measures for nearly two years, and is known to be in serious breach of its performance benchmarks – issues that far predate the industrial action on the network. To this day, the government postpones its verdict on force majeure (Southern’s defence for its excessive failure) and has just succeeded in burying the Chris Gibb report under the veil of ‘purdah’ rules around the upcoming general election. The Gibb report is believed to give a final analysis of the true responsibility for the Southern Rail crisis, and was reported by Graeme Paton of The Times to be heavily critical of the government’s role in particular – his source said: “Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.” Meanwhile, the DfT are already under investigation by parliamentary watchdog the National Audit Office for their management of the GTR franchise.

It is also widely believed that the year-long industrial dispute on Southern is in fact a dispute-by-proxy, with the Department for Transport in the driving seat. Indeed, the civil servant Peter Wilkinson gave forewarning of the industrial upheaval back in February 2016 at a town hall meeting organised by Croydon MP Gavin Barwell. He said: “Over the next three years we’re going to be having punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support… They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place.” The same Peter Wilkinson, MD of Passenger Services at the DfT, was also recently the subject of a Guardian expose over the allegation that he awarded contracts to Govia while also the director and majority shareholder of First Class Partnerships; a consultancy that had Govia as a long-standing client.

Questions about the oversight of the civil service do not end there. Govia is also the owner of the so-called Independent Penalty Fares Appeal Service, itself the subject of a Guardian expose in February 2015 which showed that customers were paying unacceptable ‘admin fees’ even in the case of a successful appeal. Shockingly, the Independent Penalty Fare Appeals Service is still in Govia’s hands, despite them also running both Southern and Southeastern franchises. In the case of the Southern management contract in particular, we believe that the issue of penalty fares requires a comprehensive review. It is a simple fact of their contract that Govia is paid a flat fee for running services, so the only way they can logically increase their income is by cost-cutting, deskilling, and adapting staff roles towards revenue protection (and thus, away from disabled access).

It is vital that the Department for Transport are finally compelled to release the details of their management contract with Govia, and the ‘remedial plan’ that announced their adapted performance benchmarks back in February 2016. Both these documents remain heavily redacted; allowing both Govia and the Department for Transport to completely evade accountability for a crisis that has already cost the taxpayer £38 million and counting. And that’s not to mention the total impact on the lives, families and livelihoods of the public – including an estimated £300 million loss to the economy in the South.

2. The return of guaranteed assistance for disabled passengers on services currently branded as Southern Rail – best achieved through the “Guard Guarantee”.

Conditions on Southern Rail have improved for regular commuters over the last three months, but we should not forget that this period has actually been the most stressful time yet for disabled passengers; dozens of whom have been left behind on platforms or have even had to throw themselves between the doors of trains to get assistance. Hundreds more – especially wheelchair users who live at rural stations – are now anxious about whether they can still spontaneously travel, since Southern Rail have suggested there is “no cast-iron guarantee” that assistance will be available at all stations.

Contrary to their claim that 0.06% of trains will run without a second staff member in “exceptional circumstances”, Southern Rail’s estimate of the number of trains running DOO keeps changing. The estimate was recently reported to be over 8,200 a year, and the most recent internal report that ABC has seen suggests 50+ trains were running without an on-board supervisor allocated on Sunday 21st May alone. This is a far cry from the 1 in 1750 trains that Southern Rail originally claimed would run without a second staff member – an estimate that would have equated to one to two trains per day. Considering Southern Rail’s contractual incentives (as queried in part one above), there are few in doubt that disabled people’s access will now be increasingly compromised by Southern Rail for the sake of cost-cutting on the network; and the redirection of resources into revenue protection.

The guarantee of a second member of staff on trains is a binary point and needs to finally be recognised as such. Unstaffed trains running to unstaffed stations constitute a breach of the Equality Act in creating a ‘policy, practice or criterion’ which actively discriminates – and this is the case whether there are 2, 50 or 2,000 unstaffed trains per day. It is not just ABC, disabled passengers and striking railway workers who are saying this – only last month we saw the highly respected railwayman Peter Rayner (one of the original architects of DOO under British Rail) break ranks with the rail industry to say the same.

Adequate staffing to ensure that Southern Rail conforms to the Equality Act can be achieved in one of two ways: 1) by a guaranteed member of staff on every train or 2) the staffing of every station from first to last. When you consider that 33 rural stations on the Southern network are completely unstaffed, and add that to the vital public security benefits of having a properly trained guard on the train; the restoration of the guard guarantee seems undeniably  the best solution. It has the added benefit of ending the industrial dispute and ensuring that any major changes to working practices are done slowly and surely, with proper care to camera equipment, dispatch procedure, and disabled access.

3. Immediate removal of the TGSN contract from Govia and passenger representation in any solution; which must take into account the findings of the Chris Gibb report.

We have campaigned all year for Govia to lose its management contract, and this remains an immediate demand of our campaign; as well as dozens of other passenger groups and MPs across London and the South. Public trust in the company is at such a catastrophic level that even the Alliance of Chambers of Commerce have spent months warning shareholders of their involvement with Govia’s parent company, The Go Ahead Group. One major shareholder, JP Morgan, finally reduced their interest in the brand just yesterday.

The removal of the TGSN franchise should be accompanied by the immediate publication of the suppressed Chris Gibb report on the true extent of the failings of Southern Rail. There is no excuse whatsoever for this report to be suppressed until after the General Election, when it offers us, finally, a proper analysis on the parties to blame for the Southern Rail crisis. The DfT’s unique management contract with Govia Thameslink Railway was always a poorly judged and unwieldy type of mega-franchise, and it may be that Gibb has recommended that the franchise be broken up into smaller parts. Whatever advice the report suggests, we demand that it is taken into account; and that passengers are given significant representation in any solution.

Furthermore, we believe that the endless industrial dispute on Southern Rail could have been easily solved back in September with a ScotRail type agreement, guaranteeing a second member of staff on all trains and thus conforming to the requirements of the Equality Act and the DfT’s Public Sector Equality Duty. The real circumstances of the industrial dispute, and the details of Southern Rail’s management contract, have been shrouded in secrecy; and we suspect that with the endless talks between Southern management, RMT and Aslef, we are watching little more than a farce. There has to be a limit to the carte blanche with which this company has been allowed to operate – and a proper calling to account of the DfT over public safety and accessibility standards – before this dispute really does spread nationwide.

ABC’s election plan

We will be asking all former MPs and candidates in the Southern Rail region to respond to the points above, and to account for their position on the Southern Rail crisis over the course of 2016-17. As always, we extend our invitation to MPs from every political party and will endorse all those who wish to support our three campaign demands

For passengers, we are soon to launch a “Southern Fail election app”, which will come pre-loaded with all major parties, MPs and constituencies, in order to help commuters be heard on their feelings about this vital election issue.

On party politics and the renationalisation debate:

As a campaign, we do not support any one party, and insist on staying focused on the issues of justice and transparency in UK transport; on which our non-profit organisation was founded. We can only succeed in this aim by being scrupulously focused on these issues, and our lobbying on the Southern Rail crisis will continue in exactly the same way whatever government ends up in power.

It’s also important for us to make clear that we do not take a position on the renationalisation debate – and this is not because we like to sit on the fence! Rather, it is important for the clarity of our #SouthernFail campaign that it does not get conflated into a general call for renationalisation. The Southern Rail crisis is unique because it is driven by the worst of both private industry and state stranglehold – and it’s essential that we keep attention focused on these specific circumstances.

To stay in touch with ABC’s election news, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

*this article was edited on 28.05.17. to correct an error – it is in fact the Alliance of Chambers of Commerce who have been writing to shareholders about the Southern Rail crisis, not the Sussex Chambers of Commerce as previously stated.

The truth about Chris Gibb and Southern Rail’s late night timetable changes…

Southern Rail’s late night timetable changes begin tomorrow, after the announcement earlier this month that late night trains between London Victoria and East Croydon will be cancelled indefinitely.

This has been met with angry reactions from late-night travelers, shift workers and even TfL, who complained that they had only been given three weeks notice of the changes, instead of the standard three months, according to Inside Croydon. For commuters, the notice period wasn’t quite so generous – we got just two weeks.

The reason for these changes is to allow Network Rail to perform essential maintenance work at night. It’s not in itself a bad plan, as East Croydon to Victoria operates as a 24-hour railway, making it particularly poor at resilience. But, why was this announcement so sudden? We asked this question of several people in the rail establishment and it led us to an answer – the late-night timetable changes are a recommendation from the Chris Gibb report. If you’d like to substantiate this, take a look at the recommendations he made for the West Coast Main Line in 2012 (same plan was used) or pose a question to Southern Rail, Network Rail or the Department for Transport directly.

Chris Gibb’s report has been suppressed by the government for nearly five months, and will now be held back until after the General Election. Chris Gibb is the star railwayman brought in to fix the problems on Southern Rail back in September 2016, so it is outrageous that the government refuse to release this report when by doing so they could finally explain to the public why the franchise has gone so badly wrong. In the meantime, MPs like Chris Philp still try to push the agenda of anti-strike laws in advance of the General Election – wouldn’t it be more reasonable for him to assess all parties’ true culpability for the crisis first and actually read the Gibb report?

It has been reported by Graeme Paton of The Times that the report is heavily critical of the government’s role in the Southern Rail crisis. His source said: “GTR and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.” It is not difficult to imagine, therefore, why it is being suppressed until after the General Election (if indeed it will ever reach the public). In all our months of chasing the report through FOI requests, just one MP has stood up and chased the report in Parliament: Caroline Lucas finally got an answer from Rail Minister Paul Maynard last month, calling his decision “deeply undemocratic and an absolute disgrace.”

ABC’s co-founder Emily Yates challenged Southern Rail on BBC Sussex two weeks ago – claiming that the late-night timetable changes were a recommendation in the Chris Gibb report and that this was being deliberately concealed. When pushed by the host Neil Pringle, Southern’s Director of Operations Planning admitted that he “had not seen the final Gibb report”. A single question now hangs in the air: If Southern Rail’s own Director of Operations Planning hasn’t seen the Gibb report, then just how badly is this company being micro-managed by the Department for Transport?

 

ABC will continue to ask questions throughout the General Election period, and we’ll soon be launching an updated version of our #SouthernFail app to help you tell your MP how you feel about their performance on Southern Rail! Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook channels for updates.

If you’d like to support our upcoming protests, election plans and legal action against the DfT, please sign up to our newsletter here.

A full list of late-night services to be scrapped can be found here.

Dr Paul Davies launches petition for an inquiry into the conduct of civil servants at the Department for Transport

The conduct of civil servants at the Department for Transport has been a matter of grave concern throughout the Southern Rail crisis. There are serious doubts about the neutrality of one Peter Wilkinson, who worked with Govia on their contract bid, and now manages that contract on behalf of the DfT. Other, very serious questions have now been raised about the entire Govia operation; not least, the scandal of the “Independent Penalty Fares Appeals Service”.

Dr Paul Davies has worked for four years to get answers on the conduct of Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam. His investigations include issues pertaining to the mishandling of the Govia/Southern Rail contract, and go back in time over the course of Philip Rutnam’s career.

He has now launched a petition calling for a public inquiry into the conduct of Philip Rutnam – to sign it, click here. And don’t forget to share!

Of particular concern is Govia’s “Independent Penalty Fares Appeal Service”, now proven to be an intrinsic part of Govia’s business model and a successful profit-maker for their shareholders. A Guardian expose in February showed that, even on a successful appeal, you may have to pay an ‘admin fee’ equivalent to the original fine!

To view Paul Davies’ recent appearance on BBC Panorama, click here.

To read more about the alleged misconduct of Philip Rutnam, click here.

RSSB report leaked for Private Eye expose – now, we invite you to pick it apart…

After being quietly removed from the Rail Safety and Standards Board website some months ago, the full RSSB report on the safety aspects of DOO was sent to us today after previously being leaked to Private Eye. We attach the full PDF here and invite you all to pick it apart!

Please note, this is a publicly available document that has been very difficult to get hold of. The industry insider who passed it on to us warned it is ‘full of contradictions’ and ‘clearly geared towards a certain outcome’.

With so many contradictory statements now being made about this controversial report, we invite you to read it for yourself and form your own opinion.

Read the full report here: rssb-report-on-doo

Read the Private Eye expose here:

private-eye

 

 

 

Health & Safety risks worsen as commuters fear violence & assault on Southern Rail

Since instructing our lawyers to write to the Department for Transport last week regarding the escalating health and safety concerns on Southern Rail, we have become increasingly concerned over the risks of violence on the network.

The health and safety risks on the network now form our most immediate concern; and we fear that the very real impact of the crisis in terms of crowd psychology has been ignored by Southern Rail management, and suffers a lack of oversight from the Department for Transport.

The stress of severe overcrowding, competition for trains, and a breakdown of trust in the management create a volatile crowd situation that seems to be leading to an increasing number of violent incidents on the network. For an insight into the mass psychology of the situation, please see Dr. John Drury’s comments published last week: http://drury-sussex-the-crowd.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/southern-rail-and-psychology-of-crowd.html

Please be aware that officers from the British Transport Police are available throughout the network to respond to incidents of this nature. If you feel threatened or endangered in any way, you can contact them by texting 61016; which is a discreet way to get in touch if you are stuck in a violent situation on a packed train. You can also call the BTP on 0800 405040 (in an emergency, always dial 999).

We have just been in touch with the British Transport Police on this issue, and they gave us the following statement in reponse to our concerns:

“We are in constant discussion with Southern Rail and continue to monitor the situation so that we can deploy officers where needed. Where any disruption occurs, we have officers available to support rail staff and passengers.

In general, we know that incidents of violence on the railway tend to occur more often when there is disruption or overcrowding, particularly at peak times. The types of violent incidents reported to us tend to be common assaults resulting in no injury to the victim.

The main drive behind the incidents appears to be frustration and a lack of patience among commuters leading to low level physical and verbal assaults. We can all make a difference by being kind and considerate to our fellow passengers.”

The ABC team is busy working on further health and safety campaigns related to these issues, and will be publishing updates with further avenues for action soon.

 

 

 

Fears for Health & Safety on Southern Rail – our lawyers write to the DfT

We have been inundated with reports of health and safety risks related to overcrowding on the Southern Rail network; problems that we have witnessed for many months, and have reached their peak during the strike action.

Our lawyers have now written to the DfT seeking clarity on whether they have conducted any risk analysis in advance of the RMT strikes, and at what point the DfT will consider these risks to be seen to be sufficiently serious to warrant termination of the franchise. We seek to know what instructions (if any) the DfT have given GTR in minimising the effect on rail users during this time, and whether GTR’s implementation of these instructions is being properly monitored.

The witness reports of which we have informed the DfT include: incidents of violence at Brighton station, dangerous overcrowding and mass panic in crowds, mass rushes along overcrowded platforms to board trains in the case of last-minute announcements, a child left abandoned on a platform due to overcrowding, and illness and incapacity brought on in the vulnerable, pregnant, elderly and disabled.

Statement from the Association of British Commuters

“The Select Committee for Transport confirmed last week what ABC has been arguing for months – that the Department for Transport have failed to monitor and enforce the GTR franchise agreement, and are evading their responsibility to provide proper transparency.

In the meantime, with no confidence in GTR’s management of the network, or the DfT’s oversight; we feel that the extra overcrowding during the strikes represents an unacceptable health and safety risk to the public and fear that it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we will see a tragedy on the network.”

The Transport Select Committee’s report – released 14th October.

We highly recommend reading the full report, which backs up the arguments that the Association of British Commuters have been making for months. In regard to the Department for Transport’s responsibility to step in to resolve the ongoing failure of GTR and the industrial dispute with the RMT, please note the following; and be reminded that the GTR contract is not a typical franchise agreement, but a management contract.

Extract from paragraph 52:

Whilst the dispute can ultimately only be resolved through negotiation between GTR and the RMT, given the Department’s unusually direct involvement in the TSGN franchise it should take a greater degree of responsibility for fostering productive negotiations. We therefore urge the new Rail Minister and Secretary of State to engage more actively and substantively with the rail unions’ safety and workforce-related concerns in relation to the expansion of DOO on the TSGN franchise, as a matter of urgency.

Extract from paragraph 56:

We are concerned that no official impact assessment has been made of the potential effects of DOO on disabled people’s access to the railway. We recommend the DfT and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) jointly commission research into the potential effects of DOO on the “turn up and go” accessibility of the railway to disabled people who require assistance getting on and off trains. The Department should draw on this research to issue guidance to train operating companies on the measures that should be taken to mitigate potential detrimental effects on disabled people’s access. It should ensure that actions are taken to guarantee that disabled rail passengers receive the support to which they are entitled.

Extract from paragraph 82:

If GTR is in default, it is incumbent on the Department to take the franchise back in house and then to find one or more operators that can improve the situation. It is simply not credible for the DfT to continue to claim that “no other operator” could improve the situation; if it is the case, it is a consequence of the structuring of the franchise, for which the Department is ultimately accountable.

For the full report, click here.