Frustrated commuters have clubbed together to fund a judicial review into the Department for Transport’s (DfT) handling of the chaotic Southern Rail franchise.
The Association of British Commuters announced this morning that it would be teaming up with lawyers to launch the process and urged angry commuters to contribute by submitting their tales of woe.
Spokesperson Summer Dean said:
We believe that the government has been very quiet during this crisis and we are now ready to use the law to demand answers.
We need to question the fairness and legality of decisions of a government who, in this particular case, seem more concerned with serving the interests of a private company whose first priority is their shareholders, rather than passengers who are paying for a service that they are not receiving.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union – who are set to hold a 48-hour walk-out on Thursday – welcomed the initiative. "It is absolutely right to call for the government to intervene and to hold those responsible for this continuing shambles to account," said general secretary Mick Cash.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants Britain’s railways to be brought back under public ownership. The chaos on the Southern Rail network is lauded by some as an example of the failings of the current system.
A spokesperson for Bring Back British Rail said:
Instead of an agreement to run services in return for sharing its profits, the government receives all ticket revenue from Govia and returns part of it to them in the form of a fixed fee.
Ministers and civil servants in the Department for Transport have to be honest with themselves and accept that a fragmented rail industry, where no one wants to be responsible for a problem, is at the root of the industry's lacklustre punctuality.
However, Crispin Blunt, whose Reigate constituency has been blighted by the problems on the network, has previously warned of viewing a nationalised network through rose rose-tinted glasses. He said:
It is a complete red herring and completely wrong. Does anyone really want to go back to the days of British Rail?
The Treasury needs to see that a proper service isn’t being given and for the time being a fairer fare should be charged.
Meanwhile Stephen Trigg, who chairs the Redhill branch of the Rail Users Association, re-focussed attention on the DfT. He said:
Poor decision making and inaction by the DfT has allowed Redhill Line train services to reduce significantly over the last 10 years.
The DfT have perpetuated unfair fares at Redhill and now propose to penalise hardworking commuters further with more service cuts and extended journey times from the Redhill line.
A spokesperson for Govia Thameslink responded to the action taken by commuters and placed the blame squarely on the RMT union:
We have the every sympathy for passengers who are being very patient in the face of this unwarranted and futile disruption caused by the RMT union.
We share their frustration and all our efforts are focused on returning a normal service which is why today we have restored over a third of the trains removed temporarily in July. Over the coming months we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to restore the Southern Railway.
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