Southern Failways: the questions that need urgent answers

Day 2 of Southern’s ’emergency timetable’, and JEREMY CLACKSON reports on the impact on commuters and their reactions to the do-nothing Tory rail minister

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has today added his voice to the calls for Southern Rail to be stripped of its train operating franchise/contract, and for services in the metropolitan suburban areas to be handed over immediately to Transport for London.

Commuters, including many from Croydon, protesting at Victoria Station last night

Commuters, including some from Croydon, protesting at Victoria Station last night

Labour Mayor Khan said: “Passengers are paying thousands of pounds for a service that, rather than being ‘turn up and go’, has become ‘turn up and hope’.”

But given the Conservative Government’s reluctance to act in the interests of passengers, while it pursues a policy intended to “break” the rail unions, according to a senior civil servant, it could be some time before the Mayor’s own hopes are fulfilled.

Croydon South’s Tory MP Chris Philp has been saying for more than a year that if services on commuter routes into London did not improve, he’d be lobbying his party colleague, rail minister Claire Perry, to strip Govia Thameslink (GTR) of its franchise. Philp even set a May deadline for the operator to show improvement in the service.

Yet after all Philp’s lobbying, the only immediate effect is the “emergency timetable”, which began yesterday, and which confirmed that 341 trains would definitely not be operating every day, across the network, for at least a month. The emergency timetable has been described as “an act of desperation”.

Perry, meanwhile, has refused to act or take responsibility for the “commuter hell” over which she and DafT, the Department of Transport, are presiding.

“If I was to say today that the department is going to run the franchise, would anything change?” was the best that Perry could offer yesterday morning, prompting commuters stuck on platforms across the south-east to accuse her of “betrayal”, of being an “apologist” for the operator and of being “unfit” for her job (which, given the way things in the Conservative Party have been going, she may not have by the end of the week; maybe Theresa May can give Philp a promotion?).

West Croydon and East Croydon Stations are largely unaffected by the emergency timetable, except by having to cope with additional passengers who have to divert to the borough’s hubs, as some stations have been stripped of their train services.

Passengers using Birkbeck Station, near Beckenham, for example, have no trains at all, and so will have to travel by tram to East Croydon for their daily commute to and from London.

Time for action: Charlie King

Charles King: there’s been commuter chaos in Coulsdon for at least 18 months

Charles King, the chairman of the East Surrey transport committee, who lives in Coulsdon, told Inside Croydon: “I understand that Claire Perry said that this has only been a problem for three months.

“Well, it has been a problem here for at least 18 months.”

King has studied the emergency timetable provided by Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express, and he said, “Compared to places like Dulwich and Sutton, and parts of the south coast that get buses instead of trains, Croydon does not come out of this too badly.

“The peak services will be more or less the same (give or take unplanned cancellations). So it will be a case of ‘overcrowding as normal’.

“The main hit in Croydon is the off-peak services, where the Reigate and Tonbridge trains won’t operate under the emergency timetable. This reduces the services to Victoria by two trains per hour, from 14 per hour to 12 per hour, which represents a 15 per cent reduction in service.

“The service to Redhill reduces from six trains per hour to four per hour, and is slower in the off-peak.

“The early morning and shoulder peak services and reverse peak journeys are reduced at Coulsdon South, Purley and East Croydon by seven trains,” King said.

“The West London Line services to Shepherds Bush, Watford and Milton Keynes is completely withdrawn. That’s one train per hour off-peak and two in the peaks. This is the same reduction at Selhurst, Thornton Heath and Norbury.

“There are a couple of Caterham and Tattenham Corner trains missing. There are no changes at West Croydon and Waddon.

“The Tulse Hill line loses its Sutton and Beckenham Junction services altogether and only gets Thameslink services.”

King has raised a series of questions which he wants the operator, Perry and the Department of Transport to answer:

• Why are Metro trains being cancelled when they are already driver-only-operated and we have been told that there is a shortage of guards? Is to try and alienate more people against the unions?
• Are passenger journeys down? So is revenue to DfT down and the tax-payer is subsidising the rail operator through this dispute?
• How many guards are they short to run the timetable when they took over the franchise?
• How many have they recruited since?
• Are DfT paying GTR? Southern less for providing a reduced service ?
• Why won’t DfT remove their franchise? They have removed other Train Operating Companies for poor performance?
• Are DfT really behind all this and so are GTR/Southern fighting the Government’s battle with the unions?
• Have GTR cut their management structure too much and are no longer in control of the day to day operation?

By mid-morning today, shares in Go Ahead, the parent company of Govia Thameslink Railways, were around 600p lower than they were one month ago, trading on the London Stock Exchange at mid-morning at a suitably symbolic daily high of 1984p.

Orwellian, or what?

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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