Southern Failways: The train driver’s story

“Make no mistake, GTR are coming after their own staff like the KGB and Stasi.” That’s from a Southern Railway train driver who claims the company’s management is actively preventing staff operating timetabled services. By our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON

“Dear members of the public,

“We know you ultimately pay our wages and we are grateful, but we need you now to help us save our railway from this scandalous company and a bent Department for Transport. Pour pressure on your MPs, write to the papers, get the word out. Thanks.”

Southern RailwaySo writes a train driver who daily tries to do his job, but finds that the management of Southern Railway is frustrating his and his colleagues’ efforts to deliver a reliable service, while commuters from Coulsdon, Purley, East Croydon and South Croydon suffer the inconveniences and discomfort on their journeys to work, at huge expense.

Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for the commuter heartland of Croydon South, has this week repeated his now routine bit of chest-beating about stripping Southern of its franchise. He’s been threatening this since almost before he was elected to parliament a year ago. Then he gave the rail operators a May deadline to up their game. And then he organised a little public meeting with a couple of pen-pushers from the rail operators.

But nothing has changed.

Meanwhile, at least one commuter from Philp’s constituency has paid for Southern’s delays and cancellations by losing his job.

Yet according to a report on the blog of David Boyle, the rail operator’s management’s daily excuse of “staff sickness” and absenteeism causing the cancellations and disruption is all a big lie. The suggestion is that it is part of an elaborate campaign to undermine and destroy the rail unions.

Boyle is a journalist and author, a former LibDem parliamentary candidate and co-director of a thinktank. He lives in Steyning, Sussex, and so has first-hand experience of the late cancellations, regular delays and sardine-like conditions endured on commuter trains to and from London.

Last week, he wrote an account which nailed the management’s lie.

Passengers' usual conditions on the 8.05 from East Croydon to Victoria

The usual conditions for passengers on the 8.05 from East Croydon to Victoria

Following an industrial dispute in April, what’s happening now, according to Boyle, is the consequence of the management getting its own back against the strikers.

“The company has banned the railway staff involved in the two-day strike from doing overtime, to stop them clawing back their lost money,” Boyle has concluded after interviewing several members of rail staff, none of whom dare allow themselves to be named for fear of being sacked.

Boyle writes of Southern, “The trouble is that their roster system relies on overtime. Without overtime, they can’t run the train service that people rely on. The result, as anyone unfortunate enough to live on the south coast at the moment, has been absolute chaos – a wholly unreliable service which at weekends becomes dangerously overcrowded.”

Boyle suggests that Southern, part of the Govia Thameslink Railway – or GTR – a private company which has received £8.9 billion in public subsidy since 2008, has inflicted this misery on passengers despite having depots full of train crews. And they are doing so apparently with no regard for the risk of losing its lucrative franchise.

As is so often the case with such online articles, the comments which they attract can be even more insightful.

In this case, something posted late on Friday, from someone claiming to be a member of Southern train staff, not only confirms Boyle’s conclusions, but makes further startling claims.

The train driver writes, “Trains are being cancelled at an alarming rate despite train crew (driver and guard) being in place and booked to work the trains. This is happening dozens of times per day! I know because it has happened to me.

“Turn up ready and willing to work the train only to be told it has been cancelled due to no train crew.

“Due to the court injunction on ASLEF drivers, we can’t even openly express our anger at this. If we do so it might be found in so-called e-search that is being conducted on drivers’ personal phones and computers looking for evidence of incitement to strike! Make no mistake, GTR are coming after their own staff like the KGB and Stasi!

“The reason why we are not working rest days and overtime (as a driver) is because the work place is so utterly depressing we can’t face being there any more than we have to and because GTR have fostered a deep-seated hatred that will take many years to clear away unless GTR go.”

The train driver alleges that his colleagues who work as guards have been subjected to harassment by the railway’s management.

“Yes they have taken away their contractual staff parking and travel passes. Yes they have informed other train companies that if they see their staff on trains they might be travelling without a pass and should be fined.

The daily grind into work is being made worse by Southern management, according to allegations by one train driver

The daily grind into work is being made worse by Southern management, according to allegations by one train driver

“Even more destructive from the point of view of covering trains, they have stopped the guards from swapping duties with each other (something they have done since the beginning of time). Some guards don’t have cars, they use the train to get to work, normally they swap very early starts or late finishes with other guards so they can simply get to work, but this vile company have said local managers must not allow this any more, thus causing more train cancellations.

“Guards have racked up taxi bills exceeding their wages just trying to get to work.

“All train crew want to do their job and get you the passenger to where you want to be, it’s the most satisfying feeling in their work to roll in to your destination on time. GTR are finding ever more creative ways to prevent this in the hopes that you, the travelling public, will turn against us.

“I am delighted to see that this horrid plan is not working.

“My job is now an embarrassment. Well done GTR.”


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33 Responses to Southern Failways: The train driver’s story

  1. What utter rubbish. They know full well that they get paid shed loads for a job that could be done by a robot. The conductors do even less.
    Its only because this government doesn’t crush their union that they get away with the ridiculously high wages, ridiculously long holidays, ridiculous “sick” leave and ridiculous amounts of overtime.
    I have not one ounce of sympathy with these chancers.

    • dresden69 says:

      Sounds like the opinion of a jealous little man on minimum wage who isn’t clever enough to pass assessments to get in the railway.
      Therapy is great to rid the soul of anger

    • What a complete tosser sounds like he tried for the railway and failed as a 45 year railwayman I’m biased because I have seen staff put there lives on the line for the so called soft job and pay the ultimate price.
      But no medals for them read your railway history before spouting crap.

      • davidjl2014 says:

        A policeman puts his life on the line every day when he goes to work. I believe if you read police history, more of them have suffered in the line of duty than those ever have driving a train.

        • Nick Davies says:

          A completely pointless contribution, but let’s have it your way: it seems you want the police to be collecting tickets and assisting passengers. Clearly their jobs will become a whole lot safer. Problem solved.

          • davidjl2014 says:

            I didn’t say that at all. I put into perspective a drivers salary to that of a policeman’s and you took exception to it and obviously couldn’t understand the difference. Surely a policeman’s contribution to society is higher than a train drivers. Agree? So why is the train driver paid more?

        • dresden69 says:

          What about soldiers? Should they get paid lots more then?

          And those pesky footballers that earn more in a day than a policeman earns in a year?

          Life’s a bitch, but I get on with it and don’t think that the world’s against me.

      • “Put their lives on the line”, what planet are you on. Do your job is not putting any lives on the line, least of all your bloody union wouldn’t allow such a thing.
        You are talking complete rot.

        • davidjl2014 says:

          Spot on my friend.

        • dresden69 says:

          So a driver isn’t responsible for anything between 1 and 600 people? One slip in concentration and there’s a serious accident with mass casualties. But hey let play your game. What do you actually work as? Would you put up with nightly threats, abuse and talked to like a piece of shit for minim wage?.
          Maybe get yourself into a unionised industry that fights to get its workers decent T&Cs instead of bleating like the sheep that you are

    • Mark Davies says:

      What an utter soft cock!

    • Bob Hex says:

      Obviously you know sweet fa about the railways. You are typical, misinformed, English oick.

  2. davidjl2014 says:

    So let’s now get to the truth behind this article. The train drivers are getting their knickers in a twist about a plan from Southern Railway for the train doors to be opened and closed by the driver instead of the guard. (Remember in the old days when we, the passengers, used to do it!). Thus in effect, making them one man operated trains. They should remember on the DLR there aren’t even any drivers to do that, it’s all automated, as will the rail network be in the next 50 years.
    But the “caring”, “cuddly” Trade Unions see this advancement a menace and an injustice to their members. These Unions have achieved wondrous things for their members over the years using the misery of the general public to achieve them through either threatening to, or in many cases, actually perpetrating strike action. Today’s train driver earns more than a Soldier, a Policeman and certainly a Junior Doctor, works a 36 hour week and enjoys on average 40 days paid holiday a year.
    A good job if you can get it. So shut up and get on driving the bloody things before technology turns you into the dinosaur your Trade Union has already become.

    • There are drivers on the DLR. Every DLR train has one. There is not a single unstaffed DLR train. The fact that they are but always driving doesn’t mean they are not there

      • Undoubtedly, police officers have a tough and risky job. But if we assess occupations according to rate of fatalities, then policing is nowhere near the top. Agriculture has the highest fatality rate, then waste processing & recycling, and then construction. But if you factor in occupational health fatalities, then construction is probably worst, owing to past exposures to asbestos.

        Working on the rail networks carries risks but has been getting safer, although part of this is due to the role of union health and safety reps. Across Britain, workplaces with active union safety reps have half the rate of serious incidents than those without. On the rail network, one of the critical areas in terms of risk to passengers is at the “platform-train interface” (as it’s called). Since 2011 most serious incidents at this interface occurred on driver-only trains. Guards perform many roles, including assisting passengers in emergency situations. At a time when assaults on passengers have been increasing this is worth remembering.

    • You are so wrong on much of what you say.
      1) The DLR on travels at 20 mph and jolts all over the place
      2) A train driver has many lives behind him on each train, has to work variable shift patterns and only gets 32 paid days leave a year, which includes Bank holidays, that is 25 annual leave days and 9 Bank holiday days
      So to me you are a complete WANKER

    • You idiot when the public operated the doors a guard checked them before the train left
      I know I was one the DLR is a one off circular line this is not possible on main or branch lines.

      • davidjl2014 says:

        I’m talking about actually physically shutting a door. Perhaps you’re either too young or too ignorant to know that trains had such devices. You know the ones, you’ve probably got a few of them where you live.
        As far as DLR is concerned it’s not possible on main or branch lines at the moment, but just wait. The technology will come, of that I promise.

    • Jackie says:

      stonkingly great reply. I have forgotten about the DLR… A good point well made! thanks…

  3. Lewis White says:

    The safety of several hundred passengers is quite a responsibility, and worth a decent salary and holidays. A driver can’t nip down to the coffee machine for a drink or go to the loo -and many of them have to start work around 4:30a.m, or finish their last journey at around 2 pm. Every day.

    I have been speaking to a few drivers recently about missed stops.
    They are as p…d off as we the passengers are about the chopping and changing.

    My beef is with the people who make decisions that result in passengers having their lives badly affected by reduced services axed after many years, and the revised “improved ” faster (for someone) services that once stopped at my station, but now speed through, half empty.
    Those really make me angry.

  4. Pingback: Southern Failways: The train driver’s story https:… » Personal blog of Peter "Sci" Turpin

  5. Carol Allen says:

    As a passenger I rely on the fact there is another person on duty besides the driver otherwise it would be a freeforall. If extra staff were not around I would not feel so confident about travelling on the train all the time partly because the times I come across men(!) drinking. (eg. 5×50 yr olds on the Brighton line at approx 9.15pm discussing one of their wives and it suddenly exploded!) Sometimes I take a buggy and the men(!) help me but if not the guard always assists (assuming I’m in the same carriage). There’s so many reasons to have a guard – if people dont feel well, to check the connections, to ask what’s currently happening (not always found on the web!), to collect unpaid fares. It makes the journey within the carriage run more smooothly.. Why should a robot be asked to do the job? It’s just another way of cutting back but it doesnt seem to stop the big boss’s salary going up or the shareholders profits..

    • davidjl2014 says:

      There is such an organisation called the British Transport Police. Have you ever seen one of them patrolling the trains? I haven’t. I wonder what they do don’t you?

      • Nick Davies says:

        I see, so you would have police helping passengers, checking tickets and ensuring safety at significantly higher salaries than guards. I’m not sure you’ve thought this through.

        • davidjl2014 says:

          I didn’t say that either. I asked what the British Transport Police actually do, and not even a train expert like you managed to answer it. I’d stick to “spotting” trains rather than commenting on them if I were you. But wait a minute, the only time I’ve seen the transport police presence is when railway staff are actually checking tickets at station exits where there are no barriers. I assume they hold the ticket while the inspector clips it!

  6. James Turner says:

    Seeing as their staff have gone after their passengers like the KGB for years, I’m finding it hard to drum up any sympathy for this joke of a company and its staff.

  7. Petition: Remove the franchise for Southern Rail from Govia Thameslink.

  8. Allan Hannam says:

    Have any of the above people who are complaining actually worked on the railway because if not, you have not got a clue. Try working for the railway first then complain after you know more about it.

    • Jackie says:

      well they aren’t complaining, though are they? they are taking it out on defenceless, ( because that’s what passengers are in their wake) people who have paid a lot of money to try to get to their work. Those passengers don’t want to strike and all they want is to travel to work. They are now embroiled in someone else’s battle. Hardly fair. Just go back to work, while you have a job to go to…

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