Our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, on how the Department of Transport’s idea of stepping in to improve commuter services is to axe 350 trains per day
Chris Philp, the Croydon South MP who has spent more than a year playing to the populist gallery by promising to deliver a better standard of rail service for the hard-pressed commuters of Coulsdon and Purley, must be feeling a little awkward this morning, after his own Tory Government has allowed Southern Railways to simply drop 350 services a day because it is incapable of delivering them.
For months, the operating company, Govia Thameslink – or GTR – together with the rail minister Claire Perry, and her Tory colleagues such as Philp have tried to blame the train workers for the company’s failure to provide the promised services.
Platform announcements have repeated a mantra of “staff sickness” for every delay and cancellation, regardless of the truth of the matter. And Philp repeatedly told his Croydon constituents that if Southern’s service had not improved by May, he would be demanding that they should be stripped of their franchise.
Except, as Inside Croydon reported last month, Southern does not have a franchise. It operates a contract on behalf of DafT, Perry’s Department of Transport. Southern carries no financial penalties for being the worst train operator since before George Stephenson – the tax-payer picks up the bill and the commuter season ticket-holders pay the price.
Senior civil servants within DafT have spoken openly about their desire to “break the unions”, by denying train drivers and guards overtime work. Yet Southern, which only employs around four-fifths of the train staff it needs to provide its timetabled services, actually depends on drivers working overtime just to keep the trains running on time. Thus the management policy, backed by the Tory Government, is delivering the daily misery on commuter lines from the south coast, through Croydon and into London.
And the announcement simply confirms the unions’ position that the service failures are caused by under-staffing and a ban on overtime.
The new timetable, authorised by Perry’s department, is due to be published today and to be implemented next week.
Early reports suggest that commuter routes will be less affected by the cut-backs. The BBC has reported that the Clapham Junction to Milton Keynes service and Tonbridge to Redhill service will be completely removed, and trains will be removed from the Littlehampton to Portsmouth Southsea, Brighton to Southampton and Brighton to Seaford services. Staff resources appear to be being concentrated on high-volume commuter routes.
GTR says that the amended timetable is “a temporary measure until staffing returns to normal”. Which could be overnight if they were to allow drivers to work overtime or to recruit enough staff to fulfill their operational commitments.
“This latest savage attack on passenger services by GTR is nothing to do with staff sickness and everything to do with gross mismanagement of this franchise and the failure to employ enough guards and drivers to fill the current rosters and diagrams,” Mick Cash, the general secretary of the RMT rail union, said.
“The continuing attempt to blame the frontline workforce for this crisis is a cynical and cowardly ploy that will not wash with the travelling public.”
Caroline Lucas, the Greens’ MP for Brighton, the end-of-the-line town where commuters have staged protests at the station over the appalling service failures, accused the Tories of “simply rolling over and letting yet more cancellations happen”.
Meanwhile, the regular service of statements from Croydon South MP Chris Philp’s office, of blaming the unions and calling for Southern to be stripped of its “franchise”, has been cancelled until further notice.
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