Southern Rail commuters have applied to the courts for an official judicial review of the Department of Transport over its handling of the Southern Rail network.
The train network has been locked in a year-long dispute with key transport unions Aslef, which represents train drivers, and the RMT, which represents the guards, over plans to reduce staff on trains. A series of strikes have brought the Southern network to a halt, bringing chaos for commuters in London and the South-East.
Southern is operated by Govia Thameslink Railway on a managed contract for the DfT, and many Southern passengers believe the government department is ultimately responsible for the current impasse.
The judicial review has been requested by the Association of British Commuters (ABC), a group set up last year to represent passengers affected by the Southern strikes. If the application is granted, a judge will be asked to examine whether the DfT has consistently failed to hold Govia to account for Southern´s long-term problems.
In its application, the ABC claims transport secretary Chris Grayling has failed to "determine and announce whether [Govia] is in breach of its franchise obligations", and also alleges Grayling has failed to comply with the Equality Act 2010, thus causing indirect discrimination to disabled travelers.
ABC has said in an official statement: "Commuters have long since passed the point of exhaustion.
"It is a matter of shame for the DfT that we have had to go to such great lengths to demand action be taken."
Lianna Etkind, a campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport Group, called it a "step forward for passenger power."
She said: "It is absolutely right that the Government is held to account for the failings of the Southern franchise, which has made peoples’ lives a misery.
"Long before any industrial dispute, Southern passengers had to rely on a train service plagued by delays and disruptions, under a management contract with no financial penalties for poor performance.
"We need to ensure that in the future, passenger representation is written into this franchise, so that those who have to use the trains day in, day out, have their voices heard.”