Rail woes

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Southern Rail

Southern Rail train at Redhill station

After more strikes on Southern last and this week and with more planned in ten days, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the parliamentary Transport Select Committee has criticised almost everything about the service including the government’s handling of the contract.

For leisure travellers, the Gatwick Express hasn’t been that badly affected but for those holidaying on the south coast, life hasn’t been fun. I daren’t even mention the problems that commuters have had to endure for nearly a year. The committee criticised the Department for Transport (DfT) for showing a lack of foresight in its franchising deal with Southern’s holding company, GTR.

The committee agreed with the DfT that it had been a mistake to amalgamate the Southern, Gatwick Express, Thameslink and Great Northern franchises into “one huge, diverse and highly complex rail franchise.”  But has the DfT suggested how to remedy the situation? No. Did the committee have any suggestions? No. The best that it could come up with was to wonder whether the DfT had  “competence to run an effective franchising programme”.

If that is the case, you might ask what is the point of the DfT or at least that part of it responsible for rail travel?  For those who are regular travellers on Southern it confirms what passengers have known for months and months. Southern had insufficient drivers.

There is a lot of criticism but precious few answers or solutions. The committee might have claimed that solutions were outside its remit but passengers and visitors are fed up with the attitudes of all concerned. Wringing of hands solves nothing.  In the meantime, the committee recommended giving Southern passengers automatic compensation for delays.  What we all want however is not compensation but a resolution to the problem.

Suggesting, as the committee does, that the DfT consider ending the franchise or threatening to end might help but the department says that “changing the management or taking the franchise from GTR would not address the issues.” Possibly not, but it might concentrate the minds. How is it that a similar situation on railways in Scotland has managed to be resolved but that on Southern drags on and on?

If the committee questions whether the department is suitable to run a railway franchise, shouldn’t we ask whether a parliamentary committee is fit for purpose if it only criticises but offers no solutions?

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