Activists stuck with huge legal bill despite finally forcing government to take action on franchise
A RAIL passengers’ campaign group faces bankruptcy because the Department for Transport (DfT) is demanding legal costs of £17,000 in a court case.
The Association of British Commuters (ABC) dragged the DfT to court over its failure to take action against Southern Rail for not meeting its contractual obligations.
After 16 months of deliberating on force majeure — the legal device by which Southern tried to claim that its failure was beyond its own control — the ABC court case finally prompted the DfT to fine Southern £13.4 million, although it swiftly channelled this money back to the franchise to fund a “remedial plan.”
Because the department took action before the judge’s deadline, it technically won the case and can now claim its £17,000 costs from ABC.
The volunteer-run organisation, which financially relies on individual supporters, also has to pay its own legal costs of up to £10,000.
The group has launched a crowd funding appeal with a target of £30,000 to enable it to keep campaigning.
ABC co-director Brad Rees said: “We are asking our supporters to step to help us, and give us the boost we need to continue our essential work.
“Our year of campaigning for truth and justice in this area has only expanded our ambitions for ABC, and we are now approaching a whole new level for the project — it’s time for ABC 2.”
Co-director Summer Dean said: “ABC began as a grassroots commuter campaign but make no mistake — we don’t play along with the idea that ‘commuters’ are somehow separate from the rest of rail passengers.
“For us ‘commuters’ means ‘community,’ and nothing could demonstrate this point better than the Southern Rail crisis, which has impacted every single person and business in our region.”
Emily Yates, another co-director, said: “The success of ABC has been bigger than any of us could have expected, and we now urgently need financial support to carry on.”
ABC expects rail passengers in other parts of the country to establish their own campaign groups as rail chaos spreads, partly through operating companies’ determination to remove onboard guards in an introduction of driver-only operated trains while rail workers and drivers have resisted with industrial action.