Govia Thameslink passengers should get a month’s free rail travel, say Conservative MPs

Passengers queueing to board Thameslink trains at St Pancras. Picture printed with permission of Joa

Passengers queueing to board Thameslink trains at St Pancras. Picture printed with permission of Joanna King. - Credit: Archant

Will long-suffering Thameslink commuters be compensated with a month’s free rail travel?

That’s the demand made by 15 Conservative MPs as recompense for weeks of chaos faced by customers of Govia Thameslink Rail.

Following the introduction of a new timetable in May, commuters have endured cancellations, delays, overcrowding and injuries, with some people even suffering panic attacks on packed rush hour services.

Northern Rail season ticket holders, who have also been plagued by similar problems, have been told they will receive compensation equivalent to four weeks’ train travel, which prompted Tory MPs including St Albans MP Anne Main to insist Transport Secretary Chris Grayling offers the same deal to Govia passengers.

A letter to Mr Grayling said: “Performance on the network remains deeply unsatisfactory in the seventh week of the new timetable to the justifiable fury of our constituents. Trains continue to be delayed, and when they do arrive they are often too short, resulting in overcrowding.

“For our constituents, who endured well over a year of abysmal services as a result of the industrial disputes and the London Bridge upgrade, this further collapse in services is the final straw.”

Harpenden MP Bim Afolami introduced a Bill to the Commons on Wednesday, calling for commuters to receive compensation.

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The MPs say the rebate ought to be paid by the private operators, rather than the government effectively giving taxpayers back their own money.

However, they also say the immediate priority for Mr Grayling is to sort out the timetabling chaos.

Speaking in the Commons this week, rail minister Jo Johnson admitted: “Performance by GTR has been unacceptable since the timetable change on May 20.

“GTR is working to increase the predictability and reliability of journeys on its network, including reducing the number of on-the-day cancellations.

“On 15 July, it will implement an interim timetable, which will allow GTR to slowly build up services to the originally planned May timetable.

“We have said passengers affected by severe disruption will receive special compensation; an announcement will follow shortly. We have also commissioned the independent Glaister review to make sure we learn lessons and this does not happen again.

“We have started a formal review of the franchise to establish whether GTR has met its contractual obligations in the planning and delivery of the May timetable. We will not hesitate to take tough action against it if it is found to have been negligent.”

The government has reportedly warned Govia they are drinking in the ‘last chance saloon’, but railway workers’ union the RMT has demanded Govia should be sacked and the network returned to public ownership.

RMT general secretary Mike Cash said: “The government is ideologically wedded to privatisation and just lets 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. It’s a shocking and cowardly way to treat the rail workforce.

“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.

“The only alternative to the crisis on Britain’s privatised railways is public ownership on a permanent basis.”

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for St Albans Daisy Cooper has set up Facebook group St Albans Commuter and Passenger Action Group, with the aim of collating accounts of the effect the problems have had on people’s lives.

Ms Cooper said: “Nurses are late for administering medication to patients, people are losing paid work or are being forced to take leave, and others have fainted because of the cramped conditions. The situation is still getting worse, not better, and the government needs to get a grip – now.

“We need to root out the rot and start afresh: Thameslink should be stripped of its franchise, Grayling should resign, and emergency legislation should be introduced to give passengers a statutory role in running the railways they pay for and use.”