Commuters on the troubled Southern rail franchise have had enough, and rightly so. The London and south-east England service has been beset by delays and cancellations caused by engineering works and industrial action.
Yesterday, long-suffering commuters demonstrated in Victoria station during the evening rush-hour in protest at the lamentable service they’re forced to endure.
The protest came as Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Southern’s operating group, introduced a month-long emergency timetable, axing 341 trains a day across its routes. GTR took over the Southern franchise last year from First Capital Connect, and promptly wound up in a bitter industrial dispute with the RMT about whether conductors or drivers should be responsible for closing doors.
Commuters have been the victim since the strikes started in April. Cancellations escalated as staff sickness levels doubled, regarded by most as unofficial action. The union has blamed the disruption on poor management and Southern’s passengers are caught in the middle. Some have complained about missing vital meetings and even losing their jobs.
Read more: Southern is going to cut 341 trains a day
The role of referee has fallen to rail minister Claire Perry. Yesterday, she gave some assurances on job security, which is one of RMT’s gripes. She also fired a warning shot at GTR, saying it would not be able to bid for other franchises unless it improved performance. Perry said the failures were “collectively” the fault of the Department for Transport, GTR and Network Rail, which is responsible for London Bridge engineering works that have caused more disruption than expected.
Meanwhile, Southern says simply that it is committed to improving services. In the face of daily commuter misery, neither response seems adequate. Companies who cannot deliver a good service, particularly over things they can control, should surely have their licence to operate questioned. It was left to the protestors to sum the situation up yesterday: Southern needs to get a grip and if they can’t – or won’t – the government shouldn’t let them run a railway. As a first stop towards avoiding that final destination the company and the unions need to sort out their differences – and fast. The good news is that the two sides plan to meet this week. Let’s hope it’s productive.