Transport secretary Chris Grayling has announced a new ‘hit squad’ to help managers at Southern rail “get to grips” with problems on their network.
Southern, which covers London and south-east England, has been beset by delays and cancellations caused by staff shortages and industrial action over planned changes to the train conductor’s role.
Passengers have experienced months of interrupted services and the chaos continued even after the company introduced a new, less frequent, timetable which saw 350 services axed.
On Thursday Mr Grayling announced that former Virgin Rail chief operating officer Chris Gibb is to head a new project board which will work alongside franchise holder GTR, the Department for Transport and Network Rail to identify and deliver improvements for passengers.
The project board will be supported with a £20m fund to tackle problems on lines and fill staffing shortages.
Mr Grayling said: “I want the Southern network to be run by a team of people who work together to make sure passengers get decent journeys and that problems are dealt with quickly
“We also need to get to grips with things that go wrong on this part of the network.”
Today’s announcement would appear to be a snub to London Mayor Sadiq Khan who has repeatedly called for Southern to handed over to Transport for London.
Last month the Mayor write to Mr Grayling, offering to assign “an experienced team to fix the service” and promising to deliver improvements “from day one”.
However the transport secretary’s statement makes no mention of involving the Mayor or TfL in the project team.
Mr Khan’s enthusiasm for taking control of the troubled rail operator is not shared by some TfL officials who have privately warned that the agency lacks the experience and resources to oversee the firm and caution that failure to deliver improvements could damage the case for further rail devolution.
Update: Mr Grayling has told LBC TfL does not have the skills to take control of Southern and questioned why the Mayor of London should control trains running in Sussex.