Emily Yates: Keeping Southern Rail in the frame for the General Election

Joint ABC protest with Transport for All  (Photograph: Summer Dean)
Joint ABC protest with Transport for All (Photograph: Summer Dean)

With just a week left until the general election, there seems no better time to catch up with the latest on the Southern Rail crisis.

It's generally said that we’ve seen the service become more reliable over the last three months; although we’re all painfully aware that it’s about to take another nosedive with another Aslef overtime ban due to set in next week (Note: This article was published before Aslef suspended its overtime ban for further talks with Southern).

But this is still just the surface of the story – what’s really going on is much deeper, and often goes unreported.

When considering these last three months of “improved service”, it is vital to remember that this period has also been the most stressful yet for disabled and vulnerable passengers; due to the loss of the guard guarantee. Many of ABC’s disabled members are now anxious about the loss of spontaneous travel and some have already been left behind on platforms, or have even had to throw themselves between the doors of trains to gain assistance. From any perspective, this is no way to run a railway.

The Association of British Commuters is now waiting for a court date for a permission hearing on our judicial review. We will be joined by the disabled and older people’s charity Transport for All, who are set to ‘intervene’ on the day; contributing their own witness statements on Southern Rail, as well as 20 years of expertise. Our position on this point has never looked stronger: recently, one of the original architects of driver only operation (the esteemed railwayman Peter Rayner) broke ranks with the rail establishment to suggest that Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) are in breach of the Equality Act.

The other side of our campaign regards the highly problematic relationship between the Department for Transport and GTR – which we believe urgently requires an independent public inquiry. We are still outraged by the suppression of the Chris Gibb report until after the general election – a report commissioned to analyse the problems on Southern Rail - and yet held back for five months already.

With Graeme Paton of The Times reporting that this “dynamite” report is heavily critical of the DfT’s role in this affair, we are not terribly surprised by the government’s intense resistance to publishing. Rail Minister Paul Maynard finally admitted that his department would indeed be holding it back until after the election.

With one week to go before the general election it is vital to our community and every rail user that we bring the real issues on Southern into the frame and avoid this being dragged into a larger political narrative about trade unionism or rail re-nationalisation.

The problems on Southern Rail are unique, complex and have deeply serious implications for the rights and livelihoods of everyone in our community.

For details on our election demands in depth, please visit abcommuters.wordpress.com for our full analysis of where we currently stand with this disastrous rail company.

Emily Yates is the co-founder of the Association of British Commuters.