Frustrated Sussex commuters raise thousands to fight rail battle

Fed up commuters at Brighton station
Fed up commuters at Brighton station

Almost 1,000 frustrated Sussex commuters have collectively raised £18,690 to take on the government over Southern Rail.

The Association for British Commuters is hoping to raise £25,000 by October 4, to crowdfund a judicial review on the government’s ‘failure to hold Southern Rail to account’.

The rail franchise is run by Govia Thameslink (GTR), which has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with the RMT union over conductor roles.

The dispute has led to months of cancellations and disruption on services across the south east. There has been five walkouts this year totalling eight days, and the union is set to strike for a further 14 days: three-day strikes would start on Tuesday October 11, Tuesday October 18, Thursday November 3, Tuesday December 6, and a two-day walkout would start on Tuesday November 22.

But the commuter group said it is not just ‘a simple narrative of unions vs management’.

“We believe this depiction is vastly insufficient in analysing the real timescale and issues behind the crisis; and more worryingly still, the dangers behind a unique kind of ‘management contract’ that may see GTR acting at the behest of the government, while the DfT continue to avoid all transparency and accountability,” a statement from the group said.

With just a week to go to hit the fundraising target, the group’s lawyers - Rhodri Thompson QC of Matrix Chambers and Jamas Hodivala of 2 Bedford Row - have already written to the Department for Transport (Dft) requesting documents to confirm whether GTR is in breach of its franchise agreement.

The documents include a breach notice served on Govia on July 7 2015, and the disclosure of a complete copy of February’s remedial plan, by which it is possible to assess whether Govia has been compliant. So far the DfT has refused to release the documents.

Emily Yates, campaign co-ordinator for the Association of British Commuters, said: “We are very disappointed that the Department for Transport has failed to reveal documents that we feel the public urgently need to see, considering the catastrophic state of rail travel in the south. It is hard to understand why they cannot be transparent about their dealings with a private company that is failing on such an unprecedented scale.”

Summer Dean, campaign spokesperson for the Association of British Commuters, said: “If there’s nothing to hide, why not reveal these documents, which form the area of the whole Govia fiasco that most urgently needs clarifying.

“We cannot see any justification for the DfT continuing to conceal this vital information, and call on all our supporters to help us in taking our application for judicial review forward.”

The campaign has certainly caught the imagination of the 981 people who have put their hands in their pockets and donated their hard-earned cash to the campaign.

It also had the support of Brighton Pavilion’s Green MP Caroline Lucas.

She said: “I’m delighted to welcome this initiative from the Association of British Commuters as it gives rail users a key role in holding the Department for Transport to account for the chaos on our railways. It’s utterly disgraceful that the government has allowed the effective collapse of such vital infrastructure, with all the associated impacts on business, tourism and personal well-being.

“I believe that Southern’s parent company GTR is so clearly unfit for purpose that the contract should be taken off them immediately. I look forward to working alongside the Association of British Commuters and others towards establishing a rail service that’s run for people not profit.”

As the campaign moves closer to its £25,000 target, organisers have also planned the ’biggest commuter protest yet’ at London Victoria station, on Thursday (September 29), at 6pm.

To find out more, visit: : https://www.facebook.com/events/1796767813931259/

For more on the crowdfunding campaign, visit: https://www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/southernrail/