London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called on ministers to strip Govia Thameslink of its Southern Rail franchise and work with him and Transport London to end the “unceasing misery” being ensured by passengers.
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 weeks of interrupted services and on Monday the company introduced a new, less frequent, timetable which saw 350 services axed.
Despite the reduced service, some passengers still encountered delays and disruptions.
Earlier this year minsters and former mayor Boris Johnson published a framework agreement to devolve rail services to TfL in a bid to replicate the London Overground’s transformation from poorly managed franchise to one of the country’s top performing rail services.
Mr Khan says the ongoing problems experienced by Southern’s passengers means it’s now time for the Department for Transport to take over its routes and then work with his officials to transfer responsibility to TfL as soon as possible.
Speaking on Tusday, Mr Khan said: “I am appalled by the unceasing misery that Southern Rail has inflicted on tens of thousands of passengers, and I share their outrage at the lack of action to address it.
Passengers are paying thousands of pounds for a service that rather than being ‘turn up and go’ has become ‘turn up and hope’. Their frustration at such a disgraceful level of service is obvious and it is justified.”
“Ministers need to put in place a new and faster timetable for handing over inner suburban rail services to Transport for London, so that we can provide passengers with the improved services, stations and fares they deserve.
“My team is ready and willing to work with the Government on transferring responsibility for those services to Transport for London in a far speedier fashion.”
Rail minister Claire Perry has played down suggestions that Southern’s problems could be resolved by a change of control.
DfT insiders have previously told MayorWatch that TfL has yet to explain how it would address the staffing and operational challenges affecting Southern and other rail firms.
While the the department understands the new mayor’s desire to have an early victory by securing a rapid transfer, it’s been suggested ministers would be reluctant to agree unless service improvements were guaranteed.
However Mr Khan’s call for an early transfer has been backed by Conservative London Assembly member, Keith Prince, who said: “The dire situation facing Southern Rail passengers emphasises the need for Transport for London to take control of the franchise as soon as possible.
“It is also completely unacceptable that these issues can be compounded and a major rail network effectively brought to its knees by entirely unnecessary industrial action.
“Transport unions should not be allowed to block sensible changes by striking in this way. The only people who lose out are the paying commuters.”