Great Western on brink of chaos as rail franchise shambles rages on

Published on Thursday, 15 August 2013 11:26
Written by Vicki Mitchem

Rail union RMT warned today that the chaotic rail franchising process has taken a further turn for the worse with the extension of the current First Great Western deal teetering on the brink of chaos with just eight weeks left until the current contract expires and no new agreement in place.

The union is also warning that FGW are taking a lead amongst train operators in seeking to close down ticket offices by driving people to make on-line bookings or pay grossly inflated ticket prices or risk not getting a ticket at all.

As exclusively revealed by RMT , the Government have a standby rescue plan to bring in the publicly owned Directly Operated Railways to run the Great Western franchise further fuelling speculation that talks on a contract extension with First Group are in serious trouble. RMT is demanding that the publicly controlled fall-back position be put into place as a matter of urgency or risk the potential chaos of either having no operator in place by the cut-off date of the 12th October or the sickening alternative of having to ladle millions of pounds of extra taxpayers cash into the pockets of First Group.

In what resembles little more than a high-stakes game of poker at public expense, First, who have massive financial problems linked to their US bus operations, are thought to be demanding millions of pounds of up-front cash payments in return for running the poorly-performing franchise as they seek to exploit what they believe is their monopoly provider position.

In a further move that is designed to force the closure of ticket offices and the sacking of station staff, First are lumping massive financial penalties on anyone who doesn't pre-book on-line in a move that is straight out of the anti-customer/maximum-profit business model of Ryanair. The implied threat is that if you don't book on line not only will you be forced to pay through the nose but you may end up without a ticket at all – directly penalising those who may not have access to a computer and who rely on the help and support of ticket office staff. For example, research shows that only a third of elderly people have ever been on line.

The company are also maintaining their aggressive strategy of bullying and harassing union members and reps – forcing a continuing and bitter dispute situation with RMT.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

"It's no surprise to RMT that the talks with First are in trouble on the Great Western Route with the deadline only eight weeks away. It is clear that they are seeking to maximise what they believe is their monopoly provider position to bleed the route for every possible penny to prop up their battered balance sheet regardless of the cost to staff, passengers  and the taxpayer alike.

"Despite running a franchise universally slated by passengers for its poor customer service and corner cutting on basic issues like capacity and staffing, First are now looking to drive through the closure of ticket offices, and the sacking of ticket office staff, by trying to force on-line bookings only by lumping  financial penalties and threats on those who want, or need, to buy a ticket at the station. That is pure money-grubbing straight out of the Ryanair handbook.

"First Group have already soaked up over a billion pounds in taxpayer bailouts and dodged premiums in the past two years and it just makes you wonder what shed loads of cash they are trying to lever out of the Government in the talks currently underway and which they know with every passing day take this important Inter City route to the brink of chaos.

"This nonsense could be ended right now with the Great Western route renationalised, East Coast left to operate in public hands, the rest of the franchises brought under public control and the whole lot brought back under one national organisation run in the interests of public service and not private greed."

Source: RMT

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