COMMENT: Good internal rail links and those to London and beyond are vital to Sussex.
Trains service are never perfect but those run by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), responsible operating Southern, Thameslink, and the Gatwick Express, have drifted from poor in 2015, to a position in 2016 where passengers can have no certainty in their reliability, turning up to stations to see their commutes or recreation plans wrecked on a daily basis.
Problems were even raised during Prime Minister’s Questions by Horsham MP Jeremy Quin where David Cameron said that Southern’s performance was ‘unacceptable’.
The current situation cannot continue.
Fingers have been pointed at union bosses for so called ‘unofficial industrial action’.
GTR and the RMT have been locked in a bitter row over the future role of conductors over the past few months with three days of industrial action held already.
Rail bosses have argued that delays are in part due to high levels of staff sickness and conductors not agreeing to work rest days, but the union has blamed mismanagement of staff rosters and insufficient recruitment.
Last week it was suggested the row was about ‘who gets to press a button’, but we believe this is an oversimplification.
If the safety aspect of the conductors’ role is eliminated and drivers are responsible for operating the doors, it is not a stretch to suggest further down the line these jobs could be cut or scrapped completely at the next round of cost-cutting measures.
Arguments can be made either side and it is a judgement on whether the changes are a good or bad thing. What is clear is that the current crisis is entirely of GTR’s own making.
In this paper’s view the timing of the changes to the conductor role was a spectacular misjudgment, when due to a number of factors GTR’s performance was nowhere near where it should have been.
Even before the dispute started Southern’s passenger satisfaction was the lowest in almost every category in a survey carried out by Transport Focus.
The relationship between frontline staff and upper management has been described as ‘poisonous’ and it is difficult to see how it could be repaired.
Since the general election last year MPs from across Sussex have held countless meetings with Government ministers and bosses at both GTR and Network Rail.
Statements promising immediate action have been issued.
Passengers have not seen any tangible difference. That is why this we are launching our Get Trains Running (again) GTR campaign, as the only option for drastic improvement seems to be stripping GTR of the Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express franchises.
The Government would run services directly as it did with East Coast services until 2015 through its Directly Operated Railways holding company until a bidding process on a new contract that works better for passengers. If you want to support our campaign or share your experience send us a letter by post or email the newsdesk.
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