Transport correspondent JEREMY CLACKSON reports on the latest shameful piece of Tory mismanagement of commuter rail links
Chris Grayling today maintained the Conservative Government’s absurd charade over the scandalous levels of poor service on the south London commuter rail network, much of which they have instigated or encouraged.
After more than two years of rail misery for commuters at the hands of Govia Thameslink, the operators of Southern Rail, Transport Secretary Grayling faced a summons to the High Court today if he failed to take action over the appalling service and lack of accessibility provided. Govia Thameslink operate the Southern network under a contract for Grayling’s Department for Transport.
So yesterday, just ahead of his High Court deadline, Grayling issued GTR with a gentle scolding and a £13.4million fine.
GTR will pay the fine to DafT using the public money which they are paid by the DafT. DafT says it will use the money from the fine to improve services on… Southern. Lewis Carroll would have struggled to devise anything as ludicrous.
Transport unions described the fine as “less than a slap on the wrist”. For commuters, it must feel like a slap around the face.
“Cheers mate,” Charles Horton, the vastly overpaid chief exec of the rail operator might have said. “Think we got away with that again.”
Grayling, the MP for Epsom, had only been forced into taking action by a crowd-funded legal case brought by the Association of British Commuters.
Horton and his cronies, including Tories such as Croydon South MP Chris Philp, had spent the last couple of years blaming strikes and staff sickness for their mismanagement of the commuter rail network into London Bridge and Victoria. DafT officials had told public meetings that it was their mission to “break the unions”, and it has been Tory policy to withdraw guards from trains, reducing staff across the network.
But after the recent publication of the long-delayed Gibb Report (woe betide anyone suggesting that the Tories buried this bit of bad news from the commuter belt ahead of the General Election), which concluded that the strikes had been a factor, but not the only one in the shambles of a rail service which season ticket-holders have to endure, even Grayling has been forced to concede that maybe, just maybe, Horton and his executives are incapable of running a railway.
In his letter to Horton, Grayling wrote, “… my officials have determined that this does not fully explain the poor service that passengers had received”.
“The performance is still not good enough,” Grayling’s letter to his mate Horton states, commenting on improved service this year.
In the House of Commons, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said that the fine showed GTR and the government could no longer blame others for Southern’s failures. “With the record fine imposed today, such nonsense has been totally blown out of the water. Ministers … have had to come clean and accept that Southern Rail is simply not fit for purpose.”
He challenged Grayling: “Doesn’t he now accept that continuing to tolerate such ineptitude, expecting a rail service to rely on workers’ overtime and compromising safety accessibility simply won’t wash any longer, and he now has to call time on GTR?”
But Grayling appears to be in denial, as he attempted to misrepresent the true findings of the Gibb Report in the Commons when he said, “I’m also very clear – and so was Chris Gibb’s report – that the prime responsibility for the trouble on that network in the last few months has come from trade unions fighting the battles of 30 years ago.”
- For more information on the Association of British Commuters, and to donate to their legal fund, click here
- Southern Fail: The train driver’s story
- Southern Fail: The Tories’ role in Croydon’s commuter chaos
- Southern Fail: Civil servant wants ‘to break’ rail unions
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