Southern rail operator Govia Thameslink hit by £38m bill from industrial action so far this year

 
Rebecca Smith
BRITAIN-TRANSPORT-RAIL-STRIKE-SOUTHERN
Southern rail passengers have been hit by a series of strikes this year (Source: Getty)

A raft of strikes and resulting problems on Southern rail’s lines this year have cost a mammoth £38m, according to train operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

GTR has been locked in a dispute with the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union over the role of its guards on Southern rail trains. The union has organised a number of strikes, including a 48-hour walkout that started yesterday, with further action next month.

The franchise has been operating under a revised timetable, and suffered poor performance in recent months, often because of the strike disruption.

In a letter to the chair of the Transport Select Committee (TSC) dated 17 November, rail minister Paul Maynard wrote: “GTR estimated that the likely combined impact [of industrial action, revised timetable and poor performance] since the start of rail period one on 1 April 2016, will be in the region of £38m for this financial year.”

Read more: Embattled Southern rail operator Govia bills Network Rail for more than £48m

Maynard added that it was difficult to accurately assess the full impact due to “unofficial industrial action”.

GTR told the Department for Transport (DfT) the direct cost of official industrial action called by the RMT union was an £8.4m loss of “farebox revenue” up until the end of 15 October.

During the period, £4.7m was paid to customers under the Delay Repay passenger compensation scheme, although this includes all claims, not just those made on strike days.

TSC chair Louise Ellman told City A.M.: “It’s extremely disturbing. £38m is a lot of money and it’s a consequence of poor performance by GTR, the industrial relations problems, but also the way the franchise was structured.”

She said these revelations “emphasised the urgency” of the DfT taking action on GTR’s claim that the failings are due to factors outside of its control. “The department has been assessing this for a long time,” Ellman added. “The department has to become much more active. It can’t sit back any longer.”

Read more: Southern Rail strikes set to cause Christmas chaos

A Southern spokesman said: “This shows that as well as the ongoing distress and disruption caused to passengers, this futile action by the RMT has a huge financial cost – money which could be invested in making the railways better for everyone.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “Improving rail services for Southern passengers is a priority for the government and for the operator. The DfT is currently considering GTR’s claim that poor performance has been due to factors outside of the operator’s control.”

In the midst of a 48-hour strike, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the strike “is wholly down to GTR and Chris Grayling”, adding: “the resilience and solidarity of our members remains undiminished despite the threats and bullying thrown at them by GTR”.

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