BY STUART HARLAND, CHAIRMAN MLAG
MLAG (Marsh Link Action Group) is very concerned with the current Marshlink service. In its view, passengers have become the fall guys in an industrial dispute between the RMT union and Southern Railways with, we understand, conductors being paid for sick leave and Southern not being held to account for penalties due for failure to meet franchise service levels. It is suggested that conductors are taking sickness leave as an informal means of industrial action that results in trains having to be cancelled. Is Southern listening to the demands of its employees and is Southern employing sufficient staff to avoid overtime being institutionalised to operate its base franchise services? Meanwhile, there are calls for GTR (Govia Thameslink Railway, Southern’s parent company responsible, through its various subsidiaries, for rail operations across the whole of the south-east of the UK, an enormous area) to be stripped of its franchise.
The Marshlink service at the moment is a spasmodic rail service. Its customers (without other realistic methods of travel available) each day are having to run the gauntlet of concern whether they will get to work on time – will my planned train run; if not will there be a replacement bus; what’s the timing of the bus service; am I expected to wait for the next scheduled train (which may or may not run)? Any Delay/ Repay that may be recovered from Southern will be inadequate to compensate for the messing up of a schedule.
Marshlink passengers have suffered these concerns with the Rye Shuttle for as long as the Shuttle has been running, the train that operates it having to step in to cover the basic timetable if there is a unit failure. Now, with Southern’s current staffing problems, every scheduled train has this concern hanging over it.
MLAG, together with other members of the East Sussex Rail Alliance (Bexhill Rail Action Group, St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement Programme) are representing members’ views to Southern. They will be at a stakeholder meeting with GTR on June 15. Meanwhile, the irritation for passengers continues as they continue to experience an unpredictable service. In terms of practical help, all we can suggest is to look at the live departures board to see if your planned train is running.