No justice and no responsibility: exposing the truth about Govia Thameslink Railway

Following our blog post last Thursday, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has confirmed GTR’s £5 million fine for its breach of licence relating to passenger information during last year’s May timetable crisis. As a result of our intervention, the final decision was announced on the day of the Williams Rail Review deadline (31st May).

It is the first time the ORR has imposed a fine for breach of licence, meaning that an important new precedent has been set for holding train operating companies to account. Their final penalty notice finds that GTR’s conduct around passenger information was “towards the negligent end of the spectrum” and says that the fine will provide a “transparent signal to the industry” about passenger information standards. After a full review of the documents we’ve discovered that the ORR went forward with this penalty despite submissions from GTR, the Department for Transport, and even Transport Focus, to accept a lower figure.

ORR graphics

After reviewing their final penalty notice, we believe that the ORR has not only succeeded in imposing a precedent-setting fine, but has also chosen to “show its teeth” in an extremely difficult context; where the Department for Transport was already complicit in the failure of GTR’s management contract. Could this decision be a sign that the Office of Rail and Road is getting stronger and fighting for passenger rights while every other rail agency and passenger watchdog is still letting us down?

GTR’s £5 million fine: what went on behind the scenes?

The £5 million fine was announced on 14th March, and followed by a 21 day consultation period, during which the ORR had the power to ‘reduce the fine to zero’ or ‘increase it several fold’ (according to paragraph 139 of their penalties policy).

The ORR had categorised the breach of licence in the ‘moderately serious’ category, and their decision to choose a £5 million ‘starting point’ was also moderate in this context (the ‘moderately serious’ category of offence has a starting point of up to £10 million). During the 21 day consultation period that ran until 5th April, submissions could be made to the ORR in to have the amount reduced, or for the train operating company to make an offer of “reparations”.

GTR completely refused responsibility

GTR made no offer of reparations and maintained the position throughout the consultation that the £5 million penalty should not be imposed at all, and that if it were imposed, that it should be a lower amount. The ORR’s final penalty notice makes clear that GTR has not acknowedged reponsibility:

there is a lack of evidence that GTR undertook a significant lessons learnt exercise relating to passenger information and have focused instead on the wider industry failings. GTR have not acknowledged responsibility for its failure to provide adequate information to passengers.” (paragraph 39)

The only other submission within the consultation period was made four days before the consultation deadline by Transport Focus, who encouraged the ORR to consider an offer of reparations, “assuming an offer is put forward”. As GTR had not made any offer of reparations, the ORR judged Transport Focus’ submissions to be ‘inapplicable’.

The Department for Transport supported Govia Thameslink Railway

The ORR’s final penalty notice also shows the Department for Transport advocating on GTR’s behalf. After news broke of GTR’s £15 million “fine” for the 2018 timetable collapse in December, the DfT wrote to the ORR suggesting they show restraint in imposing any penalty. They said in the letter that they had already “entered into an agreement” that GTR would “make an additional £15 million available” to “develop and implement initiatives” that would benefit GTR passengers.

After December’s letter, the ORR asked the DfT to further explain December’s £15 million “fine”. In a further letter on 20th February 2019, the DfT said the following.

“On the level of the fund I suspect all we could say is that we took all the facts and circumstances into account including the level of the previous payment made by GTR in relation to the 2016 problems on Southern, the desire to create a fund which could provide meaningful benefits for passengers and the financial position of the TOC: pointing out that with the fund set at this level GTR will make no profit at all this year in recognition of their role in the disruption.” (paragraph 59)

Considering the full history of the management contract between the DfT and GTR – especially the fact that the Department had already allowed GTR to buy out their liability for the timetable collapse – it is not clear whether this was in fact a “fine” or simply a “fund”, ie. just another “remedial measure” of the kind that the DfT has been making since 2016 to bolster the GTR contract – and with zero scrutiny.

What is the Passenger Benefit Fund?

Here’s the part where it gets interesting in relation to ongoing passenger information issues. Many commuters have expressed outrage about the £15 million ‘Passenger Benefit Fund’ posters that they have started to see all over the GTR network; which state that “GTR is contributing £15 million in tangible passenger benefits” and completely erases the true history of the company’s failure, without even a hint of an apology. It is clear to us that the advertising materials are an attempt to derive PR value and ‘reputational capital’ from what is essentially a false political communication in a public space. Several of us have already reported this issue to the Advertising Standards Authority, and we encourage you to join us by submitting your own complaint.

And after reading the ORR’s final penalty notice last Friday, it seems the situation is even worse than we thought:

  • “As for the Passenger Benefits Fund, ORR notes that it has not been provided with a copy of the agreement between GTR and DfT pursuant to which the fund was set up or any clear explanation of its purpose and scope.” (paragraph 58)
  • “ORR have become aware of a new website that has been set up in recent weeks in relation to the Passenger Benefits Fund which sets out how the funding will be allocated to the stations affected and how passengers can propose local or wider passenger benefit schemes. Under “wider passenger benefit schemes”, the site suggests some examples of possible schemes that would lead to passenger information improvements.” (paragraph 62)
  • “ORR recognises that the operation of the fund could result in some improvement to the provision of passenger information at specific stations (e.g. an additional CIS screen,) but only if a significant proportion of passengers support such an improvement. Further,it is not sufficiently clear whether the fund will go towards making passenger information improvements for it to have any, or any significant, weight in the penalty assessment. Finally, it is in any event highly doubtful whether any such forward-looking information improvements as may be brought about by the fund would constitute “reparations” to those who were affected by the breach [of passenger information rules].” (paragraph 63)

Join us to make an unstoppable passenger watchdog:

Since the start of their disastrous management contract in 2015, no existing watchdog has been good enough to represent passengers’ interests on GTR, or ensure accountability. The ORR’s final penalty notice shows that the Department for Transport is, even now, advocating on GTR’s behalf, and proves that oversight is urgently required on the Passenger Benefit Fund.

As always, we have noone to rely on but ourselves – a grass roots network of passengers. If you’re as shocked as we are about the standards of dishonest communication on our railways, then please make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority and include a link to this blog post. Please also do all you can to alert press, local councillors and MPs, as very little of this story is reaching the mainstream media.

Our submission to the Williams Rail Review is coming soon! It covers the full GTR story and will explain all the barriers to justice and accountability that we’ve encountered throughout this investigation. If you would like to help us, please donate here.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for further updates.

 

 

International Women’s Day Protest – Keep The Guard On The Train!

This International Women’s Day, it’s time to demand that the Department for Transport finally listens to passenger concerns about safety, security and access. We’ll be meeting at Great Minster House at midday on Friday 8th March to deliver an 85,000-strong petition to “Keep The Guard On The Train” and we hope that you can join us!

All are welcome, and we are particularly keen to celebrate the women who have done so much to defend against the government-driven attempt to remove guards from trains. Special guests will include; Beth Granter, who began the petition for women’s safety on the railways; Ann Bates OBE, who has campaigned alongside ABC for three years on disabled access; and Michelle Rodgers, the recently elected President of the RMT union and the first woman in its history to hold this position.

Sign up to our Facebook event here or RSVP to contact@abcommuters.com

Why International Women’s Day?

Over the past ten years, sexual offenses on the railways have gone up a staggering 167%, and violent crime has risen by 47%, according to recent figures from the British Transport Police (BTP). In the period 2017-2018, these categories of crime are up 16% and 26% respectively. In the case of sexual offenses, the BTP believes that there are many more crimes of this type that go unreported.

All vulnerable passengers deserve the peace of mind of knowing there will be a safety critical, guaranteed guard on every train, not to mention the deterrent factor in an era of rising crime. In rural areas, including Southern Rail, Northern Rail and South Western Railway, there are long gaps between stops and largely unstaffed stations – so the suggestion to destaff these networks should never have even been up for debate.

Despite this context – and a three-year long industrial dispute on the matter – passengers in England have never been consulted on the issue of driver only trains. During our campaign on the matter, we have dug up multiple documents emphasising concerns around safety and disabled access, but our concerns have been ignored. With the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently stating that they are likely to take action over the roll back of disabled access associated with DOO, we’ll be appealing directly to the DfT and the Williams Rail Review to return to the vision of a fully staffed railway, accessible to all.

Join us to demand a guaranteed and safety critical member of staff on every train – no excuses!

Could a new £100 million legal case mean the end for privatised rail?

Today has been another shocking day for rail – a damning report from the Public Accounts Committee about the DfT, Keith William’s statement that franchising has failed and – most significantly of all – a £100 million class action launched this morning against several major train operating companies.

The legal claim has been launched with the Competition Appeal Tribunal against the following rail operators:

South Western Trains (up until Aug 2017):  Stagecoach Group.

South Western Trains (current): FirstGroup plc and MTR Corporation.

South Eastern: Govia – The Go Ahead Group and Keolis.

The “Boundary Fares” Case

The £100 million claim relates to train companies overcharging millions of passengers because of the issue of “boundary fares” where they purchased tickets for travel beyond the zones covered by their Travelcards. The claim argues that they should have been offered the chance to pay “boundary fares” for the “gap” between the outer limit of their zone coverage and their destination. However, passengers have ended up paying twice because these fares were not promoted, made available online, at ticket machines and rarely offered at ticket counters. You can read more in today’s Evening Standard.

We believe this case will send a shock wave throughout the entire rail industry, and may even open the floodgates for more of these claims – after all, it is not just South Western and South Eastern passengers that suffer from the “boundary fare” issue around London.

The rail industry and the government have been aware of this problem for a very long time – but have made no serious attempt to fix it. The exact issues constituting the legal claim today were discussed in the press by our spokesperson Martin Abrams as long ago as September 2015. Click here to read what he had to say at the time.

We must take action: Transparency Now!

Representatives from ABC have a meeting with Keith Williams on Monday 18th March and will report to him all the transparency, justice and consumer rights issues we’ve encountered – especially on Govia Thameslink Railway.

Please write to us at contact@abcommuters with the subject line “Transparency Now” if you would like to submit your opinions, experiences, facts or new evidence to our submission to Keith Williams.

Our crowdfunding page “Exposing the Truth about GTR” is still open – please donate if you can – all funds will go towards helping us make the biggest impact possible on the Williams Review and the cause of passenger justice.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

 

 

 

 

Confirmed: The Williams Rail Review WILL consider public ownership

We are pleased to report that last Friday’s event at the Department for Transport was a great success. The Williams Review team have now confirmed that they WILL indeed be considering public ownership, and WILL take submissions from the public up until the end of May (not 18th January as previously advertised.) We also had the chance to speak with a representative from the Williams Rail Review team and made the point that we want this review to be transparent and democratic from the start.

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We Own It co-organised the event – read more at weownit.org.uk

Comment from the Rail Review team

“The government’s vision is for the UK to have a world-class railway, working as part of the wider transport network and delivering new opportunities across the nation. The Williams Rail Review, led by independent Chair Keith Williams, was established to recommend the most appropriate organisational and commercial frameworks to deliver this. The Review is deliberately comprehensive in scope and Keith Williams has been asked to be bold in his thinking, challenging received wisdom and looking to innovate. The Review is considering all parts of the industry, from the current franchising system and structures, to further devolution, accountability and value for money. Keith is supported by an independent challenge panel, with expertise in business, customer service, and the rail and broader transport sector. The Review will conclude with a Government White Paper at the end of 2019 and we expect reform to begin from 2020 so passengers benefit, as soon as possible.

The Review is exploring the full spectrum of reform options in every case. Keith Williams and the team have been and continue to conduct an extensive listening exercise across the entire rail industry and those that use it. This includes a number of visits across Great Britain to better understand the differing experiences of the current railway and the commissioning of new, objective research into the thoughts and needs of rail passengers.  As part of this listening exercise, Keith Williams is happy to meet ABC and the Review team can arrange this.

The Review’s Call for Evidence is a vital part of Keith William’s information gathering and listening to those with experience of the railway. The Call for Evidence will remain open for much of the Review but may seek different levels of input as its work develops. Currently it has requested a broad input to match its terms and ensure it captures all views from the start. As Keith Williams develops his ideas, further input will be requested against more specific questions.

Keith Williams and the Review team can be sent information through the call for evidence or alternatively their dedicated mailbox: Rail.Review@dft.gov.uk.

Further details on the remit of the Williams Rail Review can be found on our terms of reference (https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/rail-review) and we would very much welcome any evidence you may have, which can be submitted through the call for evidence (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/williams-rail-review), for consideration.”

For the background to our investigation into the Williams Review click here, then here.

Our Next Steps

We have accepted Keith Williams’ offer of a meeting and hope to speak with him in March, at around the time he will be feeding back the first findings of his review. In the meantime, we will be writing up our own submission on the transparency and democracy issues we have encountered through multiple investigations into GTR and one major court case against the DfT. If you would like to contribute your thoughts on these topics, please write to contact@abcommuters.com.

ABC is a campaign for transport justice and democracy and thus will not be discussing renationalisation in our submission. This is important because it allows us to take a razor sharp look at transparency issues that go beyond the economic debate, in relation to 1) unresolved issues with the GTR contract and May timetable collapse 2) disabled access cover ups and driver only operation 3) passenger/consumer rights and 4) freedom of information.

If you are in favour of rail renationalisation or would like to contribute your ideas about a new vision of public ownership, we suggest contributing to We Own It’s campaign on the Williams Rail Review, here.

To respond to the Williams Rail Review, click here.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

 

 

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 these discussions.

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.

RDG tweet.PNG

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.

Let’s make 2019 the year of #RailRevolution

We will be submitting an ABC report to the Williams Rail Review, and keeping our own consultation open until the beginning of May, in time for the actual consultation closing date of end of May. Our contribution will be limited to issues around transparency, democracy, passenger rights and participation and will not address issues of transport economics directly. If you wish to contribute your insights or experiences please write to us at contact@abcommuters.com with the subject line: Transparency Report.

The ABC Transparency Report will summarise our investigations into Govia Thameslink Railway, the Department for Transport and the issues of driver only operated trains and disability access. Please note, this project will be independently funded through our GTR Crowdjustice page. If you would like to donate much needed funds to this investigation, please contribute here.

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 and non profit alternatives, 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 and respectful (but very critical!) 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!

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?

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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…

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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.”

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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.”

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