Southern’s temporary revised timetable will allow the cancellation of a further 341 trains a day from Monday, in a bid to “increase commuter certainty” after months of short staffing and ad hoc cancellations.
The rail company says it will run 95% of the capacity in Victoria Station in both the morning and evening peaks, along with 86% and 84% of the morning and evening peak capacity into London Bridge. The full revised timetable will be published later today at this link.
But MPs and commuters have slammed the proposals, with many saying the franchise is failing.
Southern Passenger Services Director Alex Foulds said: “We are introducing this temporary weekday revised timetable with reluctance but it is the best thing we can do for our passengers who have been suffering daily cancellations ever since this dispute with the RMT began, and for which we are sincerely sorry.
“It should give the majority of our passengers a better, more consistent service that they can plan around.
“Whilst our first priority is our passengers, we also understand that this has been a difficult time for our staff. Conductors already know that their jobs are guaranteed, that there will be no reduction in salary and that the independent rail safety body has confirmed our plans are safe.
“Now, after listening to our staff, we have also decided to restore leisure travel benefits. All of this, we believe, should help our staff feel able to return to work and so reduce the issues causing the current high level of train cancellations.”
One angry Brighton commuter said: “This doesn’t do anything to increase my certainty of getting a train. If there’s fewer services, they are going to be even more overcrowded.
“This is changing the goalposts rather than actually doing something to improve the service. Southern should hire more staff and run the trains properly.”
Brighton Pavilion’s Green MP Caroline Lucas said: “After months of uncertainty the emergency timetable will now give some certainly, but it will be cold comfort to long suffering passengers who simply want a decent service. These emergency cancellations in this timetable are a further slap in the face for passengers.
“If services are cut then fares should drop too. People are paying through the nose for a service that gets them to work late on a daily basis- and ruins peoples plans on their days off too. A fifteen minute delay repay should be introduced immediately and the company should cut fares for at least the next twelve months.
“This franchise had been a failure. The government should hesitate no longer and put it public hands. At the very least that would ensure the accountability and transparency that’s been so lacking from Southern.”
Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown Simon Kirby said: “I am contacted daily by angry, fed-up commuters and having been caught up in the disruption myself many times, I fully understand their frustration.
“I recently attended a meeting together with 17 other local MPs, the Secretary of State for Transport, the Rail Minister and Govia to discuss the matter. It was felt that the current major disruption to services which is infuriating constituents is also the fault of the unions.
“The service is in crisis and I am concerned that the amended timetable will cause even more problems. I urge the unions and the company to resolve this dispute which is causing suffering for hundreds and hundreds of commuters in Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven.”
And Hove’s Labour MP Peter Kyle said: “This is an honest reflection of where our network is at. But the question is, have we hit rock bottom yet or is this step towards the collapse of the service and can they deliver on even this modest timetable.
“Commuters purchased season tickets on the basis of a level of service that will no longer be available – as the Secretary of State has authorised these changes, he must announce suitable compensation for ticket holders without delay. We also need urgent answers as to how long this ‘temporary’ timetable will be in place.”
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said yesterday, before the changes were officially announced: “This latest savage attack on passenger services by GTR is nothing to do with staff sickness and everything to do with gross mismanagement of this franchise and the failure to employ enough guards and drivers to fill the current rosters and diagrams. The continuing attempt to blame the front line workforce for this crisis is a cynical and cowardly ploy that will not wash with the travelling public.
“The solution of this failing, basket-case franchise is not axing more trains and attacking those trying to hold it together at the sharp end – it is the removal of Govia at the earliest possible point.
“Directly Operated Railways, who sorted out the mess on the East Coast, are lined up and ready to go and they should be given the green light to take over and start running these routes under public control, in the public interest.”
Southern says the number of trains cancelled in the revised timetable is broadly similar to the number being cancelled ad hoc today but the bulk of the train service will be delivered when people need it most.
It says Southern will run longer trains and replacement bus services as well whenever possible and that passengers will be able to claim compensation for delays against both the original and revised timetables.
The revised temporary weekday timetable will run until train crew availability returns to normal. To encourage staff back to work, Southern is also giving conductors back their leisure travel passes and restoring the mutual shift swap system which gives them flexibility in their working patterns.
Changes under the temporary timetable include the suspension of Southern’s West London Line services between Milton Keynes and Clapham Junction, reductions in service on the Coastway routes, buses replacing most trains between Seaford and Lewes, and a reduced off-peak service between Tonbridge and Redhill where passengers for Victoria will need to change trains.
The new timetable was announced at a meeting called by Hove MP Peter Kyle on Saturday, where angry commuters quizzed Southern bosses about the shambolic service on the Brighton mainline.
Today, the Transport Select Committee takes evidence from RMT about what has caused the huge level of cancellations on the line.
The RMT, which has called four strikes since April in protest at the safety of driver-only operated trains, says short staffing, stress-related illness and inflexible shift patterns since the strike are to blame.
Gatwick Express services in the peaks are largely unaffected but there is a reduced service in the off peak.
Extra stops are being put into Brighton to Ashford services to cover Falmer where Seaford services are to be withdrawn.
West Coastway – Brighton to Southampton services are mostly withdrawn. Passengers should catch Brighton to Portsmouth trains and change at Barnham onto the Victoria to Southampton trains which are still running.