Posted 29th June 2017 | 2 Comments

Court orders DfT to make decision about Southern

A HIGH Court judge has ruled that transport secretary Chris Grayling must publish a decision about the status of the Govia Thameslink Railway franchise by 13 July, or risk a judicial review of his department’s management of the franchise.

The government has been considering whether Govia’s failures to reach performance targets, particularly on Southern routes, amount to a breach of franchise contract.

Govia has submitted that poor performance has been caused by several external factors, which include the disruption caused by the rebuilding of London Bridge as well as industrial action.

Discussions have been taking place behind the scenes since early last year, but now the court has forced Mr Grayling’s hand, ordering him to take action at the risk of facing judicial review later.

The ruling by Mr Justice Ouseley came in response to a claim by the Association of British Commuters, which wanted a judicial review of driver-controlled operation because it alleged that the extent of the disruption amounted to a breach of disability legislation.

The court did not accept this argument, and ordered the ABC to pay two-thirds of the DfT’s costs of £25,900.

Counsel for the ABC, James Hodivala, submitted that there had been an unreasonable delay in making a decision about who was responsible for the poor performance, and whether Govia could reasonably plead that it had been a victim of ‘force majeure’ – in other words, whether Govia could not meet the targets set in its franchise contract because of circumstances outside its control. He also maintained that there had been a ‘lack of transparency’ about the performance targets themselves.

The DfT must now make a decision about whether Govia must take at least some of the responsibility for performance failings within two weeks of today’s hearing.

Counsel for the Department, Clive Sheldon, said such a decision had been ‘imminent’ anyway, and that any penalty would then be decided. He explained: “The question of remedy will be a later decision, but not a significantly later decision.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are pleased the High Court has thrown out the application for a judicial review by the Association of British Commuters.

“An independent report by rail expert Chris Gibb, which was published last week, made it very clear that the responsibility for disruption on Southern was primarily caused by industrial action led by RMT and ASLEF and exceptional levels of staff sick leave.

“We have been considering whether the extensive disruption to the line last year was entirely beyond GTR’s control and our decision was due to be communicated to the company imminently. We are more than happy to inform GTR of the verdict within the 14 days required by the judge.”

Govia has already been hit directly by the Southern problems, and its majority shareholder Go-Ahead Group has warned shareholders that its expected profits from the franchise have been halved.

The ruling came on the first day of an indefinite overtime and rest day working ban by ASLEF over the DCO dispute which is set to cut Southern services by as much as 25 per cent, although emergency timetables have been prepared which make the best use of drivers while they are working their core four-day week of 35 hours.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • claydon william, Norwich, Norfolk

    This whole dispute is about union power and the wish by Mick Cash and his entourage to re-nationalise.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with train safety. The unions signed up to DOO in 2011 for Thameslink; but the unions realised they goofed, because once the second person on the trains is in a 'non-train operating' role, they have no industrial voting muscle in disputes; only the drivers matter.

    I have it on good authority, there is an unofficial 'sick roster' on GTR, so staff know when to report sick. If I were GTR, I'd be employing some 'undercover' security staff to look for some of these staff playing golf or squash on full pay, when they are supposed to be sick, and start sacking a few of these idiots who are taking tax-payers for a ride..

    We are now paying the cost of merging franchises together into 'mega-franchises'; (like GTR/ Northern etc); for operational purposes, rather than focussing franchises on local markets and service quality; (regional/ Intercity/ Metro); and insisting on competition and fare-differentials to maximize competition and keep fares low..
    [You may well know more than I about individual agreements, but as a matter of record the Bedford-St Pancras/Moorgate route became DOO upon electrification in 1983, and when Thameslink started five years later it was DOO from the outset.--Editor.]

  • Andrew Gwilt, Basildon Essex

    I think that other rail operators such as Abellio, MTR, First Group, Stagecoach/Virgin, DB Arriva and Trenitalia could take over the Southern franchise.

    Abellio, DB Arriva, Trenitalia and First Group might be favourites to take over if one of them does win the bid to take over from GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway) Southern franchise which includes Gatwick Express aswell.

    [There is no such thing as a Southern franchise. Southern is a marketing division or brand within Govia Thameslink Railway, and any transfer of the type you suggest (assuming that anyone wants to take the challenge, anyway) would involve some complex disentangling of the present GTR contract. It would not be easy -- or cheap.--Editor.]