The responses by our two local Conservative MPs reported in last week’s County Times article - ‘Southern report: ‘Number of factors caused overall system to fail’’ - were as predictable as they are disappointing.
Rather than seek to use their influence to resolve this long running dispute between Southern Rail and its staff, over the number of safety critical personnel required on each train, they continue to apportion much of the blame for the ongoing delays, cancellations and service disruptions, to the train drivers and guards.
This seems like nothing short of diversionary tactics as the two MPs seek to misrepresent the real reasons behind the failures in service. These are a result of a botched privatisation of this public service. This failing has been truly magnified to unimaginable levels by more recent Conservative Governments, which offered Southern Rail a franchise which was set up to fail the passenger.
Southern Rail is paid a large amount of taxpayers’ money simply to run trains up and down the network. The franchise agreed by Jeremy Quin and Nick Herbert’s Conservative colleagues, takes no account of performance, no account of passenger numbers and no account of service delivery.
If a train is cancelled or delayed, we the taxpayer pick up the bill when passengers seek compensation. This franchise set up by the Conservatives incentivises service failure. The only way Southern Rail can increase profit margins is to strip out costs, not improve service or what you might expect from a normal business model, to transport more passengers and therefore increase revenue.
Little wonder, that when Southern took on the franchise it first under-resourced the service with insufficient drivers to run the network and more recently has aggressively pursued the concept of driver-only trains.
It is a cynical ploy by Nick Herbert to suggest that commuters will not have ‘much sympathy for train drivers who have been offered a 24 per cent pay rise, increasing their salary to over £60,000 a year’.
This dispute is not about train driver pay, it is about delivering a safe passenger experience. Why is it so wrong to listen to the staff on the ground, when they tell us that each train requires two safety critical staff, a driver and a highly trained guard?
The short-term answer to this dispute would be to ensure every train contains two safety critical staff, this would be cheaper to the taxpayer, it would immediately improve customer service and reliability. It would also ensure improved levels of safety.
At the last general election there was a very clear level of support for Labour’s approach to delivering our rail service and we are looking forward in the very near future to a Labour Government which will not constantly look for someone else to blame but will take responsibility for delivering an excellent and safe transport service for all.
Chair, Horsham Labour Party, Clarence Road, Horsham
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