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Thursday 2nd
posted by Conrad Landin in Britain

Lobby group launches legal bid over Southern Rail disaster

CHRIS GRAYLING has “acted unlawfully” in his handling of the Southern Rail fiasco, a lobby group of commuters claimed yesterday as it applied for a judicial review.

The Association of British Commuters (ABC) said the Transport Secretary had illegally failed to announce whether the beleaguered company was in breach of its contractual obligations.

The group also alleges Mr Grayling has failed in his duty to prevent indirect discrimination against disabled passengers, who have been unable to get onto busy trains, under equality legislation.

Southern’s owner Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which is in turn owned by the French state and private transport giant Go-Ahead, is locked in a bitter dispute with staff over expanding driver-only trains.

Conductors fear the deskilling of their roles will compromise safety, compromise access for disabled passengers and lead to on-board staff being stripped out altogether.

An ABC spokesman said: “We continue to urge the DfT to act decisively and transparently on the future of Southern Rail.

“The longer it stands back from this unprecedented rail crisis, the harder it will be to put the pieces back together again.”

GTR, unlike other private operators, is run as a management contract rather than a franchise.

Fare revenue is collected by the government and Govia is paid a fixed operation fee, meaning it does not suffer if fare revenue falls.

Rail unions claim the current dispute has been backed by the Department for Transport as a testbed for a nationwide expansion of driver-only operation.

Last year, DfT passenger services chief Peter Wilkinson said the unions must be “broken” in “punch-ups” over the issue at a public meeting.

Transport union TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: “Despite all the bile poured on rail workers by Chris Grayling and the Tory spin machine, it’s clear to passengers that the buck stops with failing Grayling when it comes to the Southern crisis.

“He’s let the company wage war against its beleaguered passengers. He’s such an ideological market fanatic, he fails to acknowledge expert evidence that his handling of the crisis has led to loss of his investment and falling house prices in south-east England along with countless untold personal stories of heartache and hardship.”

Labour shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald echoed his sentiments, saying the “government was backing Southern to the hilt” for the sake of “political pride.”

He stormed: “It’s a disgrace that Chris Grayling is determined to prolong passengers’ misery rather than admit what is clear to every Southern commuter: the franchise has failed and should be taken back into public ownership.”

The ABC launched a crowdfunder in September for initial legal work for the court challenge, and will be raising more funds via the same means.

Campaign for Better Transport spokeswoman Lianna Etkind said: “It is absolutely right that the government is held to account for the failings of the Southern franchise, which has made people’s lives a misery.

“Long before any industrial dispute, Southern passengers had to rely on a train service plagued by delays and disruptions, under a management contract with no financial penalties for poor performance.”

The Department for Transport would not comment.

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