NEARLY ONE-THIRD of all Southern Rail’s trains were late or failed to run last year. And 2017 could be even worse, with up to 46 per cent of trains cancelled or delayed in January. Furious season ticket holders and other passengers are claiming compensation, running into thousands of pounds. How can a private company absorb such costs? Simple. Southern receives £1 billion of taxpayers’ money to run the franchise. But the government deals with ticket sales, while Govia (GTR), which owns Southern, is paid to run the service – even if no trains run. Taxpayers have forked out £53 million so far in compensation. There is no incentive for Southern to run a decent service or settle its dispute with rail unions RMT and Aslef. Now into its eleventh month, this is the longest dispute since rail privatisation. Despite a barrage of anti-union propaganda by the BBC and Evening Standard during strike days, which have increased since Aslef joined the fray in December, many commuters blame the company and government for their misery, ironically commenting that at least on strike days they are spared the false hope that their train will arrive.
JOBS AND SAFETY
The strikes are over the introduction of Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains. Southern wants the driver, not a conductor to open and close the doors. This is both unsafe and will impede disabled access. Although Southern claims no jobs or pay rates will be affected, this promise is not being kept. When the seven-year franchise is up, new conditions can be imposed. However, in the last week of January, Aslef broke ranks and called off their strike to enter talks. Many Aslef drivers rejected this treachery by refusing to cross RMT picket lines, but they are not in control of the negotiations and a sell-out is a real danger. The only solution must include Southern’s nationalisation. West Anglia’s nationalisation in 2009 resulted in a much-improved service and customer satisfaction. Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan is pushing for this, pointing out that London Overground also improved after Transport for London (TfL) was put in charge. But TfL and Khan could prove just as hard taskmasters. Sadiq has repeatedly condemned the strikes, just as has done in the ongoing dispute over ticket office staffing on the Tube. That’s why trade unionists should demand Southern, and all other privatised rail services are renationalised without compensation and under workers’ control. Instead of handing over £7 billion a year to franchise holders, that money should be spent improving the railways, protecting jobs and conditions, and planning a greener transport system fit for the 21st century.
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