Southern rail infrastructure is in "poor and unreliable" condition, while long-running strike action has been the key cause for the firm's troubles, says a delayed report into Southern's performance.
Chris Gibb, a non-executive director at Network Rail with 35 years' experience in the industry, was tasked with looking into the rail firm's troubled year, and in the report published today, said that a combination of factors contributed to the franchise's problems, which have caused months of disruption and misery for passengers.
But he placed a large chunk of blame at the unions' door. Aslef and the RMT have been in a long-running dispute with Southern over the role of the guard on trains, resulting in significant industrial action causing huge disruption.
I am convinced by what I have seen that if the train crew were to work in the normal manner that they have in previous years, the output of the system, a safe and reliable rail service for passengers, would be delivered in an acceptable manner, which would be similar to other commuter rail services in the South East.
He added: "Whatever their motives, which are debatable, I do not support their action."
And in his report, Gibb said: "The fact that nobody is being made redundant or losing pay against their wishes, that there will be more GTR trains operating with two people on board, and that safe driver only operation is already extensive in GTR, the UK and Europe, just serve to make this dispute more difficult to comprehend, especially for the passengers."
Southern's busy route runs between London and the south coast and carries 300,000 passengers a day. The combination of headaches facing Southern have included poor timetabling, unreliable infrastructure and a glut of off-peak services that aren't used much, according to Gibb.
"Along with the rest of the 2018 Thameslink network the condition of the infrastructure needs to be urgently raised," the report states.
"No single party has had responsibility for the overall system integrity," Gibb notes, but those involved, "have all been aware of how much strain the system has been under".
In response to the report, transport secretary Chris Grayling said:
Chris Gibb’s report was undertaken between September and December 2016, at the height of industrial action on Southern. Indeed, Chris Gibb found industrial action to be the major factor causing disruption for passengers.
I’m pleased that since the new year, passengers have seen the benefits of performance improvements on Southern.
A 23 percentage point increase in performance on Southern this year is significant, and it is delivering passengers the reliable, efficient rail service they deserve.
Grayling said work was underway to implement recommendations made in the report, including the £300m announced in January to bolster rail infrastructure along the Southern and Thameslink rail networks.
The RMT's general secretary Mick Cash, said: "The fight for safety and access to services on Southern rail goes on. Chris Grayling can cut and paste Gibb however he likes to try and prop up the basket-case GTR operation but the passengers forking out thousands of pounds a year for Britain's worst rail service won't buy it."
The report also comes on the day that train drivers' union Aslef announced plans to ballot drivers over pay.