Passengers must have a say if Southern is renationalised, say campaigners

'It's not a surprise,' said the co-founder of a campaigning commuter group to the news that Govia Thameslink (GTR) may be stripped of the Southern franchise.

Southern Rail demo by passengers at Brighton Station SUS-160809-142849001
Southern Rail demo by passengers at Brighton Station SUS-160809-142849001

Emily Yates, from the Brighton-based Association of British Commuters, was responding to an article in rail publication Rail Business Intelligence (RBI) that civil servants at the Department for Transport are drawing up ‘options’ for the beleaguered franchise.

These options are said to include a ‘managed exit’ where the government would take direct control of the entire Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise run by GTR, until a new contract could be let.

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Ms Yates said: “The failure of Govia and Southern Rail is so colossal that it would be surprising if they were not doing this kind of thing. The question now is how can they put the pieces back together? This period has done a lot of damage to communities across the south.

“They need to start thinking about all the people whose lives have been affected, and about getting a usable rail service again. It is a big job.”

She added that however the service is taken forward, passengers must have a say.

“This has affected so many people now, that they cannot continue to exclude passengers,” Ms Yates said.

The report by RBI that has hit national headlines claims the government could be preparing to bring Southern Rail back into public hands.

The Department for Transport has said it has ‘no plans’ to strip rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) of the franchise, and that the reports were just ‘speculation’.

But RBI claimed that the rail operator is in default of its contract with the government, and that civil servants are drawing up options on the way forward. It claims that this option has been worked up to the point where it has its own codename and a potential interim managing director has been identified.

Cllr Warren Morgan, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “Brighton and Hove needs a service it can rely on. I don’t believe that Southern is up to the job and I’m not alone. They are the bottom of the passenger satisfaction ratings published by Transport Focus this week.

“Now it seems even the government agree.”

Passengers using Southern services have been subjected to almost a year of misery due to a combination of staff shortages, industrial action, mismanagement, Network Rail track issues and upgrades, and operational incidents.

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “Reports suggesting that GTR will be stripped of the franchise are extremely welcome. As I’ve been saying throughout this debacle the company is not fit to run this line – and it should be in public hands.

“The profound impacts of rail disruption - on personal well-being, on family life, on the ability of Brighton’s businesses and services to function – illustrate just how crucial rail services are to society and should have made it glaringly obvious to ministers that our rail services should be in public hands.

“Countless constituents have told me about the dire journeys they’ve had and the heartbreaking choices they’ve made. Some have moved home so they don’t rely on Southern for a work commute. Others have given up London jobs that they’ve worked hard to achieve in order to be able to spend any time with their families. For many people there’s been no element of choice and they’ve lost jobs and contracts due to an unreliability that’s no fault of their own.

“The stories that constituents have shared with me have been invaluable as I’ve been able to refer time and again to real lives affected by the rail crisis. I hope that the government will now deliver a service with these real lives and passenger experience in mind, rather than one driven by returns to GTR’s shareholders.”