Southern Rail: The rights of passengers are more important…

For most people the new year brings the promise of a fresh start, a clean slate but customers of Southern will not enjoy the same optimism at the prospect of what 2017 will bring.

A month of strikes on the network began today, with the simply astonishing advice of not to travel. This shows how little the people sitting in the board room at GTR understand the needs of the thousands of people desperately relying on the understanding of their employers for their lateness or inability to make it into work. Some are even missing hospital appointments through no fault of their own, ones they have most likely waited months for.

What should be a time of festive cheer is clouded in misery and frustration; it leads you to question how much further things will decline before the Government act. That they are yet to when 2016 has been so tumultuous gives little hope for January and beyond, but the pressure is undoubtedly mounting.

Southern have shown repeatedly that they are unfit to run this franchise, that staff are at breaking point and that customers are too, yet the latter do not have the means to strike, they are at the mercy of whatever fallout comes next. That is why the Liberal Democrats and I have been calling for a focus on consumer rights in this dispute. I think all too often it is forgotten that passengers are customers, some paying thousands for a service that isn’t delivering. Financial compensation is just not enough. People do not want remuneration, they want to travel on a reliable service.

The rights of passengers are more important than the political point scoring by both the Government and the Trade Unions. The Government have been using Southern as a political shield in their battle with the unions for far too long, a battle that they thought they would win many months ago.

300,000 people attempt to travel with southern every weekday. That is a huge number of people to ignore. Banning workers from striking is yet another diversion tactic from Grayling and misses the point entirely. Putting a plaster over a symptom, whilst overlooking the cause.

* Jenny Randerson is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and is the party's front bench spokesperson on transport.

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51 Comments

  • Graham Evans 13th Dec '16 - 4:36pm

    Could someone please explain why the unions insist on guards operating Southern trains but not Thameslink trains even though they share the same line and are owned by the same company. Similarly London Overground shares the line as far as Clapham Junction but without the sort of guard which the union insists should be used by Southern.

  • and the London underground that carries even more people.

  • Duncan Brack 13th Dec '16 - 4:58pm

    To answer Graham Evans: because Southern uses older trains fitted with older – and worse – camera technology. See here (https://medium.com/@xciv/southern-rail-transport-secretary-misleads-passengers-1371dd775ab0#.mwv4jfunn) for a full explanation.

    As someone who used to use Southern (fortunately I have the option of the Tube instead), I agree with everything Jenny says, but why doesn’t she call for GTR to be stripped of its franchises (including Southern and Thameslink)? They have a shocking record of delivery and disregard of their customers – and the strikes are a symptom of that, not a cause.

  • The latest You Gov Poll shows support for re-nationalising the railways to be 60% for, 20% oppose, 20% undecided. It’s almost certainly going to happen in Scotland.

    I’m with the 60%.

    The whole nonsense of different fares for different train which are not inter-changeable is a complete nonsense.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Dec '16 - 6:40pm

    @ David Raw,
    Careful. You will be labelled extreme left.

  • Thanks, Jayne. I plead guilty to being a member of the 60%.

    I’m what, in the 1960’s, would have been described as a mainstream radical Liberal – and after near on sixty years supporting the Liberals and successors it’s difficult for a leopard to change its spots. My problem is that – certainly post 2010 – the spotty bits have changed the leopard.

    I figure if the party adopted the line I suggest it would be more compelling than the Brexit debate.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Dec '16 - 9:13pm

    This is good, it’s important to bash all irresponsible behaviour, whether it’s by the government, businesses or trade unions. 🙂

  • David Raw

    I assume you were not a commuter when the railways were nationalized.
    Lousy service,endless delays,cancellations & strikes, sky high ticket prices and the staff / customer roles reversed.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Dec '16 - 10:36pm

    Jayne , you are not altogether , in tune with the variety of thought in our party, and nor is David.

    Today I say on the thread about the poverty wages of workers, for some of us Liberalism , in a real way , it is all about being for balance and against monopoly.

    On the state and monopolisitic and monolithic institutions , some , such as David herein mistake a criticism of them , for being a right wing form of Liberalism and not radical .

    To those like me who for what I see as radical and Liberal reasons , I dislike aspects of the BBC the NHS or the EU and would reform them to be far more flexible , transparent and person centred , it is the old ideas of a return to the 60’s that seems not radical.

    But many of us of the Nick and Tim generation , mistakenly and insultingly called “Thatchers children ” by left leaning Liberals or social democrats, are just as against the supposedly Thatcherite solutions as the statist ones , or are for whatever redresses the balance.

    Over some years and in more happy economic circumstances I would be happy to see the Railways and water , both natural monopolies , become state owned or at least majority owned and democratically accountable and heavily invested in to keep prices well down.

  • George Stephenson Jr 13th Dec '16 - 10:57pm

    The dispute isn’t primarily about who controls the doors, although that’s how it’s depicted. The root cause is that Southern proposes to replace the guards’ role with what they term a ‘customer host’, who would be more customer facing (e.g. checking tickets). They would no longer control the doors, and a train could run without a second person on board. This is quite sensible, but there are problems. Firstly, there’s some suspicion that the role itself could be lower-skilled, e.g. by not being able to sell a full range of tickets on board, and could therefore command a lower salary in future. Secondly, whilst Southern has said that there will be no loss of salary or compulsory job cuts, there’s no guarantee that this will continue in the future. Several years ago, the McNulty report (look it up) recommended that operating with one person on board should be the ‘default’ method of operation, so staff are understandably concerned about their futures. There appears also to have been some appalling industrial relations management and some frankly unhelpful comments from elsewhere (e.g.Peter Wilkinson).

    The great tragedy of this is that there’s a good case for having a discussion about what we as a society, and the industry, wants from the second person on the train, and how this can best be achieved. It’s actually quite a complicated situation, and there’s unlikely to be one solution that will satisfy everyone. However, in the current toxic climate, that seems impossible.

    Terminating the franchise probably wouldn’t help. The senior management team would probably change to some extent, but the same staff would still mainly do the same job. There are a number of other deep-seated unrelated problems which wouldn’t be affected by such a change. So other than populism, this isn’t a credible position.

    Nationalisation, similarly would probably have little effect on this problem. However, as I’ve suggested before, there is a compelling case for a review of the current structure of the industry to see if it is working and whether the disadvantages outweigh the benefits (if any). Whilst I have some sympathy for renationalisation, I’d prefer this to be based on evidence rather than a knee-jerk response. This would be real asset to the party, I believe, and be far better than the often-sterile arguments sometimes advanced by both sides.

  • Lorenzo, there is another alternative to state/private:
    ‘Welsh Water is owned by Glas Cymru a single purpose company with no shareholders and is run solely for the benefit of customers.’

  • Debating whether or not there need to be guards slightly misses the point that Southern runs a terrible service even when there is not a strike and has done for ages. Nor is this an isolated case, as the temporary re-nationalisation of the East Coast mainline illustrated.

    God knows I’m not a fan of nationalisation but serious consideration should be given to adopting a policy of re-nationalisation of the railways. Given the huge current level of public subsidy it ought to be possible to do it in a budget-neutral way. The current set-up is the result of an act of doctrinaire vandalism by the Major government.

  • Talking of “radical Liberal” takes on this event, I see people have overlooked the obvious: reduction in our dependency on travel. The only reason people commute en-masse by train is because of what the railways enabled 100+ years back by taking actions deliberately intended to generate passengers and thus revenues.

    Given the need to move to a more sustainable and low carbon/low energy society, the advice not to travel becomes an opportunity to gain insights into just how deeply our society has become dependent upon mass transportation and how difficult it will be to change.

  • Some people have selective memories of BR and are busy regurgitating the Tory myths about it. Given that it was deliberately starved of funds by both Lsb and Tory governments it was one of the most efficient railways in the world with unified services, a common ticketing system and a world class safety record with none of the Buck passing that goes with today’s omnishambles. If it had had the level of subsidy that now goes into shareholders pockets it would have been the envy of all. I’m with the 60% too. Bring back BR

  • Hello. I am a train driver, who has previously worked on depots and as a guard, and has worked both trains with and without a guard, and I would like to explain why we drivers are against driver only operation.

    DOO is a serious risk. If there is a crash and I am killed or injured physically or indeed mentally in a state and cannot do anything, there is no one to protect the line (you hope the signal box will notice), or reassure, protect and evacuate passengers. Railways are dangerous places, with 125mph trains bombing along lines, electrification which is 650 – 750 volts DC, 25,000 volts AC, points that if stepped on will rip your foot off, and other very complicated and potentially dangerous structures. Not only will passengers be frightened and confused, but trespass on railways is a criminal offence for good reason, because they are dangerous, and without a suitably qualified person there, passengers can put themselves in more danger than they are already in. The emergency services will be reluctant to enter the railway, unless it can be confirmed that power is switched off, and the line is closed to trains – if the driver is not in a state to do this, with no guard available to do this, they will either have to wait until a Network Rail official can do it – either by phone or in person or the British Transport Police can attend.

    The press like to go-on about “who presses a button”, but this is a complete nonsense. The real issue relating to doors is train dispatch – i.e. ensuring passengers are safely on board and stood clear from the train before it moves. The process of dispatch with a guard involves monitoring the station platform for passenger activity, ensuring that the doors are free from obstructions, that no one is stood near the train, ensuring that where provided, the starting signal is safe for the train to move. The guard then either presses the door close button himself, or depending on rolling stock signals the driver to close the doors.

    Once the doors are closed, the guard will do a final check of the platform and signal, before closing his own door, and signalling to the driver for the train to move. The railway rule book states that the guard must remain at the door panel and observe the train moving out of the platform, so he can give the driver the signal to stop, or make an emergency brake application, should there be any activity on the platform subsequently which could endanger life or limb.

  • If I follow the author correctly, removing Southern from the franchise would sort out the situation. While Southern clearly had many deep seated problems before this I don’t think it is as simple as that. The author says that banning strikes is a distraction, but doesn’t explain why.

    As liberals, we want to prevent concentrations of power and special interests abusing their power to enrich themselves at the expense of the population. I’d say train employees and their unions are in an extremely powerful position and use it to protect their jobs and to be paid more than would otherwise have been the market rate (for reference, see tube driver salaries). The damage their strikes cause is immense. Happy to be persuaded otherwise but I’d say there is a strong liberal argument for banning strikes on vital transport infrastructure by law to prevent this abuse by a special interest group. I certainly support the right to strike for most employees elsewhere, but their actions usually only affect private shareholders, and not wider society in the shape of 300,000 passengers plus their families and own employers.

    With regard to safety, why can’t an independent statutory body be set up to pronounce on safety related issues that staff and company then have to follow, rather than leave the safety debate to two groups (staff, company) who are completely conflicted?

    I’m not yet convinced that TFL ownership/nationislation would fix the specific problem of the abuse of power by train staff and their unions. (of course i accept many issues with abuse of power by corporations etc and these also need to be fixed)

  • I’m swinging back to thinking renationalisation of the railways is required. At the very least, we need to rethink the franchises, with options for publicly owned bids.

    I do remember how rubbish it was before, and there have been advantages of privatisation in terms of investment of capital and ideas, but there can never be true competition on the railways, and so the customer has no choice but to use a terrible service. The result is that the service must be heavily regulated, with more substantial penalties for failure to provide services.

    The attention required to the allocation of franchises has been insufficient, and when it goes wrong, the public have to put up with it, or the public sector has to take the franchise over mid-term, as happened with the East Coast line, which ran very successfully back in the public sector.

  • Alex Macfie 14th Dec '16 - 8:45am

    David Raw: Most train tickets are inter-available on all operators on routes appropriate to the journey. Operator-specific tickets are the exception, not the rule. Usually you have to specifically ask for one if that is what you want. Retention of a national ticketing structure with through ticketing across all operators is something that the Major government was forced to do when it pushed rail privatisation through. Originally they wanted to have completely separate competing operators with no inter-availability. Ironically, this is how it works in some other European countries where there are private operators alongside the national rail operator (notably Italy, and also the Brussels-Aachen-Cologne line, where Thalys and DB trains have separate non-interavailable tickets).

  • Richard Easter 14th Dec '16 - 8:57am

    Renationalise the main network (and a nationalised freight provider) but allow the open access private operators, and private freight to continue as these are not really a problem.

    As for guards, keep them and use the Scotrail solution of driver opens the doors and the guard closes them and monitors the platform as the train pulls out. It does not benefit the passenger in the slightest to remove them, and fares will not go down.

    It’s clear the drivers do not want the added responsibility (and associated legal risks) with monitoring platforms or dealing with people on board, and I for one don’t blame them. And it is interesting that in Private Eye, the RSSB report into DOO has been picked apart, and they admit that it does introduce additional safety risks.

    https://abcommuters.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/rssb-report-leaked-for-private-eye-expose-now-we-invite-you-to-pick-it-apart/

    Grayling has form for supporting ridiculous ideological privatisations (the probation service) and positions, and appears to be also against the FOI Act in his statements. He has consistently appeared to be incompetent and also nasty and vindictive (even Gove had to undo a lot of his work). I have to say that I back the RMT and ASLEF over Grayling, and even the Tory MP for Lewes, Maria Caulfield has stated that the unions have been more open to debate and discussion than the DFT or Southern.

    Grayling appears to want his miner’s strike moment, just as Blair and Cameron wanted their Churchill moment…

  • Jenny Barnes 14th Dec '16 - 9:08am

    Surely it’s worth handing over whatever TFL want of Southern Rail as a start off. Then remove the franchise from Govia, split it into 4 – Gatwick Express, Thameslink, Kent, and the rest, and retender it. Maybe one or two of the franchisees would have a clue. Grayling is a Tory. enough said.

  • Graham Evans 14th Dec '16 - 9:15am

    @ Mick Taylor After 1945 much of the continental rail system lay in ruins and governments had no alternative but to devote resources to rebuilding, and in doing so, modernising the railways. In contrast the UK rail system remained relatively intact and British governments in the late 1940s and early 1950s had higher priorities. It is therefore misleading to suggest that Labour and Tory governments deliberately starved the railways of investment. Life is more complicated than that. And as for the claim that the UK ‘s nationalised railways was once one of the “most efficient railways in the world”, you clearly had never travelled on the German or Swiss railway systems which were streaks ahead of the UK.
    @ Duncan Brack I’m afraid I don’t find your argument persuasive. Apparently the body responsible for rail safety considers the proposed mode of operation of the Southern trains as acceptable, so why should we not accept their judgement – or are you of the Michael Gove school of thought that we should ignore the experts? Indeed I find this article http://www.londonreconnections.com/2016/last-stand-old-guard/ presents a much more objective explanation as to why we are where we are.

  • Duncan Brack 14th Dec '16 - 9:30am

    I am in favour of listening it experts – people occasionally call me one! (though not on rail safety, I admit) – but I think in this case the ‘experts’ should include the people who operate the system. I found Steve’s comments quite persuasive. However, the strike is a sideshow – as others have commented, it is GTR’s consistently dreadful management of the franchises it operates (including Thameslink, with DOO trains but just as poor a service record as Southern) that should be the issue. Other companies both with and without DOO trains have much better records. If you privatise a system of natural near-monopolies (like train services), you have to have some means of removing operators who aren’t delivering, as in most cases the customers can’t choose a different service.

  • It appears my follow up posts have not been published – perhaps they were too spammy. If so I apologise. But to continue briefly from my previous one.

    This allows the driver to concentrate on the signalling and line ahead (which may be filled with other moving hazards such as track workers or people on foot / farm crossings), rather than worry about the behaviour of passengers on the platform, which can and do serve as a distraction. Indeed drivers have gone through red signals due to worrying about dispatch issues, rather than the line ahead.

    Naturally drivers do not wish to subject themselves to unemployment, litigation or criminal proceedings if an individual is injured or killed during this process, regardless of their behaviour or authority to be on railway property. Further more CCTV and mirrors on platforms do not provide the same quality of vision, or indeed field of vision, as a human being stood out on the platform. If a driver has to deal with people leaning against or kicking the train at the far end of the platform, possibly almost a ¼ of a kilometre away from his cab, they are definitely not in a good position to deal with these individuals. A guard can position themselves in an appropriate place to monitor or warn people to stand clear, without having to disrupt the service. A guard has direct communication with those on the platform and can view platform entrances and exits, and also hear what passengers doing too. They can also ascertain if that stumbling individual has had one too many, is a violent criminal, a vulnerable minor, someone with physical or mental disabilities and so forth. We cannot.

  • If I have been involved in a fatality or someone has thrown a brick at my cab, I am in no fit state to start managing customers on the train. There have been cases where drivers have been physically injured – sometimes severely from brick chuckers or debris entering the cab, or even been electrocuted. The guard can deal with the public and / or act as support for the driver in these situations.

    If there is a passenger collapsed or a fight or whatnot on board there is nothing we can do, bar contact the signaller for the emergency services, if safe to do so – and if we know. There are locations where if a communication cord is pulled in DOO land, the driver must call the police before leaving the cab, as assaults and attacks on lone drivers are very common indeed.

    Customer service with just a driver on board is non existent. When things go wrong we are often driving on yellow signals or even from red signal to red signal. You cannot use the PA when on restrictive aspects, and attempting to find out what is going on using mobile phones or any electronic equipment will lead to dismissal, no phones or laptops or anything switched on in the cab whilst the train is in motion, and rightly so, it is a massive distraction. Therefore when there are major problems and good clear information is needed, the driver is often unable to give it, let alone find out what it is caused by. A guard can merely ring the control centre and walk through the train, informing people in person and making appropriate judgement calls to see who needs personal help and who is happy with just a quick overview of what is going on.

  • DOO trains are also rampant with crime and anti social behaviour. First class / quite coaches are always abused, blatant smoking of both cigarettes and illegal drugs, criminal damage to the train and so forth. A guard can deal with these miscreants, either as a visual deterrent, or ejecting them from the train, and if the situation is too dangerous, they can still move passengers out of the way and get the police far more quickly, as well as act as a witness. As a driver we can do very little at all, and have no clue what we are ferrying around. I know sadly that serious assaults and rapes have happened on our trains and we have no idea it is going on. Ditto with all this fuss over terrorism. If it is such a hot potato why are trains running around with no one monitoring what is going on. I have when in the past turned up for duty to be met by the police when I have started, who want to ask about an incident on my DOO train. I have told them I have zero knowledge. And yet I could have to single handedly evacuate and deal with the sort of people behaving in this manner in a potential disaster.

    I do not agree with striking unneccessarily – it screws over the passengers we serve. DOO has not yet hit where I am now, but I suspect it is a matter of time. I would not vote to strike over pay that is for sure, but I will strike over DOO, as I believe it puts the most vulnerable people at risk, is less safe, and does not benefit the overcharged and overstressed passenger in the slightest.

    I hope my comments have been of some use.

  • Very informative, thank you Steve.
    And as a frequent rail passenger, your points about passenger safety/anti-social behaviour really resonate.

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th Dec '16 - 10:28am

    @ Steve,
    Many thanks for giving reasons why a guard is necessary on a train.

    Quite frankly, I would like to see stronger trade unions with larger memberships. The problem for a large section of the work-force in this country is low wages, poor terms and conditions and job insecurity.

  • Steve, your posts have been very helpful. It shows how the issue is much, much more than just how doors are operated, and those of us who choose to rely on so called experts, have to realise that the expertise is usually restricted to the theoretical and often in a very restricted part of the overall picture.

    Liberals who believe in diversity should always prefer to get information from multiple sources, compare and contrast, analyse and seek clarification before making a judgement. To me that is evidence based decision making at its best, not just being told what to do by one person or interest group, however expert that person or group may claim to be.

  • Steve,

    How do you explain that many trains,not to mention the London Underground manage without guards?

    And secondly why don’t you leave passenger safety concerns to the people that are responsible for them ?

  • @ Steve, Thanks for telling it as it is. You put in real life terms what so many of the privateers on here have no knowledge of.

    @ Mick Taylor Good to hear a bit of West Yorkshire radical common sense from a fellow member of the 60%.

    Two short comments and some references to read at leisure.

    1. @ john …… I did commute in the 1960’s on British Railways Southern Region (as was). My daughter now does the same for a £ 2,500 season ticket and never gets a seat.

    2. Most of the Railway Companies are already state owned – in Belgium, Holland, France & Germany, others by non-dom Billionaires. British profits subside state owned European outfits – or go to the Virgin Isles. We have the most expensive tickets in Europe and manage to shovel tax payers money into Europe.

    Finally,…a bit of background reading to Google ;

    The Four Big Myths of UK Rail Privatisation – Action For Rail
    actionforrail.org/the-four-big-myths-of-uk-rail-privatisation/

    Why the railways should be in public ownership | We Own It
    https://weownit.org.uk/evidence/why-railways-should-be-public-ownership

    [PDF]Costs and revenues of franchised passenger train operators in the UK …
    orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/4933/toc-benchmarking-report-2012.pdf
    Office of Rail Regulation | November 2012 | Costs and Revenues of UK Passenger
    Britain’s Privatised Rail Network Makes Millions For Foreign State …

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/…/foreign-state-owned-railway-british-train-companies-re...
    18 Aug 2015 – Here are the top-performing foreign state-owned franchises on … But rail operators say that they’re profits help keep Brits moving on the railway …

    [PDF]THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY: Rail Privatisation and After – TUC
    https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/…/The_Great_Train_Robbery_7June2013.pdf
    by A Bowman – ‎Cited by 11 – ‎Related articles

  • John
    “How do you explain that many trains,not to mention the London Underground manage without guards?”

    The majority of dispatch issues dealt with by the RAIB involve DOO trains where the driver dispatches. Driver assaults are commonplace, and there have been incidents such as Kentish Town where drivers have been unable to deal with both operational issues and customers because the workload is too much, leading to passengers taking action into their own hands and risking their lives on the track. The London Underground has had dispatch issues where people have been dragged in doors so the dispatch issues are still there, aside from the rest of the duties a guard will perform. When DOO came in there was not the same litigation culture, the trains were shorter and stations less busy, and like anything many of the problems were theoretical. Now we are living with the reality of it, and the issues it causes.

    “And secondly why don’t you leave passenger safety concerns to the people that are responsible for them ?”

    Because if you assume that by the people who are responsible for them are those in the offices and government, they won’t be the ones either in the dock, being assaulted or making mistakes due to struggling with the workload. And the RSSB themselves have stated in their own reports that DOO introduces more safety risks, despite being pro it.

    By that logic no staff should have any opinion on their workplaces, and should blindly accept anything thrown at them, even if it makes their jobs more difficult / stressful, puts them at greater risks of legal liablity, and physical abuse / assault. I am not sure why I should accept decisions blindly made at board level, when it is the likes of me and my colleagues who have to mop up the aftermath of them, or answer to the officials in inquiries when someone is hurt or worse.

    If we blindly accept Grayling, the Tory instructed DFT, McNulty and corporate backed groups such as the RSSB are correct and the workforce is wrong – be it in this issue or in any others – then is there any point to the Liberal Democrats or any other party for that matter? Surely those at the top are right then about the Snoopers Charter or any other positions that this and other parties oppose.

  • I commuted by train for over 15 years in Lancashire/west Yorks under BR and the trains kept running in all weathers. My then wife got back from Wakefield to Todmorden by train after a serious snow storm closed the M62. No nonsense about wrong kind of snow or ice on the points. BR was very efficient given its lack of cash. It was forced to be. Had it had the finances of German or Swiss rail it would have thrived even better. We need a passenger focussed, safety first railway not mythical competition racing to the bottom. A single nationalised railway is the answer, not the current apology for a rail system where shareholder profit trumps everything else.

  • Richard Warren 14th Dec '16 - 12:22pm

    Instead of arguing between nationalisation and privatisation, oughtn’t we as liberals be arguing in favour of mutualisation? If Southern Rail and other monopolistic utilities were owned by their customers (and possibly their workers too), then surely the customer’s interests would not be forgotten as they have been here.

    I don’t know anything about Glas Cymru, but even if that isn’t a co-operative/mutual it’s a step in the right direction from what CassieB describes.

  • Matt (Bristol) 14th Dec '16 - 12:34pm

    Steve’s comments on here and profoundly helpful and explain why the unions have been able to put together a consensus behind the strikes.

    However, I am getting incredibly frustrated that the strokes have allowed the government and media to claim that all the disruptions on Southern Rail have been caused by the strikes — when this is not the case.

    As David Boyle has express several times on his blog, the company’s overtime ban and hiring strategy was a key part of the original disruptions – the government’s invented ‘sicknote strike’ was a smear.

    At the back of all this is the franchise the government wrote. There was a policy to use Southern Rail to drive through a new model of tighter control to impose less union and staff resistance. This is why Duncan Brack’s point – though valid – is somewhat tilting at the wrong target, as the government is not going to strip the franchise from a company that is working to instructions, and the government or DfT gaining greater control over Southern is only going to hand control back to the authors of the crisis.

    Retaining the railways in public hands is key.

    Retaining the railways in the management of the current group of civil servants is daft.

    Beyond London, removal of the current franchise system, accompanied by devolution of and empowerment of local management, longterm funding settlements (admittedly difficult in the post-Brexit world) and a form of mutualisation where the workers and the management collaborate together and share in profits is the longterm solution, not the endless artificial national-versus private argument which does not described the current situation (which is a part-privatised arrangement).

    However, within London, this party should calls for TfL to take over suburban railways, including some of the railways within the current Govia empire.

    Long-term, the very real risk is, as with the Oxford-Cambridge route, the Tories will use the chaos which they created in the first place under John Major (as the architects of the current system with its infinite complexities) to force through a fully private railway system where the public has no say and no ownership.

  • Southern does not have a franchise. It was appointed by the Government to manage the route for a certain price with the Government liable for any losses incurred. Govia has to carry out the Government’s wishes. When it took over the route there was a shortage of drivers and other staff which has been difficult to resolve.

    The public sector Network Rail is responsible for over 50% of the problems on this route. Network Rail operates the signalling and maintains the tracks.

    I use the railways and they are much more reliable than travelling by road but like all human endeavours there are occasional delays, mostly caused by signal failures which are the resonsibility of Network Rail.

    One has to have sympathy for the distress and financial losses suffered by Southern commuters but responsibility should be placed where it belongs, that is the Government. How would nationalistaion help ?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Dec '16 - 1:56pm

    Very good suggestions from CassiB , Duncan Brack and Richard Warren.

    Whether we adapt to the economic difficulties or not with regard to public spending , our policies need to be more in tune with the needs of commuters as Baroness Randerson says here , and in this case that should be in the interest of staff too.

    I must confess I have , particularly travelling on trains from one part of outer London to another , found customer service , pitifully bad ! But health and safety issues overide everything if genuine . I say two person trains should be the norm .

  • @ nvelope 2003 ” One has to have sympathy for the distress and financial losses suffered by Southern commuters but responsibility should be placed where it belongs, that is the Government. How would nationalistaion help ?”

    Just for starters it would do what you say you want by making the Government directly accountable instead of passing the buck to unaccountable foreign owners.

    It would also establish a single negotiating body with common standards, stop profits being siphoned out of the country which could be ploughed back into investment here, and improve co-ordination between Network Rail and the train operators.

    It could also establish a common fares policy on all trains – our fares are currently the highest in Europe.

    The present set up is a dog’s breakfast.

  • We need to look carefully at the models of ownership and funding that work around the world, because ours clearly doesn’t. Switzerland would be a prime candidate. But can anyone work out how much they subsidise them per passenger km.

  • Having done the maths, it turns out we subsidise the railways to virtually the same extent as the Swiss do. In 2015, state subsidies to the Swiss railways were CHF2.3bn or around £1.5bn for 18.6bn passenger km or 8p per passenger km. In the UK in 2015-16 we made a net subsidy of £4.8bn to the railways for 64.7bn passenger km or 7p per passenger km. My guess is that given costs and salaries are likely to be lower in the UK, the real subsidy is actually higher than in Switzerland.

    So we can afford to have excellent, well funded state-owned railways if we just abandon this ridiculous ideological block and organise them properly.

  • Steve (the driver) sets this out very well.

    One further point – when somebody turns up in a wheelchair to board a DOO train who assists?

    Apparently it’s meant to be the driver!! Immobilise and make safe the train; walk to wherever the ramp is stored; set it up; assist the passenger; then do all that again in reverse. Good luck with running a punctual service …

  • nvelope2003 14th Dec '16 - 8:31pm

    David Raw: Not all the franchisees are foreigners and if they put in the best price why should they be barred from providing rail services ? We do not bar foreigners from working in Britain and sending remittances to their home country, I thought the Liberal Democrats were in favour of a free and open economy, not a protectionist one.

    As the Government has failed to properly run the only part of the railway for which it is directly responsible whereas other private operators seem to have managed to avoid this chaos the case for further state control seems very weak, many would say almost non existent. The idea that all state owned foreign railways are models of efficiency and safety is simply nonsense. Switzerland and Germany are pretty good but not perfect but in France only the TGV is really good. Local services are very poor as a recent French Minister of Transport admitted. From my observation they were abysmal the last time I was there. They would, as the minister admitted, have to spend billions to bring them up to the UK level. Apart from the Chinese and Japanese High Speed trains most foreign railways are terrible with excessive journey times and very limited frequency. Places like Thailand and Argentina must have the worst trains in the world. Needles to say all these networks are state owned and operated and like India have terrible safety records. British Rail had an awful safety record too despite high staffing levels. You seem to have forgotten, Harrow, Eltham Well Hall, Clapham etc and these were only the big ones. There was Hixon and many other smaller accidents.
    All this talk about not being able to get a ticket to travel on a different line is nonsense. I wanted to go to Banbury from Marylebone and the ticket office in Croydon sold me a ticket without any difficulty.

    Personally I am not in favour of conductors being eliminated on longer distance trains although the local services from Victoria seem to have operated safely for years without them. There are stops every 2 or 3 minutes but I think it would be different on longer routes where a train could break down in the middle of the countryside miles from anywhere.

  • @ nvelope2003 I’m afraid “Here we go round the Mulberry Bush” with your latest offering, Enver.

    “Not all the franchisees are foreigners and if they put in the best price why should they be barred from providing rail services ?” I didn’t say all franchisees are foreigners (some are non-doms) – and given I favour nationalisation of the railways – “putting in the (so called) best price” wouldn’t apply.

    You then say, “The idea that all state owned foreign railways are models of efficiency and safety is simply nonsense” – yet you then want these people to be allowed to put in “the best price” in order to get a British Government subsidy ? As we saw with Great North Easter … and with the West Coast franchise… best price guarantees nothing.

    ” All this talk about not being able to get a ticket……is nonsense”. Of course you can get a ticket – but on many trains you can’t use it. Try getting to Edinburgh on a Virgin train with a Cross Country ticket.

    Suggest you read Steve the driver’s post on safety and cutting corners to boost profits.

  • David Raw: I have read all Steve’s posts and accept what he says. I am not talking about DOO but about the irrationality of nationalising the railways. We had it before and it did not work and it does not work in other countries. Even the Indians have got fed up with their railways with accidents almost daily. Only a minority of people use trains and it is ridiculous to impose a subsidised public sector railway system on people. Yes I know some polls say they should be nationalised. They also predict other things and sometimes get the result completely wrong. Maybe you want to restore hanging if the polls say so, and bring back grammar schools, all supported by public opinion but I suspect that you would prefer to ignore those polls and just pick the results you prefer.

    The only foreigners holding railway franchises appear to be Germans and possibly French – two states with some good railway services but as they say only the Germans could make nationalisation work and even they use private contractors to operate local lines. The French are also rather good at grand projects but then they do not bother to consult anyone and just build the lines where the experts say they should be built. The British are useless at those kind of projects. If it had been left to the state we would not have had a single mile of railway until about 1994 when the Channel Tunnel was finished becaue of France. Our railways were built by private enterprise. They were an asset to the nation until they were nationalised and then soon became a bankrupt wreck, called the largest working museum in the world. A network of scheduled freight trains built up over a hundred years was destroyed in a decade, just leaving a few coal trains which are now being phased out with the closure of the mines and coal fired power stations.

  • Thank you to everyone who took the trouble to read my comments. I hope you have more of an insight into the realities of what the front line crews face, and why this action is taken, whether you support it, or whether you do not.

    I don’t want to get too much into the nationalisation vs privatisation debate personally, as I am just here to put the case for guards.

    But on the topic of foreign states running UK rail services I will say this – I have never met a single colleague across the various rail franchises who supports this, or has any “company” loyalty whatsoever to foreign governments who employ them to run our trains, regardless of political opinion.

    I will put one point in favour of nationalisation – the Intercity 125. British state designed, built and crewed and still the fastest diesel in the world. I have had the honour to drive the 125s in my career and from a driver’s point of view nothing much else I have driven beats them. I also worked as a guard on them before I went driving, and the passengers love them – even my footballing mates, ex girlfriends and my sister – none who have any railway interest have all enjoyed travelling on them.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Dec '16 - 11:49pm

    Steve
    are you a member , if not join and add your point of view and eloquence to something we all know from only a passenger perspective .

  • David Raw: Before BR closed them there were a number of alternative lines serving main routes and a few still survive such as Paddington or Waterloo to Exeter and Marylebone or Euston to Birmingham. There was also the Great Central line which would have made an excellent high speed route but now closed. Where there is competition fares come down and services improve but vested interests hate that.

    British Governments do not like railways and in the nineteenth century put every possible obstacle in their way, like banning them from town centres, including London to begin with. It cost £453,000 (about £100 million now) to get the bill for the Salisbury Yeovil railway through Parliament. Imagine how much that must have cost the users to recover that money. How do you think railways will prosper if we have Tory Governments running the railways ? Endless strikes and cut backs I suspect. There are a number of small schemes which would improve the system but they will never happen under this Government while billions are spent on HS2 while the rest of the system withers away with poor track and broken signalling causing endless delays to force people to use alternatives like HS2 to justify the cost.

  • @ nvelope2003 Agree about the Great Central route.

    As to Governments, (I’m too young to remember !) the young Gladstone had to legislate to apply safety rules to the chaotic 1840’s railway system of such as George Hudson… The apostle of laissez faire economics had to regulate the market.

    You say, “Where there is competition fares come down and services improve but vested interests hate that”. So why do we have the most expensive fares in Europe ?

    Franchisees still milk the UK taxpayer for subsidies. The top five received almost £3bn in taxpayer support between 2007 and 2011. This allowed them to make operating profits of £504m – over 90 per cent (£466m) of which was paid to shareholders.

    The three largest dividend payers, TransPennine Express, Northern Rail and Southern paid out £ 80 million in dividends after receiving nearly £ 1 billion in subsidy. The first two operate completely inadequate clapped out rolling stock and you know about Southern.
    (Source : Office for Rail Regulation, February, 1915

  • “Banning workers from striking is yet another diversion tactic from Grayling and misses the point entirely. ”

    If I had to think of a description for banning workers from striking it would be far, far stronger than “diversion tactic”. While some in unions can be guilty of playing tactics rather than being concerned with what their primary goal should be (taking care of the workers and thus those the workers serve) I do not believe that they enter into industrial action thinking of playing politics, but I can believe the constant attacks on unions in the press does want the wider public to believe this is their aim and does want to weaken any further union action. Rule changes such as majority vote for action but no use of technology for that vote shows this government is far more interested in restricting union rights than modernising the process.

    With regards to this incident, I frequently see people either a) travel on a train without a ticket and/or b) have to enter a slow and long queue to purchase a ticket when leaving the station. Having people walk up and down the train allowing people to buy a ticket surely saves more money than is lost by employing them and allows commuters to leave the station quicker and happier. Any incident on the train is also far better managed.

    With regards to the first reply, the union has stated they are against un-manned carriages, partly for the reason outlined above.

  • nvelope2003 15th Dec '16 - 8:55pm

    David Raw: We do not have much competition except for a few services such as those mentioned where there is a marked difference between the fares charged by Virgin and GWR and those charged by Chiltern and SW Trains, There are also some services on the East Coast line which compete with Virgin/Stagecoach. The Government does not want competition because it wishes to maintain control of the railway system for political reasons and because it enables them to play power games. We have to end this nonsense.

    I deplore excessive profits as much as anyone but this might be preferable to excessive losses and can be taxed if the Government wished to do so. However, profits on railway franchises are relatively modest (£80 million seems quite modest with such a high turnover) compared to other investments hence there are few bidders which of coures means the bids are higher than they could be. Southern trains are generally not old except for a few used at peak periods and even those are not uncomfortable.

    Accountability is often used as justification for nationalisation but what did that mean for the users when lines were closed in the 1950s and 1960s, destroying one of the most comprehensive railway systems in the world. It is a meaningless term. The only accountability that is effective is when customers are prepared to pay an economic price for goods and services and the company makes a profit. Railway managers are said to admit in private that billions could be saved in costs but they are not going to do that if the taxpayers are willing to pay billions in subsidies to keep them in comfort rather than risk short term disruption. The Government prefers to maintain the subsidies to retain control.

    There are some clapped out trains but is there the capacity to build new ones ? Some track and signalling is in a poor state because the nationalised owner of the tracks cannot cope with the work partly becaue it cannot recruit sufficient trained staff. Maybe it should have trained some before but it probably did not suit them.

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