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: Full report of ABC’s legal victory, which forces Chris Grayling to decide Southern Rail breaches

Thursday’s court decision was neither an outright win nor a loss for ABC. But, it was most certainly a valuable outcome; which now forms an urgent judicial/political pressure on the Transport Minister.

Much of the newspaper reporting (and DfT press release) on our case has been a little confused; so we now publish the first clear and accurate analysis of the legal situation. Please accept our apologies for not publishing sooner – ABC is volunteer-run by passengers alongside our day jobs, campaigning and daily commuting nightmare; and with the court case and a visit to Parliament we have been extremely busy!

So, what exactly happened on Thursday?

The most important thing to know is that the premise of our entire judicial review application was our first ground:Delay“. This refers to our argument that the 14 months the DfT has spent deliberating on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches is an “unreasonable delay” – an argument, in other words, for the right of commuters to demand scrutiny of an essential public service in a timely manner.

On Thursday 29th June, the Judge agreed with this principle and gave the Transport Minister Chris Grayling two weeks to produce a final decision on Southern Rail’s defense for its breaches (force majeure). He must now inform GTR of his final decision by 13th July, or permission for our judicial review will automatically be granted.

Though the DfT’s line in the press is that our case was “thrown out of court”, it is clear that this was a significant legal victory, or it would not now form an urgent political pressure on the government; as demonstrated at the Southern Rail Parliamentary debate yesterday.

We will now wait until the 13th July to see if Chris Grayling complies with the Judge’s order – if he does not, our judicial review will go forward.

Why was our case a significant legal victory?

In addition to forcing the Transport Minister to make a final decision on force majeure by 13th July, our case represents a precedent-setting ruling for public interest in contracts between government departments and private companies. There are two outcomes here that should be of great interest to campaigners; as well as equality and human rights lawyers:

  1. It is at least arguable that there is a public law duty owed to the public by the Secretary of State that franchise agreements are enforced in a reasonable manner (in addition to any contractual or statutory enforcement obligations). Further, Mr Justice Ouseley commented that it was ‘perfectly obvious’ that the provision of public transport through an effective franchise system was undertaken for the purpose of providing a public service.
  2. It is at least arguable that where a public body issues a policy document (the enforcement policy) it must be implied that decisions taken under that policy must be made in a reasonable time and cannot be left until “kingdom come”. Mr Justice Ouseley said “there is an implied obligation to reach decisions in a reasonable time in all the circumstances of the case.”

The Highlights:

The Judge had little patience for the DfT’s argument that this area of law was “not the business of the public” and did not entertain his argument that decisions regarding the relationship between the DfT and GTR “do not have any direct effect on anyone else.”

Best of all, the judge dismissed out of hand the DfT’s claim that the 1,500 commuters who have funded our court case “do not have standing” or “lack interest” in the matter. This in itself is incredibly significant, as the DfT had shamelessly implied in written communication that our non-profit organisation (established at the peak of the Southern Rail crisis last year) was not a ‘respectable’ enough organisation.

Thus, ABC’s judicial review case represents a new legal crowdfunding model that is capable of forcing the government to be accountable to the public when all other democratic mechanisms fail. The Judge did not hesitate to accept our “standing”, and this suggests that campaigns like ours can be even more successful in pressuring government policy in future.

Our Equality Act argument will not go forward, due to a technicality

On this topic, there is one very important clarification to make. The Equality Act challenge involved with this judicial review had nothing whatsoever to do with our ongoing campaigning efforts on driver only operation (DOO); regarding the equality of access breaches occurring at rural and unstaffed stations. Any report of this in the rail media is an error and we will be asking for corrections.

The Equality part of our case was formed of three smaller grounds arising from the first on “Delay” – namely that the DfT’s failure to act on GTR’s breaches of benchmarks throughout 2016 resulted in breaches of the Equality Act on Southern Rail. That is to say, that the extreme overcrowding resulting from these contractual breaches had a discriminatory effect on disabled people attempting to use the railway at that time. Of these three grounds, only one was discussed in court and it was rejected on a technicality.

Is it true that an Equality Act challenge on DOO is still “inevitable”?

It is absolutely still the case that our legal advice from Devonshires (and that of several other pro bono lawyers) is that an Equality Act challenge on DOO is inevitable; and extremely likely to be successful.

Anyone in doubt of this opinion might like to read the original leaked version of the 2-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on disabled access, released exclusively on this blog last week. Ironically, this vital report on disabled access gives us yet another piece of encouraging legal advice on the matter: namely, that an Equality Act challenge on DOO is “highly likely” and (upon success) “likely” to force a change to government policy.

The buried document has since been published by the Rail Delivery Group, yet this controversial report – arguing that Conductors are the best source of assistance for disabled people – has received very little press coverage. Nor have we heard any explanation from the Rail Delivery Group as to why it was suppressed for so long, and why nobody even knew of its existence. The reason for its suppression is almost certainly the strength of its arguments for the full staffing of trains and stations; and its obvious opposition to “clear trends” of destaffing arising from the McNulty report.

Major disability charities have already responded with shock at the suppression of this document, and we have made clear to several of our disabled friends and members that ABC will support them as much as we can on any legal action they plan to take forward. On this issue, we repeat (for what seems like the hundredth time) that these failures of access occur regularly on Southern Rail, due to there being no second staff member on trains for which disabled people have pre-booked assistance.

We are still urgently crowdfunding to pay our brilliant lawyers, and urgently need to get to £15,000 by 18th July. Please donate whatever you can to help us!

 

Major disability charities congratulate ABC on leaking long-buried Rail Delivery Group report

Things are busier than ever for ABC, with our legal action against the Department for Transport taking place tomorrow, and numerous investigative publications underway. Today, we are honoured to say that our partner campaigns in disability rights have publicly congratulated us for our work so far.

ABC is now urgently crowdfunding for our legal action on government accountability and disability rights on Southern Rail.

We are due in court tomorrow, and will be informing you of the exact time later this afternoon, as soon as it is confirmed by the court. In the meantime, leading disability charities have written to us with their strong reactions to our recent revelation of a buried Rail Delivery Group report on rail accessibility.

Our application for a judicial review of the government’s handling of the failed Southern Rail contract has the support and backing of Transport for All, who seek to contribute numerous witness reports and expert testimony to our legal case.

  • Catherine Smith, Campaigns and Outreach Officer for Transport for All, said:

“It’s shocking that this damning report was hidden from the public for so long.

“At Transport for All we hear daily from Disabled people who experience discrimination on our railways – it’s truly shameful that the industry would knowingly push ahead with plans that will lock Disabled and older people out of our rail network.”

We have also received valuable input from Muscular Dystrophy UK, and thank their CEO Robert Meadowcroft for his words of support today:

  • Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said:

“We congratulate ABC’s dedicated efforts to tackle the discrimination experienced by disabled rail commuters and are pleased to know that Trailblazers were able to feed in to this great work.

“The report they published yesterday highlights how the government are actively placing disabled people at a great disadvantage by pressing forward with their plans to run driver-only operated trains. Public transport journeys for disabled people are already difficult, being nearly five times longer, more expensive and more stressful than they are for non-disabled people.  

“Train companies often require wheelchair users to book assistance in advance, with 24 hours’ notice; yet we know of many stories, of people with muscular dystrophy failing to receive their pre-booked assistance and being left stranded for hours on end.

“Given that disabled commuters already struggle to get the assistance they need, driver-only operated trains will only make this worse.

“The government and transport companies need to put accessibility at the heart of future design and provision of services, including improving the turn-up-and-go system.

“It is clear, these issues need to be resolved as matter of urgency, before another efficiency plan is put into place.”

Please urgently help us raise essential funds to pay our ongoing legal bills!

Please follow ABC on Facebook and Twitter for more exclusive news and updates.

IMPORTANT: a message to our supporters on our final weekend before the Aslef overtime ban

We wanted to thank you for all your support on social media. We are now well on the way to raising £15,000 and urgently need to be funded before Thursday – so if you can convince even one more person to donate this weekend, it will have a massive effect on our chances of success! This is a real David vs Goliath battle, as you all know.

This is the best link for sharing and it would have an incredible effect if every one of our backers could share it on social media and explain why they support our case.

We are now entering our final weekend of normal life before the commencement of the next Aslef overtime ban. Claims about just how severely Southern Rail is understaffed vary between Southern Rail’s claim of 10% and Aslef’s of 25% – either way, we know from months of suffering how bad an impact this will have. We ask you to join us in calling for proper scrutiny by the media and MPs on the real issues underlying this never-ending crisis of industrial relations.

There has been a lot going on in Southern Rail news this week and we’ve been doing our best to promote the call for proper public scrutiny of this ongoing crisis.

  • A lively discussion between ABC’s Emily Yates and LBC’s Nick Ferrari this morning.
  • ABC co-director Brad Rees talking about our court case in depth in this TV interview.
  • **On Tuesday, we were the first to break a story of alleged health and safety issues at London Victoria, later acknowledged in the Gibb report, where he stated “At…Victoria, pedestrian flows, gateline + concourse capacity are all significantly influenced by commercial strategy….”

We’re doing as much as we can to bring this situation to a close once and for all and badly need your help. Every Facebook share, tweet and – most of all – real life conversation(!) helps us fight back against a very ill-informed media and create a real chance for scrutiny of the government’s agenda.

Please help us to raise £15,000 by Thursday – and let’s do our best to avoid a repeat of the summer of 2016!

Please donate to our crowdfunder and spread the message to your friends and family!

Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates.

 

EXCLUSIVE: Gibb report expected to highlight urgent need for safety improvements at London Victoria

Today, we exclusively reveal photographic proof of important health and safety related work at Victoria station that has been postponed by the Department for Transport/Network Rail. We expect the Gibb report to highlight this concern, and wish to alert press and MPs to the fact that sources close to Gibb have now confirmed the report was ready for release on April 6th of this year.

The following images come in two pairs. In each pair, the first is a photograph of the current layout at Victoria, and the second a computer simulation from Network Rail of work that should have already been carried out to ease the overcrowding:

Victoria 2

Victoria 1.png

Victoria 3.png

Victoria 4

Senior Network Rail managers highlighted to Chris Gibb on a visit to Victoria station in late 2016 that there were problems with severe congestion for Brighton mainline passengers. The following comment, and everything else in quotes, comes directly from a Network Rail manager:

“There aren’t enough ticket gates for passengers using platforms 15-19. A rebuild of the gate-line was scheduled to have been completed as part of the congestion relief project in CP5 [Network Rail Control Period 5] but was postponed to CP6 [2019-24] to save costs. We made Gibb well aware of how ridiculous the decision was and how long passengers are having to wait to leave the station. We’re hoping he’ll recommend the work is carried out immediately – it’s an accident waiting to happen. This is work that was first planned 20 years ago”

The Network Rail managers informed Gibb that at peak times, passengers were observed queuing up to 5 minutes to pass through the gates at platforms 15-19.

Gibb also inspected the dedicated Gatwick Express platforms and asked why 12-car trains from Brighton were now routinely using platforms with ticket barriers designed to cope with far fewer passengers.

“It’s an unacceptable situation. It’s the first sight of London for tourists from the airport and we’ve had complaints from the Gatwick people who said the experience is costing them travellers”

Following a subsequent risk assessment, Network Rail identified safety concerns about passengers backing up in the confined space and the ability to evacuate in emergency. They have since ordered staff to leave a mesh gate between the concourse at 15-19 and the Gatwick Express platforms unlocked at peak times.

“If passengers knew it was unlocked they could skip the ticket barriers altogether, so we leave it shut but unlocked in case of emergency”

Victoria staff are now regularly asking control to hold trains outside the station to prevent simultaneous arrivals on platforms 15-19 and limit the flow of passengers, leading to knock-on delays on the mainline.

Platform 19, where the platform narrows to 6 feet in places because of roof supports, has been identified as a particular problem.

“We try to ensure the busiest services coming from the coast never arrive on platform 19. There’s a real risk that if anything happened to passengers, we could be prosecuted. When we’ve had a full train arriving – and then passengers for the subsequent departure heading in to the crowd – it’s been chaos. We’ve had panic attacks and even a kid slipping between the platform and a train.”

vic platform 2

 

Comment from ABC:

Please note, our pursuit of the Gibb report is part of a long-standing lobbying campaign for our commuter group and not connected to our legal action against the Department for Transport.

“Commuters experienced another night of chaos on Southern Rail last night, with an unusually high number of issues contributing to the breakdown of service, including a trackside fire. This resulted in delays, cancellations, diversions, overcrowding and skipped stations for passengers, many of whom spent hours trying to get home.

Though the majority of passengers have so far blamed the company, we feel duty-bound to step forward and share what information we have on the impact that issues at Victoria Station may have had on last night’s suffering. The above information from a Network Rail manager shows that important health and safety work to solve passenger congestion has been postponed at Victoria; and that this has not only had an impact on passenger safety, but also the flow of trains in and out of the station.

We are very concerned that if the current layout is struggling to handle the existing flow of passengers, it would probably be unable to cope with passengers turning back against the flow in the event of a fire or a security incident. This could be a recipe for disaster and we would like to see the risk assessment that has deemed the current layout safe.

The wider issue highlighted by this situation is the crisis of funding on our railways, which may have become too large an influence on planning and policy. The income from retail spaces is important in sustaining Network Rail, and may also form an important priority for the Department for Transport; in line with recommendations from the 2011 McNulty report.

We share this information today in the hope of enlightening passengers to the extremely complex causes of this ongoing rail crisis. It is not, and never has been enough to simply blame Southern Rail. It is the Department for Transport that should take responsibility for this rail crisis and we are convinced that they are still avoiding this responsibility in many crucial areas.

We already know (from a response to a question in the House of Lords on April 7th) that the Gibb report was handed to the Department for Transport on 30th December last year. In addition to this, sources have today confirmed that this report was ready for release on April 6th of this year. There is no excuse for the government to hold it back a day longer.

We are still at exactly the point we were a year ago with the Southern Rail crisis, and it is time for every responsible MP to stand up and demand the Gibb report’s immediate release – as a first step to removing this disastrous management contract from Govia Thameslink Railway.”

~ Comment from Emily Yates, co-founder of ABC and freelance journalist.

ABC is currently crowdfunding a court hearing for a judicial review of the Department for Transport. To donate, or get an update on their case; click here.

 

London Bridge Protest this Wednesday: ABC join Transport for All for Southern Rail challenge!

With all that Southern Rail commuters have suffered over the year-long rail crisis, there is one group that has been under-represented. Disabled and elderly people are suffering daily uncertainty since the implementation of DOO, with the roll back of ‘turn up and go’ access at dozens of stations.

We have fought as hard as we can on this issue and have been met with a wall of silence from both Southern Rail and the government. So, we’ll be taking to the station platform once again to make our voices heard; and stand in solidarity with those who no longer have the freedom and flexibility that the rest of us take for granted.

SIGN UP HERE: Please join us for the London Bridge protest this Wednesday at 6pm.

Where and When?

17:00-17:30 – Short briefing at the Heeltap bar, Borough Highstreet, SE1 1NX, before walking together from 17:30 to London Bridge Station
18:00 – Meet on the upper concourse of London Bridge Station for the start of the protest. The protest will be taking place outside the building.

The Message

Transport for All hear daily of the unacceptable treatment faced by so many disabled and older travellers on our Railways. Whether it’s booked assistance failing to turn up, inaccessible platforms or a lack of accessible facilities on trains – what is clear is that our railways are failing disabled and older passengers.

Southern Rail’s withdrawal of ‘turn up and go’ assistance comes after the controversial introduction of driver only operation on their network. Without guards to provide assistance there is no guarantee that disabled and older people will be able to board or leave the train at unmanned stations.

The normalisation of 24-hour advance booking across the entire Southern Rail network is a giant backwards step for access rights and we refuse to accept that disabled people should be paying the price.

Speakers

Speakers will include the paralympian Anne Wafula Strike, Faryal Velmi and Alan Benson of TfA, and junior doctor Hannah Barham Brown.

**We’ll also be hosting an exclusive premiere of a new song from “Southern Fail: The Musical”, performed by Mark Brailsford of Brighton’s The Treason Show!**

Hannah Barham-Brown, junior doctor:

“As a doctor I have no idea when I will be leaving work or even going to work. It’s impossible for me to book 24 hours in advance for my travel, and I cannot be 2 hours late for work at a busy hospital while I wait to board a train. We’re not asking rail companies for perfection, we’re just asking for the very basic access that we need to go about our everyday lives.”

Faryal Velmi, Director of Transport for All:

“It’s shameful that Southern Rail are allowing disabled passengers to bear the brunt of their failures to deliver a reliable service. We have heard daily from disabled transport users stranded on freezing platforms, or forced to crawl onto trains when rail companies have failed to assist them. This unacceptable backwards step for access simply cannot be allowed to stand so we’re coming together to demand that Southern Rail reverse their decision”

Emily Yates, Co-founder of Association of British Commuters:

“We believe that Southern Rail is turning the clock back on access rights; just another part of the collateral damage that has been caused by the Department for Transport’s year-long war with the unions. We urgently need nationwide standards of accessibility in relation to DOO – not only for the sake of disabled travelers but also to prevent the dispute spreading nationwide. Ultimately, this is the responsibility of the Department for Transport, whose duty it is to hold train operating companies to account and ensure they comply with Equality law.”

About our alliance with Transport for All

Transport for All are the UK’s foremost defenders of access rights for the disabled and we were overjoyed to welcome them to our judicial review case last month. They have now written to the High Court asking to intervene and provide evidence of the extensive impact the Southern Rail crisis has had – and still has – on disabled passengers.

Transport for All will be represented by Chris Fry, the award-winning Equality and Human Rights lawyer who recently gained a significant Supreme Court victory on the right to bus access.

We are looking forward to working with them to set a new precedent for rail access rights – the aim of our case is to compel the Department for Transport to accept their responsibility for enforcing the Equality Act 2010, and ensure that all train operating companies comply in future.

Please join us at London Bridge this Wednesday! – SIGN UP HERE

Chambers of Commerce unite for Southern Rail Protest- this Monday at Eastbourne Station, 6:45 am

The Alliance of Chambers of Commerce (ACES) recently launched a boycott and divestment campaign aimed at Southern Rail parent company Go Ahead, writing to major shareholders Ameriprise, Investec, JO Hambro, Standard Life and Premier to warn them of their association with this now toxic brand. Their campaign, led by Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce boss Christine Ewbank, takes to the street outside Eastbourne station on Monday morning. Please support them if you can!

We don’t normally expect our local Chambers of Commerce to take to the streets in protest – but, as every commuter on Southern Rail knows, these are hardly normal times. The ‘Great Train Robbers’ protest takes place this Monday 20th February at 6.45am outside the taxi rank of the train station (closest to the Enterprise Centre). If you live in Eastbourne, please stop by and support them; even if only for twenty minutes on the way to your morning train.

Unlike larger businesses, who may be able to command a private audience and quiet compensation arrangement with Southern Rail; thousands of small businesses have suffered just as much as commuters. ACES represents 4,000 employers and 15,000 employees across the region, and it is long past time their voices were heard.

The Chambers of Commerce Protest is non-politically affiliated and addresses all parties this Monday in an urgent call for reason and a fast resolution to the industrial dispute.

Statement from Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce:

We are calling for The Great Train Robbers:

  • Chris Grayling MP (Secretary of State for Transport)
  • Paul Maynard MP (Minister for Rail)
  • Mick Cash (General Secretary, RMT)
  • Mick Whelan (General Secretary, ASLEF)
  • Charles Horton (Chief Executive Officer, GTR)
  • David Brown (Chief Executive, Go-Ahead)

to work together NOW to bring a fast resolution to the Southern Rail dispute before more people lose their livelihoods.

Collectively, these agencies have robbed over £308,000,000 from the local economy, endangered jobs and our members businesses. We ask that you join us for the protest.

We do not take this action lightly.

As a Chamber we remain non-political.  But part of our responsibility is to stand up on behalf of our members when our business interests are threatened.  Already, we have seen lower footfall in our town centre and decreased attendance at our major tourism events and venues. We have heard first hand of the struggles our business community is having and the loss of jobs as a direct impact of the strikes and the poor performance of GTR.

We do not apportion blame to any one particular agency or individual – it is the collective failings of all parties in this joint enterprise. We cannot allow this dispute and poor service to continue indefinitely. It is well over a year since this disruption started – it must now end.

Join us – this Monday 20th February – 6.45am outside the taxi rank of the train station (closest to the Enterprise Centre).