Calls for Govia Thameslink to be stripped of franchise as fresh doubt is cast over its future

There are more calls for the troubled rail franchise Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to be scrapped after passengers have faced more than a month of disruption to services following the introduction of a new timetable. 

The rail operator has suffered major delays and cancellations on its Southern services due to staff shortages and strikes. It has apparently led to government sources now saying the operators could be given notice within weeks of plans to strip them of the franchise.

The transport secretary Chris Grayling has previously called for the organisation to improve its delivery of a new timetable and held meetings with GTR executives and MPs last week to discuss concerns. The meetings were held after chief executive Charles Horton stood down following increasing pressure from those within parliament and the industry.

But RMT general secretary Mick Cash said it was members of the trade union that were bearing the brunt of customers’ anger and that the lack of co-operation or willingness to take some of blame from the government was a “shocking and cowardly way to treat the rail workforce”.

He added: "Telling these basket-case companies that they are drinking in the last chance solution is empty rhetoric from a government ideologically wedded to privatisation and just let's them off the hook again while services are reduced to chaos. Chris Grayling has personally propped up Britain's failing rail franchises while RMT members have been deployed at the sharp end as human shields to bear the brunt of the public anger, threats and abuse. This is no time for empty threats from unnamed government sources. These rip-off rail companies should have the bottle snatched from them, should be kicked out of the saloon and should be barred for good.”

In response to the severe disruption, enhanced compensation schemes are set to be announced for Thameslink passengers, agreed by GTR weeks ago, although not much is known regarding specific figures. The Office of Rail and Road is also planning to run an independent inquiry into the chaos and judge how much to blame operators are.

Despite this, Labour has continued to push for Grayling to resign from his post and repeated calls for the renationalisation of the network.

Andy McDonald, shadow transport secretary, said: “Passengers have needlessly suffered years of delayed, cancelled and overcrowded services because of Tory failure and their refusal to strip incompetent train companies of their franchises. Govia and other failing operators should be stripped of their franchises immediately and services be brought permanently back into public ownership, not just as a temporary measure.”

Responding to the calls for GTR to be stripped of its franchise, a DfT spokesperson said: “GTR passengers are encountering unacceptable service levels and the transport secretary and rail minister have been clear it is their priority that this is put right as soon as possible and passengers are compensated for the disruption. We will investigate whether GTR have breached their contracts and we won’t hesitate to take tough action against them if they are found negligent.”

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