Southern Failway: Strip them of franchise now, says Tory MP

Day 3 of Southern’s ’emergency timetable’ and now a Croydon Conservative MP has joined London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Green MP Caroline Lucas in calling for the operator to lose its franchise immediately. By our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON

Chris Philp, the Croydon South MP,  this afternoon renewed his call for commuter train services operated by Southern Rail to be handed over to the control of Transport for London.

Southern trainThe relatively new Conservative MP has been been a critic of Govia Thameslink Railway since entering Parliament and he has been calling for GTR to be stripped of its responsibilities since May.

Philp’s latest intervention, announced this afternoon during a Westminster Hall debate on the state of commuter train services, completes the cross-party consensus, with the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Brighton’s Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, making similar demands in the past week, including for Transport for London to take over the management of the services.

“The service on Southern Rail has plumbed new depths,” Philp said. “The recent removal of 341 trains per day from the approximately 3,000 per day that run is wholly unjustified. Commuters have paid for their season tickets, and deserve to receive the full service that they paid for.”

Philp reckons that 20 per cent of peak time services have either been cancelled or more than 30 minutes late in the last few weeks. “People have lost their jobs or had to quit their jobs as a result, and parents have not been missing their children’s bedtime. It is just not acceptable,” he said.

Philp, too, broke ranks with his party colleague, rail minister Claire Perry, who this week tried to claim that the problems with Southern had only existed for the past three months. Philp, like Charles King, the chair of the local transport group, says that Southern’s shoddy service performance has been going on for 18 months or more.

“There have been very serious problems with the Southern service for about two years now,” Philp said, “during that time it has been the worst performing railway franchise in the country. I believe that the GTR franchise is too big – it covers 23 per cent of all UK rail journeys. The average franchise covers about 5 per cent…”.

Click here for an explanation of how GTR does not operate a franchise, but a management contract on behalf of the DafT, the Department of Transport.

“It is not due to be renewed until 2021 but I believe that the franchise needs to be removed from GTR and broken up right now. Routes that start and finish inside the M25 should be immediately transferred to TfL, who do a good job running the underground and London Overground lines, under the democratic oversight of the Mayor.”

MP Chris Philp: Southern service is unacceptable

MP Chris Philp: Southern service is not acceptable

Philp does, though, maintain the Tory party line that blames the service disruption not on poor management, deliberate under-staffing and bans on overtime working, but he tries to claim that staff sickness is some kind of “wildcat” industrial action.

A dispute over the introduction of driver-operated doors on Southern services has seen three days of official strike action in the past four months.

“London Underground has 100 per cent driver-operated doors with no problems,” Philp said. “Moving the conductors from operating the doors frees them up to assist passengers. These changes will also not result in any job losses or any pay reduction, and every train that currently has two staff (driver and conductor) will continue to have two staff. I have recently met with Mick Cash, the General Secretary of the RMT union, to urge him to call off this damaging and unnecessary strike.

“What is happening on Southern now is just not acceptable.”

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