Monday, 20 June 2016

The truth at last about the Southern Rail disaster

First, an explanation. Ten days ago, I posted a blog about the peculiar meltdown of the Southern Railways franchise. By the following week, it was being read at the rate of 3,000 people an hour.

I have to admit this rather scared me. I also wrote an open letter to the chief executive of Southern's operators, Govia Thameslink Railway. Between the two posts, there were just over 100,000 views.

This was a measure partly of how many people were desperate at the delays, and how little it was being covered in the wider media. I since took them down again, not because I disagreed with them but because they were not accurate enough.

Because, as a result of the attention, the messages had started to arrive. I had texts, emails and tweets, some long and detailed, some short and emotional, from passengers, drivers and platform staff. I had short messages full of swearwords. I had long messages from company chairmen, sitting on motionless trains outside Clapham Junction, explaining that – as far as they could see – Southern Railways was unravelling before their very eyes.

I had messages from Southern staff who had resigned that day, from desperate people in wheelchairs who were unable to get on and off. In short, I had a huge repository of information.

I have been attempting, in a very small way, to reinvent publishing by starting an ebook enterprise and publishing print-on-demand paperbacks (The Real Press) with the idea that we could be much more flexible and fast than the year long wait for books from big publishers. 

This seemed to me to be a challenge to me personally. So over the past seven days, I have researched, written and published a short book about the Southern Rail unravelling.

I hope, and believe, that it is the truth - and that's a difficult thing to understand. What I found was surprising and disturbing, and I believe it has important implications for other public services managed in the same way.

So Cancelled! is now published as an ebook at £1.99. It is also now out as a paperback. I'm giving 10p from every sale to the Railway Benefit Fund, as a small gesture towards the brave, resourceful and put-upon railwaypeople I have met in the last few, exhausting days.

It is extremely hard to uncover the truth when government ministers seem determined that it should be otherwise - especially when this is the aftermath of an industrial dispute (and those are about as easy to understand by outsiders as divorces). But I have tried and - it seems to me - that we with no democratic and no economic influence over the services we use (Southern don't keep the ticket money or pay out the delay refunds), have to find better ways of making a stand and making things happen.

I hope Cancelled! can be a first step towards doing so.

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4 comments:

Unknown said...

Good to see this is all just an attempt for you to profit from a crappy ebook.

David Boyle said...

Thank you, Unknown. Chance would be a fine thing!

Anonymous said...

As a conductor on Southern my moral is thoroughly depressed without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel or knowing if there is a bend before the light at the end of the tunnel, I have taken some comfort from your blogs about Southern and have read CANCELLED, I am often asked "What is going on" and "When will it end". As not in a position to answer these questions I often refer them to your blog and mention your e-book. The end still doesn't look good and if the public were becoming aware there is now another big distraction that takes their minds away from the removal of conductors from the trains.

David Boyle said...

Dear Anonymous

Thank you so much for getting in touch and I'm really grateful for what you say about my book, which I hope means that you broadly agree. This is a difficult situation to call since nobody - least of all GTR - seems to really understand what is happening!

David