Government under fire over failing to plan for Southern Rail commuter misery

Posted On: 
10th January 2018

The Department of Transport has come in for criticism over its failure to anticipate the longest-running strike battle in the history of Britain's railways.

The DfT was blamed for not anticipating the effect of strikes on Southern Rail
Credit: 
PA

A new report from the National Audit Office said officials had not properly planned for the effect of strike action on Southern Rail passengers.

The 18-month dispute stemmed from parent company Govia Thameslink's plan to increase the use of driver-only-operated trains, which was met with strong opposition from drivers' union Aslef and the RMT.

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Drivers voted by a margin of four to one in November to accept a pay deal to end the rolling industrial action that had plagued the network.

The NAO said the DfT knew of the risks of strike action from the plans years before the dispute took place, but did not make sufficient contingency plans.

"The Department recognised that, given the scale of the increase in DOO, accepting Govia Thameslink’s plan would increase the risk of industrial action. It noted that previous industrial action related to the introduction of DOO on other rail services, had been limited," the report reads.

The Department did not fully evaluate the possible effects on passengers of different scenarios of industrial action before awarding the contract, nor did it ask Govia Thameslink to do so."

Officials are also accused of failing to make sure that Govia was employing enough drivers when it took over the Southern and Thameslink franchises in 2014, with staff shortages blamed for some 38% of cancellations between July 2015 and March 2017.

 “Over the last three years long-suffering passengers on the Thameslink franchise have experienced the worst performance on the rail network," said NAO chief executive Amyas Morse.

“Some of the problems could have been avoided if the Department had taken more care to consider passengers in its design of the franchise.”

A spokesman for the DfT said: “The NAO report confirms that the primary cause of delays and cancellations to passengers has been lack of available staff, which is a direct result of strike action.

"Clearly the disruption passengers have experienced is unacceptable but the NAO recognises that service has improved over the last 12 months.”