“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.”
So 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.
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.
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.
“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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