Man chairing board to improve Southern will be paid by rail operator

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The man tasked with turning around the performance of Southern services will be paid by the rail operator, the Government has confirmed.

Earlier this month ministers unveiled a £20m fund and a project board to explore how to achieve a ‘rapid improvement’ to services run by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

Chris Gibb, previously chief operating officer of Virgin Trains and now a non-executive director at Network Rail, will be heading up the new project board.

In a letter to MPs, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling explained that although Mr Gibb would report to him, he would be paid by Southern.

Mr Grayling is MP for Epsom and Ewell and his constituency is served by both Southern and South West Trains (SWT).

He explained that the big reason SWT is ‘much better run’ than Southern is because the routes are controlled by a joint team run by both the operator and Network Rail, which over sees both the trains and tracks.

He said: “If something goes wrong, they work together to sort it rather than blaming each other. This is the way I want the Southern network to be run going forward.”

He had looked carefully at how Southern services were working and thought that the relationship between GTR and Network Rail ‘is not working at all well and needs to change’.

GTR and the RMT union have been locked in a bitter dispute for months over proposed changes to the role of conductors to on-board supervisors, with drivers opening and closing train doors.

The union has raised safety concerns and has called five strikes already this year.

During the dispute staff shortages have led to months of misery for passengers with widespread delays and cancellations.

Plans for the £20m fund came a day before GTR’s parent company Go-Ahead announced nearly yearly profits of nearly £100m, but Mr Grayling pointed out that the money would be paid to Network Rail not to Southern.

His letter concluded: “My prime concern in all of this is the passengers. I know what a really difficult time many of your constituents have had because of these problems.

“There are many lessons to be learned, but my main priority is helping sort them out in the long term. I cannot promise that there will be no more strikes - but I will do everything I can to get to a point where there is a decent service on other days.

“I have not forgotten the issue of compensation for passengers. Paul Maynard [rail minister] and I have already indicated that we will lift the rail industry’s exemption from the Consumer Rights Act, to bring it in line with other businesses. I will set out more plans shortly.

“I am genuinely sorry that your constituents have faced so much disruption. I think we have made some progress, but I am well aware of how much more needs to be done. I hope the unions will lift their totally unnecessary industrial action to make it easier to get this railway back to normal.”

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