Today’s Gatwick Rail Meltdown: all you need to know about the state of GTR’s contingency planning

Today’s events at Gatwick were an entirely predictable outcome of a company and management contract that have never been fit for purpose. Govia Thameslink Railway is clearly to blame for the situation; given that engineering works were scheduled six months in advance, a heatwave was forecast, and the launch of the Brighton Fringe and Brighton Festival happens at the same time every year. There can be no excuses for today’s events and we call on journalists, MPs and the Office of Rail and Road to hold GTR properly to account.

What makes this situation even more appalling is the fact that it happened just two months after the Redhill rail replacement bus disaster. At the time, we were not satisfied with the excuses given by GTR senior management and so revealed the facts behind the story, in response to Angie Doll’s explanation to the BBC, and just as Charles Horton gave his own version to the Public Accounts Select Committee.

The Redhill experience showed us that if we don’t dig up and reveal the facts behind these incidents, nobody will. We have been attempting this voluntarily for two years now, and it is frankly now beyond embarrassing that a small group of commuters can provide the transparency that GTR and the Department for Transport will not. We’re not happy with this state of affairs and frankly, we want our lives back! We will now be writing to the ORR and urging them to step in and ‘show their teeth’.

Here’s the full story of what happened today. All internal memos are presented in the public interest and journalists requiring any further information are welcome to contact us at contact@abcommuters.com.

Not just a crisis of planning – a crisis of communication:

  • According to our sources, initial advice came through at 12.15 from Network Rail as part of a ‘Gold Alert’ informing GTR senior management. At this time, there were queues of up to 4,000 people at Gatwick and plans were being drawn up to procure an additional 40 buses to assist with the situation:

core memo redacted

  • Despite the scale of the situation described above, at 12:34 Southern Rail tweeted out this advice to passengers:
  • 1234 Southern tweetBy 13:08 we had become extremely concerned that Southern Rail was not communicating accurate and up-to-date advice to passengers. So, we tweeted this:

ABC tweet 1308

  • Southern Rail responded immediately to our intervention, and (slightly) strengthened the message with this tweet one minute later:

1309 Southern Rail

  • We were well aware that this advice was still inadequate, and that the only acceptable message in such an extreme failure of planning was “Do Not Travel”. So, we published the initial Network Rail memo at 13:12 – advice which would have been communicated to the GTR’s senior management at least an hour earlier.

ABC tweet 1312

  • It then took until 13:31 for Southern Rail to repeat our advice and finally warn passengers what they should have warned them much earlier: “Do Not Travel.”

1331 Southern Rail

Network Rail and ongoing engineering works

Our latest update (as of 7pm on Sunday 6th May) is that four extra trains have been laid on from Brighton to Victoria this evening, and four extra trains from Victoria to Brighton. This was achieved by the rapid lifting of engineering works between Horsham and Dorking. Now, if this could be so quickly achieved by Network Rail in light of the emergency caused by GTR’s failure of planning, then this begs a serious question: should these Horsham to Dorking works have taken priority in the first place on a day that would completely predictably be so busy?

This question is particularly important when one considers that the Department for Transport claims to be improving co-operation between GTR and Network Rail. The rapid lifting of engineering works at the last minute suggest extremely inadequate communication/contingency planning ahead of today’s emergency. We note the relevant conclusion of the Public Accounts Committee report last month:

PAC Committee on NR

At the time of the last ‘rail replacement bus crisis’ at Redhill in February, we called for the Office of Rail and Road to intervene in GTR. We now repeat that call and ask the regulator to step immediately; an action that is seriously overdue.

We are extremely concerned about what kind of management practices passengers will fall victim to in the upcoming nine-day blockades of the Brighton line in autumn 2018 and new year 2019. It is essential that all future rail/bus replacement plans are independently audited and checked for their robustness and realistic understanding of passenger numbers.

Delay Repay and ‘Consequential Losses’

It is vital that senior GTR management are asked to take a proactive role in meeting passengers’ consumer rights regarding ‘consequential losses’ and delay repay for their experiences today. Any attempt by GTR to assume no delay over and above the times calculated by Journey Planner (ie assuming people have walked onto buses with no queues) will be completely unacceptable, and ABC will follow this up even if our MPs and the Office of Rail and Road do not.

We would call on members of the press to ask GTR managers explicitly whether Delay Repay will take into account the extended journey times in this situation; so that a clear commitment to accurate Delay Repay will be on record if customers should experience problems later.

 

Will there be another ‘rail meltdown’ tomorrow?

We are concerned that there will be further trouble tonight at Three Bridges, and other locations where people are attempting to return to London from the coast. And that’s not to mention Redhill, where passengers had their service reduced from 4 trains per hour to just 1 train per hour today; leaving many people unable to board.

Tomorrow is likely to be a difficult day to travel – even in a ‘best case scenario’ – so we strongly advise passengers to avoid using Southern Rail unless absolutely necessary. If you do end up caught in a similar situation, please stay safe/hydrated and remember that this is not the fault of frontline staff. The lack of foresight and planning from GTR senior management is to blame – whether this be through accidental incompetence or a deliberate ‘heads in the sand’ mentality.

Whoever said “Lessons will be learnt” after the Redhill debacle needs to be shown the door – without a parting bonus.

To keep up to date with our campaigns and investigations, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. You can email us at contact@abcommuters.com

 

 

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Commuters Beware – delay repay could get you fined for doing absolutely nothing wrong!

We have been assisting commuters with escalating issues around delay repay claims for two months now. The story begins when one of our members received a demand from GTR for 100% of the delay repay compensation s/he had ever received, after s/he had innocently put in writing that s/he had used the Delay Repay Sniper app in the past.

Over the last week, our inbox has been flooded with complaints from angry commuters, who have also received requests from GTR for the repayment of 30% of all the delay repay they have received. We have not been able to find out where GTR have got the figure of 30% from, nor whether it is based on anything scientific.

GTR’s press office gave us this comment:

“Passengers who have an issue with a Delay Repay claim should contact our customer services team in person.”

We now reveal this situation in the public interest.

We do not claim legal expertise on this matter, but feel that this principle must be clarified by GTR, as there are several of these apps in use among commuters.

Is this about fraud?

ABC takes any allegation of fraudulent claims very seriously and will not advocate on behalf of any commuter except those we believe have been unfairly fined for genuine claims. If you believe you fit into this category, please email us at contact@abcommuters.com and we will do all we can to help.

The third party app “Delay Repay Sniper” is an admin tool – one that has become extremely popular due to passengers’ desire to make the time-consuming process of claiming more convenient. It is an app that collates data already available through websites like raildar.co.uk and realtimetrains.co.uk. DRS has been around since 2013 and the GTR management contract began in 2014, so there are many years’ worth of delay repay claims potentially at risk for customers.

GTR’s Information about Delay Repay

We believe that there are flaws in GTR’s website information on Delay Repay if they are now intending to penalise people for using mobile phone apps.

DR main T and C

DR FAQ

There is no reference here to a third party app – which is not the same thing as a human “third party” (which is subject to human error). An app like Delay Repay Sniper can act like a digital version of the postal service; collating publicly available information and allowing commuters to submit their own data, exactly as described in the FAQ above.

Fraudulent claims are a crime, but this crime can be committed through any vehicle – including GTR’s own website. We now urgently need the consumer rights situation regarding the use of third party apps clarified for the benefit of all rail users.

The injustice felt by those being penalised for genuine claims is even worse when, as passengers, we continue to suffer delays, short-formed trains and cancellations. Here’s an extract from our passenger survey in December 2016, indicating the amount of time people were spending on rail-related admin:

DR admin passenger survey

GTR’s Delay Repay guidance mentions “mitigating circumstances” but doesn’t explain what this means. The amount of time that passengers are forced to spend on claiming is an additional cost on top of the service problems they suffer anyway. We suggest that the Southern Rail Crisis provided more than enough in the way of a ‘mitigating circumstance’ – so the need for GTR to clarify its position on what constitutes a “third party” is undeniable.

Is this a reasonable position?

Because of the consumer rights issues we’ve heard about recently, we fear this could be another occasion where the growing conflicts between rail, technology and consumer rights cause undue stress and problems for passengers. We would appreciate GTR stating explicit conditions on their website regarding the use of third party apps

ABC is always dismayed to hear of any case of fraud, but that is a different problem requiring a different solution. The problem in this case has been the lagging behind of the rail industry in keeping up with passenger’s needs. What else could we expect but for tech companies to start up and fill the gap when there has been such an obvious need of admin help for customers?

If you have been affected by this situation and are being asked to repay compensation you received for genuine claims, you are welcome to contact us at contact@abcommuters.com and we will do what we can to help.

Please appreciate that we are volunteers and also managing our day jobs, so cannot always provide an immediate response.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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:

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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