Rail minister Paul Maynard has indicated the Government is in no hurry to take action over the beleaguered Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) franchise, which includes Southern Rail, despite running a month late on the decision.
Writing to Louise Ellman, chair of the Transport Select Committee, Mr Maynard indicated that the Department for Transport (DfT) could reject GTR’s attempt to invoke ‘force majeure’ - circumstances beyond its control - over its failure to meet its franchise obligations.
Louise Ellman chairing the transport committee
However he also argued that the contract should not be broken until ministers recieve 'very firm assurance that any change will result in immediate improvements for passengers’.
In a letter to Ms Ellman last month Mr Maynard acknowledged that GTR was ‘in excess of breach and default levels for cancellations and short formation of peak trains’ over the summer, even judged against the less stringent cancellation standards and reduced services of the company’s ‘remedial plan’.
At that time Mr Maynard said DfT officials were expected to complete assessment of the force majeure claim by mid-November, after which transport secretary Chris Grayling would ‘make a decision on next steps’.
In a letter dated 29 November that the committee has now published, Mr Maynard stated that the DfT had assessed the first three parts of GTR’s claim but that the company ‘must be given the opportunity to challenge our assessment’.
He added: ‘I am, therefore, not proposing to publish the results of the claim at this stage until I am clear that a) GTR are not challenging the outcome and b) if they do challenge the outcome, discussions have completed.’
Questioned by Transport Network, a DfT spokesperson declined to provide an update on the assessment process or to indicate how long the department would give GTR to challenge the assessment it has made so far.
Mr Maynard warned that: ‘Even if GTR were unequivocally in breach of their remedial plan (which they are not at this point in time), it would not necessarily be in passengers or taxpayers’ interest to terminate their contract.’
He added: ‘At this moment, with the challenging infrastructure conditions, the damaging and needless industrial action by RMT and Aslef’s recent announcement, the ongoing train introduction programme and the critical stage of the Thameslink Programme, I will need very firm assurance that any change will result in immediate improvements for passengers.’
On Tuesday, at the beginning of a series of strikes by drivers’ union ASLEF, GTR ran no trains on its Southern services.