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Rail passengers plan to fund review into Government handling of Southern Railway

A rail passengers group is planning to fund a legal review of the Government's handling of the Southern Railway franchise amid continuing disruption to services.

The Association of British Commuters announced it will work with Devonshires Solicitors to fund a Judicial Review into the Department for Transport, with "real determination to hold the Government to account".

Services have been disrupted for months because of a long-running dispute over the role of conductors as well as high levels of staff sickness.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union is holding a 48-hour strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week, which will cause fresh travel misery.

The Association of British Commuters, which was set up earlier this year because of the Southern problems, said it will work closely with lawyers to compile evidence of people losing their jobs because of cancelled trains, as well as the disruption to home and family during the chaos.

An appeal was launched to raise money to fund the legal action.

A statement said: "This is more than a legal crowdfunder - it is a crowd action - one that will require the involvement of commuters every step of the way."

"We want to hear your stories in more depth and make sure you are listened to, not only by the press but by the High Court.

"The crowdfunder aims to reach a target of £25,000 within the next 30 days.

"With extremely generous rates from our legal firm and barrister, we at the Association of British Commuters will be doing much of the legwork ourselves, in order to make sure the money donated goes as far as possible.

"Time is short and the situation is urgent - there is a strict time limit on launching Judicial Review claims - we need to act now and we need to act fast."

Group spokeswoman Summer Dean said: "We are taking this action in the name of every rail user who has suffered at the hands of Southern Rail.

"We believe that the Government has been very quiet during this crisis and we are now ready to use the law to demand answers.

"We need to question the fairness and legality of decisions of a Government who, in this particular case, seem more concerned with serving the interests of a private company whose first priority is their shareholders, rather than passengers who are paying for a service that they are not receiving".

The Government announced last week it was setting up a £20 million fund aimed at resolving delays on Southern.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "The strike action goes ahead as planned.

"RMT remains available for serious talks but Govia Thameslink Railway clearly have no interest in resolving the dispute and it is also clear that the Government are propping them up financially and politically.

"Just a fraction of the £100 million the GTR parent company is hoarding in profits would be enough to keep a guard on the Southern trains, keep the trains safe and resolve the dispute."

Transport Salaried Staffs Association general secretary Manuel Cortes said: "We wish the Association of British Commuters the very best of luck with their quest to get this judicial review.

"Every single one of Southern's passengers know the Department for Transport have serious questions to answer about their handling of the Southern Rail franchise.

"The Government owns Southern but has outsourced the contract to Go-Ahead, a company who last week announced they'd met their strategic and financial targets for the year by making £100 million in profit.

"So we now know making money out of passengers rather than making trains run safely or on time is the plan.

"I am gravely concerned about this Tory Government's brutal plans for the future of our rail industry and what is going on at Southern looks like the blueprint.

"They are turning the industry into gravy trains for privateers whilst providing unsafe, overcrowded, under-staffed, cattle-truck style trains for passengers who are having to pay through the nose for the increasing discomfort.

"Prising open the doors of the murky world of DfT franchising decisions should expose this scandal as the great train robbery of our time."

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: "The Government have defended Southern to the hilt, allowing them to miss performance targets and cancel hundreds of trains a day.

"They have totally failed to stick up for the interest of passengers and hold Southern to account for running the country's worst rail service.

"That passengers feel that they have no option left but legal action shows just how badly the Government have let them down."

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