Liberal Democrats on Lewes District Council are set to call for Southern Rail to lose its franchise to run rail services at a meeting of Lewes District Council this Thursday (21st July).
Cllr Vic Ient (Lib Dem, Kingston Ward) said: "Enough is enough. They have made a compete mess of running our rail services. Too many people's lives have been disrupted. It is time for Govia Thameslink Railways to lose their franchise."
Seaford Lib Dem Councillor Olivia Honeyman (pictured above with Cllr Ient) added: "I think is important for GTR to understand how this mess is affecting everyone. Employees and businesses are being affected in Seaford and elsewhere across the District because of the commuting difficulties. Prolonged disruption will affect tourism and put people off from having days out to our towns, and especially at the start of the school holiday."
And in a letter to the new Secretary of State for Transport, Cllr Ient says: "GTR’s main focus should have been to tackle things such as how to overcome the problems at London Bridge by closer working with Network Rail; getting down to detail on the problems of the critical Brighton mainline service; introducing extra coaches to overcome crowding on services like the Brighton to Ashford link as well as in other parts of the network. Instead we’ve ended up with a bus service operating between Lewes and Seaford, a reduced timetable to places like Brighton and Lewes, ticket offices closed or closing and disgruntled passengers and workforce."
"New management for Southern Railways is urgently needed...The government should immediately bring in a management team focused on the service and not on fighting the unions."
A full copy of Cllr Ient's letter to the Secretary of State is below:
GTR franchise and the problems on Southern Railways
Southern Railways wasn’t without its problems before Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR) fully took over the network in July 2015 but since then things have gone from bad to worse. With an already overloaded network, particularly the Brighton mainline, and with no plans to expand the number of rail tracks in the near future along with the problems of the delays in the works at London Bridge station, the directors of GTR should have been concentrating on how to get trains to run on time without cancellations and delays. Instead they chose to focus on things like boosting the staff of their Twitter team, giving computer tablets to their station staff, and closing ticket offices. I can verify that these were the priorities as they were spoken about by Alex Foulds, the Passenger Service Director of Southern Railway at the East Sussex Transport Summit called by Amber Rudd, MP, for Hastings & Rye back in March. Along with Alex Foulds was his boss Charles Horton, CEO of GTR and also David Statham, the managing director of Southeastern Rail.
At no time in the meeting did Charles Horton or his colleagues refer to proposals to change the role of the guards on the trains. Nor did they refer to actually closing ticket offices. They alluded to ticket offices by way of talking about bringing staff out of the ticket office to help customers around the station.
Whilst acknowledging that there were problems running the trains they did not provide any significant information as to what they were going to do about the fact that only 20% of Southern trains arrived on time in the year from April 2015 to March 2016.
Clearly they’ve shown themselves unable to manage the real problems in the network and at the same time quite able to manufacture problems and make the situation worse.
The mess that we the public have been caught up in has been entirely artificially created by the directors and the senior management of GTR. What they should have been doing is getting out themselves onto the network and talking to staff as to how they can overcome the critical problems of trains arriving late or being cancelled.
In just over a year GTR have brought the network to its knees whilst at the same time introducing a troublesome and bug ridden web ticket service. Neither have they looked into the integration of contactless card payment at ticket barriers on the Southern network which is what has been already been introduced across London. This would speed up passenger flow at stations.
GTR’s main focus should have been to tackle things such as how to overcome the problems at London Bridge by closer working with Network Rail; getting down to detail on the problems of the critical Brighton mainline service; introducing extra coaches to overcome crowding on services like the Brighton to Ashford link as well as in other parts of the network. Instead we’ve ended up with a bus service operating between Lewes and Seaford, a reduced timetable to places like Brighton and Lewes, ticket offices closed or closing and disgruntled passengers and workforce.
New management for Southern Railways is urgently needed. I understand the government is simply paying a fee to this organisation for them to run the service so there isn’t a question of loss of profit as such. The government should immediately bring in a management team focused on the service and not on fighting the unions. Whilst we are getting the service back to a reasonable norm the government should reassess the franchise with key criteria as to what the franchisee is supposed to achieve and not what senior management have as a bee in their bonnet about unions.
Ticket office closures were bad enough but then getting rid of the guards when they provide a useful service on a busy network keeping passengers safe seems to be a crazy measure, especially in these times of heightened security. Please act swiftly and allow people to commute to work across the South and to London without being caught in the middle of this unnecessary dispute.
Victor S Ient
Lewes District Councillor