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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Dr Paul Davies launches petition for an inquiry into the conduct of civil servants at the Department for Transport

The conduct of civil servants at the Department for Transport has been a matter of grave concern throughout the Southern Rail crisis. There are serious doubts about the neutrality of one Peter Wilkinson, who worked with Govia on their contract bid, and now manages that contract on behalf of the DfT. Other, very serious questions have now been raised about the entire Govia operation; not least, the scandal of the “Independent Penalty Fares Appeals Service”.

Dr Paul Davies has worked for four years to get answers on the conduct of Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam. His investigations include issues pertaining to the mishandling of the Govia/Southern Rail contract, and go back in time over the course of Philip Rutnam’s career.

He has now launched a petition calling for a public inquiry into the conduct of Philip Rutnam – to sign it, click here. And don’t forget to share!

Of particular concern is Govia’s “Independent Penalty Fares Appeal Service”, now proven to be an intrinsic part of Govia’s business model and a successful profit-maker for their shareholders. A Guardian expose in February showed that, even on a successful appeal, you may have to pay an ‘admin fee’ equivalent to the original fine!

To view Paul Davies’ recent appearance on BBC Panorama, click here.

To read more about the alleged misconduct of Philip Rutnam, click here.

RSSB report leaked for Private Eye expose – now, we invite you to pick it apart…

After being quietly removed from the Rail Safety and Standards Board website some months ago, the full RSSB report on the safety aspects of DOO was sent to us today after previously being leaked to Private Eye. We attach the full PDF here and invite you all to pick it apart!

Please note, this is a publicly available document that has been very difficult to get hold of. The industry insider who passed it on to us warned it is ‘full of contradictions’ and ‘clearly geared towards a certain outcome’.

With so many contradictory statements now being made about this controversial report, we invite you to read it for yourself and form your own opinion.

Read the full report here: rssb-report-on-doo

Read the Private Eye expose here:

private-eye

 

 

 

Health & Safety risks worsen as commuters fear violence & assault on Southern Rail

Since instructing our lawyers to write to the Department for Transport last week regarding the escalating health and safety concerns on Southern Rail, we have become increasingly concerned over the risks of violence on the network.

The health and safety risks on the network now form our most immediate concern; and we fear that the very real impact of the crisis in terms of crowd psychology has been ignored by Southern Rail management, and suffers a lack of oversight from the Department for Transport.

The stress of severe overcrowding, competition for trains, and a breakdown of trust in the management create a volatile crowd situation that seems to be leading to an increasing number of violent incidents on the network. For an insight into the mass psychology of the situation, please see Dr. John Drury’s comments published last week: http://drury-sussex-the-crowd.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/southern-rail-and-psychology-of-crowd.html

Please be aware that officers from the British Transport Police are available throughout the network to respond to incidents of this nature. If you feel threatened or endangered in any way, you can contact them by texting 61016; which is a discreet way to get in touch if you are stuck in a violent situation on a packed train. You can also call the BTP on 0800 405040 (in an emergency, always dial 999).

We have just been in touch with the British Transport Police on this issue, and they gave us the following statement in reponse to our concerns:

“We are in constant discussion with Southern Rail and continue to monitor the situation so that we can deploy officers where needed. Where any disruption occurs, we have officers available to support rail staff and passengers.

In general, we know that incidents of violence on the railway tend to occur more often when there is disruption or overcrowding, particularly at peak times. The types of violent incidents reported to us tend to be common assaults resulting in no injury to the victim.

The main drive behind the incidents appears to be frustration and a lack of patience among commuters leading to low level physical and verbal assaults. We can all make a difference by being kind and considerate to our fellow passengers.”

The ABC team is busy working on further health and safety campaigns related to these issues, and will be publishing updates with further avenues for action soon.

 

 

 

Fears for Health & Safety on Southern Rail – our lawyers write to the DfT

We have been inundated with reports of health and safety risks related to overcrowding on the Southern Rail network; problems that we have witnessed for many months, and have reached their peak during the strike action.

Our lawyers have now written to the DfT seeking clarity on whether they have conducted any risk analysis in advance of the RMT strikes, and at what point the DfT will consider these risks to be seen to be sufficiently serious to warrant termination of the franchise. We seek to know what instructions (if any) the DfT have given GTR in minimising the effect on rail users during this time, and whether GTR’s implementation of these instructions is being properly monitored.

The witness reports of which we have informed the DfT include: incidents of violence at Brighton station, dangerous overcrowding and mass panic in crowds, mass rushes along overcrowded platforms to board trains in the case of last-minute announcements, a child left abandoned on a platform due to overcrowding, and illness and incapacity brought on in the vulnerable, pregnant, elderly and disabled.

Statement from the Association of British Commuters

“The Select Committee for Transport confirmed last week what ABC has been arguing for months – that the Department for Transport have failed to monitor and enforce the GTR franchise agreement, and are evading their responsibility to provide proper transparency.

In the meantime, with no confidence in GTR’s management of the network, or the DfT’s oversight; we feel that the extra overcrowding during the strikes represents an unacceptable health and safety risk to the public and fear that it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we will see a tragedy on the network.”

The Transport Select Committee’s report – released 14th October.

We highly recommend reading the full report, which backs up the arguments that the Association of British Commuters have been making for months. In regard to the Department for Transport’s responsibility to step in to resolve the ongoing failure of GTR and the industrial dispute with the RMT, please note the following; and be reminded that the GTR contract is not a typical franchise agreement, but a management contract.

Extract from paragraph 52:

Whilst the dispute can ultimately only be resolved through negotiation between GTR and the RMT, given the Department’s unusually direct involvement in the TSGN franchise it should take a greater degree of responsibility for fostering productive negotiations. We therefore urge the new Rail Minister and Secretary of State to engage more actively and substantively with the rail unions’ safety and workforce-related concerns in relation to the expansion of DOO on the TSGN franchise, as a matter of urgency.

Extract from paragraph 56:

We are concerned that no official impact assessment has been made of the potential effects of DOO on disabled people’s access to the railway. We recommend the DfT and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) jointly commission research into the potential effects of DOO on the “turn up and go” accessibility of the railway to disabled people who require assistance getting on and off trains. The Department should draw on this research to issue guidance to train operating companies on the measures that should be taken to mitigate potential detrimental effects on disabled people’s access. It should ensure that actions are taken to guarantee that disabled rail passengers receive the support to which they are entitled.

Extract from paragraph 82:

If GTR is in default, it is incumbent on the Department to take the franchise back in house and then to find one or more operators that can improve the situation. It is simply not credible for the DfT to continue to claim that “no other operator” could improve the situation; if it is the case, it is a consequence of the structuring of the franchise, for which the Department is ultimately accountable.

For the full report, click here.

Transport Select Committee report confirms “unacceptable” lack of transparency from the DfT

In their report today, the Select Comittee for Transport confirms what ABC has been arguing for months: that rail passengers have been badly let down by the Government’s failure to structure, monitor and enforce rail franchise agreements.

The report is dominated by the problems faced by Govia Thameslink Railway passengers for more than a year, including poor management of the franchise from the start; inadequate staffing; rolling stock issues; mismanagement and prolonged industrial action, complicated by the huge Thameslink infrastructure programme.

In examining whether GTR is now in default of its contractual obligations, the Committee makes clear that, under normal circumstances, there would already be grounds for the termination of its contract. The complication to this is GTR’s claim of force majeure (forces beyond its control); a claim based in part on the alleged ‘unofficial strike action’ relating to staff sickness levels.

Regarding the issue of force majeur, the report states that crucial processes have been delayed by the “tardiness” of GTR in suppling the necessary information to make its claim. It also finds it “unacceptable” that the DfT does not intend to conclude its assessment of GTR’s force majeur claims until the current industrial dispute is resolved, stating: “it is essential that the Department provide clarity about whether GTR is in default, as a matter of urgency”.

The Comittee expresses “complete dissatisfaction” with the DfT’s answers to its questions, going so far as to say that “the Department’s evasive and opaque answers to our questions hindered our inquiry and delayed publication of this Report.”

On this issue, it is worth highlighting points 72 and 73 in full:

72. The DfT has a duty to hold train operating companies to account for poor performance; passengers expect and deserve this. The answers provided to us by very senior officials in oral evidence, and the Department’s subsequent written submissions, however, give us little confidence that it has a firm grip on the monitoring of GTR’s contractual obligations.

73. Until we recently managed, after several attempts and considerable time and effort, to extract information from the Department, GTR’s contractual performance benchmarks, and data relating to GTR’s performance against them, were entirely opaque. It is completely unacceptable that changes to the contractual benchmarks were not published in an open and transparent way. It is also unacceptable that the data required to scrutinise GTR’s performance against its contractual benchmarks are not made readily available. The Department’s evasive and opaque answers to our questions hindered our inquiry and delayed publication of this Report.

The report also emphasises the lack of information about the £20 million ‘improvement fund’ announced on 1st September 2016:

81.We ask that the Department, in response to this Report, set out in detail: how the recently announced £20 million will be allocated to address the problems on Southern Railway; whether the £20 million is new, additional funding, or from what part of the Department’s budget it has been reallocated; the precise outputs it expects the £20 million to achieve; and a more precise timetable for the publication of the project board’s plan and the implementation of its actions. This money should ultimately be recovered from the operator.

**ABC’s legal team have been informed that the £20 million ‘improvement fund’ is not in fact ‘new money’, but has been taken from Network Rail’s existing budget for Control Period 5. This is a budget that has already considerably overspent.

Further to the matter of terminating the contract, the report makes clear that it is “simply not credible for the DfT to continue to claim that “no other operator” could improve the situation” and, notably, that “if [this] is the case, it is a consequence of the structuring of the franchise, for which the Department is ultimately accountable.”

For the full report, click here.