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.

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

The Credit Card Challenge continues: claiming under chargeback against Southern Rail…

Since breaking the news of Sean’s successful credit card claim two weeks ago, we’ve been looking at every possible avenue to help passengers with their own claim. For those who have been unsuccessful with a section 75 claim, or who purchased their ticket on a debit card or credit card where section 75 does not apply (such as pre-paid cards) – we now present a whole new approach to claiming back.

Neither ABC nor the national press have been able to determine whether Sean’s refund went through under section 75 or a similar process called ‘chargeback’. Both American Express and Southern Rail have been (unsurprisingly) tight-lipped about the basis on which Sean’s claim was awarded. In order to cover all bases in helping passengers make a similar claim, we now launch a second guide to the ‘Credit Card Challenge’. The best news of all is that ‘chargeback’ claims can cover purchases made on a debit card too.

It is impossible to guarantee success through either of these methods, but the fact that Sean’s claim was successful may mean that there is still a chance to set a important precedent. Such a precedent would not only be game-changing for consumer rights over rail, but could also leave you thousands of pounds richer after a whole year of suffering Southern Rail’s service.

Step One: read our guide to using chargeback:

chargeback-read-me-first

Step Two: use our template letter to start our own claim:

chargeback-letter

Step Three: attach evidence to support your claim (example here):

southern-rail-performance-dec-jan-2017

Please write to us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com to let us know if your claim was successful. Please note that we are a volunteer-run campaign and do not have the resources to advise individuals on the specifics of their claim.

DISCLAIMER:

ABC is providing this information to assist a person in making a claim under their bank or credit card company’s chargeback scheme, in connection with services provided by Southern Rail.

The sample letter provided is a template only. Any person using it does so at their own risk and accepts full responsibility for the content and accuracy of his or her claim.  ABC is not a party to any such claim and accepts no responsibility or liability for the accuracy of any information provided.

ABC does not guarantee the outcome of any claim and accepts no liability whatsoever in the event of any claim being unsuccessful.

 

Commuters, join the Credit Card Challenge! How to claim under section 75 against Southern Rail…

Since ABC broke Sean’s story on Sunday, his successful £2,400 claim to Amex has been headline news. If further claims are successful, a clear precedent will be set and we’ll be looking at no less than a revolution in consumer rights for passengers!

Our busy team of commuter campaigners has been on the case and we have now produced a complete guide to claiming back from your credit card provider. We encourage all credit card users for any amount over £100 to take this forward – help us create a whole new era of passenger rights after our year of suffering on Southern Rail!

Each of the following documents has been prepared under the guidance of a qualified solicitor, and should provide all you need to make your own claim. Remember, if your claim is rejected you will have the right of appeal to the financial ombudsman – we will also be preparing model letters for anyone who needs to appeal.

Read our guide to claiming under section 75:

the-abc-guide-to-claiming-under-section-75

Download our template letter to make it easy for you to initiate your own claim:

abc-template-letter-for-section-75-claims

View a sample of supporting evidence here:

southern-rail-performance-figures-example-evidence

To refresh your memory of Sean’s story and the letter he sent, click here.

Please write to us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com to let us know if you have been successful. Good luck, and we hope to hear your success stories soon!

Disclaimer:

  1. ABC is providing this information to assist you in making a claim under s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 against your credit card company in connection with services provided by Southern Rail.
  1. In relation to goods or services paid for by credit card, s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 allows you to claim for breach of contract or misrepresentation against one or both of the retailer (in this case, the train operating company which sold you the ticket) and the credit card company, either simultaneously or separately.
  1. Please note that you cannot recover the same loss from both parties.
  1. The sample letter provided by ABC is a template only. Any person using it does so at their own risk and is responsible for the content and the accuracy of the claim.
  1. ABC is not a party to any claim made in accordance with this guide or otherwise, and accepts no responsibility or liability for the content and/or the accuracy of any information included in any such claim.
  1. ABC does not guarantee the outcome of any claim and accepts no liability whatsoever in the event of a claim being unsuccessful.

Compensation – looking for more than an ’empty gesture’? If you bought your season ticket on a credit card, you might be quids in!

The problem of compensation for Southern Rail’s failure to provide promised services has been an issue for thousands of commuters throughout 2016. ABC have now set up a whole new team to look at other avenues for compensation, and will be letting you know our recommendations soon. In the meantime, we wanted to share the story of a commuter who got in touch with us to share his compensation triumph.

Sean, a yearly season-ticket holder, told us that he had applied to American Express to dispute the sale, based on the non-delivery of goods and services. He then provided evidence to support his claim, using Southern Rail’s own punctuality statistics,  and the fact that they reduced their timetable by 15% last summer. He estimated that 50% of his journeys were cancelled or disrupted and requested 50% of his money back.

American Express granted his claim and Sean is now £2,400 richer because of it.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-15-52-47

Credit card companies are bound under the Consumer Credit Act, meaning they are jointly liable for the provision of goods and services until they have been delivered. So, if you have used your credit card to purchase any kind of ticket above £100, you might be able to benefit from this too.

Based on Sean’s advice, start by calling your credit card provider and requesting to initiate a ‘dispute process’, perhaps in the form of a section 75 claim. If your credit card provider allows the claim, it’s then a matter of providing the relevant evidence/performance statistics and a letter including an estimate of the percentage you feel you are owed back. Sean’s quite reasonable estimate in his own case was 50%, but there is no reason why this shouldn’t be more (or less) depending on the extent to which you have been affected.

*Since the time of publishing, Amex will not confirm whether Sean’s successful claim was the outcome of a section 75 claim, chargeback or a ‘dispute process’. We encourage commuters to put their application in the form of a section 75 claim as a first step and provide a model letter here. Please be aware that you will have recourse to the financial ombudsman if rejected, and we will soon provide a model letter for this too.

Sean used the following performance statistics, from the period 29th May – 25th June 2016, to support his letter (featured below):

southern-rail-performance-may-jun-2016

 

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-15-53-40

“Sean” was happy to share his story on the condition of anonymity. Please address press inquiries to: contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com

For further details on section 75 protections for credit card holders, click here.

Please write to us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com to let us know if you are successful with a credit card claim.