The Government has decided to allow GTR to continue to operate Southern rail services in a decision that has been lambasted as a ‘whitewash’ by union leaders.
Instead of removing the franchise from GTR following its so-far disastrous tenure, transport secretary Chris Grayling ordered the company to spend £13.4m on improving services after concluding that Southern's performance was 'not good enough' and industrial action does not fully explain such a poor performance.
However campaigners have pointed out this does not even cover the £20m the Department for Transport (DfT) gave Southern last year to help improve services, or the estimated £300m the fiasco has cost the economy.
The Government has also had to fork out compensation payments to passengers for delayed Southern trains and lost revenue it should have received from GTR - thought to run into the millions.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said: ‘This latest whitewash of the Southern rail shambles by the Government is hardly a surprise when they've been up to their necks in this fiasco right from day one. This pathetic response to the abject failure by Southern/GTR to deliver on their contract doesn't even stack up to a slap on the wrist. No wonder the company are gloating. Chris Grayling has let them off the hook big style.’
The company had made a claim of force majeure (exceptional circumstances), arguing that breaches of its franchise obligations were due to official and unofficial industrial action, including high levels of sickness.
In a letter to GTR CEO Charles Horton, Mr Grayling pointed to the recent report by Chris Gibb, which itself cost the public purse some £130,000.
The report suggested that poor industrial relations were the main cause of disruption to services, but Mr Grayling added that DfT officials had ‘determined that this does not fully explain the poor service that passengers received’.
‘My officials have determined that in many cases force majeure does not apply to the number of trains cancelled or the length of trains in service,' he said.
Mr Grayling said GTR must fund a package of performance and passenger improvements worth £13.4m.
- £7m will be put into a fund for DfT to allocate to projects and improvements that will directly benefit passengers
- £4m will fund 50 on-board supervisors over the next two years (from January 2018) to improve access to staff for passengers on trains
- The remaining £2.4m will target performance improvements. GTR is now required to submit a remedial plan under the franchise agreement.
Transport Network approached the DfT and GTR for confirmation as to how it will be established that the company is spending additional money and employing additional staff.
A GTR spokesperson said: 'We will obviously have to demonstrate to DfT that we have met these fresh obligations that are now part of our contract.'
The DfT has previously said that it cannot enforce staffing levels, which are a matter for GTR.
GTR said it had agreed to invest the 'additional £13.4m on driving up operational performance and further improving services for passengers’.
Mr Horton said: ‘We are pleased that this issue has been concluded, and accept and are sorry that our service levels haven’t been good enough for passengers.’
Lianna Etkind of the Campaign for Better Transport said: ‘The Southern fiasco is estimated to have cost the economy over £300m, and the Government has already covered millions of pounds in delay repay on behalf of Southern as well as handing GTR £20m of public money last year as part of an emergency package.’