A judge has given transport secretary Chris Grayling 14 days to state whether he agrees with Southern rail’s claim that severe disruption to its services was caused by exceptional circumstances.
At a hearing on Thursday, Mr Justice Ouseley stated that if the decision was not communicated to Southern owners GTR within two weeks, he would allow an application by the Association of British Commuters for judicial review of Mr Grayling’s handing of the franchise to go ahead.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling
A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesperson said: ‘We are pleased the High Court has thrown out the application for a judicial review by the Association of British Commuters.
‘An independent report by rail expert Chris Gibb, which was published last week, made it very clear that the responsibility for disruption on Southern was primarily caused by industrial action led by RMT and ASLEF and exceptional levels of staff sick leave.
‘We have been considering whether the extensive disruption to the line last year was entirely beyond GTR’s control and our decision was due to be communicated to the company imminently. We are more than happy to inform GTR of the verdict within the 14 days required by the judge.’
Two weeks ago, when approached by Transport Network, the DfT declined to comment on progress on the decision.
Even if Mr Grayling rejects GTR’s exceptional circumstances, or ‘force majeure’, claim, it does not necessarily follow that he will take action against the company for breaching its franchise obligations.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, re-iterated the party’s call for Southern to be taken into public ownership. He said: ‘Passengers should not have had to go to the courts to seek accountability.
‘Ultimately, the buck stops with the Government. Tory ministers, who designed and awarded the franchise, have been ducking their responsibility for Southern's abysmal service and for directing this unnecessary industrial dispute.’