Harriet Harman on the poor fortunes of south London’s rail commuters

News Desk (05 January, 2017)

The ongoing chaos on Southern Rail services is a disgrace and fails commuters...

As people go back to work after Christmas, they will be thinking they can’t face another year of Southern Rail travel chaos like the last one.

Throughout 2016 I have been inundated with emails from constituents who are desperately worried about the Southern Rail disruption and the effect this is having on their working & family lives, their childcare arrangements, their finances and safety from overcrowding. One woman told me she’d missed hospital appointments as a result, others tell me they’re constantly worried about how late they will be to pick up their children from school and nursery, or that they miss out on putting their kids to bed on weeknights.

Anyone who lives and works in South London will be well aware that Southern’s problems started well before the recent industrial action. Trains have been cancelled, late or dangerously overcrowded every week for the best part of two years, whether there are strikes scheduled or not.

It is typical that the Government blames the unions, but that won’t get people into work on time. The truth is that ministers are defending a failed franchise for political reasons when they should be sticking up for taxpayers and commuters.

It is bitterly disappointing that so far the Government has refused the proposed settlement to solve the problem and hand the franchise to Transport for London. It makes sense to have Southern Rail as part of London’s integrated transport system. TfL has a proven track record – on rail services that TfL has already taken over, delays are down and customer satisfaction – independently measured – is up. But the Government have put narrow partisanship ahead of commuters’ interests.

The ongoing chaos on Southern Rail services is a disgrace and fails commuters who just want to get into work and home to their families. It is not acceptable for Southern to say they ‘strongly advise people not to travel’ on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in a working week. For many that simply isn’t possible.

Passengers can’t continue to suffer like this.  That’s why I’ve urged the Government to strip Govia Thameslink of the franchise, written to the CEO of Govia about their inability to provide a reliable service, and on 13 July 2016 I spoke in the Govia Thameslink Rail service debate in the House of Commons.

I’ve also asked the Government to meet the unions urgently without any preconditions and before further strike action to explore how Govia Thameslink Rail can settle the dispute with the unions.

I will continue to work closely with my Labour colleagues Helen Hayes MP, Neil Coyle MP, Cllr Peter John and Florence Eshalomi AM to hold the Government to account on the Southern Rail misery and to push for an accelerated transfer of Govia Thameslink Greater London services to Transport for London.

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