Rail Update 21st July
May I start by thanking various respondents for their feedback following my last update which enabled me to bring concerns to the attention of GTR (including for example in respect of the classification of overcrowded trains).
Clearly since then we have had good news. ASLEF and RMT have suspended all industrial action on Southern (this includes the current ASLEF overtime ban and projected August strikes). Southern will revert to operating their normal timetable from midnight tonight ie the full weekday timetable will be reintroduced from Monday 24 July.
Prior to the announcement I met, this week, alongside other MPs, the General Secretary of ASLEF, Mick Whelan and separately the Chief Executive of Southern, Charles Horton.
Throughout the 18 month dispute the Secretary of State for Transport has offered to meet the Unions provided that they suspend their industrial action. I am delighted that they have done so and that they are now meeting.
I sincerely hope that a lasting resolution can be secured between the Operator and the Unions. The Government is I know determined to help facilitate such an outcome.
It is worth remembering that twice in the last year ASLEF's leadership has recommended agreed proposals to its members that were not supported (albeit in the second case very narrowly) in the relevant ballots. I have to believe therefore that there is a basis of an agreement. The trains that are subject to the "second person" dispute currently only account for 2.75 per cent of trains that previously operated with a guard and this number is being reduced through additional GTR recruitment. Likewise on pay, while ASLEF's leadership and members have rejected the proposal for drivers on some lines, the same proposal has been accepted it in respect of ASLEF members on the Thameslink line.
Whilst meeting with ASLEF was helpful in better understanding their position I do not think, given what I heard, it will be easy to secure a lasting deal.
However I do think the groundwork has been put in place to achieve one, given sufficient goodwill.
I spent considerable time with GTR discussing contingency plans had the ASLEF strike proceeded, which happily now may not be relevant.
Separately I am pleased that Southern's driver recruitment and training programme is proving successful and that they are being more realistic in the number of trained drivers they are likely to lose through individuals choosing, post training, to pursue their career on the network in other, less costly, parts of the country. The impact of the additional driver recruitment will be to reduce Southern's reliance on overtime: a goal that is shared by the Transport Department, GTR and the Unions!
Let us hope that the outcome of the talks are positive.
Rail Update 5th July
No one will have wanted to receive another Rail Update. I am sorry that it is necessary.
Earlier this year with industrial action suspended and responsible, collaborative talks ongoing between the leadership of the drivers' union, ASLEF and GTR it looked like we could be heading to a sensible resolution. Twice ASLEF and GTR came to agreements, twice these were rejected, albeit narrowly, by ASLEF members.
While ASLEF continued to work normally through these talks the service provided to passengers significantly improved. Albeit from an exceptionally low base Southern saw a 23 percentage point improvement in performance and in my experience (and, judging by my inbox, that of most passengers) services were markedly more reliable.
Unfortunately as you know last Thursday ASLEF recommenced its overtime ban (the standard drivers' working week is 4 days) and is intent on further industrial action over a pay.
ASLEF has accepted a 24 per cent pay rise, based on productivity improvements, over 4 years for its drivers on the Thameslink line. This is worth £70,000 for a five day week. It has rejected the same offer on the Horsham lines.
Although it has less immediate impact on passengers the RMT continue to be in dispute and this clearly influences ASLEF members. Yesterday with other MPs, on a cross-party basis, I met Mick Cash, RMT General Secretary, prior to a Parliamentary debate on Southern Rail. They are against not only the most recent extension of Driver Controlled Doors but also in principle opposed to it where it has been in operation for over 30 years.
100 extra on board supervisors have been appointed by GTR and, from figures provide by the RMT 97.25 per cent of trains which used to have a "second person" have continued to operate with one - a proportion GTR expects to increase. I want 100 per cent of these trains to have a "second person" on board, so does GTR, so do the RMT. But if, in exceptional circumstances, the OBS can't get there I want the train to run. It is safe for it to do so and cancellation causes not only immediate problems for passengers but a significant knock-on impact. The RMT demand cancellation. That appears to be the crux of their dispute.
What can be done?
325 new drivers have been recruited. Under the training protocols put in place many years previously most training has to be done "in cab" and takes a required 18 months on local lines. This is underway. As the new drivers finish their training this will reduce the dependence on drivers voluntarily working a 5th day a week as overtime. It will increase resilience on the line.
We will not however see the benefit of this until training is complete.
In the immediate term GTR had hoped to run this week a full timetable from our local stations notwithstanding the overtime ban. As you will be aware this is not a timetable they have been able to achieve and there have been service cancellations. While encouraging GTR to do all they can to maintain the maximum service provision I have also urged them to consider declassifying trains. Where services have been cancelled GTR needs to do its utmost to mitigate the effects of overcrowding.
Debate on the Gibb Report
The Gibb Report was commissioned by the Government to investigate how we could improve resilience on Southern's services. After being held back under election rules it was released immediately post election and Parliament debated its contents yesterday.
The full debate can be viewed at http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/68a280f0-821d-4f75-a329-bb5954d9d13a?in=16:08:31&out=19:01:24 my contribution was made at 17:33:36. By way of explanation after an earlier exchange I did invite the Labour Transport spokesman to "intervene" on me to say whether he felt it was reasonable to strike over the offered 24 per cent pay settlement but he preferred not to do so.
Unsurprisingly the Gibb Report into Southern Rail concluded that industrial action was the primary cause of the nightmare passengers were out through last year.
However there was more to the report than that. The lines needed a minimum £300m cash investment - which the Government immediately committed. He recommended better means of management co-ordination - which has been implemented. GTR it is clear needs more drivers - they are, as set out above, in training.
Rail update 1st May
On Tuesday 26th April I attended the last meeting of the Southern Rail All Party Parliamentary Group before Parliament dissolves. Fellow MPs and I quizzed Charles Horton, the Chief Executive of Southern Rail. Without doubt, from a very low base, Southern’s performance has improved in the last couple of months – which comes through not only in their statistics but in my inbox and personal experience!
However all MPs are determined to maintain the pressure: Southern know that far as we are concerned no option is “off the table” on future structure and governance. They still have ongoing issues to resolve, not least industrial relations. We also need to build, at every level, on Chris Gibbs’ work on improving linkage between Network Rail and the Operator – putting the passenger first. I also shared concerns on disabled access (which I have previously raised earlier this year in the Commons) and recent changes to ticketing. A reliable, safe, efficient rail service is critical for Horsham, we will continue to keep up the pressure.
Rail update 3rd March
I took advantage of Transport Questions to ask the Rail Minister to confirm that disabled passengers should expect an improvement in service on Southern Rail. His response is below. This is an issue on which Paul Maynard (a former Disabilities Minister) I know feels strongly and its one that in my view needs to be kept closely monitored.
Rail update 24th February
I have over the last few weeks been contacted by a number of passengers regarding the 2016 Compensation payments, about which they haven't been notified though they believe they are eligible.
I have taken this up with Southern Rail. Please see their comment below.
I would encourage everyone who is eligible to apply as set out (I have checked the website and it seems to be live).
With best wishes
Comment from GTR on Compensation Payments
We have now completed the process of contacting people that we know to be eligible for compensation, and are now inviting other Southern customers to check their eligibility and claim where they believe they may be entitled.
The one-off scheme, announced last December by the Government solely for Southern's passengers, recognises the severe disruption on the Southern network during 2016 and offers season ticket holders compensation equivalent to a month's travel. To qualify, Southern customers must have held at least 12 weeks' worth of season tickets between 1 April and 31 December 2016. Passengers are being advised to check online at www.southernrailway.com/2016compensation, where they will be asked to provide evidence to support their claim. The scheme will close on 30 April 2017.
We acknowledge that last year was very difficult for Southern passengers and we are glad the scheme recognises this. I ask you to encourage those season ticket holders you represent to go online and claim if they believe they are eligible for compensation.
Rail update 2nd February
I am delighted to be able to share with you a letter (see at the bottom of this page) from Charles Horton, CEO of GTR.
GTR and ASLEF have today reached an agreement to settle their dispute. No further ASLEF industrial action is planned but the agreement is subject to securing the support of ASLEF members over the next couple of weeks
This dispute has caused huge problems for so many passengers and we will all be concerned that it ever came to this - but for today I am simply relieved and delighted that an agreement has finally been secured.
The RMT continue to be in dispute with GTR and I hope for the sake of both staff and passengers that this too can now be brought to an agreed conclusion.
I don't for one moment believe that if this agreement gains the support of ASLEF members and a deal is subsequently agreed with the RMT that this will mark the end of problems on our railway. Sadly it won't. In common with my colleagues from across the county, direct and through the All Party Parliamentary Group for Southern Rail we will continue to battle on behalf of passengers and hold GTR to account. I am also keen to ensure that the extra money identified to progress the upgrading of our line is delivered.
Lastly may I share with you an update I received last week from GTR on progress being made on the delivery of the compensation payment for those eligible.
"Our customer portal for the compensation package for season ticket holders went live on 20 January at http://www.southernrailway.com/your-journey/customer-services/season-ticket-compensation
We have a list of customers who we believe are entitled to the compensation package, and emails are being sent out at the rate of 1500 per day to maintain a steady flow of contacts and ensure people are paid promptly...A claim portal for customers not on our own list will open in 7-10 days time following training for our customer services staff handling the claims.
Given the sums of money involved this needs to be a rigorous and thorough process and it will take time to process all claims. However.... we are determined to ensure that all of our customers entitled to compensation receive the amount they are due, in as short a timeframe as is possible.
I hope this provides reassurance that we are making progress with this important scheme to provide some recompense for the disruption to passengers on Southern over many months."
Rail update 9th January
I wanted to write to you in light of the strikes which are taking place tomorrow, Tuesday 10th January, Wednesday 11th January and Friday 13th January, in addition to the ongoing overtime ban.
As you know strike action by ASLEF will effectively close down Southern. I recognise that the efforts being made to provide some service into London will simply not manage to replace the trains – which serve half a million people a day - and delays and overcrowding are I am afraid inevitable. However for those who can get to Gatwick, trains will operate every 30minutes from 5am into London Victoria. Buses are being provided from Horsham to Dorking to connect with South Western services which will be running. All the details are on the Southern Rail website. In addition there are details of car share schemes – which came from a suggestion from a Horsham constituent which I passed on and for which I am grateful.
As you know the expressed rationale for the ongoing strikes are “safety concerns”. Ian Prosser, who is the lead executive director within the independent rail regulator responsible for safety on Britain’s railways, has had undertaken a safety audit on the extension of DOO by Southern, specifically in relation to the Horsham-Bognor Regis service. His report, which was published on 5th January has concluded that there are no significant safety issues. He does suggest some further minor improvements at a small number of stations, for example improvements to station lighting. GTR have provided Ian Prosser with categorical assurances that trains will either not operate under DOO conditions at these stations until they meet the necessary lighting standards – or, where this is not immediately possible they will put in place alternative dispatch arrangements, for example station staff dispatch. Taken together, Ian Prosser’s report and the commitments made I believe means there is no possible justification for the strike action to continue. I attach a copy of the report.
There have been a number of sets of talks and regular informal contact. Depressingly one of the Union’s has stated that they are not even in the “same universe” as management. The official basis for the dispute is extremely limited and the Government is prepared to underwrite an agreement which takes practical steps to assuage remaining concerns the Unions have while implementing the ongoing modernisation of the railways – which is critical to improve the reliability of the service and capacity. I am sorry that commuters reaching London today faced a strike on the Underground called by the RMT.
Southern has I understand already recruited an additional 100 on-board supervisors – underlining their commitment to have a second person on board trains in all but exceptional circumstances. You may also have read this week of the Government’s initiative to recruit additional drivers to reduce the historic dependence of every train company, over many years, on overtime. Although this has historically worked well on a co-operative basis between management and employees it appears to have run its course.
I am acutely aware of the devastating impact the rail service is having on your lives and for this I am very sorry
Rail Update 20th December 2016
Yesterday evening with other local MPs I met the Prime Minister to discuss ongoing actions to address the Rail dispute.
It is clear from every source I have spoken to that the management put forward constructive proposals at ACAS and did so over two and half days of talks. Ultimately they got nowhere.
RMT members have overwhelmingly accepted their new contracts which commence from 1st January. We know the ASLEF strike isn’t about jobs or wages. They claim it is about a system of working – one which they have endorsed since the early 1980s and which their drivers are already using every day on 30 per cent of the network. It is a system used commonly around Europe. The system works safely and well.
The stations within the Horsham constituency include Balcombe Station on the Brighton Mainline (which is receiving the new class of trains first) and stations on route to Horsham itself.
I appreciate fully that the “Arun Valley” line has older lay-out, more rural, stations and is currently served by Class 377s with older cameras. However every station has been checked for safe DOO operation and the Director of Safety at the Office of Rail and Road Regulation has confirmed that the correct procedures have been followed. Where drivers identify concerns or ideas as to how to improve DOO operations on the Arun Valley line I am clearly all in favour of these being raised by them and if appropriate addressed by Southern - via ACAS if that is really required. DOO is safe but if there are genuine specific safety concerns these should be addressed directly.
I am sure I am not alone on having been on a Horsham train which has been delayed due to reported problems with the DOO cameras. This concerned me from a safety perspective. I tabled the written Parliamentary Question below and received a response this morning. The clear implication is that when trains are affected by reported camera failure these failures are not apparent when subsequently checked.
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, what reports he has received on Southern trains (a) being taken out of service and (b) skipping stations or suffering delays due to cameras on driver-only operation trains failing. (56969)
Tabled on: 12 December 2016
Govia Thameslink Railway is not required to provide the Department with detailed information on the causes of train failures. Officials have discussed camera failures with Southern, who confirmed that there has been a noticeable increase in camera defects reported. However, when investigated, no faults have been found by technical teams.
The answer was submitted on 20 Dec 2016 at 11:44.”
I am increasingly convinced that the strikes are for deeper reasons, which may be impossible to address to the Unions’ satisfaction. The Sunday Times front page ran a story this week alleging that the President of the RMT (a union that has balloted for industrial action 56 times in 2016) declared that “the “No 1 rule” for his union…was to “strive to replace the capitalist system with a socialist order” “ The article also made a series of other similar allegations.
I am all for concerns being addressed through ACAS, agreements being made and railways returning to normal.
However if the heart of the complaint isn’t about working practices but is political this may be impossible to achieve.
I have pushed hard for the Department for Transport to do far more to enable commuters to get to work if these strikes persist. There are huge logistical and practical issues with trying to transport up to 500,000 people across the South East in these circumstances but I believe that more could and should be done.
I have expressed my particular concern about those who are self-employed and only get paid in the event of them being able to get to their place of work and I have asked the Department to look urgently as to how these passengers could be assisted. Government also has a role in taking up the cause of passengers with employers: they have to recognise that commuters are suffering through absolutely no fault of their own.
I have always believed that there is a valuable role for Trade Unions and I personally have always been reluctant to legislate, especially in circumstances when it could be perceived to be in reaction to a particular strike. However many have contacted me to urge just such a course of action. In other major economies (most of which are far less dependent than we are on rail travel) there is legislation restricting strike action on transport networks to what is proportionate or requiring a minimum level of service even on strike days. If this action continues without any prospect of resolution this will have to come on to the agenda.
Rail Update 16th December 2016
First, I want to express how disappointed I am that talks at ACAS between GTR and ASLEF have broken down.
It is particularly disappointing that the talks broke down having been going two days, especially as from what I had heard they were going well with both parties actively engaged. Given that no jobs are being lost and given how much grief the dispute is causing I very much hope that the talks can be resumed and concluded swiftly.
In addition the Secretary of State has reiterated his offer for direct talks with the unions if they call-off the strike action.
There is much speculation, including in the national press, as to what might be done next to resolve this dispute if the talks cannot be resumed. I hope you will forgive me for not adding to that speculation at this stage as I think it would not be helpful to our common objective of just getting the trains running again. It would be far better if the two sides can resolve the issue. There appears to be a very narrow difference - as you would expect given that ASLEF has operated DOO on thousands of trains over the last 30 years.
Rail Update 7th December 2016
1. Transport Select Committee
I met Tuesday with Huw Merriman who is also an MP in a constituency within Southern Region (Bexhill and Battle). He serves in the Transport Select Committee and has been particularly focussed on the safety issues on the roll-out of DOO. He has shared with us a letter requested by the Select Committee from the Director of Railway Safety at the Office of Rail and Road whose job it is to determine safety issues on our railways. Please find this in the attachment at the bottom of this page. The key extract is as follows:
DOO can be operated safely, provided that as with all forms of train dispatch. Suitably maintained equipment, proper procedures and competent, trained staff are in place;
DOO operations have been used on British railway network for over thirty years;
Given the level of public interest, my inspectors have carried out a detailed inspection and review of Southern's proposals. We concluded that Southern has carried out the appropriate risk assessment for this method of dispatch and there was no evidence of any breach of Health and Safety regulation."
This is not an issue over safety - DOO has operated on British railways for over 30 years and is currently employed in approximately 30 per cent of the network.
2. Meeting with Transport Secretary
Southern Region MPs met this morning with Chris Grayling. As you know ASLEF, after a ballot of 937 members has, announced strike action (as set out below)
"ASLEF members on Southern Railways have voted overwhelmingly for strike action in a trade dispute over the company's decision to force through driver only operation on the franchise. We say there should be no introduction and/or extension of new driver-only operated routes on Southern without the agreement of ASLEF. In a ballot conducted by Electoral Reform Services drivers were asked two questions: Are you prepared to take part in a strike? Yes 630 [87.3%] No 92 [12.7%] Are you prepared to take part in industrial action short of a strike? Yes 690 [95.6%] No 32 4.4%] Turnout was 77% [937 papers issued; 722 returned]"
GTR are in court on Wednesday, 7th December seeking an injunction to prevent ASLEF's strike action.
Minimising the impact on passengers is the Transport Secretary's number one aim. The impact of a strike or indeed the impact of "industrial action short of a strike" cannot be under-estimated. He has made clear (including on the radio Tuesday morning) his willingness to meet with the Unions if they end their industrial action.
I raised with the Transport Secretary, as I did in the Commons Monday, my concern that drivers on the Horsham line are delaying trains/skipping stations due to reported problems with the DOO cameras (see also below). He confirmed that this is being investigated.
I expressed support for the Compensation Package announced as a step in the right direction. No one believes that it compensates for appalling service received over the last year - but to get it was an important principle.
3. Network Rail/Operators Working Together
Chris Grayling attended the Commons to answer questions about his plans for Network Rail and the Operators to work closer together. This to me is common sense. Network Rail may be nationalised but it seems woefully unresponsive to passenger needs - when issues go wrong effecting passenger service these must be addressed immediately - this has not always been the case. Prior to the industrial action the main source of disruption on our lines were the responsibility of Network Rail not Southern.
A clip of the statement can be viewed here: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/12d31834-cf53-4841-9546-ab1c7108a042?in=12:36:38&out=13:17:30
I have reported before (and please see below) on Chris Gibb and his Project Board's work on our region (at the request of Chris Grayling) on how it can improve mutual working and clarity between Network Rail and GTR and how services should be improved. In the statement I supported the work of Chris Gibb - in replying Grayling referred specifically to the issues in Balcombe Tunnel which he and I have discussed (Balcombe Station and Tunnel lie within the Horsham constituency).
(The Balcombe Tunnel, incidentally, is a classic example of the issues we face in upgrading and modernising the railway to make it fit (after years of under-investment) to meet the needs of a vastly increased number of passengers. It is a critical piece of infrastructure on the Brighton mainline but is a kilometre long and was constructed between 1838 and 1841. Despite many improvements over the years the tunnel leaks causing problems for the rails and Network Rail - given the extensive usage of the track only have a few hours every night - as elsewhere on the network - to effect repairs. A maintenance train breaking down in the tunnel overnight caused massive problems across the network last month)
4. Meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Southern Rail
This group (Chaired by Peter Kyle, Labour MP for Hove and Sir Nicholas Soames) met this afternoon to quiz Chris Gibb on his forthcoming report to the Transport Secretary on improvements to Southern. Unusually for an APPG the Rail Minister also attended. Mr Gibb produced a short summary of what is and should be underway which can be found in the attachment at the bottom of this page. The £20m investment in Gibb and his immediate recommendations has been money well spent. For those who read the summary the "Horsham MMT" is a Mobile Maintenance Train. Apparently this is a very impressive piece of kit which enables technicians to work beneath the MMT on the line in safety. There are only 8 in the country and one will shortly be based in Horsham.
I took the opportunity to ask Chris Gibb
(a) about the numbers of staff employed by Southern. He believes they have sufficient and is aware that in the New Year the intention is to have more rather than fewer people on trains - this will apparently include "On Board Supervisors" on trains where a guard has not been present for many years. He also believes there are sufficient drivers - though this of course depends on the amount of overtime/rest day working for which the Operator budgets. This has traditionally been used by all Operators (and BR) and is as I understand it is popular with drivers as a means of topping up earnings.
(b) about the number of trains having to be delayed/stations skipped on the Horsham line by drivers due to the DOO cameras apparently not working. Mr Gibb is careful not to get involved in the current dispute however he was aware of the issue. He also said that the technology involved is very well established and has worked perfectly well elsewhere for many years.
I will advise you if GTR is granted its injunction tomorrow.
Rail update 5th December 2016
The Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, came to the Commons yesterday afternoon to answer questions on Southern Rail, a clip of which can be viewed here: http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/26dfa844-89a3-4211-9f05-3ae4f6bf95e2?in=15:38:14&out=16:10:00
I particularly raised (at around 15.58) the huge number of incidences on the Horsham Line in which the cameras being used for DOO are apparently failing – either this is a technical fault or if not it has some other cause (there are apparently more than twice number of problems on the Horsham line where this practice has been newly introduced than elsewhere). Either way GTR need to get a grip on it as it is causing cancellations and delays on non-strike days. The Minister has promised to revert to me in writing urgently.
I will be asking him more about this tomorrow at the cross-party group on Southern Rail. I will also be asking further on compensation, I welcome the package as it establishes the principle but no one wants compensation – they want a reliable service.
I am grateful for all the comments I have received back on these emails – they are all read and many passed on to the Department.
Rail update – 2nd Dember 2016
The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, this morning announced that tens of thousands of Southern rail passengers are to be repaid the equivalent of a month's travel. In addition the 15 minute delay repay will begin on 11th December.
His statement reads:
"I understand how important it is to have a train service you can depend upon.
In recent months..that is not what Govia Thameslink Railway's (GTR) Southern passengers have received. Instead, due to a combination of RMT strike action, track failures, engineering works and operator poor performance they have endured extraordinary, sustained disruption.
In recognition of everything Southern's passengers have suffered, I have today announced special compensation payment for season ticket holders on the Southern network. While nothing can truly make up for what you and your constituents have had to endure, I hope this goes some way to showing that the government is on their side.
Passengers with a Brighton to London annual season ticket, for example, will get £371 back. Quarterly, regular monthly and weekly ticket holders will also qualify for compensation. GTR will contact passengers setting out what they are owed and how to have it paid directly into their bank accounts. For those passengers who do not wish to have money paid into their bank accounts evouchers will be available.
From 11 December, all Southern passengers will be eligible for compensation for any train delayed for 15 minutes or longer, rather than the current 30 minutes. We will introduce this change across the whole country in future, but we will start next Sunday with all routes operated by GTR, including Thameslink, Southern, Gatwick Express and Great Northern. The extra compensation I have set out above comes on top of the £6.5 million GTR has already paid out since the strikes began in April this year.
The disruption to Southern's services has been due to a number of Network Rail and operator causes aside from RMT Union strike action. These factors taken together warrant this one-off compensation payment. But it must also be recognised that the majority of the disruption has been caused by the actions of the RMT.
To be clear, the union's dispute with Southern is over plans to allow drivers to be in full control of the doors on state of the art trains being introduced for passengers. But while the trains are new, this method of operating the doors is not. It is already in use on over 60% of trains on GTR routes, including Southern, and has been operating for more than 30 years on a third of the UK rail network. Importantly, the independent safety regulators have repeatedly ruled that driver-operated doors are safe.
The RMT Union has helped bring chaos into the lives of millions of commuters. And now.. the drivers' union, ASLEF, has decided to increase pressure on passengers by announcing its own coordinated strikes in the run-up to Christmas. Following this news, GTR wrote to ASLEF earlier this week asking them to withdraw strike action. Unfortunately, the union rejected their request on Thursday 1 December. GTR subsequently issued proceedings at the High Court seeking an injunction to stop ASLEF's strike action and simultaneously wrote to the union. If the application goes ahead, the expectation is that GTR and ASLEF potentially could be in Court at some point next week.
If these unions were to have their way in future, Southern trains would needlessly not run whenever a conductor is unavailable to operate the doors. That cannot be right. I want to see on-board staff doing what they do best - helping passengers, not preventing them from travelling. Under Southern's proposals, no one will lose their job. I urge the RMT Union to engage with that offer, put passengers first, and let staff go back to work. And I urge ASLEF to stop trying to capitalise on RMT's chaos.
I know from my own years of experience that to be a rail commuter in this country often requires patience - especially when upgrades are taking place. What rail passengers ... should not have to tolerate is unions treating them as bargaining chips in a pointless and irrelevant disagreement over changing staff roles. While I am clear that the dispute is between GTR and the unions, it is time for the unions to stop their damaging action now and give passengers what they want - a predictable, uneventful commute."
Rail update 1st December 2016
GTR launches legal bid to stop ASLEF industrial action
Govia Thameslink Railway, parent company of Southern Railway, has today issued proceedings at the High Court to seek an injunction to stop ASLEF's industrial action.
The union is planning drivers' strikes for the run-up to Christmas (a 48-hour strike on 13-14 December and a 24-hour strike on 16 December) and a week-long walkout in the New Year (9-14 January). It will also begin a continuous overtime ban beginning next Tuesday, 6 December.
The train operator has lodged a court application citing its belief the union's industrial action breaches customers' rights under EU law.
In a statement, Charles Horton, Chief Executive of GTR, said:
"We launch legal action reluctantly but now without any other choice. Obviously we would prefer to resolve this directly with ASLEF. We asked the union to withdraw the industrial action and to re-enter discussions but they refused to do so, which means that we now have no choice but to go to court.
"We have a responsibility to our customers to do all we can to protect their interests and maintain services for them. Passengers now face the prospect of 40 days of continuous industrial action by ASLEF, and, on top of months of travel misery they've already suffered, it is totally unacceptable. The proposed industrial action called by ASLEF is unjustified, unnecessary and we believe unlawful. It will severely disrupt all our customers, including the tens of thousands of customers a day who use our services for travelling to and from Gatwick Airport. We believe that the industrial action breaches our and our customers' rights under EU law and so we are seeking an injunction to stop the industrial action.
"It's perfectly safe for the driver to have sole responsibility for the operation of a modern train, and that's how a third of the trains up and down the country - with the full agreement and support of ASLEF - already operate today."
Following the application to the High Court, this matter is likely to be considered at a hearing in the coming days.
Until the legal action is concluded GTR will make no further comment.
Rail update 7th November 2016
You may be aware that GTR are currently running a consultation on their plans to introduce a new timetable from 2018 and as part of these plans, GTR had scheduled 'Meet the Manager' sessions at specific stations on the line. I insisted that they hold one at Horsham Station and I can now confirm that a session is due to take place on the evening of Thursday, 17th November between 5pm and 7pm. This consultation is early days and the messages I am receiving from Southern are reassuring but I do want to ensure that GTR are fully aware of our desire to benefit from the new service and not to see in reduction trains on any of the local lines.
Notwithstanding all the issues with which it has to contend I believe the new project board headed by Chris Gibb is doing a good job getting Southern Rail and Network Rail to work better together and be better focussed on passengers. The Secretary of State has put two passenger representatives on this board to ensure that they are aware first-hand of the concerns of those who use the line on a regular basis and you will be pleased to learn that one of these, Alexander Prosser-Snelling, is a regular user of the Horsham line. I am delighted to have an ally in ensuring the department is very much aware of the ongoing issues in our area.
Rail update 21st October 2016
First, I want to let you know how sorry I am that passengers on Southern are continuing to receive an abysmal service - I am under no illusion of the destructive impact this is having on people's lives.
Conductors have now accepted the new contracts and as I understand it there have been no job losses whatsoever. I spoke to the Union picket outside Horsham Station and as I understand it the RMT continues to strike primarily because of their desire to ensure that no train should operate without an On Board Supervisor and over the depth of safety training that an OBS should be required to undertake.
Southern wants to retain a second person on the train but in exceptional circumstances wants to be able to run a train without an OBS in order to maintain the service. Southern believe that their safety training in absolutely what is required for the new role.
Talks seem incapable of producing an agreement. Southern report that more conductors are working on strike days - but clearly as we know the service continues to be hard hit.
The weakness of performance on Southern trains is only in part related to industrial action.
There have already been too many false dawns but I was impressed with Chris Gibb when he presented to the All Party Group on Southern Rail last week. He is heading the new project board to oversee improvement measures in Southern Region. He is not there as an employee of Southern. He is in place at the behest of the Department to knock heads together between Southern and Network Rail and make it work.
Not before time he and his small project board are injecting common sense into how the railway operates. He has introduced a real focus on delivering the morning and evening peak in which the vast majority of passengers travel. There are now routine conference calls twice a day in advance of the peaks to ensure that every problem is spotted and dealt with between Southern and Network Rail. He is ensuring that there is de facto 1 control centre with one manager respected by both "sides" at Three Bridges rather than 2 control centres. Likewise one overall manager at Victoria and at London Bridge rather than three each.
I pushed him hard on the chaos caused by the maintenance breakdown inside Balcombe Tunnel on a strike day. He insisted that maintenance must continue every night on the lines in the brief space when they are clear - it is the failure to constantly maintain track that has created part of the problem. However he also added that he is trying to change a culture. If a breakdown happens at 1am the sole priority of the railway must be to get the kit off the line and do so before it is needed for the commuter service. It is clear this has not been the case.
I have been meeting the Rail Minister twice a week and flag with him immediately issues raised by constituents. I have particular voiced concerns over the crowding on a number of stations and especially East Croydon. I am very concerned about this situation. I am assured that more resources are being directed to help on the platforms.
I am very aware of the cynicism around "Delay Repay". Every issue raised I pass on to both Southern and the Minister - most recently the "non-automatic population" of claim forms for season ticket holders, it is at present the only system we have - though I hope to see improvements. I am pleased that the Government has formally announced that rail passengers will be able to claim compensation if their train is more than 15 minutes late. This will be introduced first on GTR services and then rolled out across the country. Passengers will now be able to claim 25% of the cost of the single fare for delays between 15 and 29 minutes and the existing compensation thresholds will apply for delays from 30 minutes with passengers able to apply for compensation. In addition to this, the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act for rail passengers on 1st October strengthened the right of passengers to claim compensation for poor service.
In addition to prospective compensation I want to see a financial recognition of what local train users have gone through over the last 6 months in particular and continue to press this case.
As I mentioned in my previous update, GTR are currently running a consultation on their plans to introduce a new timetable from 2018; you can view the details of these plans and respond to the consultation here: www.southernrailway.com/your-journey/timetable-consultation. As part of these plans, GTR had scheduled 'Meet the Manager' sessions at specific stations on the line. I insisted that they hold one at Horsham Station and I am pleased that a session is now due to take place on the evening of Thursday, 17th November. I will let you know the exact timing as soon as this is confirmed. Southern have yet to restore their full timetable and have been assured that a further 63 services will be running across the network from next Monday, and a further 46 from 31st October.
I appreciate that the trains remain nowhere near the level at which they should be operating, my local colleagues and I will continue to apply pressure.
Rail update 21st September 2016
As you know West Sussex MPs are working closely together on the issue and last week Henry Smith secured an "adjournment" debate specifically on Govia Thameslink Railway. It was well attended by West Sussex MPs. I intervened on the new Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, to remind him of David Cameron's pledge on compensation in response to my question at PMQs and his predecessor's commitment on Delay Repay in the debate I had called back in the Spring. I asked for a rapid announcement on compensation plans. A copy of the Hansard of this debate can be viewed here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2016-09-12/debates/1609131000002/GoviaThameslinkRailService . A video clip is available at http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/3d664090-5337-4174-a0f5-a55c12048770?in=22:09:06&out=22:37:20 . My intervention is at 10.34pm - in response to which the Minister volunteered that David Cameron had been "quite categoric" in his response to me and he hoped we will hear on compensation "soon".
I pressed him again on the issue at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Southern Rail which the Minister attended last Wednesday. We also heard more about the details of the new appointment of Chris Gibb. This appointment and the new board will, I believe, strengthen the accountability of both the operator and Network Rail (which is responsible for some 57 per cent of delays). No one denies the complexity of Southern Rail or the woeful levels of historic investment. However clarity on who exactly is responsible for all delays and why is the critical starting point for getting the proper resolution which the new board is tasked to deliver. I am sorry that action is still required to get that clarity in all cases but I am glad steps are being taken to secure it.
I also met last week with GTR who are launching a consultation on their plans to introduce a new timetable from 2018. With London Bridge resolved and Thameslink through-trains running, services from Horsham should improve. However we all need to go through this consultation in detail before it closes on Thursday 8th December; full details can be viewed at: www.southernrailway.com/your-journey/timetable-consultation. (I have been informed that members of the 2018 Timetable Planning team will attend a series of 'Meet the Manager' events at stations during the consultation period and I will keep you updated when these are due to be held). As part of the process I have asked Southern to ensure that there isn't a reduction in service levels at other stations (such as Faygate and Littlehaven) which will be increasingly important as the local population continues to expand, I have stressed that post London Bridge becoming fully operational there must still be regular services to Victoria (for example from Balcombe) and that efforts should be made to reduce the delay incurred at Horsham by commuters from stations further down the line including Christs Hospital and Billingshurst.
Rail update 2nd August 2016
I wanted to make you aware of the letter I have received from GTR concerning the RMT strike that is due to take place from 8th to 12th August. I was hoping that by now sense would have prevailed but it appears this action will be proceeding.
I also want to let you know that one of the first meetings the new Rail Minister undertook was with me on the issues that are confronting us on the local rail service. It won't surprise you to hear that Paul Maynard confirmed that this remains the biggest single concern for the Department for Transport. I am hoping to meet him and the new Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, later this month.
Rail update 15th June 2016
Following my meeting with the GTR CEO and management team last Wednesday, I requested that they provide me as soon as possible and by Monday close latest with an explanation of the ongoing disruption that I could pass on to my constituents. I felt (and feel) that GTR are failing to keep customers informed as to the underlying issues that are causing the chaotic service. I have now received the letter (naturally it arrived late) which I attach.
I also attach a recent letter I received from the Rail Minister.
Although, as the GTR letter states, there have been underlying service issues with Southern, it is clear that the abysmal service of late is a result of the ongoing dispute between the management and Unions in response to GTR's proposed changes to the role of on-board conductors.
There has been a massive increase in "sickness" with 1 in 6 conductors off for at least one day and ultimately, it is passengers who have suffered.
I have been reassured by GTR that there will be no pay cuts nor job losses as a result of their proposed changes.
We need the dispute ended and ended quickly but in the meantime GTR owe it to the passengers to keep them informed as to what is happening and why. I have told GTR that they should be conducting public meetings in Horsham to at least give their passengers, who pay so much the opportunity to hear first hand what is going on and ask questions direct.
I have also asked the Transport Secretary what powers he and the company have to ensure the service is maintained. I am yet to call for GTR to lose the franchise because I don't want more disruption added to an already dire situation but clearly this cannot carry on.
Rail update 18th March 2016
The service on our local rail lines is completely unacceptable, a reflection of deep fundamental problems which are being addressed but also of Network Rail and the operator. I have taken every opportunity to raise this issue in the House of Commons and direct with those responsible and will continue to apply pressure until the good level of service that we all pay for is restored.
With regard to the further problems in recent weeks as a result of industrial action, I have received a statement from the Southern Rail concerning the recent episode of strike action (enclosed). I have heard "explanations" from both sides but I am acutely aware that it is those of us who use the service and pay for it that are suffering.
In March this year, I secured a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons concerning the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail. The 90 minute debate was well attended by local MPs. The Rail Minister Claire Perry attended the entirety of the debate and spoke at its conclusion.
I made clear to the Minister that all we want to see is a rail service on which passengers can get a seat and can travel reliably. I pointed out that the franchise held by "Govia Thameslink" is the largest in the network and that 'if the Minister believes it is simply too large to be efficiently managed she should not be afraid to take action'.
In replying to the debate the Rail Minister, who meets GTR and Network Rail every week for progress updates on the lines pledged to continue to bring pressure to bear. Not only is she aware of the human cost and misery associated with these rail failures but fixing Southern is the highest priority for her department as the single most effective means of improving transport productivity - a sign of how bad the situation has become. She also pledged to look again at "delay repay" and electronic ticketing as a matter of urgency. Although compensation does not make up for the lost time and inconvenience incurred as a result of the delay, she did commit to bring forward plans to ensure passengers can be compensated for any delays in excess of 15 minutes rather than 30 minutes as at present.
In January, I attended a Rail Summit in the House of Commons with the Rail Minister following the abysmal service over the Christmas period where we demanded that GTR and Network Rail produce definitive plans and timetables for improvement on which they can be held accountable. In addition, I have written to and met with representatives from GTR on numerous occasions and will continue to represent the views of my constituents direct with the train operator.
I acknowledge that a huge amount of investment (£6bn) is being put in to the line and London Bridge Station in particular and that the new Class 700 trains are coming in to service and over 250 new drivers are in training. However, we need to hear less about inputs and more about output. Huge pressure is being placed on all of those responsible to deliver improvements not just in the longer term but for today's customers. I cannot promise that all will be fixed in short-order because previous assurances have not been met but those responsible are in no doubt that there will be consequences if they fail to secure rapid improvements in the service.
There are thousands of people, using not only Horsham station itself but also, among others, Billingshurst, Warnham and Balcombe stations for whom a regular, reliable rail service is absolutely critical.
Due to a combination of the London Bridge upgrade (which will be a marked improvement on completion), poor performance by Southern and Network Rail, rail users have not been receiving the service they deserve or should expect. Cancellations, timetable changes, poor communication and inadequate compensation have all led to significant frustration.
Post election the Government has confirmed that regulated fares will be frozen in real terms. This is to be welcomed but will not compensate for poor performance.
One of the first meetings Jeremy attended as a new MP was with Rail Minister Clare Perry. Clare is determined to improve the performance of the local service and is a formidable operator. Jeremy has maintained the pressure on the Government through asking questions of the Secretary of State in the House of Commons and applying for a specific debate to address problems on our network.
He has confidence that Clare Perry will help the companies concerned get a grip and looks forward to reporting to constituents.
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