Southern rail services cut from timetable as dispute continues

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Media captionSouthern rail: A commuter's story

Hundreds of Southern rail services have been axed under an amended timetable prompted by months of disruption.

Parent firm Govia Thameslink (GTR) said the "more reliable" timetable, with 341 fewer daily services, would operate on week days "for the foreseeable future".

The new schedule faced early disruption when power cable issues caused cancellations or delays between East Croydon and London Victoria.

A passenger protest took place earlier at Victoria Station.

'Fed up'

Alex Prosser-Snelling, one of the organisers of the demonstration, said: "We aren't people who protest normally, but everyone's fed up of the service."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Commuters staged a protest at Victoria Station demanding a better service from Southern

More than 100 commuters brandished placards and chanted: "Sack the fat controller" and "what do we want: trains! When do we want them: On time!"

Image caption Protestors said using the service had been 'hell'

A large banner with the words "commuter hell" was hoisted above the crowd.

Reporting from the scene, BBC transport correspondent Tom Edwards said "These are people who think their lives have been ruined by Southern trains. There's a lot of anger."

Commuter Peter Simpson said passengers paid "huge amounts of money" to use the service.

What's making commuters sick at heart?

"It's been hell. Absolute hell," he told BBC London.

"The trains don't run on time ... trains stop and terminate on a whim, people going to Gatwick can't get on their flights.

"It's frustrating beyond belief."

Rail minister Claire Perry said customers did not care whose fault it was, but there were "serious questions" about the way the company was running the service.

"It has been quite clear to me that companies that cannot deliver a good service, particularly over the things they can control, should not be bidding for new franchises," she said.

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Media captionSeaford teacher Matthew Lewis explained the effect of the new timetable on his family life

Passengers also vented their frustration on Southern's Twitter feed.

Charlie Martin tweeted: "You need your Franchise taken away. Useless service run by the elite".

And Jason Best tweeted: "How long is this time table for? I won't be able to get on a train as it'll be too busy. No idea how I'm going to get to work."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The RMT opposes a new on-board supervisor role and plans for drivers to operate doors

Frances Olivine said: "It shouldn't be this difficult to make sure people get to where they have to go.

"I had to spend a £30 taxi fare to get to work for a job where I earned £7.20 recently - that pained me, but I had no other option.

"This new timetable means I'm going to be in work an hour early, which isn't what I want to be doing. I'm just going to have to deal with it."

A Southern spokesman said earlier that 82% of trains were running on time against the revised timetable and there had been no reports of overcrowding.

Image copyright Getty Images

Analysis by BBC London transport correspondent Tom Edwards

Commuters using Southern have suffered for months, with some reporting job losses, warnings for constant lateness and missed appointments.

This an industrial dispute about changes to the role of the guard.

The company wants to use new trains where the driver operates the doors using CCTV. The RMT union, which fears job losses, says two staff members are much safer than one.

Compounding this are extremely high levels of cancellations which the company says is due to high levels of sickness by guards. Ministers say the sickness amounts to unofficial strike action but the RMT says it's due to stress and that company does not have enough staff.

Now there are calls for Southern to be stripped of its franchise.

Pressure is growing for the Government to act, but so far it has resisted.

There are calls for devolution of the rail network, with perhaps Transport for London taking over. Long-term that might be an option, but short-term it's difficult to see a way out of a real mess.

Roger Keyworth, from West Sussex Rail Users Association, said he believed the new timetable would remove uncertainty.

"We have had a haphazard arrangement where the train might have run on a Monday or a Wednesday, but not on Tuesday," he said.

Some timetables, such as Uckfield and East Grinstead to East Croydon and London are unchanged.

But trains serving towns including Ashford, Hastings, Lewes, Tonbridge and Seaford have been cut.

South West Trains is warning its services in Clapham Junction and the Portsmouth and Southampton areas are likely to be busier as passengers seek alternative routes.

Southern rail performance

29 May to 25 June 2016


Southern Mainline and Coast trains were not at terminus on time


England and Wales average

  • 15.7% Govia Thameslink Railway services cancelled/significantly late

  • 5.8% Total cancelled/significantly late trains in England and Wales

  • 49% Delays caused to GTR services by its own operator

Getty Images

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said it would be monitoring how well the new timetable worked.

"We are asking passengers to let us know directly how they have been impacted on Twitter using #passengervoice.

"We will also shortly be inviting all passengers on Southern and other Thameslink services to download a feedback app to have their say."

An RMT spokesman said: "Only in the insane parallel universe inhabited by Southern Rail could you cancel hundreds of trains a day and then try to dress it up as running an improved service.

"This mob are now way beyond a joke for both passengers and staff alike.

"This is a basket-case franchise in meltdown, robbing the taxpayer of millions of pounds, and they are wholly incapable of delivering any kind of rail service.

"They should be thrown out and the publicly-owned Directly Operated Railways drafted in to sort this mess out."

Image caption The dispute is over the role of guards

Industrial action by RMT members and high levels of staff sickness have contributed to disruption of Southern services from the south coast into London.

The dispute is over the role of conductors and driver-only trains, which unions argue will threaten jobs and passenger safety.

GTR chief operating officer Dyan Crowther said where a service had been removed from the revised timetable an alternative was being offered, which could either be a bus or another operator.

"We need to bring this unnecessary dispute to an end," she said.

Image caption The RMT has staged a series of walkouts

GTR plans to implement the changes in dispute from the end of August.

"In the meantime, what we want to do is enter into some meaningful discussions with the RMT about how we bring this dispute to an end, how we get our people back to work and how we can collectively start giving a much, much better service for customers on the Southern network," Ms Crowther said.

The union has offered to suspend industrial action for three months if the company pulls back from implementing the changes.

More than 12,000 people have signed a petition for the franchise to be removed from Southern.

It is the main rail operator for Sussex and east Surrey and also serves parts of Hampshire, Kent, London and Buckinghamshire.

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