MP: Southern must improve rail service immediately or lose franchise

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called for Southern and Thameslink to be stripped of their rail franchise unless they show immediate improvement.

The MP said that passengers had “reached the end of their tether" with the rail companies, and that MPs were "unwilling to hear any more excuses or false promises that the service will get better".

Southern, Thameslink and Network Rail agreed a performance improvement plan a year ago after MPs met the Rail Minister to demand action.

Performance had been improving under the plan but the latest updates reveal a marked deterioration over the past month, with punctuality now significantly worse than when the plan started.

Early this year 80 per cent of planned Thameslink and Southern services were less than 5 minutes late at their final destination.  The companies set this as their baseline for improvements, but in October/November punctuality had actually fallen to under 74 per cent.

Southern admit that they have continuing problems with insufficient drivers, stating that “whilst more drivers have completed all their training and are now fully productive, cancellations due to crew availability continue to be a factor while this major recruitment programme is ongoing."

The company also said that the last week "has been particularly disruptive for passengers” due to signalling problems, power failures and "temporary shortages of available crew with the start of the holiday season". 

Over the past few days Sussex MPs have received multiple complaints from constituents who have expressed deep frustration at repeated train cancellations and delays.

In July Nick Herbert called a Commons debate on Southern's performance and said that the company should "hang its head in shame" after being rated the worst performing train company in the country by passengers.

Responding to criticism of Southern in January the Prime Minister said that " …. frankly, if the operators continue to fail they should be at risk of losing their franchise, and that is the right answer because it's not good enough to have services like this".

Commenting after Southern announced further disruption of its service today (Monday 21 December) due to shortage of train crew, Mr Herbert said: "The rail companies assured us that this improvement plan would deliver, and that performance would steadily improve, but the last few weeks have seen the service get even worse.  

“We are well aware of factors like the improvements at London Bridge, old infrastructure and rising passenger numbers, but these do not absolve the companies for this systematically poor performance.

"Passengers have reached the end of their tether, and frankly MPs are unwilling to hear any more excuses or false promises that the service will get better.

“Unless there is a genuine immediate improvement then more drastic action must be taken, right up to the option of stripping Southern and Thameslink of their franchise”.

Mr Herbert said that the independent Office for Rail and Road, the regulator for the railway industry, should also take further action against Network Rail which he said “bore an equal share of the responsibility for the situation”.

The Rail Minister, Claire Perry, has told Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames that she will convene a summit with the rail companies early in the New Year to discuss the concerns of local MPs and to demand improvements.




   1.     To read Nick’s news release following his Commons debate in July on the performance of Southern see

   2.     To read December’s update on the joint performance improvement plan from Southern, Thameslink and Network Rail see or

   3.     To read the Prime Minister's comment on Southern in January see

Michelle TaylorRail