I would like to comment on the stance that our MP Tim Loughton has taken on the situation on Southern Rail, or as many people using the service have dubbed it “Southern Fail”.
In many of his media interviews over the course of this year, Mr Loughton has fulminated against the RMT for its perceived (in his mind) obduracy in refusing to accept Southern Rail’s demand that they agree to Driver Only Operation (DOO), and cling to their belief that the trains need a second person to operate the doors. He has argued that the management’s changes will make the whole operation more flexible and presumably lead to greater efficiencies.
He certainly believes that the changes will lead to the freeing up of the new onboard supervisor (OBS) role to better serve the passenger. In his November newsletter to his constituents, he is quite specific about what he sees is the main benefit of the changes:
“OBSs can work more flexibly, GTR are now recruiting more of them and if one is not available at short notice, they can run a train without one being available.” (My italics.)
This is precisely the reason why the RMT members are pursuing their action, because of a belief that the Southern Rail management will increasingly resort to running trains without the second person, whether they are called guards or supervisors. And what Mr Loughton has consistently refused to acknowledge throughout the dispute is the concerns that the RMT members have over the safety of the passengers if Southern Rail strip their trains of the second person.
Many of those long-suffering Southern Rail passengers have highlighted the fact that commuter trains can be a quarter of a mile long, that people with reduced mobility will have no one to assist them on and off the trains, and that in the event of an accident, the driver is generally incapacitated, if not killed, and the role of a well-trained second person (whether called a guard or conductor) is absolutely crucial in helping to prevent a disaster turning into a catastrophe!
Mr Loughton assures us that his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport would never put passengers at risk, but that is exactly what they are doing by allowing GTR a free hand in trying to impose DOO.
Mr Loughton laments the decision of the ASLEF union in staging an overtime ban and a series of strikes over DOO, but he fails to see that the drivers also have concerns about whether trains can be operated safely with only one person, which is why, despite the GTR management taking out injunctions leading to the imposition of fines amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds, the drivers’ union has pursued the issue, and with GTR continuing to take its intransigent stance, has had to resort to industrial action over the fears concerning DOO.
Mr Loughton really needs to ask himself one thing: even if the industrial action by the RMT and ASLEF were to be called off tomorrow, would the service offered to Southern rail passengers be any better?
If he was minded to listen to his constituents on this matter, he would hear them talking about the 340 odd, non-strike days, where they are subject to endless delays, cancellations, station-skipping and overcrowding, and having to pay the eye-watering sum of £4,500, the cost of a season ticket for the privilege of using this appalling service.
And what those same constituents, and the countless other members of the travelling public from other constituencies (mainly Tory constituencies) should be asking is, why it is that Mr Loughton’s government has accorded GTR and Southern Rail such a preferential franchise arrangement, where, no matter what the frequency of the trains, the quality of the service and the reliability of that service, Southern Rail are guaranteed a fixed return by the government, in other words guaranteed to make a profit.
This is what Mr Loughton should be asking the Department of Transport instead of wringing his hands and making pious calls for improved compensation.
He should in fact be demanding the stripping of the franchise from Southern Rail, and he is being derelict in his duty to all those long-suffering rail users that he represents the longer he refrains from doing so.
S J Guy
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