Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 26th October 2016

The Department for Transport could end the disruption on Southern Rail by tomorrow morning, if they wanted. Instead we find a Government determined to back up a failing franchise while local Tories seek to deflect the blame.

Unlike traditional franchises, GoVia only ‘manage’ the network on behalf of Government and get paid a set amount for doing so. This means passengers aren’t their customer, it doesn’t matter how many people buy a ticket or how much they pay for it, GoVia still earns the same.

In fact, since they carry the cost of running trains and don’t benefit from passenger numbers, the company recorded a 27% increase in profits while trains were cancelled over the summer. The Government has successfully created a franchise where a rail company is better off not running trains than running them.

Similarly, if GoVia can reduce staffing levels they can increase profit margins, the impact upon you doesn’t really matter to them financially. That’s why we’re seeing ticket offices shut and the attempt to get rid of conductors on trains, something which impacts upon passenger safety and limits the access arrangements for disabled passengers.

Passengers should come first and the foremost priority is safety, not GoVia’s profit margins. While GoVia talk about only changing the role of conductors they won’t commit to keeping the same numbers on trains and Driver-Only Operation is risky enough on the urban Thameslink network, running it across the largely rural Southern network may benefit GoVia’s shareholders, but not its passengers.

A similar disagreement in Scotland was brought to an end last month when the network agreed to retain conductors on services. If they can sort themselves out in Scotland, why is the UK Government so determined to protect a failing rail company? After all, this is a network which admits they’ve let driver numbers get to the point where they rely upon voluntary overtime, causing chaos when no one is available.

Our local MP certainly finds time to put out enough press releases on this issue, maybe it’s time he got his party’s Transport Secretary to do something about it.

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