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GTR warned against bidding for franchises ahead of rush hour protest

Warnings have been issued this morning that Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) should not bid for any new franchises until it improves its services, just as rail union RMT called the operator’s axing of almost 350 trains a day “a crisis measure designed to rig their appalling performance figures”.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, rail minister Claire Perry MP said it has been “quite clear” to her that companies “who cannot deliver a good service, particularly over the things they can control, should not be bidding for new franchises and we need to be absolutely clear about that”.

“We need to ask serious questions about their performance going forward,” she added.

Her remarks come as RMT – which has grappled with a long-running dispute with GTR’s Southern but recently offered to suspend strike threats for three months – said axing services was just a “fix of epic proportions” – since the “fewer trains you run, the fewer will be delayed and the better your headline performance statistics will look”.

The union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, added that the timetable squeeze would leave “remaining trains dangerously overcrowded”. He also criticised the national focus on unofficial unionised action and sickness “when the core problem is down to systemic mismanagement” and a “failure to recruit enough guards and drivers to fill rosters”.

Proposals to extend driver-operated only services on the Southern line is a key sticking point in the row with the union, and RMT only offered to lift its strike threat for three months if GTR suspended these plans for the same period.

But a Southern spokesperson said this morning that the issues with crew availability only emerged after RMT launched industrial action over plans to place train door duties on drivers instead of conductors.

It added that over 92% of services are running to time against the temporary revised timetable, which cut 341 trains from the usual schedule. The operator said this is “broadly similar to the number being cancelled ad hoc today but the bulk of the train service will be delivered when people need it most by targeting available traincrew to the busiest lines and times of day, and by minimising gaps between trains wherever possible”.

A spokesperson added: “We know the service level in the last couple of months has not been good enough and we apologise unreservedly. This new timetable allows us to target our resources where they are needed most and at the same time give passengers a more predictable service which they can plan their lives around.

“It is a temporary measure while we work with the RMT to end the dispute and bring their members back to work and, while it should be judged over a few days, the first few hours of operation are encouraging.”

Rail passengers are due to stage a rush-hour protest at the capital’s Victoria station today as a result of service cuts, staff shortages and strikes. According to national press, they are planning to withhold payment for train tickets.

Alex Prosser-Snelling, one of the organisers, said: “Southern mismanagement is needlessly wrecking passengers’ evenings, interfering with childcare, and stressing out the workforce. Southern needs to get a grip – and if they can't or won't, the government shouldn't let them run a railway.”

More than 12,000 people have also signed a petition calling for the franchise to be taken away from Southern, and Streatham MP and former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna recently tabled an early motion urging the government to strip GTR of its franchise before the renewal date.


Neil Palmer   11/07/2016 at 15:09

Claire Perry can try and deflect the blame all she wants, but if (as many suspect) the DfT is behind the DOO push then use the recent RSSB statement that "relying on a conductor to close the doors could be more hazardous because of possible 'miscommunication' with the driver" and introduce legislation (or updated safety rules) on safety grounds to require trains to have driver operated doors with CCTV monitoring by a certain deadline. This should be required immediately on all trains already equipped for driver operation of doors, and should be applicable to any new vehicles or modified vehicles so equipped. To concede that the RMT does some small part of their argument that is valid the rules should also specify there should be a second member of staff scheduled for all services ("train manager" or whatever you wish to call the position) to perform all the OTHER duties of a current guard, including passenger assistance & ticket sales, BUT allow for the service to continue operation without that second member in cases where they fail to show up for their shift, or are unable to complete their full scheduled shift (for whatever reason, including strike action), and no substitute can be found in time for the service to continue as scheduled.

David   11/07/2016 at 15:22

Govia Thameslink [company] wouldn't bid for other franchises anyway?

Huguenot   11/07/2016 at 21:47

I broadly agree with Neil but it would probably provoke a general strike. In all the fuss about Southern, don't let's forget the many cancellations on Thameslink (same franchisee) arising from the fact that weekend working by their drivers is 'voluntary', so they can't guarantee to run a Sunday timetable. Do airlines, the police, fire, ambulance and bus services allow weekend working to be voluntary?

Neil Palmer   12/07/2016 at 01:01

Huguenot, Isn't that another archaic 19th century practice forced on the TOC's by unions who refuse to accept that in the 21st century the world runs 7 days a week, and they repeatedly fight attempts to introduce a 7 day work schedule?

John Grant   12/07/2016 at 12:17

Has Claire Perry noticed that GTR seems to manage to run a reasonable service on GN? Which, incidentally, has been DOO for decades.

Neil Palmer   12/07/2016 at 17:59

John, The Thames must be some magical barrier that prevents RMT member's high sickness levels from travelling "up north".

Roger Capel   13/07/2016 at 09:29

So where does all this leave end-of-franchise London Midland? Govia, as current encumbents, are bidding to retain the West Midlands franchise. If they're barred, the DfT will find itself with a rather embarrasing remaining single bidder. Competition?

Voice Of Reason   13/07/2016 at 13:49

As a long suffering Southern Commuter I want and expect a reliable and SAFE service. All this name calling benefits nobody ! My understanding is that GTR does operate DOO 12 coach trains on services North of the Thames, however all the station platforms are long enough for 12 coach trains. However Southern is forcing 12 coach DOO trains on services where 12 coaches will not fit in the platform ! This means the Driver has quite a responsibility with no Error Margin ! Come on RMT and ASLEF lets hear your side on this complete franchise Chaos ? For Feck sake ALL concerned should be Forced around the negotiating table immediately !

Neil Palmer   13/07/2016 at 16:02

Voice Of Reason, Exactly - force the negotiators from RMT & GTR (and the DfT, as they seem to be behind this) into a room, lock the door and give them nothing but bread and water 3 times a day until they sort this out. Taking away the franchise from GTR will do nothing to sort this out, as you still have the DfT wanting DOO (a misnomer, as there will be a second member of staff on board - only change is the driver operates the doors to enable an increase in network capacity by reducing station dwell times) and you'll still have the same RMT members (or overpaid leadership not losing their pay during strike action - yes Mick Cash, this means you) wanting to preserve 19th century rules of railway operation in aspic. How about a written public statement from GTR/DfT (open letter in The Times maybe?) that their offer is: - no loss of jobs - no change of pay - a second staff member will be scheduled on all services - this "Guard/Conductor/Train President for Life" maintains all current duties and responsibilities EXCEPT for door operation in normal circumstances - if this person fails to report for their shift, or is unable to complete their shift, FOR ANY REASON, and a replacement isn't available in time to allow the service to run as scheduled, then the service WILL run without a second member of staff in those cases only (in preference to cancelling the service and inconveniencing the public). - the above rules will also apply to ScotRail, and anywhere else the RMT acts like unreasonable spoiled children who refuse to negotiate rules to modernise the railways that will have NO affect on their jobs or pay. It may sound a bit radical, but the public has had enough and something has to be done about these Luddites, SO if Mick Cash then rejects that publicly made offer then everyone knows who is to blame - and go ahead with legislation forbidding the RMT to strike on this issue. If they try to cause trouble just start running DOO services on all available trains, with management trained to fill in on those not yet equipped for DOO, and lock out the RMT members who refuse to work.

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