Rail Dispute

2016-07-19 14.55.29 (2)
Lib Dem Cllrs Olivia Honeyman & Vic Ient reviewing the rail despute at Seaford

Unless there is a major breakthrough this week the strike called by the RMT Union will go ahead next week affecting commuters and thousands of people who use the rail network every day across Sussex. Talks started yesterday (Wed) according to the Guardian.

Things don’t look good as the  ticket workers’ union to ballot over co-ordinated train strike for ‘maximum impact’ according to The Argus. This dispute has been a long time in the making and I have taken this opportunity to look back into how we got here and at the same time put some proposals forward to resolve things.

In this article you can see my proposals and a review of the background to the dispute:

Getting trains back on track!  – proposal by the Lib Dems

I have called for the operating franchise to be taken away from GTR.  Southern Railways wasn’t without its problems before Govia Thameslink Railways (GTR) fully took over the network in July 2015 but since then things have gone from bad to worse. Between March 2015 and March 2016 the number of trains arriving on time has got worse by 20%! That is before this dispute started!  Click below to see my letter to Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport:

Letter to Rt Hon Chris Grayling 17-07-16 by Cllr Vic Ient

I’ve also put forward proposals which have been accepted by my colleagues at the Lewes District Council to bring about early resolution.  In the short term I agree with the Mayor of London (click here to see The Argus Article) that we could get things back to normal if it was a different management team running Southern Railways. He has suggested that Transport for London take over management. Whilst TfL have had their problems with the RMT union it’s nothing like the level of antagonism which exists with Govia Thameslink (GTR). TfL run one of the biggest rail networks in the world and have a good track record.

My views about supporting the Mayor of London’s proposal was backed by the Lewes District Council at their meeting on July 21st, when the Leader of the Council agreed to write to the Secretary of State for Transport adding the council support for the Mayor.  In fact his letter was also signed by Wealden District Council and Eastbourne Borough Council. Click below to see a copy of the letter: 27th July 2016 LDC letter to Sec of State for Transport and the Mayor of London’s Letter is here: 21st July 2016 Mayor of London Sadiq Khan Southern Trains Letter

Antagonistic ‘megaphone’ statements by rail bosses not helping

Negotiations to attempt to avert next week’s rail strike on Southern Railways are underway. I’m not optimistic that the two sides will make an agreement since the run up to this summer’s strikes and disputes have been fuelled by antagonistic megaphone statements by rail management. A new attitude to change is needed by the unions but I believe a replacement of senior management at the rail operator is more urgent. The person pictured below is Dyan Crowther, the Chief Operating Officer GTR.

Dyan Crowther

This article from the Mirror dated 29th May 2016: Click here  shows how the management of GTR operators of Southern Railways have been fuelling the war of words with the RTM over this dispute. The Mirror says “Her megaphone negotiations, publicly abusing staff worried about their jobs on new trains, typifies the worst of British industrial relations. The confrontational approach of cackling Crowther, chief operating officer of Southern’s Anglo-French owner GTR, creates resentment not solutions. Perhaps she hopes to deflect public criticism of Southern’s poor record with Tory MPs siding with angry passengers in calling for it to be stripped of its franchise”.  A similar confrontational approach is recorded by The Times in their article of May 23rd  entitled ‘Union wants to return us to the 1970s, says strike-hit rail chief.

The war of words continues into June with the Business Reporter (published with the Telegraph newspapers and City AM) running an article on the 23rd entitled: ‘Southern Railway staffing row war of words continues’ where Ms Crowther features again  – Click here. ( )

Earlier this year in February the negative attitude by rail management was compounded by Peter Wilkinson the Department for Transport’s Managing Director of Passenger Services  at a public meeting for rail users in Croydon. The Croydon advertiser reported him as saying “I’m furious about it and it has got to change. We have got to break them”  ( )

Government Policy

One person commenting on the Mirror article says:

“You forgot to mention that it’s the DfT which have required the expansion of Driver-Only Operation on Southern. This was never going to go well with even the best management team available. It is the DfT who are responsible for this mess, and they will not be stripping Govia of their franchise. Even if they did, the next company coming in would still be required to get rid of guards to “obtain better value for money. If the government wants the railways to cost less, it can start by dealing with the outrageous cartel of Network Rail’s approved suppliers, followed by the useless layers of administration and management bureaucracy. We have too many hangers-on and not enough useful front-line staff!”

What are other train operators doing?

For instance, South West Trains services retain the visible presence of a guard – primarily for safety and operational reasons, as opposed to revenue collection says Rail Magazine.  This has been confirmed by the company in this tweet:

Customer: Do @SW_Trains have any plans to introduce Driver Only Operation in the future, similar to the proposals put forward by Southern?

SW_ Trains: We have no plans to do this #TTMSWT

Driver Only Operation & Government Policy

In fact, the whole problem goes a lot further back than this year. There is general trend around the world to go to Driver Only Operation. The McNulty report published in 2011 for the UK Government said in section 6.9.1 that “Driver Only Operation (DOO) is a safe method of operation and improves performance with fewer human interactions…: It went on to say “The Study recommends the default position for all services on the GB rail network should be DOO with a second member of the crew only being provided where there is a commercial, technical or other imperative.”

Sir Roy McNulty was commission by the UK Government to report on the future of the rail industry, entitled Realising the Potential of GB Rail – Report of the Rail Value for Money Study. It was published in May 2011.  Click here to see the report 

Ordering Driver Only Trains started in 2008!

The history of Driver Only Trains goes further back to 2008 when The Department for Transport began its procurement process for the British Rail Class 700, 707 and 717.

We do we go from here?

A long-term solution will require a long look at employee relations, customer service, technology, safety and infrastructure development by the government, the train operators and the unions. Above all the Government, rail operators and union need to learn how to work together. Perhaps they should all be sent on a team building course to learn some basic team and management skills!

East Sussex ‘Transport Summit’ lacking in substance and action!

Earlier this year, I attended the Transport Summit called by Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings & Rye. I attended to hear what the speakers from Network Rail, the rail operator Govia Thameslink, the bus operator Stagecoach and the government’s Department for Transport had to say.  It is interesting to note that at this March meeting there was no mention at all of the wrangle which was already going on between the Department of Transport, Govia Thameslink (GTR) and the RMT union over Drive Only Operated trains and the role of the Guards/Conductors. Click here to see my report of the meeting


38degrees-orange38 Degrees has one which – its focus is on removing the Southern Railway ‘franchise.’ Click here to see it

110 (1)Lewes LibDems have a petition which is also aimed at removing the Southern Railway ‘franchise.’ In particular they want the Rail Minister to restore full train services, in particular the Newhaven and Seaford service.  Additionally they are calling for ticket price cuts  (including season ticket refunds) to compensate for the months of disruption. Click here to see it

Press updates






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