The Southern Rail Nightmare Goes On

04/06/2016 15:44 | Updated 04 June 2016

We're now in the fifth week of Southern Rail madness. Five weeks of sudden cancellations, unhealthily packed trains and increasingly futile attempts by the Southern Rail customer service team to blame it all on 'staff sickness'.

The ins and outs of the issues of the past five weeks are not clear. What is clear is that official strike days which took place on in April and May were a result of proposed changes to the roles of train guards, in so much as most of their duties would be replaced by the driver. Giving the person in control of an 1000 tonne set of metal vehicles the responsibility of steering us in the right direction, providing route updates and looking out for the chap not quite in the door. Sounds fair.

Since then, things have got worse. Much worse.

Take a look at the departure board for any station which operates within the Southern Rail network and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the south east was at war. For the past five weeks an average of 83 trains a day are being cancelled due to what Southern are claiming is 'a shortage of available train crew'.

Southern Rail are sticking to this tune - even releasing figures to show staff sickness doubling in the period after the official strikes. The RMT Union - headed by Mick Cash - completely deny this, counter-claiming that staff shortages are actually down to Southern's "failure" to recruit enough workers.

In the middle of all this are the thousands of everyday commuters who sit at work or around the breakfast table with their families praying and hoping that they can just get somewhere. It doesn't seem a lot to ask in 2016.

This morning I asked a guard, "will I get to Brighton this morning?"

His answer, in full seriousness was "you might, you might not".

I didn't even bat an eyelid. I just took it on the chin like the apathetic, miserable commuter I've become. I pay £2600 per year for the privilege of travelling 35 miles. Not on a par with the £5000+ to travel to and from the capital - but based on distance akin to being punched repeatedly in the face or being made to follow the Southern Rail Twitter feed.

On most evenings over the past five weeks my journey home has taken over two hours. I sprint from my desk to hopefully catch the train into Brighton (I say hopefully as Falmer is a cancellation hotspot) only to find the boards full of cancellations. The reason? Once again, 'a lack of available train crew' - every announcement chiselling away at our soul one blow at a time with my fellow commuters and I looking on in abject misery. At least it has brought us together. We do love adversity.

We are like defenceless rabbits being kicked around an island with no other option than to stick it out and hope we only get kicked a bit. We have to go home you see - Brighton already has a serious homelessness problem and my child needs a father.

It's become an exercise in how much you can control your anger; irritated by the constant parade of delays and cancellations - all whilst enjoying the appalling conditions created by overcrowded platforms and trains. Oh and the annual cost and rising prices way above inflation. Yes, that as well.

Back in 2014 The Independent reported that, "Since privatisation, the average price of a train journey has increased by 22 per cent".

22 percent. That is an extraordinary figure. When I started commuting to work via train in 2008 the cost of my ticket was £4.90 return, today that same ticket is £8.50 - an 80 percent increase. National Rail say that rail fares increased by only 1% last this year - but that is ignoring the large increases of the previous years or, more to the point, the continually poor punctuality and service.

But, alas, the cost is secondary - even if it hugely unfair. We are just normal people trying to get on. We just want to go to work, earn a wage and go home. We know we live in an increasingly populated area where train travel is as popular as it has for decades but that can't be an excuse to treat your customers with the odious contempt that has been shown over the past few years - never mind the past five weeks.

As we are British we are more likely than most nations to take this all on the chin. To fight our way on to the train, find a seat with an armpit in our mouth and try to forget our current predicament before looking around and spying one of Southern Rail's soul-eating posters. You know the ones. The worst kind of marketing there is. The 'hello my name is Claire and I clean your toilets...' The kind of personable dystopian claptrap that is there solely to attract graffiti.

In 2016, there are limited ways of getting your anger across. We could, I suppose, throw petrol bombs at the Southern Rail HQ in Hove, but then I'd like to see my little boy grow up. We are then left with the only way to even remotely make a dot of difference: sign an online petition. The only way - short of tutting and writing a strongly worded letter to your local MP - to feel as though direct action is taking place.

Will petitions such as this make a difference? No, it will merely ensure the blame is attached somewhere else. Leaving passengers facing up to another decade of misery.

However, the tipping point is near. The feeling on the trains and on the platforms has changed from mild contempt to anger. You cannot expect to keep prodding the public and expect them to be passive forever.