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Britain’s biggest rail franchise, which includes the strike-hit Southern service, is likely to be broken up when it expires in 2021, the government has said.
Passengers on Southern have experienced widespread disruption since it was incorporated into Britain’s biggest rail franchise, run by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), in 2015.
While the government has blamed Southern’s problems on the long industrial dispute with train drivers and crew, an official report highlighted the merger of Southern with Thameslink and Great Northern as a contributory factor.
Campaigners have called for its breakup, while Transport for London have had attempts to take over metropolitan routes rebuffed by the government.
The Department for Transport said it was “actively looking at the shape and size of the next Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise on expiry of the existing contract in 2021.”
Further strikes by the RMT union have been called on Southern for Wednesday and Thursday this week, when action will also take place on Greater Anglia, South Western, Northern and Merseyrail in the ongoing row over the roles of guards and the use of driver-only trains.
Southern said most of its services will not be directly affected by the walkout, although its trains will be busier because of the strike action taking place on the same dates on the neighbouring South-Western network, where 700 trains will be cancelled due to the strike.
Despite the widespread RMT action, train operators are hopeful that one major impasse could be resolved, with the ballot result of Aslef train drivers on Southern due on Wednesday.
GTR agreed a deal with union leaders last month to end the dispute over guards, as well as confirm a five-year, 23% pay deal, subject to the approval of Aslef members. Although companies have continued to run some or all services without RMT guards, limited drivers’ strikes last winter brought Southern to a standstill.
This article first appeared on www.theguardian.com
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