England

Southern rail service 'at rock bottom', says Hove MP

Southern train at Haywards Heath
Image caption The dispute is over the introduction of driver-only trains on which guards will no longer open and close doors

The government is being asked by an MP when it will step in to take over control of Southern, whose rail services he says are at "rock bottom".

Peter Kyle, Labour MP for Hove, has written to the transport secretary to tackle the issue.

Govia Thameslink (GTR), Southern's owner, has unveiled a temporary, reduced timetable to ease the problem, with 341 fewer daily services.

GTR said the revised timetable would improve passengers' journeys.

The government said it was keeping Southern's performance "under constant review" but removing GTR's franchise could "risk the progress being made" and "create uncertainty" for passengers.

Rail minister Claire Perry MP is due to give evidence next Monday, as the new timetable comes into force.

Image caption Commuters who protested at Brighton railway station described three and four-hour journeys

But Mr Kyle said: "What I really want is to know we have now hit rock bottom.

"We're always offered a guarantee that they are turning things around, but things then get worse.

"Now we have a revised timetable and I want to make sure that we are now at the point where we are pressing the reset button and we are able to move forward."

He said the Govia Thameslink franchise was complicated because all revenue went through the government, which also set the timetables and fares.

He said: "I want to know at what point government will accept its responsibility for what is happening and step in to protect the interests of passengers."

Image caption The dispute is over the role of guards

Kent County Council has written to Southern to ask for the revised timetable to be reconsidered because of the impact on essential train journeys.

Two Southern routes serve Kent - Tonbridge to London via Redhill in Surrey, and Ashford to Brighton via Hastings. Both routes will see a reduced service.

Southern's revised timetable is due to start on Monday, with 341 of its 2,242 daily services axed.

The firm has previously blamed issues with crew availability for delays and cancellations of services.

'Crisis management'

The RMT denied claims staff sickness had amounted to unofficial industrial action.

The RMT and GTR have been in dispute over the introduction of more driver-only operated (DOO) services, which includes a change in conductors' roles.

GTR have said the reduced timetable will provide "a better, more consistent service", but the RMT accused the operator of "crisis management".

A GTR spokesman said: "The amended timetable is temporary and aims to reduce the impact on passengers of unpredictable and late notice cancellations caused daily by unprecedented levels of train crew sickness and unwillingness among others to work overtime."

He said the changes would reduce service gaps and help manage crowding issues, and onboard staff would be able to use their discretion to declassify first class when necessary.

Passengers could also claim compensation for delays with the government considering a more generous compensation package, he added.

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