2017-04-08 08:32:28 UTC
A suppressed report into a series of problems at Britain’s biggest rail
operator will call for the company to be cut back, The Times has learnt.
The review of Southern Rail will suggest moving some services to other
operators to force its parent company to focus on London commuter routes.
It will stop far short of demanding the full break-up or renationalisation
of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) but acknowledge that “practical steps”
must be taken to reduce the size and scope of the franchise.
The report— due to be published in the coming weeks — is expected to
criticise the £1 billion-a-year contract handed to the company by the
Department for Transport, which left the taxpayer with huge bills for lost
fares and passenger compensation.
A further conclusion will criticise timetabling, with many empty trains
running in the middle of the night while the operator fails to provide
rush-hour capacity into London.
The report is the work of a troubleshooter brought in to raise performance
on Southern, which has been dogged by a year of delays, cancellations and
More than a quarter of the network’s trains, which carry 300,000 passengers
a day, have been late over the past year. This is around double the
Chris Gibb, a Network Rail director with 35 years’ experience in the
industry, produced the report for the DfT in December but it has been put
on hold. Opposition MPs have called for GTR, which also runs Thameslink,
Gatwick Express and Great Northern, to be broken up or brought into public
Mr Gibb’s report will seek to spread the blame, with GTR, the DfT, unions
and Network Rail, which manages the rail network, each coming in for
criticism. It will not recommend the abolition of the franchise, which is
the biggest in the country, but will conclude that it should be subjected
to repeated reviews with the possibility that some services are taken out
of its hands.
GTR’s seven-year franchise was signed off by Sir Patrick McLoughlin, then
transport secretary, in 2014. It is run as a management contract with the
taxpayer bearing the financial risk due to the disruption created by
projects such as the Thameslink upgrade and the redevelopment of London
Mr Gibb’s report, which has also been provided to the train company and to
Network Rail, is expected to criticise the deal for effectively letting GTR
operate with no “revenue risk”. The taxpayer picked up a £38 million bill
for loss of revenue caused by strikes on Southern last year and millions
more was paid in compensation to passengers. The report will also attack
the lack of coherence between Network Rail and the train company, with
engineering work poorly planned.
A DfT spokeswoman said: “Improving rail services for Southern passengers is
a priority for the government and for the operator. We have received Chris
Gibb’s report and are looking at it before we publish it in due course.”