Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for the Southern franchise to be stripped from its current operator Govia Thameslink Railway.
Last week this paper launched a campaign for the Government to step in and take services off GTR, which also runs Thameslink and Gatwick Express trains, after passengers have suffered months of misery due to staff shortages.
The rail operator has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with union RMT over the future role of conductors on services, with both sides blaming each other for an adequate number of train crews.
Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Mr Khan said: “We should be stripping this private company of this franchise, talk to us we’re willing to take over the suburban trains, we are willing to ensure Londoners and other commuters get a decent service.
“It can’t be right that the Government and ministers have their head in the sand, it can’t be right that ministers aren’t even willing to criticise the Southern service.
“I am, it’s unacceptable.”
Rail bosses apologised to passengers when they appeared before the House of Commons Transport Select Committee last Monday, a week after Transport Focus’ latest survey showed Southern rock bottom in satisfaction in most categories.
Meanwhile on Monday (July 11) it brought in a temporary weekday timetable, cancelling 341 services a day, until the staff problems are resolved.
This move has infuriated passengers, especially those in Seaford and Newhaven, which are now virtually cut off, with buses operating between the towns and Lewes instead for most of the day.
Late on Monday a spokesman for Southern said: “Some 82 per cent of Southern services are running to time against the temporary weekday revised timetable introduced today to reduce the impact on passengers and staff of unpredictable and late notice cancellations.
“The changes we made today have, so far, delivered an encouraging start to what we wanted to give our passengers: a more robust timetable with more trains running to schedule at times when people need them the most.
“But while we cautiously welcome this news, it is early days and we also realise that what our passengers really want is for us to get back to our normal timetable as quickly as possible.”
The Government has already dismissed the possibility of taking the franchise off GTR.
Responding to petition signed by more than 13,000 people, the Department for Transport said that GTR were ‘delivering plans to reverse decades of under-investment on the rail network’ and removing the franchise ‘will not address the challenges on this part of the network’.
The statement added: “I’ve been clear that the current situation on Southern and Thameslink routes is unacceptable and that passengers deserve a far better service.
“However, the situation has been made far worse by union bosses, who are leading their members into a dispute that is in no way justified. During May and June, a significant proportion of the cancellations was caused by the unjustified industrial action on this route, and the operator has a contractual right not to be penalised for events like this that are outside of their control.
“It is disappointing that union bosses continue to overlook the impact they are having on passengers, and we urge the unions to work with the operator to resolve this issue as a matter of urgency.”
Last week Alex Foulds, passenger services director at Southern, admitted he did not ‘feel like I am part of a successful business at the moment’.
But he added: “I think any talk about change of the management would be a retrograde step. If a new team came in to run this contract they would still be faced with all the constraints that we need to resolve.”
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