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Ouch! The Gibb report punches hard

22 June 2017

Passengers using Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick express services in the last two years have endured a torrid time. Chris Gibb’s hard hitting report lays bears many of the reasons why. The report is written in a very direct, clear way – it does not feel as though it has been sanitised.

It will make pretty uncomfortable reading for all involved, but the Government and unions in particular. Some of the quotes make you wince:

‘None of the parties in the system share the same incentives or objectives..’

‘The infrastructure on the Southern network is in a poor and unreliable condition...’

‘The system cannot possibly work to passengers’ satisfaction with these components in this state...’

‘No single party has had responsibility for the overall system...’

‘Urgent decisions are needed if the 2018 system is to work...’

‘The RMT and ASLEF leadership, supported currently by their members…are the primary cause for the system integrity to fail…’

In other words without the industrial action we might have all muddled through. With it there is little hope of restoring normality. Any passenger who actually reads this will conclude the project has been riddled with problems and will yearn for a ‘fat controller’ – someone clearly in charge and with all parties pulling in the same direction.

So a tough history lesson but more importantly: what happens next? It is good that some of the actions identified in the report and funding to go with them, as well as improvements to compensation, are already underway. However, the Government and the unions now need to reflect very deeply on their next steps. The ASLEF Southern driver’s overtime ban threatens to kill off the very green shoots of recovery seen in the last few months. Yes, crazy that any system relies on overtime working to function normally but that is another battle for future franchises. Everyone wants to see more investment in the railway, but it must be done in a way that keeps passengers on board.

Passengers will now want some questions answered: who is now in charge? What is the recovery plan? And what are the realistic prospects for improved performance in 2018 as the increased Thameslink service and London Bridge improvements kick in.

McNulty, Brown, Hendy, Bowe, Shaw and now Gibb joins the catalogue of reports in making the railways work better and offer better value for money. Yes, this is Mr Gibb’s report (but, having known him for 18 years I know he is a respected and trusted railwayman). Some will disagree with his findings, but the Government response will be closely watched. We cannot carry on like this on major projects.

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