Commuters start legal case to re-nationalise Southern Rail

Campaign group Bring Back British Rail has today begun a crowdfunded legal action to challenge the Tory government and take the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern rail franchise back into public ownership.

A day in court: Bring Back British Rail is crowdfunding their legal challenge over Govia

Southern has acquired a richly deserved reputation as one of the worst railway services in the country. Recent service cuts, using covid staff absences as an excuse, have seen Southern operate 200 fewer trains this month than they were providing even as recently as December 2021 – yet passengers still get clobbered with high fares and season ticket-holders are expected to foot the bill of an annual increase.

Govia has also recently been subject of a £73million compensation claim for incorrectly charged boundary fares.

Yet the Conservative government plans to award a new six-year contract to Govia Thameslink Railway at the end of March.

Bring Back British Rail’s legal action will challenge this decision and also demand transparency over a £25million fraud by Govia subsidiary, London and Southeastern Railway.

The action is the latest stage in Bring Back British Rail’s CrowdJustice legal fund, which had its first victory in 2018 when the East Coast Main Line was brought back into public ownership as LNER. The action is backed by the Association of British Commuters.

The Southeastern rail franchise was renationalised in October, after the Department for Transport uncovered the multi-million-pound fraud by Southeastern.

In a letter to the Transport Select Committee, rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris implied that LSER’s actions involved long-running and active deceit since 2014.

He stated that the company “did not act transparently and in good faith” and “concealed the money owed through financial reporting over several years”.

DfT civil servants began asking questions in March 2020, but even then Southeastern continued to “minimise the risk of detection by the department”.

Buffer: transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris

Transport Minister Grant Shapps has stated that there is “clear, compelling and serious evidence that LSER “breached good faith with the government.

And yet, the Department for Transport has allowed Govia’s owning groups, Go-Ahead and Keolis, to run the fraud investigation themselves, along with Deloitte (Go-Ahead’s external auditor since 2015). The investigation has been conducted under conditions of strict commercial confidentiality and our initial legal inquiries have found that the DfT never intends to release this report to the public.

A staggering 90per cent of the Go-Ahead Group’s revenue is guaranteed by public contracts. They are the largest bus operator in London and operate around 11per cent of the UK’s regional bus market. In addition to the GTR contract renewal, the Go-Ahead Group is soon set to sign new Enhanced Partnership bus agreements with local authorities all over Britain. The group’s subsidiaries received millions of pounds more in covid subsidies during the pandemic.

“We believe the investigation is highly compromised, Bring Back British Rail said today in launching its legal campaign.

Heading for the buffers: Southeastern’s owners have been allowed to investigate the network’s fraud

“The Go-Ahead Group has now admitted to ‘serious errors’ and just had to delay their accounts for the second time this year, reportedly due to Deloitte refusing to sign them off.

“It is now crucial to determine whether they can be trusted with any more public money.

Bring Back British Rail’s legal team will shortly begin official correspondence with the Department for Transport to demand full transparency on the Southeastern investigation, and determine the extent to which owning groups, Go-Ahead and Keolis, are implicated in the alleged fraud.

They will argue that Govia, the Go-Ahead Group and Keolis should be heavily penalised for any involvement in fraudulent activities, and that public ownership is the best solution for Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern.

In the event that a new contract is awarded to Govia Thameslink Railway, the lawyers will consider whether this can be challenged by judicial review.

To donate to the Bring Back British Rail legal fund, click here.

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8 Responses to Commuters start legal case to re-nationalise Southern Rail

  1. Oh dear god – I remember the utter disaster that was BR. I definitely don’t want that back – unreliable, dirty, desperately bad customer service and regular strikes. Do these deluded people not realise the spectacular cost to tax-payers of re-nationalisation and that we’d have the same managers, engineers and crew with a vast army of civil servants, all without relevant experience, running the show?

  2. Jim Bush says:

    Some aspects of British Rail would be welcomed back, but not the food. The limp/stale British Rail cheese sandwich was rightly derided by everyone !

  3. James says:

    All this ignores the fact that DfT sets the fares, and the service specification. Govia Thameslink collects the fares that DfT set and pass it all on to them. Over the past 10 years 75% of all delays in the south east have been caused by government-owned Network Rail.

    Study after study has shown the cost per mile of railways in Britain, Spain, France Italy and Germany are roughly the same. The difference is that successive governments in UK have explicitly chosen to shift more of the cost to the farepayer. British railways today compare favourably on both punctuality – as anyone who has travelled on DB in the last few years will know (and indeed anyone who has ventured on to non-TGV SNCF services) – and frequency. The latter point is particularly bizarre in my opinion: Brits hate changing trains so you end up with a place like Arundel having two direct trains an hour to London all day when you’d be hard pressed to find ten trains per day between some Spanish regional capital cities and Madrid.

    East Croydon gets what? 24 trains an hour or something, the majority of which are bang on time the majority of the time. There’s too much damned moaning in this country.

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