‘We are competent to run the railways’, train boss insists

Alex Foulds, passenger services director of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) SUS-160807-091641001
Alex Foulds, passenger services director of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) SUS-160807-091641001
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Stripping Govia Thameslink Railway of its Sussex rail franchise would be a ‘retrograde step’, one of its top directors has claimed.

Passenger services director Alex Foulds has insisted he and fellow railway bosses are fit to run services, despite heavy criticism of poor performance.

A commuter took this picture of a cramped train on Monday evening SUS-160628-115339001

A commuter took this picture of a cramped train on Monday evening SUS-160628-115339001

In an interview with this newspaper, Mr Foulds admitted he did not ‘feel like I am part of a successful business at the moment’.

But he said directors of GTR, which runs Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express services, were best-placed to improve performance.

He said: “I think any talk about change of the management would be a retrograde step. If a new team came in to run this contract they would still be faced with all the constraints that we need to resolve.

“We (the GTR team) have had a lot of successes in the past so the experience and competence is there in the team’s CVs, so we feel we are the right people.”

This newspaper has launched a campaign, calling for GTR to lose its franchise, joining the likes of Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas and thousands of people who signed a petition calling for change.

GTR is locked in a bitter dispute with the RMT union over the future of conductors’ roles, with passengers experiencing months of delays and cancellations due to unofficial strikes and staff shortages.

Southern plans to introduce Driver Only Operation trains, meaning drivers will use CCTV to monitor platforms before closing the doors.

The RMT argue this would cause series safety issues – but Mr Foulds disputed this, while assuring no-one would lose their job as a result of the changes.

He said GTR would progressively introduce the new measures if an agreement with the union could not be reached.

“We are keeping people on the trains to do different things,” he said.

“We have made as many assurances as we can in writing to anyone who will listen that we are not reducing any jobs through this.

“Frankly I find it very hard for anyone to see how this is a way to make money because I don’t feel like I am part of a successful business at the moment.”

When asked where he thought public sympathy fell, Mr Foulds believed it was ‘mixed’ but, on balance, more people he spoke to sympathised with GTR’s position.

He said it was unfair to suggest most staff were unhappy with the changes, adding GTR had guaranteed workers would not lose their jobs.

Mr Foulds said it was ‘important to say sorry’ for ongoing delays, which Portslade and Hove MP Peter Kyle claimed had led to commuters receiving written warnings from work.

He added: “It makes me feel incredibly frustrated and very determined to try and make things better.

“It makes me wonder whether the RMT share my level of frustration and feeling of accountability but it mainly makes me want to try harder to do the best job that we can.”

‘NO WAY WE WOULD DELIBERATELY CANCEL TRAINS’

GTR will introduce a temporary reduced timetable from Monday, with 341 services cancelled each day in the hope of providing a more reliable service. Mr Foulds said there were ‘no plans’ to cut the timetable further.

He acknowledged the congested network would be extremely busy and advised passengers would need to work in partnership with the operator to help prevent severe overcrowding.

He said: “We have got ways of dealing with severe overcrowding. But to some degree it is a partnership with our customers. It’s going to be a busy time.”

Mr Foulds denied staff were banned from taking overtime or that management deliberately cancelled trains.

He conceded there were a small number of cases where crews were available to staff part of a service but GTR ‘hadn’t managed to organise ourselves well enough’ to run them.

A spokesman for GTR explained passengers sometimes reported seeing crews at platforms but often staffing issues down the line prevented services running.

Mr Foulds said: “There is no way that we ever deliberately cancel a train that we could have run. Our job is to run a service and we would never contemplate that for a second.”

The Department for Transport served a remedial plan notice to GTR last year, following continued perfomance issues.

DFT has responded to a 13,000-signature petition, stating the situation is ‘unacceptable’ but criticised union bosses for strike action it said was ‘in no way justified’.

It dismissed calls for GTR to lose the franchise.

It said: “The industry and Government are addressing the longstanding, historic problems, including driver shortages, rolling stock and network capacity.

“By 2018 we expect to return the network to the performance that all passengers deserve, and we will do it with increased capacity, renewed facilities and robust, durable infrastructure. Changing the name on the company’s front door would (not) do anything to solve the problems.”