A major report for government on the Southern Rail debacle identified industrial relations as the main cause of failure, as unions signal further strike action.
The report was written by former Virgin Rail boss Chris Gibb, who was asked by transport secretary Chris Grayling last autumn to recommend ways of improving the ‘unacceptable' service on Southern rail.
It states that the leadership of the RMT and ASLEF, supported currently by their members, ‘are the primary cause for the system integrity to fail’, mainly by taking industrial action.
However it goes on to state that ‘many parties have, with the best of intentions, driven elements of change, all of which have come together at this time to cause the overall system to fail’.
The major factors include:
- a large infrastructure enhancements programme
- an exceptionally high number of ‘committed obligations’ in the winning franchise bid from GTR, including one to extend driver only operation (DOO) and introduce on board supervisors
- opposition to DOO from the ASLEF and RMT unions
- too few staff, particularly drivers; rising passenger demand
- and ‘a complicated timetable which is at the maximum capability of the system’
Fixing the problems however were outside the report's remit.
The report found that stripping GTR of the franchise could make things worse, but recommended the transfer of the East Croydon to Milton Keynes service to Transport for London.
The unions seized on a comment in the report - addressed to Mr Grayling - that reads: ‘Whilst you are already determining the strategic direction of this dispute, the introduction of a state owned and governed operator would mean that every aspect of the dispute would fall under the direction of the secretary of state.'
ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: ‘I note Chris Gibb states that no single party is responsible for the Southern Rail’s performance. He’s right. It’s a combination of the Department for Transport and GTR/Southern deliberately provoking an industrial dispute.’
Transport secretary Chris Grayling commissioned the report
Mr Grayling said the report was due to be published in April but fell foul of the pre-election period's purdah rules. However the report was recieved by the department in January and purdah only started on the 21 of April. The transport secretary has also courted controversy around purdah by allocating £3m to an A27 study the day after the election was called.
The Southern report was called ‘a detailed, considered account of the problems the network experienced last year’ by Mr Grayling and said work is already underway to deliver on its recommendations.
Following the breakdown of talks with the company last week, Mr Whelan said the union would be balloting on further industrial action ‘because of the company’s inept attempt to conflate pay and changes to working practices’.
On Thursday the RMT said it would hold a further 24-hour strike on Southern next month, as well as three-day on strikes on Arriva Rail North and MerseyRail in separate disputes over DOO.