A big week for ‘Digital Rail’ – let’s stop pretending the public is getting the full story

It was hard to get excited about the Rail Delivery Group and Department for Transport PR stunts this week – and the reason is simple: we have entirely lost faith that either group represents passengers’ interests. Rather than meet the messaging of the department on its own terms (which goes little further than trying and failing to evoke a sense of ‘Victorian’ grandeur), we intend to take forward our own investigations into these matters and will shortly crowdfund on a matter of crucial public interest.

More from us on the way next week so watch this space! We need all the help we can get and your support is invaluable.

In the meantime, here’s a comment from our co-founder Emily Yates, published yesterday as part of Steve Topple’s summary of the Digital Railway launch:

“Not for the first time, we note that Chris Grayling’s rhetoric about innovation and technology is something that better resembles a relic of the ‘Victorian age’ – or perhaps, going back further, a superstitious practice like praying for rain. We are in the fourth industrial revolution, not the third, and this kind of technocratic PR-speak just doesn’t cut it anymore.

But it’s not just rhetoric – the Minister’s actions speak louder than words. Take for example the cancellation of key electrification projects; or absurd DfT-driven decisions like not installing electric plugs on the new Thameslink trains. The extent to which the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ will come off well for all workers now urgently relies on the transparency of information about research and policy – points on which the department and rail industry fail repeatedly.

We will take our time to comment on the digital signalling project because we suspect that there are still missing parts of the full picture around the Digital Railway strategy. Thameslink was recently the first to use automatic train operation on mainline rail – the method that they hope will allow them to attain 24 tph through the core. Though this was from an industry perspective quite an achievement I don’t think it was adequately analysed or discussed by the technology press. The irony then becomes that, in the tech industry itself, nobody can understand quite what is going on – a problem I have encountered as both a tech writer and a passenger campaigner.

The next part of the picture we require is the research on dwell times which we believe to be an unexplored part of the driver only operation project. Peter Wilkinson has mentioned this more than once in front of the Public Accounts Committee, and we also know that the Rail Delivery Group is holding back the Steer Davies Gleave report (which we have reason to believe could be the business and/or engineering case for the entire DOO project). Since taxpayers are funding the two-year long industrial dispute – which, incidentally, threatens equality of access for the disabled – it is clearly in the public interest to now release the #SDGreport and we call on the Rail Delivery Group again to do so.

The development of technology requires public oversight, consultation and scrutiny like no industrial phenomenon we have ever encountered before. Because many of us in ABC are tech workers ourselves, we do not yet feel fully informed enough to comment on the government’s plans. And we believe that this is the real scandal – plans around innovation in this area seem to have been smokescreened since the 2011 McNulty report, and this is no doubt influenced by the (completely predictable) controversy with the trade unions. Our message to the Department for Transport today is: there can be no transition to the fourth industrial revolution without putting transparency and democracy front and centre.”

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest updates.

 

 

 

Today’s Gatwick Rail Meltdown: all you need to know about the state of GTR’s contingency planning

Today’s events at Gatwick were an entirely predictable outcome of a company and management contract that have never been fit for purpose. Govia Thameslink Railway is clearly to blame for the situation; given that engineering works were scheduled six months in advance, a heatwave was forecast, and the launch of the Brighton Fringe and Brighton Festival happens at the same time every year. There can be no excuses for today’s events and we call on journalists, MPs and the Office of Rail and Road to hold GTR properly to account.

What makes this situation even more appalling is the fact that it happened just two months after the Redhill rail replacement bus disaster. At the time, we were not satisfied with the excuses given by GTR senior management and so revealed the facts behind the story, in response to Angie Doll’s explanation to the BBC, and just as Charles Horton gave his own version to the Public Accounts Select Committee.

The Redhill experience showed us that if we don’t dig up and reveal the facts behind these incidents, nobody will. We have been attempting this voluntarily for two years now, and it is frankly now beyond embarrassing that a small group of commuters can provide the transparency that GTR and the Department for Transport will not. We’re not happy with this state of affairs and frankly, we want our lives back! We will now be writing to the ORR and urging them to step in and ‘show their teeth’.

Here’s the full story of what happened today. All internal memos are presented in the public interest and journalists requiring any further information are welcome to contact us at contact@abcommuters.com.

Not just a crisis of planning – a crisis of communication:

  • According to our sources, initial advice came through at 12.15 from Network Rail as part of a ‘Gold Alert’ informing GTR senior management. At this time, there were queues of up to 4,000 people at Gatwick and plans were being drawn up to procure an additional 40 buses to assist with the situation:

core memo redacted

  • Despite the scale of the situation described above, at 12:34 Southern Rail tweeted out this advice to passengers:
  • 1234 Southern tweetBy 13:08 we had become extremely concerned that Southern Rail was not communicating accurate and up-to-date advice to passengers. So, we tweeted this:

ABC tweet 1308

  • Southern Rail responded immediately to our intervention, and (slightly) strengthened the message with this tweet one minute later:

1309 Southern Rail

  • We were well aware that this advice was still inadequate, and that the only acceptable message in such an extreme failure of planning was “Do Not Travel”. So, we published the initial Network Rail memo at 13:12 – advice which would have been communicated to the GTR’s senior management at least an hour earlier.

ABC tweet 1312

  • It then took until 13:31 for Southern Rail to repeat our advice and finally warn passengers what they should have warned them much earlier: “Do Not Travel.”

1331 Southern Rail

Network Rail and ongoing engineering works

Our latest update (as of 7pm on Sunday 6th May) is that four extra trains have been laid on from Brighton to Victoria this evening, and four extra trains from Victoria to Brighton. This was achieved by the rapid lifting of engineering works between Horsham and Dorking. Now, if this could be so quickly achieved by Network Rail in light of the emergency caused by GTR’s failure of planning, then this begs a serious question: should these Horsham to Dorking works have taken priority in the first place on a day that would completely predictably be so busy?

This question is particularly important when one considers that the Department for Transport claims to be improving co-operation between GTR and Network Rail. The rapid lifting of engineering works at the last minute suggest extremely inadequate communication/contingency planning ahead of today’s emergency. We note the relevant conclusion of the Public Accounts Committee report last month:

PAC Committee on NR

At the time of the last ‘rail replacement bus crisis’ at Redhill in February, we called for the Office of Rail and Road to intervene in GTR. We now repeat that call and ask the regulator to step immediately; an action that is seriously overdue.

We are extremely concerned about what kind of management practices passengers will fall victim to in the upcoming nine-day blockades of the Brighton line in autumn 2018 and new year 2019. It is essential that all future rail/bus replacement plans are independently audited and checked for their robustness and realistic understanding of passenger numbers.

Delay Repay and ‘Consequential Losses’

It is vital that senior GTR management are asked to take a proactive role in meeting passengers’ consumer rights regarding ‘consequential losses’ and delay repay for their experiences today. Any attempt by GTR to assume no delay over and above the times calculated by Journey Planner (ie assuming people have walked onto buses with no queues) will be completely unacceptable, and ABC will follow this up even if our MPs and the Office of Rail and Road do not.

We would call on members of the press to ask GTR managers explicitly whether Delay Repay will take into account the extended journey times in this situation; so that a clear commitment to accurate Delay Repay will be on record if customers should experience problems later.

 

Will there be another ‘rail meltdown’ tomorrow?

We are concerned that there will be further trouble tonight at Three Bridges, and other locations where people are attempting to return to London from the coast. And that’s not to mention Redhill, where passengers had their service reduced from 4 trains per hour to just 1 train per hour today; leaving many people unable to board.

Tomorrow is likely to be a difficult day to travel – even in a ‘best case scenario’ – so we strongly advise passengers to avoid using Southern Rail unless absolutely necessary. If you do end up caught in a similar situation, please stay safe/hydrated and remember that this is not the fault of frontline staff. The lack of foresight and planning from GTR senior management is to blame – whether this be through accidental incompetence or a deliberate ‘heads in the sand’ mentality.

Whoever said “Lessons will be learnt” after the Redhill debacle needs to be shown the door – without a parting bonus.

To keep up to date with our campaigns and investigations, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. You can email us at contact@abcommuters.com

 

 

Commuters Beware – delay repay could get you fined for doing absolutely nothing wrong!

We have been assisting commuters with escalating issues around delay repay claims for two months now. The story begins when one of our members received a demand from GTR for 100% of the delay repay compensation s/he had ever received, after s/he had innocently put in writing that s/he had used the Delay Repay Sniper app in the past.

Over the last week, our inbox has been flooded with complaints from angry commuters, who have also received requests from GTR for the repayment of 30% of all the delay repay they have received. We have not been able to find out where GTR have got the figure of 30% from, nor whether it is based on anything scientific.

GTR’s press office gave us this comment:

“Passengers who have an issue with a Delay Repay claim should contact our customer services team in person.”

We now reveal this situation in the public interest.

We do not claim legal expertise on this matter, but feel that this principle must be clarified by GTR, as there are several of these apps in use among commuters.

Is this about fraud?

ABC takes any allegation of fraudulent claims very seriously and will not advocate on behalf of any commuter except those we believe have been unfairly fined for genuine claims. If you believe you fit into this category, please email us at contact@abcommuters.com and we will do all we can to help.

The third party app “Delay Repay Sniper” is an admin tool – one that has become extremely popular due to passengers’ desire to make the time-consuming process of claiming more convenient. It is an app that collates data already available through websites like raildar.co.uk and realtimetrains.co.uk. DRS has been around since 2013 and the GTR management contract began in 2014, so there are many years’ worth of delay repay claims potentially at risk for customers.

GTR’s Information about Delay Repay

We believe that there are flaws in GTR’s website information on Delay Repay if they are now intending to penalise people for using mobile phone apps.

DR main T and C

DR FAQ

There is no reference here to a third party app – which is not the same thing as a human “third party” (which is subject to human error). An app like Delay Repay Sniper can act like a digital version of the postal service; collating publicly available information and allowing commuters to submit their own data, exactly as described in the FAQ above.

Fraudulent claims are a crime, but this crime can be committed through any vehicle – including GTR’s own website. We now urgently need the consumer rights situation regarding the use of third party apps clarified for the benefit of all rail users.

The injustice felt by those being penalised for genuine claims is even worse when, as passengers, we continue to suffer delays, short-formed trains and cancellations. Here’s an extract from our passenger survey in December 2016, indicating the amount of time people were spending on rail-related admin:

DR admin passenger survey

GTR’s Delay Repay guidance mentions “mitigating circumstances” but doesn’t explain what this means. The amount of time that passengers are forced to spend on claiming is an additional cost on top of the service problems they suffer anyway. We suggest that the Southern Rail Crisis provided more than enough in the way of a ‘mitigating circumstance’ – so the need for GTR to clarify its position on what constitutes a “third party” is undeniable.

Is this a reasonable position?

Because of the consumer rights issues we’ve heard about recently, we fear this could be another occasion where the growing conflicts between rail, technology and consumer rights cause undue stress and problems for passengers. We would appreciate GTR stating explicit conditions on their website regarding the use of third party apps

ABC is always dismayed to hear of any case of fraud, but that is a different problem requiring a different solution. The problem in this case has been the lagging behind of the rail industry in keeping up with passenger’s needs. What else could we expect but for tech companies to start up and fill the gap when there has been such an obvious need of admin help for customers?

If you have been affected by this situation and are being asked to repay compensation you received for genuine claims, you are welcome to contact us at contact@abcommuters.com and we will do what we can to help.

Please appreciate that we are volunteers and also managing our day jobs, so cannot always provide an immediate response.

New Judicial Review case starts today – led by passenger group Bring Back British Rail

The passenger-led campaign group Bring Back British Rail announced this morning that they have started a Judicial Review on the East Coast and have already dispatched a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State for Transport.

In the letter, they highlighted Chris Grayling’s words to Parliament on 5th February this year when he said that Stagecoach had “breached a key financial covenant” and “Stagecoach [had] got its numbers wrong”. Despite the breach of this “key financial covenant” the Transport Secretary has already decided that Stagecoach may be permitted to run the East Coast franchise again, and has even included them on a shortlist of bidders for the East Midlands franchise.

Bring Back British Rail believe that the franchising farce can’t be allowed to continue. In their letter to Chris Grayling today, their lawyers Leigh Day have asked him to confirm:

  1. that he will revoke the Franchise Passports granted to Stagecoach and/or Virgin and/or suspend them pending a full investigation of what went wrong.
  2. whether the costs of terminating the franchise have in fact been met or could be expected to be met by the fulfilment of Stagecoach’s obligations.

To date, the Secretary of State has failed to answer the second question in full, despite the fact it is crucial for everyone to understand how much Stagecoach and Virgin will have cost us taxpayers.

Bring Back British Rail now aim to raise a minimum of £15,000 in the next 30 days. We’ll be supporting them as much as we can and hope our followers will do the same – you can read more about the case and donate here.

A Recent History of Judicial Reviews in Rail

A Judicial Review of the Department for Transport is essentially the holy grail of transport campaigning. Over the last decade, we have seen the DfT go to great lengths to avoid the scrutiny that such a legal case could provide. If BBBR’s new case is successful, we can expect the smokescreens to finally lift on the practices of the entire department.

2012 – Virgin’s Judicial Review over the west coast franchise

In August 2012, Virgin began judicial review proceedings to challenge the award of the west coast franchise to FirstGroup. Just a month into the pre-action proceedings, the DfT withdrew from their decision, announcing the discovery of ‘significant technical flaws in the franchising process’ and suspending several key civil servants in the process.

The sudden cancellation of the franchise award cost taxpayers at least £50 million and the Public Accounts Committee warned that the cost might be “very much larger”. You can refresh your memory of the PAC Committee’s view of the affair here.

It was this fiasco that led to the Brown Review on rail franchising, which claimed that rail franchising was not in fact broken and made a set of recommendations for its improvement. A short while later, the Govia Thameslink Railway management contract was put together, based on a very radical interpretation of Brown’s recommendations (and leaving 100% revenue risk with the taxpayer).

2017 – ABC’s Judicial Review over the GTR management contract

In the midst of the Southern Rail crisis of 2016, we launched Judicial Review proceedings into the GTR management contract, crowdfunding an initial £25,000. Over six months later, our application to JR was turned down on paper by a single judge. Convinced of the merits of our case, we crowdfunded again to take the DfT to an ‘oral hearing’ on whether the JR case could go forward.

In June 2017, we met the DfT in court and discussed our main ground for JR in the High Court for 2.5 hours. The ground discussed was the delay to the force majeure decision on GTR’s continual franchise breaches since the very beginning of their contract. As was widely reported at the time, the DfT argued strongly that the force majeure decision was already “imminent” and about to go public. In a move that nobody expected, the Judge made a conditional judgment, requiring the DfT to announce their decision within two weeks. You can read our full report of the court case here.

On the final day of the two week deadline, the DfT announced that it was asking GTR to pay £13.4 million in the form of an ‘improvement package’ to go straight back into the company (including hiring an extra 50 OBS staff). In claiming they had fulfilled the Judge’s condition, they then came to us for over £17,000 in costs, which we paid shortly afterwards (narrowly escaping bankruptcy).

In January 2018, the NAO report on the TSGN franchise was finally released, giving the full background to how the force majeure decision had been made. Pages 39 to 41 of the report clearly state that a rushed and ‘verbal’ agreement was made in the days after our court case, in which it was agreed that GTR could buy out two years of their liability – even extending into the future (until Sep 2018). This meant that they could completely avoid ever having to prove the often cited effect of “unofficial industrial action” or “sickness strikes” that they had claimed throughout the course of the Southern Rail Crisis. To date, these claims have never been proven, despite providing the thrust of the DfT’s anti-union messaging.

The man behind this hasty force majeure deal was the MD of Passenger Services at the DfT, Peter Wilkinson. A further investigation into his alleged conflicts of interest had been conducted in early 2017 and had been expected to conclude in the NAO report with an enquiry into the circumstances of both GTR and c2c franchise awards. Though we had previously published the first half of this NAO investigation, there was no mention of it whatsoever in their final publication.

Our inquiry into what happened in court last year is far from over. Please follow ABC on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with more revelations coming out this month and throughout 2018!

And please, if you can, support our friends at Bring Back British Rail. Cases like these are always David vs Goliath and they will need all the support we can give throughout this time.

 

 

 

 

The time has come for ABC Phase Two: help us campaign for justice and transparency in UK rail!

After a year of hard work and dedication to the #SouthernFail cause; ABC and its 2,000 financial backers are finally starting to see their efforts bear fruit! On 29th June, we pulled off the biggest democratic check on Chris Grayling yet; in the form of a court decision that forced the DfT to finally decide the issue of Force Majeure – 16 months after their deliberations began.

The resulting £13.4 million fine was enough to satisfy the Judge’s deadline of 13th June, meaning that our judicial review cannot go forward. This money is now being channeled back into Southern Rail in the form of yet another remedial plan – and there is certainly irony in the fact that £5 million of the ‘fine’ is now being used to fund extra staff on Southern Rail, when their well-known understaffing model was a major cause of the service’s collapse in the first place.

We believe that this reinvestment of Govia’s ‘fine’ is nothing more than an attempt to re-balance contract specifications that were so catastrophically conceived that they were bound to fail from the very start. In the words of a recent article in Railway Magazine:

“…the Department for Transport’s desire to merge the Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express operations into the biggest rail franchise in history has instead simply created a monster – one that is now out of control.”

There is so much more to do in unravelling the causes of this ongoing rail crisis; and ABC plans to be bigger, bolder and more influential than ever in the next phase of building our non-profit organisation – dedicated to the cause of justice and transparency in all UK transport policy.

We are still crowdfunding to pay our legal fees, survive bankruptcy by the DfT, and fund further legal investigations into: 1) the full Southern Rail franchise agreement; and 2) an Equality Act challenge on driver-only-operated trains. We really need to hit £30,000 in the next 20 days – all of which will go into our legal fighting fund to help us take new actions forward. Please donate whatever you can!

There is so much more to do…

This has been a David vs Goliath battle from the start. Our crowdfunder of September 2016 raised £26,000 – which has been our total legal resource for almost a year. The vast majority of all legal and publicity work has been done on a voluntary and skill-sharing basis among a close network of lawyers, commuter researchers and citizen journalists. To date, ABC has received just one £5,000 grant (from the Foundation of Integrated Transport) – and yet, we have already achieved more than anyone thought possible.

The ABC ‘project’ has never been just about the judicial review case. Our legal action instead formed a backbone to extensive legal, lobbying, publicity and research efforts that will continue exactly as before – and in fact, will only get bigger. We now have an excellent platform from which to promote change in UK transport policy and we intend to use it.

Our innovative “digital DIY” techniques and unique experiments with crowd-sourced investigative journalism have already changed the face of transport campaigning, and this is just the start. What our critics do not realise is that we’ve not only been campaigning on Southern Rail for a year – we’ve also been creating a radical business plan; one that we can’t wait to implement in the creation of “ABC 2.0”. Through collaborative work and grass roots organising, we are now set to take our campaigning model all over the country – at a time when rail passengers have never needed it more.

We urgently need to keep our independence, and continue our work:

In the last two months, we have had some of our biggest successes yet. We have published exclusives on: 1) urgent health and safety concerns at Victoria station; 2) information from the Gibb report, which possibly lead to its release; 3) an RMT offer (declined by GTR) that represented their biggest compromise yet; and most controversially of all: 4) a two-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on disabled access, which strongly argues for keeping the conductor on the train.

All of these issues (and many more) are still being investigated by ABC, and there is much work to do in fully uncovering the truth behind them. This is the reason for our appeal – we must urgently restore our legal fighting fund if we are to have adequate legal support and resources to continue our work.

Every contribution makes a difference – so please donate the price of a train ticket today, and ask a fellow commuter to do the same! Our future is in your hands, and we are forever grateful for the help and support from our community – without it, none of this would have been possible.

We aim to hit £30,000 by 16th August! Please help us by donating here.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news – and more exclusive releases that the government and rail industry don’t want you to see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXCLUSIVE: ABC presents…The Great Gibb Giveaway! What’s your Magic Loophole Station?!

We’ve discovered discounts and savings for South Coast – London Victoria passengers! Find out how to get yours in this easy ABC guide…

The Gibb report has given us a wealth of material about the failures of ‘system resilience’ on the Southern Rail network – and over the next few weeks, ABC will be following many of these up in depth. However, we wanted to start with an exclusive tip-off that will benefit commuters right here, right now. And so we present the first Magic Loophole Station; a technique inspired by section 3.2 of the Gibb Report, and from which several of our commuter campaigners are already enjoying great savings.

Before proceeding, please note: this is still a work in progress that we invite you to try, and investigate further. We do not guarantee success and all of these methods are to be used at the individual’s sole discretion and responsibility.

Important: we are still urgently raising funds to pay our lawyers for our recent court victory, which has forced Chris Grayling to finally make a decision on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches. There could be no better use for the money saved through the #GreatGibbaway than donating some to help us pay our lawyers!

How to use the Camden Road Magic Loophole:

Inspired by the “fare anomalies and split-ticketing opportunities” highlighted by Chris Gibb in section 3.2 of his report, members of ABC have been looking at other routes and trying to identify similar “Magic Loophole Stations” to the Eastbourne – Aldershot example that Gibb describes.

We have since discovered that Camden Road Station is the “Magic Loophole Station” for South Coast – London Victoria routes, and now invite all our supporters to join the investigation and find similar loopholes for other routes.

GIBBAWAY-FINAL2.jpg

The Camden Road “Magic Loophole” works for:

  • Passengers on the South Coast going to London Victoria
  • All peak day tickets
  • Some off-peak tickets
  • Some walk up fares, e.g. 7 day return tickets (peak and off peak)

The Camden Road “Magic Loophole” won’t work for:

  • Season ticket holders (7 days and upwards) – unfortunately it turns into the same ‘travelcard’ ticket type for both scenarios at that point
  • Anyone travelling from Haywards Heath or further north

The best thing about this technique is that the saving on day return peak tickets will really help whose who are self-employed or part-time – i.e. those who are already penalised most by the current fare system.

These types of passengers will be able to save money on every journey using the “Magic Loophole” technique. ABC members have explicitly asked Southern Rail ticket staff if Victoria is a valid route for Camden Road, and it has been confirmed that it is (i.e. one can take all usual direct peak/off-peak trains and there is no need for this to be specified on the ticket.)

Examples of how much you could save on a peak day ticket:

Worthing: £41.70 instead of £56.70 saving £15 or 26% discount

Eastbourne: £44.20 instead of £60.40 saving £16.20 or 26% discount

Brighton: £43.60 instead of 50.10 saving £6.50 or 13% discount

Lewes: £39.30 instead of £51.10 saving £11.80 or 23% discount

Shoreham: £40.50 instead of £54.20 saving £14.70 or 27% discount

How you can help our investigation:

  1. Write and tell us about your success and any further “Magic Loophole Stations” you uncover. You can email us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com, or contact us through Twitter. Please note that we are volunteer-run and extremely busy, so Twitter is always best for a quick response.
  2. Donate to our legal crowdfunder – we need your help more than ever if we are to pay our lawyers for their work on our recent high court decision and keep ABC alive!
  3. Keep following our campaign and thinking outside the box! We must all join together to insist upon a better quality of investigative journalism; and much more action from MPs/Ministers, if we are to ever bring the Southern Rail crisis to a end!

Donate to our legal crowdfunder here.

Follow ABC on Twitter and Facebook for all our news, exposes, and updates!

Please note, The Great Gibbaway was inspired by section 3.2 of the Gibb report:

Gibb 3.2

EXCLUSIVE: How has the Southern Rail Crisis changed the game for Rail PR?

After our recent high court victory, viral protests, and several exposes of what is really going on behind the scenes; our campaign has given commuters their best platform yet for representation on the Southern Rail crisis.

ABC campaigner Emily Yates spoke to the rail journalist Tom Ingall as part of an in-depth, 8 page feature in this month’s edition of Rail Review. We include a download link for the full PDF below, with thanks to Tom Ingall, Rail Review and Bauer Media.

DOWNLOAD HERE: Rail Review – the role of social media in rail PR

The importance of social media in a David vs Goliath battle

With the unprecedented anger caused by the ongoing Southern Rail crisis, this is not the first time that members of ABC have been made aware that our campaign has caused a serious stir behind the scenes of rail industry (and Department for Transport) public relations.

It now appears that our campaign forms part of what is very much a ‘live discussion’ behind the scenes of the rail industry. In this month’s Rail Review, Tom Ingall takes a comprehensive look at the situation and asks what rail public relations can learn from our campaign.

Read in the context of our recent court decision (which forces Chris Grayling to finally act on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches), it is important to note that social media has also played a key part in the crowd-funding and crowd-sourced research behind our legal case. The fact that we are the one body to achieve what MPs and even the Transport Select Committee could not (a decision on Force Majeure) means there is no more room for anyone in the rail industry to diminish the seriousness of our campaign simply because of the social media techniques we use. These techniques are in fact the only resources available to volunteer campaigners who are defending themselves against an utter encroachment into their family lives, businesses and livelihoods.

With the precedent-setting decision on ABC’s “standing” in our court case last month, the way is now clear for other campaigns to set up along the lines of the legal crowd-funding model we have used; which means there really is a last resort for action when all other means of representation fail us.

What does the article have to say about ABC?

Tom Ingall’s opening statement is exactly the realisation that inspired the creation of ABC – our decision to focus on crowd-sourced research, cross-platform publishing and investigative ‘citizen journalism’:

“Anyone with a smartphone in their pocket has the tools to be a multimedia journalist. More importantly, they also have the power of a publisher.”

ABC has been working in this way since May 2016 – taking great inspiration from David Boyle, who back in June 2016 wrote an entire ebook on the Southern Rail crisis in the space of a week! If you haven’t read it, we strongly recommend downloading ‘Cancelled: The strange, disturbing story of the crisis at Southern Rail’ here.

David Boyle called for ‘proper investigative journalism’ on Southern Rail at the time – and we took him very seriously; beginning a year long experiment on a crowd-sourced version of ‘proper investigative journalism’ that would empower commuters when all other channels of representation failed us.

As Tom Ingall notes in the article, ABC has excelled in the “nimble use of platforms”, including: Twitter hashtags (which act like beacons across Twitter, helping us grow our audience by the day); our ABC Facebook group (which has brought people together to organise, support each other and share research); Periscope (live broadcasts of our protests, which have allowed those unable to attend events to fully engage); and Thunderclaps (an instant viral strategy that helped us reach over a quarter of a million people at the time of our December protest at the DfT). Tom also features the results of our ABC Passenger Survey prominently in the article, which highlight the staggering effect on lives and livelihoods caused by the ongoing Southern Rail crisis.

Campaign for Better Transport’s Stephen Joseph OBE comments on ABC’s innovative crowd-sourced model:

We were delighted to read a response from Stephen Joseph OBE at the end of the article, where he highlights a few points from which to take Tom Ingall’s excellent analysis forward. Stephen calls for a truly progressive view of the possibilities of properly including passengers in the discussion. He praises the work of ABC’s network in discovering weaknesses within the current system – in particular the work of Danny Jeremiah in proposing a solution to fix the user experience of ticket machines and ensure that we can easily access the cheapest fares.

Stephen Joseph has been an advocate of our methods since 2016, when he predicted that “rail operators will have to deal in future with a new type of passenger lobby group organised by young professionals who are adept at using social media”.

We are honoured to include several long-standing passenger and disability rights campaigns in our network, including Campaign for Better Transport, the Foundation for Integrated Transport, Fair Fares Now, Transport for All and Bring Back British Rail; as well as dozens of regional commuter groups across London and the South.

Please help us to continue our work!

The entire strength of our campaign relies on keeping it independently funded, and we desperately need your help. Donating to help us pay our lawyers for our recent high court victory will also allow us to continue bringing you the best coverage and analysis of what’s really going on behind the scenes of Southern Rail; including many more exclusive publications!

Within the last month alone, we have leaked information from the Gibb report, as well as the complete version of a buried Rail Delivery Group report arguing for Conductors to remain on trains. Both reports were officially published within the same week as each of our leaks; and our recent high court decision has now forced Chris Grayling to decide on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches by 13th July.

From the point of view of ABC’s dedicated campaigners, we are only just getting started. We are determined to focus all our efforts on campaigning for truth, justice and compensation for all commuters as our volunteer organisation spreads around the country.

We are urgently seeking funds to pay our lawyers and to keep ABC going! Please donate whatever you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Grayling remains Transport Minister – will he continue to bury vital Southern Rail report?

It was announced in yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle that Chris Grayling is to remain in place as Transport Minister. A quick glance at our Twitter timeline will tell you just how outraged commuters are about this – Grayling is widely blamed for his refusal to solve the Southern Rail crisis, despite the company being in special measures for nearly two years.

It is exactly six months since hundreds of commuters marched to the doors of the Department for Transport, demanding that Grayling either intervene in the Southern Rail management contract, or resign. He did neither: instead he chose to lay insult upon injury to southern passengers by withholding an essential report into the causes of the Southern Rail crisis.

The star railwayman Chris Gibb was touted by the Transport Minister back in September as the best person to analyse and fix the problems on Southern. However, the “Gibb report” has now been under lock and key at the Department for Transport for nearly six months, denying the public their right to a solution – and their right to answers – after suffering through this unprecedented rail crisis.

ABC protest at DfT December credit - Bradley Rees

The General Election results – is there a “Southern Fail vote”?

Yesterday’s reshuffle came after disastrous election results for the Conservatives in many vital seats in the Southern Rail region. Conservative MPs lost their seats in Brighton Kemptown, Croydon Central and Eastbourne; while Amber Rudd narrowly hung onto her Hastings seat with a 346 majority, and Labour’s Peter Kyle achieved a landslide victory of 18,000 votes in Hove.

Nobody can prove how much the public sentiment on Southern Rail affected these results, but we can remind you of the responses to our ABC Passenger Survey of December 2016, based on an in-depth questionnaire completed by 1000 commuters.

MP doing all they can

next election conservatives

The Gibb report must be released immediately – and in full.

Nobody who is watching our campaign could have failed to notice our pursuit of the Gibb report over the past six months. This vital report into the true causes of the Southern Rail crisis remains under lock and key at the Department for Transport, and has been reported by Graeme Paton of The Times to be heavily critical of the DfT’s role – Paton’s source said: “Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.”

While ABC campaigners have spent months pursuing FOI requests on the Gibb report, Caroline Lucas MP led the pursuit in the House of Commons, asking two Parliamentary questions and finally forcing Paul Maynard MP to admit they would be holding it back until after the election – a decision she called “deeply undemocratic and an absolute disgrace”.

Our election demands went viral last month, receiving support from many Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates on the urgent need for DfT accountability, disabled access, and the stripping of the Southern Rail contract. We were especially pleased to see the Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald pick up the baton on Gibb – his stance on Southern Rail is reasonable and well-informed, as you’ll observe in this recent interview.

Andy McDonald tweet

Meanwhile, Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing, has tweeted that the Gibb report “must now be published without delay”. We are glad to gain support on this issue from at least one Conservative MP; after all, this is a crisis that affects the daily life of every southern constituent and should always have been a cross-party issue.

Loughton tweet 2

We are now asking all MPs to ensure that the Department for Transport stays true to its commitment to publish the Gibb report by the end of the second financial quarter – as they have already promised us in response to our FOI requests. This means that the Gibb report must be released by the end of June at the latest – and furthermore, must be published in full.

This is a matter of urgent public interest in the south, and has ramifications for transport policy all over the UK, not to mention our country’s democratic values. For Theresa May’s government to be talking about bringing in further restrictions to the right to strike when they have not even appraised the causes of this unprecedented crisis is at best premature, and at worst, ideologically motivated.

With a recent interview putting the Director of Operations Planning at Southern Rail on record as saying he “hasn’t seen the final Gibb report” we should all be asking louder than ever – to what extent is this failing rail company being micro-managed by the Department for Transport?

Please follow ABC on Facebook and Twitter to get daily updates on our campaigns – we have lots of news on the way this month.

 

 

#SouthernFail election demands from the Association of British Commuters

With the snap general election fast approaching, there is no better time for the Association of British Commuters to restate the demands we’ve been making throughout the Southern Rail crisis. We will be addressing all former and prospective MPs with these demands and requesting their full response – so we can tell you which candidates have the best positions on Southern Rail in advance of June 8th.

1. Independent Public Inquiry into the relationship between Govia Thameslink Railway and the Department for Transport.

2. The return of guaranteed assistance for disabled passengers on services currently branded as Southern Rail – best achieved through the “Guard Guarantee”.

3. Immediate removal of the TGSN contract from Govia and passenger representation in any solution; which must take into account the findings of the Chris Gibb report.

Why are these demands so important and how will they solve the Southern Rail crisis? – our demands in depth:

1. Independent public inquiry into the relationship between Govia and the DfT, to encompass civil service ethics.

Southern Rail is not a typical franchise. It is a subcontractor to the government in what has been one of the UK’s most poorly judged and catastrophic rail management contracts. The company has been in special measures for nearly two years, and is known to be in serious breach of its performance benchmarks – issues that far predate the industrial action on the network. To this day, the government postpones its verdict on force majeure (Southern’s defence for its excessive failure) and has just succeeded in burying the Chris Gibb report under the veil of ‘purdah’ rules around the upcoming general election. The Gibb report is believed to give a final analysis of the true responsibility for the Southern Rail crisis, and was reported by Graeme Paton of The Times to be heavily critical of the government’s role in particular – his source said: “Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.” Meanwhile, the DfT are already under investigation by parliamentary watchdog the National Audit Office for their management of the GTR franchise.

It is also widely believed that the year-long industrial dispute on Southern is in fact a dispute-by-proxy, with the Department for Transport in the driving seat. Indeed, the civil servant Peter Wilkinson gave forewarning of the industrial upheaval back in February 2016 at a town hall meeting organised by Croydon MP Gavin Barwell. He said: “Over the next three years we’re going to be having punch ups and we will see industrial action and I want your support… They can’t afford to spend too long on strike and I will push them into that place.” The same Peter Wilkinson, MD of Passenger Services at the DfT, was also recently the subject of a Guardian expose over the allegation that he awarded contracts to Govia while also the director and majority shareholder of First Class Partnerships; a consultancy that had Govia as a long-standing client.

Questions about the oversight of the civil service do not end there. Govia is also the owner of the so-called Independent Penalty Fares Appeal Service, itself the subject of a Guardian expose in February 2015 which showed that customers were paying unacceptable ‘admin fees’ even in the case of a successful appeal. Shockingly, the Independent Penalty Fare Appeals Service is still in Govia’s hands, despite them also running both Southern and Southeastern franchises. In the case of the Southern management contract in particular, we believe that the issue of penalty fares requires a comprehensive review. It is a simple fact of their contract that Govia is paid a flat fee for running services, so the only way they can logically increase their income is by cost-cutting, deskilling, and adapting staff roles towards revenue protection (and thus, away from disabled access).

It is vital that the Department for Transport are finally compelled to release the details of their management contract with Govia, and the ‘remedial plan’ that announced their adapted performance benchmarks back in February 2016. Both these documents remain heavily redacted; allowing both Govia and the Department for Transport to completely evade accountability for a crisis that has already cost the taxpayer £38 million and counting. And that’s not to mention the total impact on the lives, families and livelihoods of the public – including an estimated £300 million loss to the economy in the South.

2. The return of guaranteed assistance for disabled passengers on services currently branded as Southern Rail – best achieved through the “Guard Guarantee”.

Conditions on Southern Rail have improved for regular commuters over the last three months, but we should not forget that this period has actually been the most stressful time yet for disabled passengers; dozens of whom have been left behind on platforms or have even had to throw themselves between the doors of trains to get assistance. Hundreds more – especially wheelchair users who live at rural stations – are now anxious about whether they can still spontaneously travel, since Southern Rail have suggested there is “no cast-iron guarantee” that assistance will be available at all stations.

Contrary to their claim that 0.06% of trains will run without a second staff member in “exceptional circumstances”, Southern Rail’s estimate of the number of trains running DOO keeps changing. The estimate was recently reported to be over 8,200 a year, and the most recent internal report that ABC has seen suggests 50+ trains were running without an on-board supervisor allocated on Sunday 21st May alone. This is a far cry from the 1 in 1750 trains that Southern Rail originally claimed would run without a second staff member – an estimate that would have equated to one to two trains per day. Considering Southern Rail’s contractual incentives (as queried in part one above), there are few in doubt that disabled people’s access will now be increasingly compromised by Southern Rail for the sake of cost-cutting on the network; and the redirection of resources into revenue protection.

The guarantee of a second member of staff on trains is a binary point and needs to finally be recognised as such. Unstaffed trains running to unstaffed stations constitute a breach of the Equality Act in creating a ‘policy, practice or criterion’ which actively discriminates – and this is the case whether there are 2, 50 or 2,000 unstaffed trains per day. It is not just ABC, disabled passengers and striking railway workers who are saying this – only last month we saw the highly respected railwayman Peter Rayner (one of the original architects of DOO under British Rail) break ranks with the rail industry to say the same.

Adequate staffing to ensure that Southern Rail conforms to the Equality Act can be achieved in one of two ways: 1) by a guaranteed member of staff on every train or 2) the staffing of every station from first to last. When you consider that 33 rural stations on the Southern network are completely unstaffed, and add that to the vital public security benefits of having a properly trained guard on the train; the restoration of the guard guarantee seems undeniably  the best solution. It has the added benefit of ending the industrial dispute and ensuring that any major changes to working practices are done slowly and surely, with proper care to camera equipment, dispatch procedure, and disabled access.

3. Immediate removal of the TGSN contract from Govia and passenger representation in any solution; which must take into account the findings of the Chris Gibb report.

We have campaigned all year for Govia to lose its management contract, and this remains an immediate demand of our campaign; as well as dozens of other passenger groups and MPs across London and the South. Public trust in the company is at such a catastrophic level that even the Alliance of Chambers of Commerce have spent months warning shareholders of their involvement with Govia’s parent company, The Go Ahead Group. One major shareholder, JP Morgan, finally reduced their interest in the brand just yesterday.

The removal of the TGSN franchise should be accompanied by the immediate publication of the suppressed Chris Gibb report on the true extent of the failings of Southern Rail. There is no excuse whatsoever for this report to be suppressed until after the General Election, when it offers us, finally, a proper analysis on the parties to blame for the Southern Rail crisis. The DfT’s unique management contract with Govia Thameslink Railway was always a poorly judged and unwieldy type of mega-franchise, and it may be that Gibb has recommended that the franchise be broken up into smaller parts. Whatever advice the report suggests, we demand that it is taken into account; and that passengers are given significant representation in any solution.

Furthermore, we believe that the endless industrial dispute on Southern Rail could have been easily solved back in September with a ScotRail type agreement, guaranteeing a second member of staff on all trains and thus conforming to the requirements of the Equality Act and the DfT’s Public Sector Equality Duty. The real circumstances of the industrial dispute, and the details of Southern Rail’s management contract, have been shrouded in secrecy; and we suspect that with the endless talks between Southern management, RMT and Aslef, we are watching little more than a farce. There has to be a limit to the carte blanche with which this company has been allowed to operate – and a proper calling to account of the DfT over public safety and accessibility standards – before this dispute really does spread nationwide.

ABC’s election plan

We will be asking all former MPs and candidates in the Southern Rail region to respond to the points above, and to account for their position on the Southern Rail crisis over the course of 2016-17. As always, we extend our invitation to MPs from every political party and will endorse all those who wish to support our three campaign demands

For passengers, we are soon to launch a “Southern Fail election app”, which will come pre-loaded with all major parties, MPs and constituencies, in order to help commuters be heard on their feelings about this vital election issue.

On party politics and the renationalisation debate:

As a campaign, we do not support any one party, and insist on staying focused on the issues of justice and transparency in UK transport; on which our non-profit organisation was founded. We can only succeed in this aim by being scrupulously focused on these issues, and our lobbying on the Southern Rail crisis will continue in exactly the same way whatever government ends up in power.

It’s also important for us to make clear that we do not take a position on the renationalisation debate – and this is not because we like to sit on the fence! Rather, it is important for the clarity of our #SouthernFail campaign that it does not get conflated into a general call for renationalisation. The Southern Rail crisis is unique because it is driven by the worst of both private industry and state stranglehold – and it’s essential that we keep attention focused on these specific circumstances.

To stay in touch with ABC’s election news, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

*this article was edited on 28.05.17. to correct an error – it is in fact the Alliance of Chambers of Commerce who have been writing to shareholders about the Southern Rail crisis, not the Sussex Chambers of Commerce as previously stated.

The truth about Chris Gibb and Southern Rail’s late night timetable changes…

Southern Rail’s late night timetable changes begin tomorrow, after the announcement earlier this month that late night trains between London Victoria and East Croydon will be cancelled indefinitely.

This has been met with angry reactions from late-night travelers, shift workers and even TfL, who complained that they had only been given three weeks notice of the changes, instead of the standard three months, according to Inside Croydon. For commuters, the notice period wasn’t quite so generous – we got just two weeks.

The reason for these changes is to allow Network Rail to perform essential maintenance work at night. It’s not in itself a bad plan, as East Croydon to Victoria operates as a 24-hour railway, making it particularly poor at resilience. But, why was this announcement so sudden? We asked this question of several people in the rail establishment and it led us to an answer – the late-night timetable changes are a recommendation from the Chris Gibb report. If you’d like to substantiate this, take a look at the recommendations he made for the West Coast Main Line in 2012 (same plan was used) or pose a question to Southern Rail, Network Rail or the Department for Transport directly.

Chris Gibb’s report has been suppressed by the government for nearly five months, and will now be held back until after the General Election. Chris Gibb is the star railwayman brought in to fix the problems on Southern Rail back in September 2016, so it is outrageous that the government refuse to release this report when by doing so they could finally explain to the public why the franchise has gone so badly wrong. In the meantime, MPs like Chris Philp still try to push the agenda of anti-strike laws in advance of the General Election – wouldn’t it be more reasonable for him to assess all parties’ true culpability for the crisis first and actually read the Gibb report?

It has been reported by Graeme Paton of The Times that the report is heavily critical of the government’s role in the Southern Rail crisis. His source said: “GTR and Network Rail don’t come well out of this, but the report is scathing of the DfT. It is dynamite.” It is not difficult to imagine, therefore, why it is being suppressed until after the General Election (if indeed it will ever reach the public). In all our months of chasing the report through FOI requests, just one MP has stood up and chased the report in Parliament: Caroline Lucas finally got an answer from Rail Minister Paul Maynard last month, calling his decision “deeply undemocratic and an absolute disgrace.”

ABC’s co-founder Emily Yates challenged Southern Rail on BBC Sussex two weeks ago – claiming that the late-night timetable changes were a recommendation in the Chris Gibb report and that this was being deliberately concealed. When pushed by the host Neil Pringle, Southern’s Director of Operations Planning admitted that he “had not seen the final Gibb report”. A single question now hangs in the air: If Southern Rail’s own Director of Operations Planning hasn’t seen the Gibb report, then just how badly is this company being micro-managed by the Department for Transport?

 

ABC will continue to ask questions throughout the General Election period, and we’ll soon be launching an updated version of our #SouthernFail app to help you tell your MP how you feel about their performance on Southern Rail! Stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook channels for updates.

If you’d like to support our upcoming protests, election plans and legal action against the DfT, please sign up to our newsletter here.

A full list of late-night services to be scrapped can be found here.