A commuters’ group has applied for a judicial review into the Government’s handling of the Southern Rail management contract after raising more than £26,000 from fellow passengers last year.
The application is the result of five months work, which the Association of British Commuters (ABC) says has been frustrated by slow responses to their freedom of information requests to the Department of Transport.
The grounds for an appeal focus on a delay in the Secretary of state announcing whether GTR, which runs Southern, is in breach of its franchise obligations, and discrimination to disabled passengers as a result of the migration of guards to on board supervisors, who are not required on all services.
A spokeswoman said: “Today’s news will be extremely welcome to all our donors, supporters and volunteers; without whose support none of this would have been possible. It is right that our fellow passengers will now play a part in bringing the government to account for the damage Southern Rail has caused to so many thousands of lives.
“Both the Southern Rail management contract and remedial plan remain publicly available only in redacted form and, without transparency, there is no way to clarify the true causes of this unprecedented rail crisis.
“There has long ceased to be any justification for the Secretary of State’s ‘hands off’ approach to a company that is his department’s direct contractor.
“We began this process back in September, at a time when we felt we’d already reached our last resort. That it has got so much worse, and the DfT have still not acted, now beggars belief.
“Commuters have long since passed the point of exhaustion, and it is a matter of shame for the DfT that we have had to go to such great lengths to demand action be taken.”
The application has been lodged and is due to be issued imminently. It will then be served on the Secretary of State who will have the opportunity to respond by filing Summary Grounds of Resistance within a further 21 days.
The court will then consider, usually without a hearing in the first instance, whether to grant leave (permission to proceed to court). If leave is granted, ABC will launch a second crowdfunding campaign to raise sufficient funds to take the case through to its conclusion.
ABC also thanked its legal team, barrister Jamas Hodivala of 2 Bedford Row and solicitor Matthew Garbutt and his team at Devonshires Solicitors LLP.
Lianna Etkind, Public Transport Campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport said: “Today is a step forward for passenger power. It is absolutely right that the Government is held to account for the failings of the Southern franchise, which has made peoples’ lives a misery.
“Long before any industrial dispute, Southern passengers had to rely on a train service plagued by delays and disruptions, under a management contract with no financial penalties for poor performance.
“Fundamentally, the running of a train service is down to the contract between Government and train operator, so the Government’s role in setting and enforcing the standards in the contract with Govia must be properly scrutinised.
“For far too long, passengers’ voices have been ignored in the tussle between Southern Rail and the unions. We need to ensure that in the future, passenger representation is written into this franchise, and indeed into all rail franchises, so that those who have to use the trains day in, day out, have their voices heard.”