Passengers may not be told what, if any, penalties ministers have imposed over the current debacle on Southern Railway, Transport Network has learned.
MPs for London, Surrey and Sussex constituencies served by Southern, including Conservatives, have been highly critical, complaining that the company cancelled over 2,000 trains in a four-week period. But ministers have been largely supportive of the company.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has also alleged that under the terms of a recently published ‘Remedial Plan’ (26 May) the holders of the Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) franchise, which covers Southern, will be allowed a further 9,000 cancellations annually.
The heavily redacted remedial plan is understood to have been drafted by GTR but approved by the Department for Transport (DfT). Unions called the lenient agreement 'a last ditch attempt to prevent the termination of the Govia Thameslink railway franchise agreement'.
The DfT clarified that financial incentives or penalties based on the performance targets set out in the franchise agreement are calculated annually, with the exact figures not routinely published. This is said to be due to commercial sensitivities.
A DfT spokesperson said: ‘Passengers have had to put up with unacceptable levels of cancellations on the GTR network, and it is right that the operator is taking robust, positive steps that will ensure fewer services are cancelled, not more. These targets are both challenging and realistically achievable.
'Improvements won’t happen overnight, but the Remedial Plan sets out clear long-term improvements including recruiting and training more drivers, and introducing more reliable trains on the line. Some of these changes are already being delivered and we continue to work with GTR to ensure they deliver the high quality service that passengers deserve.’
GTR has blamed its recent high level of cancellations on staff sickness but the RMT has challenged this claiming the company is unfairly shifting blame onto the workforce.
The union cited two recent examples in which GTR had blamed staff cancellations on a shortage of conductors, when this was not the case.
A Southern spokesperson said: ‘Both of these cases were nothing more than simple human error. The accusation that we are deliberately cancelling services is quite simply ludicrous.’
Southern services have also been affected by strike action by RMT members over its attempts to introduce more driver only operation (DOO) on its trains by changing the role of conductors.
The union and GTR have recently held talks at conciliation service ACAS.
Separately, GTR has won a temporary injunction preventing drivers’ union ASLEF taking industrial action on Southern and Gatwick Express services over the same issue, despite a significant majority voting in favour.