Rail services between Rye and Ashford are ‘almost extinct’ according to the leader of the county council.
Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern services, has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with the RMT union over the future role of conductors for months, with staff shortages leading to misery for passengers causing frequent delays and cancellations.
On Monday (July 11) a revised weekday timetable was brought in by GTR, cancelling 341 services a day, which included removing a number of services between Hastings and Ashford International.
Keith Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother), leader of East Sussex County Council, said: “At the end of the day it’s not acceptable, the revised timetable seems indiscriminate.
“At the end of the day we won’t get parochial, but services between Ashford and Rye by now are almost extinct.
“I’m not a rail operator but a representative of the people and I will make those representations.”
During the Full Council meeting on Tuesday (July 12), Cllr Glazier was asked several times if he thought the rail operator should be stripped of the Southern franchise.
Carolyn Lambert (LDem, Seaford Blatchington) said: “Will the leader of the county council join me in calling upon the Government to end the Southern rail franchise and to restore the proper timetable with immediate effect?”
Cllr Glazier replied by pointing out there was a lot of work going on through the MPs across East Sussex, but he was not sure stripping GTR of the franchise ‘was the answer’.
He added: “I would certainly join with you in calling for the secretary of state and minister to get a handle on this problem and to fix it.”
Frank Carstairs (UKIP, Seaford Sutton) asked if the leader could make representations to Southern and the RMT to reinstate services.
Cllr Glazier explained that he was meeting MPs on Wednesday (July 13) where he could put the whole Southern rail situation before them with colleagues from the district and borough councils.
Last week this newspaper launched a campaign for GTR to be stripped of its franchise, which also includes the Thameslink and Gatwick Express services.
Rail bosses apologised to passengers when they appeared before the House of Commons Transport Select Committee last Monday (July 4), a week after Transport Focus’ latest survey showed Southern rock bottom in satisfaction in most categories.
The Government has already dismissed the possibility of taking the franchise off GTR.
Responding to petition signed by more than 13,000 people, the Department for Transport said that GTR were ‘delivering plans to reverse decades of under-investment on the rail network’ and removing the franchise ‘will not address the challenges on this part of the network’.
The statement added: “I’ve been clear that the current situation on Southern and Thameslink routes is unacceptable and that passengers deserve a far better service.
“However, the situation has been made far worse by union bosses, who are leading their members into a dispute that is in no way justified. During May and June, a significant proportion of the cancellations was caused by the unjustified industrial action on this route, and the operator has a contractual right not to be penalised for events like this that are outside of their control.
“It is disappointing that union bosses continue to overlook the impact they are having on passengers, and we urge the unions to work with the operator to resolve this issue as a matter of urgency.”
Late on Monday (July 11) a spokesman for Southern said: “Some 82 per cent of Southern services are running to time against the temporary weekday revised timetable introduced today to reduce the impact on passengers and staff of unpredictable and late notice cancellations.
“The changes we made today have, so far, delivered an encouraging start to what we wanted to give our passengers: a more robust timetable with more trains running to schedule at times when people need them the most.
“But while we cautiously welcome this news, it is early days and we also realise that what our passengers really want is for us to get back to our normal timetable as quickly as possible.”
For more information on the revised timetable visit Southern’s website.
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