A passenger group plans to sue the government over the chaos on Southern trains and has set up a crowdfunding page to pay for the case.
Suppporters have already pledged more than £2,000 since the Association of British Commuters crowdfunding page – bit.ly/southernjustice – went live this morning (Monday 5 September).
The group has 30 days to reach its official £10,000 target although one member, Summer Dean, a video producer from Kemp Town, said that she hoped the group would raise nearer £25,000.
The aim is to fund a judicial review. This would involve asking a High Court judge to review the decisions and actions of the Department for Transport (DfT).
The group is working on the case with Devonshires Solicitors and, just two days before the next strike by staff, it is asking for passengers to share their experiences so that it can compile a dossier of evidence.
It wants to hear about any job losses or lost business, disruption to home and family life and dangers to health and safety during what it described as the “summer of chaos”.
The group said: “This is more than a legal crowdfunder. It is a crowd action – one that will require the involvement of commuters every step of the way.
“We want to hear your stories in more depth and make sure you are listened to, not only by the press but by the High Court.
“Rail users are invited to send their stories to email@example.com which will be a great help to us in building the case.
“The crowdfunder aims to reach a target of £25,000 within the next 30 days. With extremely generous rates from our legal firm and barrister, we at the Association of British Commuters will be doing much of the legwork ourselves to make sure the money donated goes as far as possible.
“Time is short and the situation is urgent. There is a strict time limit on launching judicial review claims. We need to act now and we need to act fast.”
Summer Dean said: “We are taking this action in the name of every rail user who has suffered at the hands of Southern Rail.
“We believe that the government has been very quiet during this crisis and we are now ready to use the law to demand answers.
“We need to question the fairness and legality of decisions of a government who, in this particular case, seem more concerned with serving the interests of a private company whose first priority is their shareholders, rather than passengers who are paying for a service that they are not receiving.”
Campaign co-ordinator Emily Yates said: “With tens of thousands of commuters affected, we have had an incredible response from people offering their skills and resources to fight this ongoing injustice.
“The generosity and camaraderie of such people has been the only consolation of this chaotic summer and the Association of British Commuters will not let them down. It’s time to take the campaign to the next level.”
The legal crowdfunder launches with the support of Bring Back British Rail, the Campaign for Better Transport and the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users Association.
Bring Back British Rail said: “Among the many wrongs of rail privatisation, the present governance of the Southern franchise is among the most dysfunctional.
“Instead of an agreement to run services in return for sharing its profits, the government receives all ticket revenue from Govia and returns part of it to them in the form of a fixed fee.
“Ministers and civil servants in the Department for Transport have to be honest with themselves and accept that a fragmented rail industry, where no one wants to be responsible for a problem, is at the root of the industry’s lacklustre punctuality, appalling customer service and shoddy record on investment when compared to the last decade of British Rail.
“The irony of privatisation is that the DfT now has more direct control over the railways than they ever did as British Rail.”
James MacColl, head of campaigns at the Campaign for Better Transport said: “It’s great that passengers are coming together to hold the government to account for its lack of action.
“The recent announcement that they’re creating a £20 million fund and a project board to consider how to improve services on Southern was welcome though long overdue.
“It also does not solve the problems. There should be a similar fund for passengers to compensate them for the disruptions they’ve suffered so far and season ticket fares must be frozen so commuters won’t be charged yet more for a beleaguered service.
“People are quite reasonably upset that they’re apparently going to have to fork out even more next year despite all the disruptions they’ve been suffering.”
Stephen Trigg, who chairs the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users’ Association, said: “We are pleased to support a campaign for proper accountability from the Department of Transport.
“Poor decision-making and inaction by the DfT has allowed Redhill Line train services to reduce significantly over the last 10 years.
“Punctuality has declined as train services have been severely cut for London Bridge to be rebuilt and then reduced further in the current crisis.
The DfT have perpetuated unfair fares at Redhill and now propose to penalise hardworking commuters further with more service cuts and extended journey times from the Redhill line.”
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