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Southern commuters launch legal challenge against DfT

Commuters on the Southern rail service have successfully launched their legal challenge against the DfT over the government’s handling of the Southern rail crisis.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the Association of British Commuters (ABC) submitted a full application for a judicial review of the affair today (Wednesday 1 February) after crowdfunding the initial legal costs of £26,000.

The group claims that the DfT has failed passengers in how it has managed its franchise contract with Southern’s parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), with passengers enduring countless delays and cancellations on the franchise n.

An ABC spokesperson said: “Our detailed grounds, lodged at court today, are the result of five months’ hard work and the extensive research of dozens of volunteers who have supported the campaign by contributing their time and professional skills.

“Our donors, supporters and volunteers are the people who have been hit the hardest by the Southern Rail crisis, and they deserve to play a part in finally bringing the government to account.”

In its grounds the ABC are seeking declaratory relief – a court ruling – on the DfT’s failure to announce whether GTR is in breach of its franchise obligations and whether the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has indirectly discriminated against disabled passengers by failing to comply with his duties under the Equality Act 2010.

Judges will be expected to rule on the lawfulness of the DfT’s failure in enforcing the Southern Rail management contract. Last week the transport select committee strongly criticised the DfT for its tardiness in making a decision, which the government claims has been delayed due to GTR’s claims of force majeure.

“We began this process back in September, at a time when we felt we’d already reached our last resort,” the ABC spokesperson said. “That it has got so much worse, and the DfT have still not acted, now beggars belief. Commuters have long since passed the point of exhaustion, and it is a matter of shame for the DfT that we have had to go to such great lengths to demand action be taken.”

“We continue to urge the DfT to act decisively and transparently on the future of Southern Rail. The longer they stand back from this unprecedented rail crisis, the harder it will be to put the pieces back together again.”

Campaigners praised the decision with the Campaign for Better Transport calling the challenge a “step forward for passenger power”.

“It is absolutely right that the government is held to account for the failings of the Southern franchise, which has made peoples’ lives a misery,” said Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner for the CBT.

“Long before any industrial dispute, Southern passengers had to rely on a train service plagued by delays and disruptions, under a management contract with no financial penalties for poor performance.”

Etkind added that passengers’ voice have been ignored in Southern Rail’s dispute with rail unions and that passenger representation must be written into future rail franchises so that they can have their voices heard.

Faryal Velmi, director of the disabled passenger charity Transport for All, accused Southern of treating disabled passengers as “second class citizens”, saying that it was “totally unacceptable” that the DfT has allowed the franchise to do so.

“Transport for All has heard time and again from disabled transport users who feel Southern Rail’s network is now a no-go zone; impacting on people’s ability to work and often leaving them increasingly isolated,” Velmi said.

“The DfT and rail industry must act urgently to prevent the basic rights of disabled passengers being flouted in this way.”

When approached for comment regarding the ABC's challenge, the DfT said that it does not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

The court will make an initial decision on whether the ABC’s grounds are valid before the case will proceed. If the organisation’s grounds are ruled valid, the organisation will look to crowdfund further in order to progress their legal challenge.

Talks between Aslef and GTR are continuing in an attempt to resolve the dispute between the two parties, with Aslef having suspended strike action for now. While some RMT drivers are continuing to strike, Southern is currently running a full service.

 Tell us what you think – have your say below or email


Jimbo   01/02/2017 at 17:45

This story is rather confused. Is this about Southern's performance before the RMT/ASLEF strikes ? Is it about disabled access ? or is it about the handling of the strikes ? All three are mentioned, but it is not clear which one or ones is covered by the action. If it is about performance since the strikes started, then why are they taking action against the Unions who are striking ?

Manchester Mike   01/02/2017 at 20:27

It's about time DfT face the music for their abominable handling of rail passengers, the pointy end being the Southern Rail fiasco.

Tothehills   02/02/2017 at 09:21

The only organisation involved this dispute has probably discriminated against the disabled is the RMT. In that it is the organisation that is using them as a weapon in its dispute with the TOC and HMG. It hides behind trade union legislation to disadvantage those who are already disadvantaged. I can see why it is doing it and I am empathetic to retaining jobs but they have lost sight of the point of the service their members provide and who pays for it.

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