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Grayling reveals £20m support fund to boost struggling Southern services

A package of interventions designed to turn around the struggling Southern franchise have been unveiled by the DfT.

Southern has suffered months of disruption that have led to its PPM rating falling below any other company and forced it to cancel 341 services, although it has now promised that they will be restored soon.

The department has now announced that it will give Southern £20m in funding. This will include £2m for rapid response teams to fix network faults, £2.5m on accelerating train maintenance, £0.8m on recruiting extra signal supervisors and £0.9m on minimising the impact of bridge strikes.

In addition, Chris Gibb, formerly chief operating officer of Virgin Rail Group, will head a project board to oversee the fund and explore how to bring about a rapid improvement in Southern services.

The board, which is due to present its plan in the autumn, will include a passenger representative, as well as representatives from Southern, the DfT and Network Rail.

Chris Grayling, the new transport secretary, said: “I want the Southern network to be run by a team of people who work together to make sure passengers get decent journeys and that problems are dealt with quickly. This review will suggest how we achieve a joined-up approach to running the train and tracks and make things work better for the public.

“We also need to get to grips with things that go wrong on this part of the network. That is why we are putting in place a £20m scheme to tackle the cause of breakdowns that too often cause frustrating and damaging delays on the network.

“I now urge the industry, the train operating company and unions to work together to improve services for passengers.”

Prior to the funding announcement, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has said that Transport for London should take over the Southern franchise in order to improve services.

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Charles Horton, CEO of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Southern’s parent company, said he welcomed the benefits the £20m improvement package will bring for passengers, “tackling some of the key infrastructure challenges on the network”.

“Network Rail and Southern will continue to work closely together to ensure this investment delivers real, tangible benefits for our passengers and the new project board will ensure the programme is effectively delivered,” he added. "This investment complements our existing programme of improvements which is bringing in new trains and changing working practices to improve customer service.”

Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Select Committee, added that it is good news the government is “taking some action to tackle the crisis at Southern railway”.

“The passengers who use this line day in, day out are entitled to feel angry – the situation has been unacceptable for over a year now,” she said, adding that the committee will continue to monitor the situation to see if the new measures cause “any real change”.

Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, also called the intervention “welcome if delayed”.

She called for a range of further measures, such as a separate passenger compensation fund, a freeze on season ticket fares and a passenger assembly where passengers could raise questions with the government, Southern managers and union officials.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “This stinks of another multi-million pound taxpayer subsidy to bail out the failing Southern rail part of the Govia Thameslink franchise. If there’s money to prop up this private outfit why isn’t there cash available to make sure that the guards and safety are protected on their trains?”

RMT is due to lead another two-day strike on Southern next week as part of its ongoing opposition to plans to expand driver-operated only services, which it says threaten passenger safety.

Cash added that RMT has been “forced” to call the strike by Southern’s “penny-pinching, profiteering and intransigence”.

Summer Dean from the Association of British Commuters said it was important that the passenger representative on the new project board is “genuinely representative of passengers” and “not just tokenistic.”

“The question for us is, will this board take responsibility and sort out a restoration of the full service and trains running reliably to time, or will just add another layer of bureaucracy?” she added. “We just want an end to the blame-shifting."

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

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Manchester Mike   01/09/2016 at 15:07

I thought privatisation of the rail network was supposed to ensure the best possible rail companies and management...? 20 years later the government is still dicking around trying to make the flawed model work.

Huguenot   02/09/2016 at 11:10

This is throwing good money after bad. What's the £20M going to be used for? Go-Ahead could fund it themselves anyway, given their recently-announced increased profits. If the same militant employees are used, however, it doesn't matter who runs the service, private or public. Perhaps we should follow what the USA did with their militant air traffic controllers and sack the lot, then take them back only on new terms. Short-term pain for long-term gain.

Brian Armitage   02/09/2016 at 12:22

Why couldn't Southern spend some of their £100m profit instead?

Manek Dubash   02/09/2016 at 13:38

Astonished - no, amazed - that the government is handing over £20m to a private company to fulfil a contract which it has clearly failed to do, just as that company announces a massive leap in profits to £100m! Cloud-cuckoo land?

Kev Smith   02/09/2016 at 14:31

throwing money at the problem wont solve it, the south central can be and was one of the best performers,to get the best out of your people you need to treat them as people, not fiscal assets you can mess around. the central has stripped away and made a joke of its biggest cash cow the Gatwick express, its now an anybody service, not a dedicated rail-air link. thats why it made worked as an inter city service. it also looked completely different from the rest of the trains - something exclusive. 442s could be happily kept on GATEX as long as it was a pure gatwick only job, throw a guard and buffet trolley on it..punters want that. reconfigure seating to make it relaxing for the air will make the money back in months ! its a bit stale to the taxpayer also that the day after this bale out GOVIA announce their profits... but hey what do i know...??

Simon   02/09/2016 at 14:44

Kev, the 442s were never designed for airport traffic to Gatwick, single doors at either end of each vehicle, narrow door ways and trains which to be honest carry fresh air bar anyone really wanting to get the airport quickly and pay a premium fare...

Jerry Alderson   02/09/2016 at 14:50

Brian Armitage wrote "Why couldn't Southern spend some of their £100m profit instead?" I'm not defending Sourthern or one of their parents (Go Ahead Group) but many people just read the headlines and not the detail, and it is worth providing some insight as well. Go Ahead Group made £100m profit. They are a BUS and rail company. Their bus division has had a good year. As well as GTR (which they are 65% owners) they run London Midland and Souteastern. Southern has made little (if any) of that profit. However, I agree that Go Ahead Group and Keolis (which owns 35% of GTR) can afford to invest in GTR and Southern in particular. Anyone who knows anything about business will also know that a lot of the profit is needed to sustain the business long term. Renewals (e.g. new buses to replace old ones) and expansion (e.g. new buses for new routes) are funded from profits. Only a proportion of profit can leave the business in the form of dividends to shareholders.

Manek Dubash   03/09/2016 at 09:11

As far as the rail business is concerned, there's no need for capital investment in rolling stock, as it's all leased. GTR could afford to spend £20m on improvements - but where's the PR value in that?

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