Southern is to bring in a reduced timetable to try to reduce the number of cancelled trains, a senior executive told a public meeting in Hove this afternoon (Saturday 2 July).
Dyan Crowther, chief operating officer of parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), said: “We will be making an announcement on Tuesday (5 July) about an amended timetable which will be operational from (Monday) 11 July.”
In answer to a question at the meeting, held at All Saints Church, in Hove, she said: “It won’t have as many services as now. There will be fewer trains. But there will be more certainty. The revised timetable will improve things.”
She and two colleagues answered questions and listened to complaints from more than 100 passengers, many of them commuters, in a meeting chaired by Hove Labour MP Peter Kyle.
For a report on what the passengers had to say, click here.
At the start of the meeting she said: “The first thing I’m going to do is apologise unreservedly. I’ve worked in the industry for 30 years. I’ve commuted for 30 years. I know the service you’ve experienced for the past few months simply hasn’t been good enough.
“I haven’t got a magic wand. I’m not going to stand here and tell you six things that I’m going to do to make it better by a certain date.
“What I am going to do is give you the assurance that I’m working very hard to fix things. There’s a good team at Govia. It may not seem like it at the moment but they are and they’re working very hard.”
She said that the strife that the travelling public was going through was about “delivering betterment”.
She said that the company had been dealing with two disputes. And while one of them – with the ASLEF union – had been settled, the other – with the RMT union – was unresolved.
They both revolved around the introduction of driver-only operation (DOO) trains. The unions had, she said, agreed a concordat last autumn opposing the change.
The company wanted to change the role of guards or conductors to on-board supervisors, she said. No jobs would be lost and parts of the network, guards would remain because older trains would still be in service.
The unions – who were not at the public meeting – oppose the change on safety grounds. The company said that driver-only operated trains are already in use across the network.
One improvement, she said, would be that when there was no guard or on-board supervisor, the train could still run rather than having to be cancelled as at present.
She said: “Driver-only operation will improve performance and reliability.”
And she added that the change had been long planned, with the new trains configured to operate in this way – with the driver closing the doors, using CCTV as a safety back-up.
The existing working arrangements would be kept on older trains, she said, adding: “We’ve got lots of new modern rolling stock. I can’t send the trains back.”
One commuter suggested bringing in the new trains with guards operating the doors until an agreement could be reached with the RMT.
Dyan Crowther said: “This dispute is unnecessary. Our proposals are sensible proposals. We’re going ahead with our proposals and implementing them without collective agreement.”
She said that would have preferred to reach an agreement, adding: “I always strive to achieve collective agreement. I used to be in the union myself.”
The company is talking to its 650 conductors, with the changes due to be implemented on Monday 22 August. Southern and the RMT are in talks at the ACAS arbitration and conciliation service.
She said that no one would lose his or her job.
The dispute had affected performance – late and cancelled trains – hugely, she said, as had the modernisation work at London Bridge.
The worst should be over in about a year’s time, with the modernisation work due to be completed by about April 2018.
On hearing some of the experiences of those at the meeting Dyan Crowther said: “Do I get it? Yes I do. I don’t hide in my office in London. I get out on the stations. I know it’s brutal.
“You have to trust us that we’re doing the right thing.”
A member of the audience called out: “You’ve ruined lives!”
Dyan Crowther said: “I know we’ve ruined lives. We’re in the middle of a multimillion-pound improvement programme.
“I totally understand that what you’re experiencing at the moment is painful. We recognise that everyone is in a difficult situation. But it will be worth it.”
“We recognise that everyone is in a difficult situation. Our staff are between a rock and a hard place.
One of her colleagues said: “Your journey in is not pleasant. Your journey home is not pleasant. We know that. The atmosphere at some of our stations is not pleasant.
“The number of vocal assaults has gone up. Some of the language bring directed at our staff is horrendous.”
Mr Kyle, who has raised Southern’s performance in the House of Commons and in meetings with ministers and the company itself, thanked Dyan Crowther and her colleagues for facing passengers.
He thanked everyone who shared their story and said that he had set up a cross-party group with Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames to keep up the pressure for improvements.
As the two-hour meeting ended, Mr Kyle also said that he would continue to give a voice to passengers and to try to ensure it had clout.