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Commuter organisation fundraising for judicial review of Southern problems

Commuters are planning to issue a legal challenge against the DfT’s handling of the Southern rail franchise and the problems faced by passengers.

The Association of British Commuters launched a page on the website CrowdJustice today, to raise money from the public for the initial stages of a judicial review case.

The Association said severe delays and overcrowding on Southern over the past 18 months have led to passengers losing their jobs, being forced to move house, have experienced dangerous travel conditions and disabled passengers have been unable to use trains.

“These health and safety risks and humiliating acts of discrimination are simply unacceptable,” it said. “By endangering lives on a daily basis and failing to meet basic standards of service and reliability, we feel strongly that Southern Rail is operating far below its contractual and wider legal obligations; and it is now well beyond the point where a responsible government should step in.”

Southern was forced to cancel 341 services a day in order to regain control of the franchise, which it attributed to problems including a high rate of sickness absences following strikes organised by RMT.

It has now restored 119 services and has been given £20m by the government to try to solve the problems on the network.

However, the Association of British Commuters said it considered the money “no more than a sticking plaster over a failing but highly profitable private company”.

The Go-Ahead Group, which owns Southern’s parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), announced last week that it had made a £57m rail profit last year, although GTR has suffered a loss in profits.

RMT is due to lead another two-day guards’ strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week as part of its ongoing opposition to proposals to expand driver-operated only (DOO) services on Southern.

The operator announced its new revised timetable for the strike today, which includes cancelling services on 12 routes and limiting services on five routes.

Alex Foulds, director of passenger services at Southern, said passengers were “dismayed” at the strike and that it would “accomplish nothing”.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “The guards action this week on Southern goes ahead as planned. RMT remains available for serious talks but GTR clearly have no interest in resolving the dispute and it is also clear that the Government are propping them up financially and politically.

“Just a fraction of the £100m the GTR parent company is hoarding in profits would be enough to keep a guard on the Southern trains, keep the trains safe and resolve the dispute. It is absolutely right to call for the Government to intervene and to hold those responsible for this continuing shambles to account.”

The crowdfunder has already raised £2,175 against a target of £10,000, or £25,000 maximum. The Association said it is currently applying for registered charity status so that it can Gift Aid supporters’ donations. It is also seeking stories of conditions faced by passengers on Southern in order to support its case.

James MacColl, head of campaigns at Campaign for Better Transport, which supports the case, said: “Passengers are coming together to hold the government to account for its failure to get a grip on its failing franchise.

“The recent announcement of a £20m fund and a project board to consider how to improve Southern services was welcome, though long overdue, but will not solve all the problems. We want to see a similar fund for passengers to compensate them for the disruptions they have suffered so far, and season ticket fares must be frozen so commuters won’t be charged yet more for a beleaguered service.”

For full information about the disruptions during the strike, click here.

(Image c. Lauren Hurley from PA Wire and Press Association Images)

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Gabriel Oaks   06/09/2016 at 12:19

I've given up trying to use Southern and now drive to a neighbouring operator if my journey cannot be completed by car. Both DfT and Southern appear to be modernising the railway and trying to drive down costs; DOO being a long established safe system of operation. With ongoing unusually high staff sickness amongst guards and guards going on strike the move to DOO cannot come soon enough. .

Martin T   06/09/2016 at 13:50

I'm not saying that people affected in the past shouldn't get compensation. However, I'm convinced that the service will get better for Southern passengers without any legal intervention. A major milestone in rebuilding London Bridge station has just been completed - far better than before. GTR has started rolling out the on-board supervisor role and should be completed by the end of the year. Worst case scenario is that staff walk away when contracts are imposed but as the guard/conductor role is very well paid for a job not needing a university education (£10k+ higher than national average salary) I can't see many of them doing that.

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