The Government will guarantee the role of the second on-board staff member in the current and future versions of the franchise operated by the widely-pilloried Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), transport minister Claire Perry has said.
The pledge came as Southern Rail, which is part of the GTR franchise, began its ‘revised’ timetable, axing 341 trains a day. Southern said on Monday morning (11 July) that the timetable was ‘running well’.
London's Victoria station
Speaking on BBC Radio’s Today programme, Ms Perry said that Southern’s poor recent performance was a combination of the impact of infrastructure improvements and industrial action, with unions opposing the widening of driver only operation.
She acknowledged that ‘the company’s industrial relations handling has not been good’ but resisted calls to strip GTR of the franchise.
Ms Perry asked rhetorically whether anything would change if the Department for Transport (DfT) were to run the franchise, adding that industrial action would continue ‘regardless of whose name is on the door’.
However, she suggested that GTR would not be offered any franchises in future.
Referring to GTR’s plans to change the role of conductors (guards) so that they would no longer have responsibility for opening and closing doors, Ms Perry acknowledged that this ‘could be seen as the thin end of the wedge’.
But she added: ‘we will guarantee that [new] role in this and future franchises’.
GTR has previously suggested that removing responsibility for train doors from conductors would allow it to carry on running trains when no conductor was available.
The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has argued that the company’s large- scale cancellation of trains (prior to the new timetable) was because it did not have enough staff to fill its rosters.
Southern passengers have said they will stage a protest at London Victoria station on Monday, including a possible ‘fare strike’.
Referring to the impact of infrastructure improvement works on GTR’s services, Ms Perry said it was collective the fault of the company, the DfT and Network Rail.
She said there were ‘lessons to be learned if you’re trying to put major engineering works on a very busy part of the railway’.