As Southern starts its new timetable this morning, operating only 85 per cent of the service it agreed to provide, JEREMY CLACKSON, our transport correspondent, reports that taxpayers will be footing the huge compensation bill arising from the cancelled services
A London Assembly Member has challenged the management at Govia Thameslink to provide full details of their staffing, defying them to show evidence that the “appalling” and deteriorating service it operates on Southern Rail is really caused by staff sickness and unofficial industrial action, as the management and its cheerleaders in Government have repeatedly claimed.
“The fact that this information has not been provided speaks for itself,” according to Caroline Pidgeon, the LibDems’ representative at City Hall.
Govia Thameslink, or GTR, operates Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express trains from the south coast into London, through Coulsdon, Purley and Croydon. From today, and with the connivance of DafT, the Department for Transport, they are axing 341 trains from their daily schedule, for an as yet indefinite period.
The move will cost the taxpayers millions – since Southern is still liable to pay compensation to all passengers whose train is delayed by more than 30 minutes, and that includes the cancelled services. And the compensation payments will come from DafT.
Pidgeon calls the timetable move “an act of desperation”.
Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrats’ only London Assembly Member, has written to GTR demanding a full account of the company’s staffing rosters.
“By drastically reducing their timetable Southern trains are simply taking the easy option for themselves at the cost of everyone else,” Pidgeon said. “And this is on top of the many cuts to services passengers using London Bridge have faced over the last few years.
“I have repeatedly asked for information about the level of drivers they employ, how many are in training and how many they actually require to run their full timetable without relying on the use of overtime. The fact that this information has not been provided to date speaks for itself.
“The level of service provided by Govia Thameslink Railway in recent months has been appalling, there is simply no other way to describe the service that I and so many other people have faced in recent weeks.
“Their service has led to immense inconvenience for thousands of people and families across south London. With only 3 trains over the morning rush period and in the evening on some routes, many parents will struggle to reach their childcare on time, causing even more stress”
In her letter to Charles Horton, GTR’s chief executive, Pidgeon has written: “While I am aware of your argument that you face a reduction in the update of overtime and high levels of train crew sickness I think such claims cannot be a defence for Govia Thameslink Railway failing to be open and transparent as to your actual staffing levels.
“Despite repeatedly asking for the information I have so far not been provided with statistics for how many train drivers you currently have, how many you need to run your advertised timetable without relying on drivers working overtime, how many are in training and when will they be able to drive your trains. Detailed figures for how many train drivers you have employed over the last four years and in addition your current recruitment and training plans should now be placed in the public domain.
“This is something we have discussed in recent years and something I expected would be improving by now.”
Pidgeon accuses Horton’s company’s failure to provide an acceptable service of causing “an immense amount of inconvenience to thousands of people and families. Your service has also impacted and caused economic harm for many London businesses as well”.
Pidgeon describes today’s move to reduce Southern services to a level it might actually be capable of delivering as “an act of desperation”.
It appears that GTR’s timetable move will also be a costly one, though ultimately not for GTR. In an poorly promoted statement on Southern Rail’s website, the company says full refunds are available to passengers even under the terms of the old timetable.
It means travellers can claim refunds for services that won’t actually run under the emergency timetable. They would have to show they intended to get a certain train under the old timetable but were forced to get one at least half an hour later.
Under the franchise deal, the refund scheme is paid for by the Government rather than by the train operator. In the 12 months to April 2015, the Government paid £1.62 million in compensation to Southern passengers.
Southern Rail states: “If your journey is delayed by more than 30 minutes against the normal or revised timetable, you will be entitled to compensation.
“During the amended timetable, you will be able to claim compensation against trains cancelled in advance or against delays experienced on the day; either against the normal or the amended timetable.”
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