Our rail service has been a disgrace for nearly a year now thanks to unjustified industrial action by the rail unions and the poor performance of GoVia Thameslink Railways (GTR) who run the franchise and Government-owned Network Rail who maintain the infrastructure. I’ve made sure that everyone from the Prime Minister down understands the misery we are experiencing and pressed my Ministerial colleagues to intervene to ensure we get the rail service we deserve. Although things are still far from sorted, we’ve had three welcome announcements since the New Year.
The Government recently announced an extra £300 million to improve the ageing infrastructure on which services run. Some of the delays we experience are nothing to do with GTR or industrial action - they are caused by a problem with the track and signalling and I am pleased that the Government has responded to lobbying from me and other MPs along the route and found more money to modernise the infrastructure.
Second, on 5th January the rail regulator, the Office of Rail & Road, published a report into Driver Only Operation, the issue behind the industrial action. You can read the report here but the key finding is:
"ORR’s view is that with suitable equipment, procedures and competent staff in place the proposed form of train dispatch intended by GTR-Southern meets legal requirements for safe operation".
ASLEF and the RMT both claim the industrial action is about safety. This report confirms their claims are unfounded and that the industrial action is therefore unjustified.
Third, on 17th January GTR announced that they were entering into talks with ASLEF, chaired jointly by TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady and rail industry HR expert Andy Meadows, to seek an end to their industrial action.
ASLEF suspended their strike planned for the week commencing 23rd January including the ban on overtime working. This is good news - ASLEF's industrial action is much more disruptive because they represent train drivers and obviously no train can run without a driver whereas the RMT represent conductors and DOO trains can run with a second member of staff on board. Hopefully the RMT will follow suit and this sorry saga will come to an end.
If not, I will continue to press the Government to look at every option, including changing the law to ban unjustified industrial action and changing the franchise.
Just before Christmas I also met with the Prime Minister to make sure she understands just how angry my constituents are. People pay a fortune for their travel cards and you are entitled to so much better than what you are getting at the moment.
I will continue to press the Government to look at every option, including changing the law to ban unjustified industrial action and changing the franchise.