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Rail chief comes face to face with angry Southern passengers

Published 21/07/2016

Charles Horton, CEO of Govia Thameslink, speaks to customers at Victoria Station
Charles Horton, CEO of Govia Thameslink, speaks to customers at Victoria Station

Commuters have confronted the beleaguered boss of embattled operator Southern to vent their frustrations with the service.

Charles Horton, chief executive of Southern's parent company Govia Thameslink Railway, faced pressure from passengers on Thursday morning at a "meet the manager" event at London Victoria station.

Passengers have faced months of delays and cancellations on Southern routes, which include lines between London and the South Coast, East and West Sussex and Surrey.

The rail company has cut 341 journeys a day from its timetable after weeks of staff shortages, sickness and industrial action.

Commuters angry at the level of service have staged protests at a number of stations in recent weeks.

Dozens of passengers took the opportunity to meet Southern bosses at Thursday's two-hour event.

Mr Horton said: "It's always good to do these sessions.

"I've spoken to many customers myself this morning. There's been lots of questions. Lots of customers expressing their frustration and recounting some of their bad experiences.

"I've apologised, we've apologised, for the poor level of service.

"We've also talked about the future and about what we're planning to do to make things better for them."

Mr Horton claimed that "c ustomers are always very patient and they're always very reasonable in what they say to you".

He added: "We understand this isn't just about train services, this is about people's lives and the impact when trains are delayed."

Charity worker Rona Hunnisett, 40, who commutes from Brighton to London Victoria every day, attended the event on her way to work but was left shaking her head after meeting a manager responsible for quality control.

She told the Press Association that when she asked for "a definitive time" when services would improve, she only received "waffle and more evasion" in response.

" I'm sick of the constant excuses and blame," she said. " It's never their fault, it's always somebody else's fault."

Mrs Hunnisett said she felt "physically scared for the first time in 20 years of commuting" on Monday night during severe congestion at Brighton station.

" I pay them £4,000 a year for a service and I don't get it," she added.

"I don't think there is any excuse in this day and age to take that kind of money and not provide a service or a meaningful compensation package."

IT contractor Navneet Jha, who commutes from South Croydon to London Victoria, claimed Southern is "exploiting" passengers by making the refund process for delays "cumbersome" and running trains with fewer carriages than normal, which means people are left on platforms, unable to board.

The 32-year-old claimed he was told by a S outhern manager that "all the problems will go in a month".

But following the meeting, he said: "I highly doubt that."

He described his first five and a half years of commuting on Southern trains as "pleasant", but claimed "things have gone haywire" in the past six months.

Diana Vetesse was one of the commuters to confront Mr Horton, complaining that delays to the service had meant she once missed her son's Nativity play.

The 52-year-old, from Billingshurst, West Sussex, said: "I'm generally frustrated and I was saying there's an occasion where I did not manage to get home.

"They were very nice (at the event) and actually, for me, the trains have been working better but overall I think it's appalling.

"We are paying so much for tickets and it's so unreliable."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is urgently trying to put a Transport for London team in charge of Southern services until the problems are resolved.

A Department for Transport (DfT) official said on Wednesday that f uture rail franchises are unlikely to be as "large and complex" as the one awarded to Southern.

New Rail Minister Paul Maynard revealed that the DfT will consider brokering talks between Southern and the RMT union in a bid to resolve the industrial dispute which has contributed to the disruption.

Southern told passengers on Wednesday that Mr Horton usually attends the "meet the manager" sessions and was expected to be at London Victoria the following day.

It was revealed last month that David Brown, chief executive of Go Ahead, which owns a majority stake in the company running the GTR franchise, was paid more than £2 million in 2015.

The firm's annual report stated that hi s total remuneration package, which includes his salary and performance-related bonus, was £2.16 million, up from £1.96 million the previous year.

The report did not state Mr Horton's earnings, and a spokesman for Southern said this information is not made publicly available.

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