Theresa May defends ministers’ handling of Southern crisis

Theresa May speaking in the House of Commons with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in the background. SUS-161214-131723001

Theresa May speaking in the House of Commons with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in the background. SUS-161214-131723001

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Prime Minister Theresa May has defended her ministers’ handling of the Southern Rail crisis during Prime Minister’s Questions today.

A 48-hour walkout by train drivers’ union ASLEF began yesterday (Tuesday December 13) in a dispute with rail operator Govia Thameslink Railway over the introduction of driver-only operation on Southern services.

The strike, which follows 11 walkouts by the RMT union in 2016, has led to the complete shutdown of the Southern rail network, with no trains running.

Both GTR and ASLEF have started talks hosted by mediation sevice ACAS to end the dispute this morning as another strike is scheduled for Friday (December 15).

During PMQs, Caroline Lucas, Brighton Pavilion MP said: “I don’t think the Prime Minister has any idea of the level of suffering and pain that rail passengers and businesses in Brighton and beyond are suffering.

“And it’s not just on strike days, this has been going on for well over 18 months.

“So given the failure of her passive transport secretary, who apparently has no intention of acting to deal with this utterly incompetent company, will she sack him, strip GTR of the franchise, and freeze fares for long-suffering passengers?”

Mrs May replied: “First of all my right honourable friend the transport secretary has been taking steps in relation to the general performance of Southern Railway.

“We have stepped in to invest £20m to specifically tackle the issue and bring a rapid improvement to services.

“We announced the Delay Repay 15 from 11 December for the whole of Southern, which will make it easier for passengers to claim compensation.

“We have announced we will give passengers who are season ticket holders on Southern a refund a month’s travel.

“So we have been looking at that wider issue, but the honourable lady raises the question of the current strike.

“There is only one body responsible for the current strike and that is ASLEF. It’s a strike from the trade unions and she should be standing up and condemning that strike, because it’s passengers who suffer.”

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