The owners of Southern Rail have been fined £13.4million by the government for the 18 months of chaos commuters have had to put up with after the government said it was partly to blame for delays.
But fresh delays look likely as the Aslef union – which represents most Southern drivers – announced 60% of its members had voted to strike over pay, with three days of walkouts scheduled for the first Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in August.
But GTR say they are offering a 24% pay rise over four years to bring basic salaries to £60,000, which will leave many drivers who work a day’s overtime earning £75,000 a year.
The fine money will be invested in improvements to services – including £4million to fund 50 on-board supervisors over the next two years.
Govia Thameslink Railway, which owns Southern, said that the services were disrupted due to industrial action – but the Department of Transport said that while this was a significant factor, it was not the only one.
In a letter to Charles Horton, the chief executive of GTR, transport secretary Chris Grayling wrote: “Performance on Southern has improved dramatically since Christmas, as the disruption from union activity has decreased. But that performance is still not good enough.
“Passengers who depend on Southern have been badly let down. The union industrial action that has so often disrupted services is totally unjustified and must stop now.
“But GTR must also do better in providing services to its passengers. When trains are cancelled unnecessarily it can cause huge disruption. And when trains are shorter than they ought to be, it can leave already busy services unbearably overcrowded.
“Your investment in passenger benefits and plans to improve performance for passengers will be instrumental in making sure your customers receive reliable and efficient services.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said that the fact the money was to be spent on improving Southern services meant that the company was effectively being given back the fine.
He said: “What Chris Grayling takes with one hand he gives back with the other. The DfT has fined Southern £13m but it has also given Southern £13m to improve services.
“So the lesser spotted Secretary of State for Transport, and the lesser spotted DfT, only take back what they have already given and the company – known to passengers who suffer from its mismanagement every day as Southern Fail – does not actually pay the price for failing to deliver.
“There is still no end in sight to the problems of Southern. The DfT has failed, the Transport Secretary has failed, and Southern has failed.”
Southern drivers are already working to rule by refusing overtime in a separate dispute with GTR over the introduction of driver only operation on some routes – the issue which sparked the industrial action which has been causing delays since April 2015.
A GTR spokesman said: “To call three days of strikes spread across a week is a deliberate move to cause maximum disruption for passengers. To do so in protest against an offer to increase pay by 24% is simply breathtaking.
“Commuters, the vast majority of whom are seeing pay rises many times less, will understandably be as shocked and frustrated as we are.
“We absolutely need to modernise in order to increase capacity on this, the most congested part of the UK’s network, where passenger numbers have doubled in places in as little as 12 years.
“That requires modernisation of infrastructure, trains and working practices. The trade unions must join us in that endeavour.”