Emily Yates: It’s decision time over Southern breaches

The ABC Commuter Hell protest at London Victoria station  exactly a year ago this week (Photograph: Summer Dean)
The ABC Commuter Hell protest at London Victoria station exactly a year ago this week (Photograph: Summer Dean)

The last few months have been the busiest yet for the Association of British Commuters (ABC) and we are keen to update our Brighton supporters on some of the intrigue still going on around Southern Rail - two years after it was awarded its first contractual breach notice.

It has been said that ABC is the ‘stone in the Transport Minister’s shoe’ since we founded our campaign in May 2016; and over the last month, we’ve seen the truth of this play out in the press, the House of Commons and even the Royal Courts of Justice.

The biggest headline-grabber of all has been our court decision of June 29 – an extremely significant outcome achieved after ten months crowd-funded legal work, and a great deal of patience! The Judge accepted the premise of our barrister’s argument – that we, as passengers, do indeed have a valid interest in the ‘private’ contract between the Department for Transport (DfT) and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR). It had been the assertion of the DfT’s Queens Counsel that this matter was ‘none of the business of the public’ and we are very glad to say that the Judge did not entertain his argument.

Instead, the Judge agreed with our barrister that the Secretary of State for Transport does indeed have a duty to enact his franchise enforcement policy in a ‘timely manner’; and commanded Chris Grayling to make a final decision on Southern Rail’s contractual breaches by 4pm on Thursday, July 13. If the DfT does not inform GTR of its final decision on ‘force majeure’ by this time, permission for our judicial review will automatically be granted.

At the time of writing, the Transport Minister is entering the final day before the deadline and has yet to inform us that this decision has been made. After Thursday, we will know whether he has chosen to make the decision or not; and I personally expect him to do tomorrow morning (Thursday). If there is to be a financial penalty for Govia, their shareholders will have to be informed; which might suggest an announcement time of 7am, in advance of the stock market opening.

Though it’s impossible to say exactly what decision 14 months deliberation behind closed doors at the DfT will have produced; what we can say for certain is that any announcement about ‘force majeure’ should immediately command the scrutiny of every southern MP and member of the press.

This kind of public scrutiny is more important than ever when one considers the many other circumstances that surround our commuting nightmare, and are not receiving enough coverage. In a week when a ‘feel good story’ about a work experience boy named Eddie has monopolised the press coverage of Southern Rail, we need properly informed and critical voices more than ever.

It is no longer acceptable for Southern Rail ‘clickbait’ stories to dominate the media when there is so much more serious news being ignored. Within the last month, ABC has published exclusive documents proving: 1) urgent health and safety concerns at Victoria station; 2) information from the Gibb report, which possibly lead to its release; 3) an RMT deal (declined by GTR) that represented their biggest compromise yet; and most controversially of all: 4) a two-year buried Rail Delivery Group report on disabled access, which strongly argues for keeping the conductor on the train.

We are doing as much as we can to investigate the Southern Rail crisis from every possible angle, and trying to empower passengers in the process, particularly the voices of older and disabled people. This means that we are now urgently crowdfunding to keep our non-profit organisation alive, and to take the #SouthernFail campaign forward.

All donations to crowdjustice.com/southernfail are greatly appreciated and will help us to pay our lawyers for their incredible achievement in court last month.

Emily Yates is the co-founder of the Association of British Commuters. She tweets at @ABCommuters Twitter and @MsEYates.