Does the Williams Rail Review really intend to engage with passengers?

Since December 2018, we have been investigating the remit of the Williams Rail Review and asking that it stays true to the democratic principles Chris Grayling described in Parliament last October.

grayling parliament.PNGThe Secretary of State for Transport has said that he recognises the need for a ‘rail revolution’ and that ‘no stone will be left unturned’ in efforts to find a more ‘joined up system’. However, it has also been widely reported that he will not consider renationalisation. Keith Williams, chair of the review, meanwhile told the BBC that ‘all options are on the table’. For more about the ongoing controversy, click here.

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Daily Mirror, 17/01/18: Controversy over the Williams Review continues as campaigners prepare to deliver a 120,000 strong petition to the Department for Transport. We’ll be there tomorrow at 10 am to report back.

Our questions to the Department for Transport

Ten days ago, we asked the DfT to clarify whether the remit of the Williams Review is based on or limited by the government’s pre-existing vision of a franchising strategy. We asked if Keith Williams has complete freedom to evaluate public ownership and other non profit solutions for the railways. We specifically asked whether he is free to allocate resources as he wishes – and if so how much resource he will be allocating to this.

Our questions were declined by the DfT and we were told to expect a response from the Rail Review team. However, this response has now been delayed ten days – which were also the final ten days of public submissions to the consultation as advertised by rail industry and Network Rail body the Rail Delivery Group.

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The closing date for submissions from the public was updated in mid December on the DfT website to the end of May, clarifying that the deadline of 18th January was in fact just a ‘listening’ phase. So, if the Williams Rail Review is indeed going to consider public ownership then this fact has not been advertised or made open in any way to the public. This is a cause for concern and a question that must be asked in the clear public interest.

The Rail Delivery Group has commented

The Rail Delivery Group responded to our questions about this issue and redirected us to the Williams Review team, from whom we still await comment. In response to our question about whether Keith Williams will consider public ownership in his review the RDG added: “The Williams Review team would be best placed to answer this, as it’s about their plans. Last summer, we said that all options should be considered.”

We will publish in full any response we receive from the Williams Rail Review when we receive it, and hope to also let you know of any opportunities to speak with him directly. Those passengers and commuter groups who have suffered the most through last year’s crisis should have a seat not only ‘at the table’ – but at the head of the table.

Join us tomorrow at the Dept for Transport, 10 a.m.

We Own It, Care 2 and Bring Back British Rail will be delivering a petition to the DfT tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. and members of the ABC team will be there to report back.

We are hoping to get the chance to meet Keith Williams and speak with him directly. And we’ll be sure to let him know that there are many of us who want to get involved with a democratic public dialogue that goes beyond political and partisan concerns. At this time of historic political uncertainty, it does not make sense to waste more taxpayers’ money on a review that is limited to just one party’s vision for public transport. The only democratic way forward is to invite public participation so that the UK can finally have a transparent conversation about rail in a totally independent forum.

The petition for public ownership has 120,000 signatures and is a sure reflection of the fact that over 60% of the British public want to see a form of public ownership for the railways. UK rail franchising is broken and it’s time to talk about what a truly progressive twenty first century transport system should look like.

To respond to the Williams Rail Review, click here.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

The Williams Review: Rail Revolution or Government Whitewash?

ABC campaigners joined the Rail Revolution: National Day of Action last week to demand a Fares Freeze for all passengers, as well as a commitment from the Department for Transport (DfT) that the Williams Rail Review will consider public ownership as a solution for our railways. Though the DfT ignored our demands for a fares freeze, there may still be time to achieve the most important goal for all passengers: a #RailRevolution.

Chris Grayling is on the record as being against the public ownership of rail, but Keith Williams, who is chairing the review, has recently told the BBC that “all options are on the table”. With the closing date of the initial ‘listening stage’ of the consultation coming up next Friday, it is vital that we speak out now and insist that this review is not coloured by any particular political approach. For this reason, we will be visiting the Department for Transport on Friday 18th January to ask for clarification of how wide the scope of the Williams review will actually be.

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Members of ABC, Bring Back British Rail and We Own It after a surprise visit from Jeremy Corbyn. Photography by Paul Civati.

The Rail Revolution we are calling for is not a radical demand. It is actually no more radical than the phrase Chris Grayling himself has used when describing the Williams Rail Review. Here’s what the Transport Minister said on Radio Four, 2nd Jan:

“You cannot have a railway as fragmented as it is at the moment and that is the most significant underlying problem of the railway. The mistake I’ve made was to say we will change that through a process of evolution, which we had [already] started. We now need revolution and that’s what the Williams Review is going to lead to.”

Our investigation so far: it is still unclear whether the Williams Rail Review will consider renationalisation

It was reported in September that Chris Grayling has “ruled out renationalisation” from the Williams Rail Review, but on 7th December, the BBC reported the following:

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The stated aim of the review reads as follows: “The Rail Review was established by the Transport Secretary to recommend the most appropriate organisational and commercial frameworks to support the delivery of the government’s vision.”

With this in mind, we asked the DfT the following question:

  • Has the Department for Transport granted Keith Williams full control over allocation of all resources for his rail review, so that he can decide how much time to allocate to the discussion of non profit and public ownership/renationalisation options for the railways?

They responded to this question with the purpose of the review as appears in the terms of reference on their website.

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The situation is therefore still unclear. We are now awaiting further clarification from the Rail Review team and will publish their comments in full next week.

Let’s turn this review into a public conversation

Five years after the Brown Review on franchising concluded that Britain’s franchising model was “not fundamentally flawed”, the unprecedented chaos of the May timetable collapse has forced the government to admit that only the most radical change will now be acceptable to the public. In order to ensure that no more taxpayers’ money is wasted after this system-wide failure – and with at least 60% of the public in favour of rail renationalisation – we believe that the Williams Review must fully consider public ownership as a solution for the railway, alongside the government’s pre-existing “vision” for franchising.

Upcoming Events – please join us

Care 2, Bring Back British Rail and We Own It will be handing in a petition for public ownership signed by 119,000 passengers to the DfT on Friday 18th Jan at 10 am. Members of ABC will be joining them to make the argument that a real ‘Rail Revolution’ must take account of the overwhelming support in the UK that exists for public ownership and fully examine this option. If you would like to join this event please contact info@weownit.org.uk

On March 12th, Keith Williams will be speaking directly to passengers at the Transport Focus AGM, and this is open to the public. Keep an eye on their blog for registration details and if you have a particular question you would like us to pose to Keith Williams at this event please email us at contact@abcommuters.com

Our contribution to the Williams Review

We will be contributing to the Williams Rail Review with a summary of the transparency issues we have uncovered during two years’ worth of ABC investigations. If you would like to contribute any thoughts or experiences related to transparency in rail, please email us at contact@abcommuters.com and we will consider including these in our submission, which will also be published in full on this website.

From now until the final closing date of the review at the end of May, we will be doing all we can to advocate that democracy and transparency should become central to this review from the very start – as should any new rail policies resulting from it.

To respond to the Williams Rail Review, click here.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rail Revolution: National Day of Action 02/01/19

Tired of rising rail fares and chaotic commuting?

Sick of endless strikes and government whitewashes?

Join us on Wednesday 2nd January at King’s Cross station (7.30 – 9.00 am) to demand an urgent #FaresFreeze and a #RailRevolution. UK rail is in a time of crisis and commuters will tolerate no more rail chaos – so let’s start the year as we mean to go on, with a bit of direct action!

  • We believe that the 2018 timetable crisis has been an unprecedented failure in the history of UK rail, and that the only proper response from the government is to freeze fares while they urgently undertake radical change to this failed, fragmented system.
  • We suspect that the Williams Rail Review will turn out to be yet another government whitewash; meaning more wasted taxpayers money while #FailingGrayling seeks justification for a new commercial model to save the privatised rail industry. It is vital that the Williams Rail Review considers public ownership, so that we can be sure we have a twenty-first century railway run in the public (not corporate) interest.

Help us make 2019 the year of #RailRevolution! Sign up to the National Day of Action here and write to us at contact@abcommuters.com if you would like our assistance in advertising your local protest.

Meeting point:

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ABC will be based on the forecourt of King’s Cross station from 7.30 – 9.00 am on Wednesday 2nd January, near the tube exit closest to Euston Road (opposite Doddle). We’ll be passing round the megaphone and making videos for our social media channels – so if you’ve got a message you want the world to hear, please come along and shout it loudly!

Our theme this year will be neon (think New Years disco with a nod to the #giletjaunes!) Please bring placards and most importantly, your stories and opinions – as there are sure to be journalists in attendance. The most important thing about Wednesday is that we get passengers’ voices heard – so please take part on Twitter even if you can’t make it in person!

Important Links:

We hope to see you at King’s Cross station on Wednesday 2nd January from 7.30 to 9.00 am (please arrive in time for a photo call at 8am). You can sign up and share the event on our Facebook event page, where you can also see if there are any protests happening in your area. Feel free to email us at contact@abcommuters if you have any questions.

If you’re a fan of friendly debate about rail and commuting issues, please join our Facebook group here.

You can read more about the arguments for public ownership on the Bring Back British Rail and We Own It websites.

Respond to the Williams Rail Review consultation here.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and use hashtags #FaresFreeze and #RailRevolution on the day so we can retweet you into our social media stream!

The ORR responds to the stalemate over DOO and disabled access:

We have long called for a staffing guarantee to ensure that disabled and vulnerable passengers are able to get equal access to the rail network. Last month, we published our biggest expose yet on the issue – showing that the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee have also been arguing for a guarantee of staffing levels within the Department for Transport since the time of the first RMT strikes in April 2016.

With RMT industrial action continuing on South Western this weekend, and in light of the Equality and Human Rights Commisssion taking an interest in DOO and potential Equality Act breaches; we asked the Office of Rail and Road to explain their position on the current stalemate over train staffing.

Stephanie Tobyn, Deputy Director for Consumers at the ORR, has regularly engaged with us on the issue since the beginning of the year and has now sent us a response explaining the ORR’s responsibilties and powers in relation to disabled access, as well as their current and upcoming work in this area.

Full statement from Stephanie Tobyn of the ORR:

“Our consumer role and responsibilities originate in the Condition 5 of the passenger and stations licences (the model passenger licence here).  Any intervention that we might make in this area is subject to the specific terms of this licence condition. We consider all issues on their own merits and in common with other regulators we cannot prejudge the circumstances in which we would choose any particular course of action.

Train and station operators are required by these operating licences to establish and comply with a disabled people’s protection policy (DPPP). This sets out the arrangements and assistance that an operator will provide to protect the interests of disabled people using its services and to facilitate such use. We approve these policies and monitor compliance with them.

Where there is evidence to suggest that an operator is not achieving good outcomes for passengers in respect of its DPPP obligations, we will discuss this with the operator concerned. We may then carry out more regular monitoring of that operator. This might include requiring additional information, carrying out an audit, or using our existing power within the licence to require an operator to conduct a review of its DPPP and report its findings, potentially leading to changes to existing DPPPs or practice. Ultimately, if an operator does not comply with its licence obligation, we may then follow our Economic Enforcement Policy which you can find here.

In addition, ORR enforces the requirements of the Persons of Reduced Mobility Technical Specification for Interoperability (PRM TSI) and Rail Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (RVAR 2010), which set out the standards to which new trains must comply. You can find out more information about this on our website. Enforcement in this area would follow our Health and Safety Compliance and Enforcement Policy Statement, also on our website here.

As you know we have published a significant amount of research in this area and we are currently reviewing the area of DPPPs. We are expecting to consult further in the Autumn and do not rule out doing further research in this area. DPTAC and DfT have been involved in this work already and we look forward to further input and discussion with them going forward.

In relation to the areas that DPTAC has raised in correspondence, where assistance has been booked in advance we expect that assistance to be delivered by train and station operators. For turn up and go or spontaneous travel the requirement is to provide assistance to disabled passengers who arrive at a station and require assistance to allow them to travel, where reasonably practicable.

Every request for assistance should be based on an assessment of passenger needs, station facilities and staff availability (both train and station) and there is not a one size fits all approach. We expect operators to be able to provide assistance to passengers in a variety of different scenarios. This will require an accurate understanding and assessment of the needs of the passenger, station accessibility, station staffing times, train staffing levels and unexpected accessibility issues such as a lift being out of order.

Therefore, we would expect operators to consider a variety of means to provide passengers with assistance including, for example, the use of alternative accessible transport, such as an accessible taxi (this service being provided free of charge to the passenger) and the ability to use staff flexibly to ensure that assistance can be delivered either by on-board staff, station staff or mobile staff where such working practices are routinely operated or can be accommodated to provide the assistance required.”

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the next update.

If you have experienced access failures and need support, we recommend contacting Transport for All.

First Class Controversy on GTR – a Boon for the DfT?

A First Class controversy involving Mark Boon (GTR’s Head of Network Operations) went viral on Wednesday and has since found its way into every national newspaper.

As ever, we encourage people not to get caught up in the personal stuff but to actively call the media’s attention to the far bigger scandal underneath – GTR’s management contract with the DfT. The reason that Mark Boon’s attitude hit home for so many is because its the perfect metaphor for a company that functions as a proxy to the Department, and with complete impunity:

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So, if we’re talking farce (while also trying to make a serious political point) there is nowhere better to go next than the story behind the First Class declassification last month….

Alistair Burt’s Announcement – A Comedy of Errors

The #RailPlan2020 timetable collapsed on May 20th, and passengers on the GTR network have suffered a ‘turn up and hope’ timetable ever since. Conditions have been overcrowded, unpredictable, dangerous and hot – the effect this has had on those with disabilities and health conditions cannot be overstated.

And yet, despite this unprecedented rail crisis, and the clear health, safety and equality issues for passengers, it took over five weeks for First Class declassification to be agreed.

The news was announced by Alistair Burt MP at 6:30 pm on the 28th June:

alistair burt announcement

Unfortunately for Alistair, his moment of triumphant announcement was overshadowed by the fact that this came as a complete surprise to GTR’s social media team. Here they are on the first day of declassification, still unaware:

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And here’s GTR’s social media report from the morning of the 29th, the day that First Class declassification should have begun:

sm reprt 29.PNG

Who makes the call on First Class?

As with most things GTR, this was a DfT decision – note this extract from Jo Johnson’s announcement letter on the 28th June, linked below:

JJ extract.PNG

First Class announcement letter from Jo Johnson 28.06.18.

Questions for the Department for Transport:

  • Why take over five weeks to declassify? This meant inflicting an unnecessary level of overcrowding on passengers, in the context of an unprecedented timetable collapse and a UK heatwave.
  • Why has the Department failed to prioritise the health, safety and equality aspects of the overcrowding on GTR – this excludes passengers with a wide range of disabilities and health conditions from rail travel.
  • Last year, Chris Grayling stated his ‘absolute commitment’ to ending First Class on overcrowded commuter routes. Can this commitment be sincere when there has been such delay and resistance to declassifying even at the time of an emergency?
  • We are expecting to see a reduction in off-peak services in the new ‘interim’ timetable. Why can’t First Class declassification apply all day, and across all ‘train brands’ – all of which belong to the same company?
  • Why is First Class declassification ending on 15th July rather than staying in place until things have fully stabilised and passengers can travel without excessive overcrowding?

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more #RailPlan2020 updates

 

 

 

 

 

London Bridge tonight: DPAC and ABC protest GTR disabled access policies

We’ll be joining Disabled People Against the Cuts for a ‘People’s Picket’ at London Bridge station (Shard entrance) from 5 – 6pm tonight. RSVP here.

The controversial staff training guide released on Friday has sent a shockwave through our communities. It has never been more important to stand in solidarity with disabled people and everyone who will be affected either now or in the future by this insitutionalised breach of the Equality Act.

We have now been granted permission by the BTP, and hope that we will be welcoming several MPs at the protest. Please join us tonight and stand in solidarity with all passengers affected by #Rail2020.

#KeepTheGuardOnTheTrain

The GTR staff training guide that the RMT released on Friday was even more shocking than we feared. It also showed that the company has now begun a ‘call ahead’ policy when boarding passengers, which has led to members of our groups being refused boarding even though the train was sitting right in front of them at the station.

The removal of a guaranteed guard from the train creates a loophole that we believe will only lead to further, institutionalised breaches of the Equality Act. With the ‘call ahead’ policy, it is now clear that this will have an equivalent effect on pre-booked and ‘turn up and go’ passengers, so the myth that pre-booking will be a solution under DOO is disproven.

Removing a wheelchair user from their chosen form of transport because of the company’s inability to staff the network adequately is blatant discrimination. We do not consider taxis a reasonable adjustment, especially with the extended waiting times at unstaffed/rural stations. It is only a matter of time before this Equality Act breach is confronted in court – and that’s not our opinion, but the verdict of a 2-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on the matter.

We believe the current industrial dispute could be solved easily with the simple guarantee of a second member of staff. This is clearly the precedent on which all future staffing plans will be based, and the easiest way to ensure the principles of the Equality Act are met. There can be no justification for an endless taxpayer-funded dispute that aims to break a trade union at the expense of disabled people’s rights.

We have little faith in current consultations involving the DfT and the RDG, who have already shown themselves to be deliberately evading this issue. There is no sense in professing to take disabled access seriously when on the other hand, you are trying to remove an important staffing precedent from workers and passengers alike.

 

For more info, email us: contact@abcommuters.com

 

 

EXCLUSIVE: full copy of GTR’s staff training document, which discriminates against disabled passengers

Further to the RMT’s announcement this morning about GTR’s latest disabled access policy, we are now able to provide a copy of the full document: Pit Stop GTR

Having studied the ‘Pit Stop’ staff training document in full, we would like to emphasise that Southern Rail’s public comments today on the issue have been extremely misleading. Here’s what they have said on Twitter so far:

southern out of context 2.PNGsouthern out of context.PNG

We strongly object to their claim that the staff training document has been ‘taken out of context’, and now present the three main areas where it discriminates against and even potentially endangers passengers.

Pit Stop: Key principles for managing station dwell times

Pit Stop GTR applies to all four brands of Govia Thameslink Railway and focuses on cutting down dwell times at stations. From the very first page, the document clearly spells out the ‘key principles and priorities’ of dispatch: Safety, Speed, Efficiency and Professionalism. Nowhere is the principle of equality of access even referred to in what is clearly a core training document for staff.

Pages 3 – 5 on ‘Right Time Start’ and the 20, 30, 40 dispatch process are nothing new – these kind of management initiatives have been around for at least 20 years. To be clear: there is nothing wrong with the rail industry working on improving dwell times – but there is everything wrong with a policy that priorities this to the exclusion of basic human rights – and completely ignores the context of destaffing and the removal of the onboard staff guarantee. This document shows a ruthless disregard for the welfare of a wide range of vulnerable passengers, solely for the sake of efficiency.

Now more than ever, we urge all disability rights campaigners to demand the full and transparent publication of all research on dwell times. This call should be made urgently to the Department for Transport and include the lobbying of the Rail Delivery Group for the immediate release of the #SDGreport.

Pit Stop: a GTR staff training document proving the rollback of disabled access

This document proves the argument we have been making for two years: that the removal of a guaranteed guard from the train creates a loophole that will inevitably lead to institutionalised breaches of the Equality Act. With the ‘call ahead’ policy described below, it also shows that this will have an equal effect on pre-booked or ‘turn up and go’ passengers. Indeed, there is no mention of booking or turn up and go on this document: so the myth that pre-booking will ensure successful journeys under DOO is dispelled.

Removing a wheelchair user from their chosen form of transport because of the company’s inability to staff the network adequately is blatant discrimination. We do not consider taxis a reasonable adjustment, especially with the extended waiting times at unstaffed rural stations. It is only a matter of time before this Equality Act breach is confronted in court – and that’s not our opinion, but the verdict of the 2-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on the matter.

Here are the three main points that we believe discrimate against, humiliate, and potentially endanger vulnerable passengers:

1. The document proves that GTR has begun a ‘call ahead’ policy

Two months ago, we went to the press over a number of incidents where wheelchair users were refused boarding, despite having booked ahead. GTR denied there was any such policy.

Today, we can say definitively that what we claimed to be a new policy from GTR is indeed the case. The process of contacting the destination station to ensure staff are available is spelt out in detail on page 8:

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This can only be the result of the removal of the guaranteed second staff member from GTR trains; the central argument of the RMT industrial dispute. It is no longer the case that a guaranteed guard will stay with the train and thus be primarily responsible for the disabled person’s boarding and alighting. This again proves the main point of the buried Rail Delivery Group report: ‘the Conductor is the best line of assistance for older and disabled people’.

2. GTR guidance sacrifices equality for dwell times

The issue of dwell times is something that we have been able to find little information on, and we are still pursuing the buried #SDGreport, in the suspicion that it focuses on passenger behaviour around this issue. Page 7 is the perhaps the most damning page in the ‘Pit Stop’ document, as it implies that equality of access is not even a consideration to GTR:

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It is also troubling that the presence of an ‘onboard supervisor’ is not assumed here, and the process seems to refer only to station staff’s role in the process.

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3. GTR’s policy on moving sick passengers could endanger them further

Particularly cruel is the language around passengers taken ill on trains. Anyone with First Aid training will see immediately that GTR’s miniscule list of contraindications to moving passengers is insensitive and potentially dangerous.  To remove someone who has just suffered a grand mal seizure onto a freezing platform when they are disorientated, with no medical presence or advice, would be unforgivable.

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For further information about disabled access: contact@abcommuters.com

We also recommend contacting Transport for All on this issue, especially if you have been affected.

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 they had ever received, after they had innocently put in writing that they 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

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, 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.