Exposing the truth about GTR’s bailout – the ABC court transcript

The ABC Court Transcript

Thanks to generous donations from our supporters, we are now able to publish the full transcript of our oral hearing, and will be forwarding a copy of the following documents to the Transport Select Committee, the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.

Extract from the court transcript: QC Clive Sheldon offers adjournment compromise

Judgement from Mr Justice Ouseley

Full transcript of the oral hearing

This Court hearing and Judgement have been officially transcribed by DTI Global and made available with the permission of Judge Justice Ouseley. The Crown gives blanket permission for copying and distribution of transcripts for any legitimate criminal justice function and/or for access to personal data. We are sharing these documents for transparency of our members who helped crowdfund both the original case and purchase of the transcript. ABC Limited does not own the copyright – copyright of all transcripts remains with the Crown and DTI Global as the official transcribers.

Our Crowdfunder is open for another 9 days! Please donate if you can – all funds raised will go towards our campaign to seek the truth about the GTR contract.

The history of our case

In September 2016, over two thousand of our supporters came together to raise £50,000 for a Judicial Review of the Department for Transport over the Southern Rail Crisis. Our main ground was the unreasonable delay taken by the Secretary of State in enforcing the GTR contract regarding contractual breaches, which had been under consideration for 14 months at the time of our court submission.

A two and a half hour oral hearing took place on June 29th 2017 and the Judge ordered the DfT to produce the force majeure determinations within two weeks or go forward to a Judicial Review. He made this conditional judgement because of assurances from the QC that the force majeure decision was already ‘imminent’ (a discussion detailed in our court documents above).

The DfT announced their decision on the last day of the deadline – a £13.4 million penalty for performance breaches, going back to GTR’s first breach of contract in July 2015. It wasn’t strictly a fine, however – the money would be reinvested into the GTR network as an ‘improvement package’ – including 50 more onboard staff.

It was not until January 2018’s National Audit Office report that we learned that Govia Thameslink Railway had in fact been permitted to buy out two years of their performance liability at £10 million. This period also covered their future liability for performance, up until September 2018 – thus extending through the period of the May timetable collapse.

GTR fine

The NAO report describes ‘fast moving negotiations’, a ‘rapid timescale’ and ‘verbal decisions’ made in the 14 days after our court case, noting that they had not seen evidence of any formal discussions about the amount GTR would be willing to pay to settle its obligatons. It also states:

“At the time of writing, it is unclear how the Department will incentivise Govia Thameslink to deliver good services for passengers in the future, having removed its ability to use financial performance penalties up to September 2018.” (p.38)

Rail Plan 2020 – a new era of smoke and mirrors?

In the aftermath of the May timetable collapse, there is an urgent need to clarify whether the Department for Transport has any legal standing to enact penalties on GTR for the ongoing chaos and poor performance. We fear it does not, based on comments from David Brown, CEO of The Go Ahead Group, reported by The Times on 7th September.

“Mr Brown said that the rail company would make a robust challenge to any attempt by the government to impose a fine or cancel the franchise as punishment for the fiasco. He insisted that it had not breached its contract.”

However, Peter Wilkinson, the senior civil servant involved in agreeing the deal, assured the Public Accounts Committee in February that there were still performance mechanisms in place despite GTR’s buy out of future liability. (For the full discussion, see the Committee transcript, Q182 – Q194.)

At a time when everyone is focused on placing the blame for the May timetable collapse, we fear that the toxic contractual situation and three year history of rail crisis associated with GTR will be forgotten. Has the Department for Transport in fact given away all the power to its subcontractor, on top of a fatally flawed contract?

PQ grantshapps.PNG

We ask how the Department for Transport can hold GTR to account if it has already given away all its power to enact penalties on the company? How can the ORR provide an ‘independent’ review since they were also on the Industry Readiness Board and are appointed by the DfT? And how can we expect the DfT to act in the public interest if it fears legal action from The Go Ahead Group?

After three years of ‘The Southern Rail Crisis’, we have no faith in the DfT’s leadership, and it seems that hundreds of people agree with us…

Grayling inquiry tweet.PNG

Our Crowdfunder is open for another 9 days! Please donate if you can – all funds raised will go towards our campaign to seek the truth about the GTR contract.

 

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 reports that the Equality and Human Rights Commisssion is 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 respect of when ORR can step in could I take this opportunity to clarify that, in accordance with our Economic Enforcement Policy, we will intervene should we identify serious or systemic failings. What constitutes a systemic breach will depend on the nature and seriousness of the failures and on the progress of the licence holder to rectify the situation proactively.

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.

 

 

 

 

Exposed: Disabled access cover up at the Department for Transport

Our latest set of FOI requests to the DfT has exposed years of controversy within the Department itself. The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) has been protesting the roll out of driver only operation since April 2016, calling DOO policies ‘toxic’ and ‘illegal’.

Earlier today, the Department for Transport published their new “Inclusive Transport Strategy” – the outcome of the Accessibility Action Plan consultation that began in August 2017. The timing of this publication, on the day before the RMT strike on South Western Railway, speaks volumes about their intention to deflect from their own role in removing the guaranteed guard from the train; especially at a time when the disabled access argument has already been won in the eyes of the public.

But we’ve got news for the DfT – they’re not going to get away with it this time. After campaigning on this issue for two years, and releasing a number of leaked documents concerning disabled access cover ups around DOO, we finally have all we need to show that they have been willing to turn back the clock on disabled access in order to break the RMT union on the issue of the ‘Guard Guarantee’ and ‘exceptional circumstances’.

New documents prove that DPTAC has been protesting DOO since April 2016

The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) advises the government on transport legislation, regulations and guidance and on the transport needs of disabled people, ensuring disabled people have the same access to transport as everyone else.

We are now able to share copies of the advice they have been giving to the DfT including: strong opposition to the use of DOO across muliple rail franchises; a warning letter about ‘toxic’ and ‘illegal’ DOO policies sent to Peter Wilkinson in April 2016; DPTAC’s real thoughts about the AAP consultation; and the minutes of a meeting with Rail Minister Nusrat Ghani in May 2018, where she defends the government’s position on DOO.

Download the key documents relating to DOO and disabled access here:

  1. DPTAC’s response to the Accessibility Action Plan consultation
  2. DPTAC’s warning letter to Peter Wilkinson, April 2016
  3. DPTAC’s response to the SE Franchise consultation, May 2017
  4. DPTAC’s response to the GW Franchise consultation, Feb 2018
  5. DPTAC May 2018 meeting with Nus Ghani, Rail Minister
  6. Letter to ABC from Keith Richards Chair of DPTAC

We also include the minutes of all DPTAC meetings since 2016, which cover a wide range of discussion on accessibility issues:

DPTAC January 2016 meeting DPTAC July 2016 meeting DPTAC November 2016 meeting DPTAC February 2017 meeting DPTAC May 2017 meeting DPTAC November 2017 Induction Event DPTAC January 2018 meeting DPTAC May 2018 meeting

  1. DPTAC’s criticism of the draft Accessibility Action Plan (AAP)

The AAP formed the basis of today’s DfT “Inclusive Transport Strategy“, which omits any discussion of driver only operation and therefore has clearly ignored DPTAC’s advice on this issue. DPTAC’s response to the Accessibility Action Plan consultation protests the omission of driver only operation in relation to franchise contracts, while the minutes of the DPTAC January 2018 meeting establish that the consultation had generated 288 responses on the issue of DOO out of a total of 1000 (pg.7).  Despite expert advice and strong passenger sentiment, this topic is absent from the DfT’s strategy document today.

DPTAC’s response to the AAP

“The draft Accessibility Action Plan (AAP) pulls together a summary of DfT work on accessibility issues. There is something of a dichotomy between the aspirational and visionary tone and content of the Ministerial introduction which we very much welcome, and the rather less ambitious tone and content of the rest of the draft AAP.

Although the Ministerial introduction states: “This draft action plan sets out our proposed strategy to address the gaps in existing provision of transport services which serve as a barrier to people with disabilities”, the plan does not clearly set out a robust strategy for the short, medium and long term, nor does it articulate an appropriately structured and detailed gap analysis” (pg.2)

“One key issue that is missing from the AAP consultation concerns the level of staffing on the rail network and the role of the franchising (DfT) and licensing (ORR) processes in that….Our advice is that, trains without a member of customer service staff, combined with unstaffed stations make it impossible to reduce the need to pre-book, and create a ‘toxic’ combination for many disabled people that excludes them from using rail.” (pg.17)

2. DPTAC’s warning letter to Peter Wilkinson, April 2016

In the month that RMT industrial action began on Southern Rail, DPTAC wrote to Peter Wilkinson to warn him that any policy involving the running of unstaffed trains to unstaffed stations would be “illegal”:

“We question how older and disabled people, and particularly those who suffer from acute anxiety and mental health issues, can travel when there are effectively no customer service staff on the train or on the station. On this point we know that the toxic combination of driver-only operated trains and unstaffed stations fails to deliver a service that meets the needs of many disabled passengers. As a result DPTAC is seeking a guarantee that such policies cannot undermine the fundamental principle of accessibility – which would in any event be illegal.” (pg.2)

3. DPTAC’s response to the SE Franchise consultation, May 2017

“DPTAC believes that the franchise process can and must be used to ensure that the right level of staffing is provided by the train operator for all passengers, particularly for those who may need assistance. It is not sufficient for the process to ‘encourage bidders to suggest ways to increase the availability of staff’.  Accessibility can only be improved for users and non-users if the franchise agreement stipulates that adequate staff at station, and on train are available to meet customers’ needs at all points of the journey and at all times that the service is operating.

It is the combination of driver only trains (with no other on-board staff) and unstaffed stations that leads to an inconsistent and poor service to many disabled people, and serves to exclude many disabled people who do not currently uses rail services as they do not have the confidence to do so under the perception that their needs will fail to be met.

While it is well understood that it is a legal as well as social responsibility of Government and the train operator to deliver accessible services, it is unfortunate that under the important heading of ‘Social Responsibility’ the emphasis is on delivering ‘safe, secure and sustainable transport’ with no mention of accessibility and inclusion. Safety and accessibility are, in many respects one and the same, and both are underpinned by legal requirements that both requirements will be fulfilled. This franchise process should therefore require steps to be taken to deliver accessible services and not serve to legitimise the operation of services that combine trains with no staff available to assist passengers during a journey, and address the issue of how disabled customers’ needs will be addressed at unstaffed stations.” (pg.4)

4. DPTAC’s response to the GW Franchise consultation, Feb 2018

“In terms of journey times more generally, we caution against the excessive reduction of station dwell times, and would like to see sufficient time allowed for passengers to board and alight, including assisted passengers. For example, the Committed Obligation included in the recent South Western Franchise Agreement to reduce dwell times to 30 seconds at most stations would seem to work against extending journey opportunities for disabled passengers. This is not sufficient for the deployment of a platform-train ramp, and may not be sufficient for those passengers needing other assistance or who simply need a little more time – likely to become increasingly an issue due to an ageing population.” (pg. 4 – 5)

“We do not believe it is sufficient solely to expect the franchisee to develop proposals for improving accessibility at stations, given the substantial barriers to access for disabled passengers known to exist on this franchise. We would encourage DfT to specify within the Invitation to Tender and Franchise Agreement significant improvements to train and station services.

In particular, we suggest that it is made a Franchise Committed Obligation to provide staff either on stations, or on-board trains (but never neither) – to provide information, reassurance and assistance to passengers, including the provision of boarding and alighting assistance. We welcome the proposals to provide additional staff at 15 stations, but this does not address fully our concerns regarding staff availability.

At present, there are 29 GWR unstaffed / part-staffed stations which are nevertheless served by Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains with no regular on-board staff available. These include e.g.: Bedwyn, Henley-on-Thames, and Hungerford – all well-used stations with step-free access to all platforms, but no means for assisted passengers to board and alight unless a member of staff is sent to the station (which requires advance notice, and sufficient spare staff which may not be the case). This practice results arguably in substantial disadvantage for disabled passengers (as defined in the Equality Act 2020), and is wholly inconsistent with the proposed Franchise Objective of ‘an excellent and continually improving service for all passengers’. Without the capability to travel on a spontaneous basis, and on the same terms as other passengers, disabled people, and wider society, cannot benefit fully from the multi-billion pound investment currently being made across the franchise. Given the size of the investment, and the e.g. external health and employment benefits of an inclusive service, for some disabled people it may seem as if the ship is being sunk for a ha’penny worth of tar.

It is also relevant that the Elizabeth Line will be offering a ‘turn-up-and-go’ assistance service at all times trains are running. This will bring the inadequacy of GWR’s assistance capability sharply into focus, especially at e.g. Thames Valley branch lines feeding directly into the Elizabeth Line.

Going forward DPTAC would caution against any proposals to reduce the guaranteed presence of existing on-train staff – which may have a significant impact on the ability and confidence of disabled people to use GWR services.” (pg.6 – 7)

5. DPTAC May 2018 meeting with Nus Ghani, Rail Minister

“Matthew Smith asked (staffing on rail) “On the issue of Driver Only trains, operators cannot provide a reliable Assisted Travel service, or otherwise support many of the needs of disabled people, when running unstaffed trains to unstaffed stations. This is also relevant to many other passengers not within DPTAC’s remit, for example unaccompanied children. DPTAC’s concerns are part of wider passenger concerns about the availability of staff.

The ongoing staffing changes are being implemented by train operators in order to fulfil DfT Franchise Agreements which permit, encourage or mandate the extension of Driver Only operation. The origin of this is the McNulty report from 2011 (‘Realising the potential of rail in Great Britain’) which argued that the ‘default position’ should be DOO, and a second member of on-train staff should only be provided where there is a ‘commercial, technical or other imperative‘.

Does the Minister agree that the accessibility of the rail network to disabled people is that ‘other imperative‘, and that DfT should ensure that Franchise Agreements require on-train staff to be provided wherever trains run to unstaffed or part-staffed stations?

In response the Minister said –

  • DOO/DCO were not new and have operated without significant impact since the 1980s. She did not consider that DOO on more of the network, alongside other measures to improve access more generally, would have a significant impact.
  • The Minister noted DPTAC’s advice and its concerns and that this is an issue at which the Department’s view does not follow that of DPTAC’s concerns.

DPTAC noted that the impact of the combination of DOO and unstaffed stations has not been properly considered and that its advice to the Department is that such an evaluation is needed urgently.” (pg.3 – 4)

6. Letter to ABC from Keith Richards Chair of DPTAC

In response to our FOI requests on the issues of DOO, dwell times and staffing, the Chair of DPTAC sent a covering letter explaining DPTAC’s position on these matters:

“By way of a summary of DPTAC’s advice to the Department on these issues, it is that we are very concerned that the ability of train operating companies to provide assisted travel to disabled passengers is primarily influenced by staffing levels on board trains and on stations. We believe that the combination of driver-only operated trains and unstaffed stations fails to deliver a service that meets the needs of an increasing number of disabled passengers. As a result DPTAC has advised the DfT to urgently research this area to gather evidence of whether the way franchise holders operate their franchised services are delivering accessible rail services, or are delivering a lower level of service than other rail users receive, are excluding disabled people completely.”

Please donate to our fighting fund if you can.

Follow us on Twitter for more news and exposes on the DfT, GTR, Rail Plan 2020 and driver only operation.

 

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:

Dh00VmpW0AA4FZs.jpg large.jpg

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:

GTR morning 29 june.PNG

GTR afternoon 29 june.PNG

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, humiliates, 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. Despite our co-founder’s protestations, 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:

call ahead policy page 8.PNG

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:

Assisting station to train.PNG

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.

assisting train to station.PNG

3. GTR’s policy on moving sick passengers could humiliate them and even endanger their health

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 and possibly soiled themselves onto a freezing platform when they are disorientated, with no medical presence or advice, would be unforgivable.

Abnormal situations.PNG

For a full history of our campaign against GTR’s rollback of disabled access, see this resource.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.