Making things ‘work better’
On 1 September, transport secretary Chris Grayling MP wrote about the “urgent changes” needed on Southern rail to ‘make things work better’.
[Chris Grayling: My new team will help solve the problems on Southern rail, Evening Standard, 2016-09-01]
I am a daily commuter and know what pain this disruption will have caused. When I became Transport Secretary six weeks ago I made the Southern issue my priority.
It’s true that its routes are being disrupted by totally unnecessary strikes and unofficial action by unions who are opposed to the continued modernisation of the railways and desperately cling to 1970s working practices.
That is mainly why journeys have been disrupted for months. Train guards have been calling in sick in unprecedented numbers and at short notice as part of what is clearly an organised attempt to disrupt services — and that’s on the days without strikes. Southern’s parent company GTR and the unions need to reach an agreement soon so its passengers can travel on time.
[…] Currently, GTR runs the trains and Network Rail manages the tracks and signals. The tendency is for those involved to blame each other for problems and not to work together. That must change. I want the Southern network to be run by an integrated team of people working together to ensure passengers get decent journeys and problems are solved quickly. So I am establishing a Project Board, headed by a vastly experienced rail executive, to urgently plan how to create this team.
This is not about corporate reorganisation or change of ownership. That would waste time better spent improving the railway. It’s about a joined-up approach to running the trains and the tracks and making things work better. I want this plan in place by the early autumn.
According to campaigner Paul Davies, the Department for Transport has accepted in writing that it has allowed Southern train operator Govia executives ‘to make money personally from running a penalty fares appeals service that is supposed to be independent and seen to be independent, but is in fact just part of Govia’.
On 6 December, Mr Grayling made another announcement on his plans for ‘a more joined-up railway’.
[‘On the future of the rail network’, Written statement to Parliament, gov.uk, 2016-12-06]
[Chris Grayling:] Our railways need to adapt and change in order to be able to cope with the growth that they have already experienced, and that which lies ahead. […] The Shaw Report made a series of recommendations for change, including that Network Rail devolve responsibility to the route level. I support the principles of the Shaw Report, and I support Network Rail’s reform programme, but there is much more to do.
I intend to press ahead with a recommendation put to the department 5 years ago by Sir Roy McNulty, when he reported to Philip Hammond on how to make the railways run better and more cost-effectively. I will do this initially at an operational level. In order for all those involved to be incentivised to deliver the best possible service for the passenger, I expect the new franchises – starting with South Eastern and East Midlands – to have integrated operating teams between train services and infrastructure. I will also be inviting Transport for London (TfL) to be more closely involved in developing the next South Eastern franchise, through seconding a TfL representative to the franchise specification team.
We will continue to develop the model for greater alignment of track and train as further franchises are renewed – including the option of joint ventures. In the meantime, my department is also publishing an update to the rail franchising schedule which I am placing in the libraries of the House.
I also want to bring new skills into the challenge of upgrading our railways. I will begin by looking at the reopening of the link from Oxford to Cambridge, to support a range of opportunities including housing, science, technology and innovation. I am going to establish East West Rail as a new and separate organisation, to accelerate the permissions needed to reopen the route, and to secure private sector involvement to design, build and operate the route as an integrated organisation.