Southern rail owner says service has improved despite ongoing strikes

southern rail

Go-Ahead’s annual profits drop as long-running staff dispute takes its toll.

Go-Ahead claims customer service has improved at its troubled Southern rail franchise, but the transport group admits there is still more work to be done, The Guardian reports.

Southern commuters have suffered delays, cancellations and repeated strikes in a long-running labour dispute over the past two years, as unions have battled planned changes to the role of conductors. Southern is run by Go-Ahead’s venture with France’s Keolis, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).

Go-Ahead’s chief executive, David Brown, said: “We apologise to our Southern passengers who have been inconvenienced for many months by disruption caused by industrial relations issues.

“Service levels are beginning to improve, but there is still a lot of work to be done to provide the level of service we and our customers expect.”

Despite calls for the company to be stripped of the Southern franchise, it escaped with a £13.4m fine from the Department for Transport in July, which the two parties agreed would be spent on improvements to the service, including 50 more onboard staff. Go-Ahead said the settlement had reduced financial uncertainty.

Go-Ahead’s profit before tax fell nearly 6 per cent to £136.8m in the year to 1 July, because one-off costs related to regional bus services. This contrasts with last year, when Go-Ahead posted 27 per cent growth in profits. Overall revenues rose 3.6 per cent to £3.5bn, but passenger revenues were down 4.1 per cent, following a 3.4 per cent increase in 2016.

Go-Ahead lost its bid to retain the West Midlands franchise last month, which it had held for a decade through Govia. It said some of the lost revenue would be replaced with international contracts, running buses in Singapore and Dublin and rail services in Germany.

The West Midlands franchise was won by a group comprising Dutch transport company Abellio, East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui & Co, which pledged hundreds of carriages and free wifi.

Go-Ahead said profits in the current financial year would be hit by slowing passenger revenues, the loss of the West Midlands franchise and recent London bus contract losses.