Passengers using Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services in the last two years have endured a torrid time. Chris Gibb’s report into improving Southern performance for the Department for Transport lays bears many of the reasons why.

The review was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Transport to identify what actions were needed to improve Southern’s performance and the passenger experience. This included actions to ensure closer working between Southern’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail.

What have we learnt?

The elements of a unstable mixture of track and signals in poor condition, no one person clearly in charge, rising passenger numbers, an undeliverable timetable, re-building at London Bridge and other places plus new trains being introduced were and, to a degree still are, all present. This was made all the more difficult by industrial action which further complicated existing challenges. What is clear is that passengers have unfairly borne the brunt of the problems.

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? Passengers need a more reliable railway. Everyone wants to see more investment in the railway, but it must be done in a way that keeps passengers on board.

So what happens next?

We are pleased to see 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 drivers’ overtime ban threatens to kill off the very green shoots of recovery seen on Southern in the last few months. It is vital that all parties in this dispute get back around the table to bring the services back to normal as soon as possible.

Passengers will also want re-assurance from the Government that the lessons learnt from this episode are understood by all involved and are being acted on in future planning, projects and franchises.

Click here to read the Government’s response to the report.

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