Councillor calls for Southern rail operator to be stripped of franchise

There have been calls from West Sussex councillors for Govia Thameslink Rail (GTR) to be stripped of its franchise.

The rail operator, which runs Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services, recently introduced its third new timetable in the space of two months, causing disruption across the board.

Passengers have faced delays and cancellations

Passengers have faced delays and cancellations

This prompted a letter from the county council expressing ‘serious concerns’ about the impact the delays and cancellations were having on residents, visitors and businesses.

At a County Hall meeting on Friday, Lib Dem Dr James Walsh, who represents Littlehampton East, asked the council to ‘get away from the mealy mouthed platitudes’ and put more pressure on the powers that be. Dr Walsh called for a delegation to be sent to meet transport secretary Chris Grayling to ask him to end the GTR franchise ‘and make sure we actually have it replaced by a body that is interested in running a railway company’.

He added: “The hard-pressed commuters and residents of West Sussex have been put upon for far too long.”

County council leader Louise Goldsmith said she would raise the idea of a delegation with the county’s MPs, in the hopes of meeting Mr Grayling after the summer recess.

Littlehampton's Dr James Walsh has called for GTR to lose its franchise

Littlehampton's Dr James Walsh has called for GTR to lose its franchise

She added: “I think we’re all particularly worried about the third timetable and what it will bring.

“We’re all aware of the economic impact that is going to this council and everyone else for these delays.”

Passengers have faced day after day of cancellations and delays since the introduction of a new timetable in May, which GTR had lauded as ‘a significant boost to services’.

What followed was definitely not a significant boost, and an interim timetable was introduced on June 4 with a third following on July 16. The company even took out a half-page advert in a number of newspapers apologising for the ‘ongoing problems’.

As the third timetable was launched, Nick Brown, GTR’s chief operating officer, said: “We apologise to passengers for the disruption caused by the introduction of the May timetable due to late approval of these routes.

“The new timetable provides passengers with a more robust and reliable service, gives priority to peak hour trains and seeks to reduce gaps in the service.

“We encourage passengers affected by disruption to seek compensation.”

Dr Nigel Dennis (Lib Dem, Horsham Hurst) asked why ‘a more sensible pricing structure’ could not be used on the Gatwick Express service, which is also run by GTR, to enable more airport passengers to use it and free up space on other services.

He added: “Rather than dealing with large numbers of compensation claims it would be better to concentrate efforts on running a more reliable service in the first place.”

Bob Lanzer (Con, Maidenbower & Worth), the county council’s cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, assured the meeting that members were not ‘just engaged in platitudes’.

He added: “We are very actively engaged in raising the issues.”