That is the grammar of change (though most politicians don't get it). So instead of being a little downhearted that GTR/Southern's operators Go Ahead has made £100m in profits this year - despite their obvious inability to discharge their duty to their public in the south of England - I'm actually rather optimistic.
1. Because the shadowy absentee landlords of Southern at Go Ahead have been forced into the open, to go public about how they are extracting resources yet failing to do the work. It was about time (Go Ahead chair Andrew Allner has made a statement which has been widely quoted, but the BBC link takes you to a private website marked "only for investors").
2. Because Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has taken my advice and set up an inquiry into the disaster at Southern, Thameslink and the Gatwick Express - just as I urged him to. In fact, he has put "an experienced rail executive" in charge of it and given him a budget of £20m to sort out the problems, whatever they happen to be (I could have told him without all the effort, but more on that in a moment...)
3. Because finally, the passengers are getting themselves together with a crowdfunded action for judicial review against the government.
This is especially important because it is a potential way forward to make things happen by the put-upon passengers, without them having somehow to dismiss the whole government - or to go on strike in some way.
The perils of strikes are obvious from the two most public disputes at the moment. The junior doctors have clearly been infantilised by years of central government targets, so much so that they are prepared to put patients at risk without having a clear idea what they are actually striking about.
As for the RMT, Chris Grayling's long-awaited intervention demonstrates that he finds the situation easier if he can blame the rail unions rather than face up to the real problems. Again, more on this in a moment.
I know - because I'm one of them - that the passengers are angry enough and, between them, wealthy enough, to fund a legal action. The barristers need an initial £10,000 to get started, and to start the action - and start demanding documents from the Department of Transport. The case is being managed by the brand new, and homegrown, Association of British Commuters. This is what they need:
1. Donations, however small, now and in the future - find out more here.
2. Information from individuals who have lost jobs or livelihoods because of the government's far too cosy relationship with their incompetent contractors. Contact here.
3. Local businesses who might be able to guarantee larger sums to kickstart the action. Contact here.
I'm certainly going to contribute, if for no other reason that passengers can show they have some leverage in a situation where Department of Transport officials and the even better paid Go Ahead executives between them seem to have it all.
But don't let's leave Chris Grayling's article quite yet. I've said I was optimistic: that was partly a result of reading what he had to say.
Because no modern minister has had so muddled an article drafted for him by his officials before, and that means something. At some level he must realise it too.
He blames the unions for the disruption on the non-strike days, explaining - quite wrongly and with no evidence at all - that "train guards have been calling in sick in unprecedented numbers .... what is clearly an organised attempt to disrupt services".
As most commuters know, the heroic efforts of the guards - faced day after day by furious passengers, crowded platforms, dangerously overcrowded trains and no information - have been the saving grace for many during this appalling period.
If Grayling believes this, why does he need to investigate further? Why does he need to hand over £20m to fix problems if it is all the fault of the guards?
Grayling manages to demonstrate in the most embarrassing way that (a) he hasn't talked to frontline rail staff, (b) he hasn't talked to passengers, and (c) he has only talked to a small coterie of officials and Go Ahead executives in his cosy bunker. It is, in short, time he got out more.
If he had been, he would know that GTR no longer employs revenue support staff, that they have contracted out cleaning and engineering and some ticket collecting to agency staff with no commitment or regularity, that they have closed ticket offices, and have discussed turning some of them into mini-supermarkets. He would know that they are continuing to organise voluntary redundancies even though they have a continuing and unaddressed staff shortage. He would find, in short, that GTR is an extractive money-maximising machine which happens to run a few trains, and doesn't do it very well.
He would also discover that the sickness is back to normal levels, without really improving reliability.
And he would know that there is another explanation for the high levels in May. GTR insisted that any sickness absence needed to be covered by a doctor's note. As most people know, these are only available for weeks off work, not days off - which guaranteed that more staff were of for longer than they otherwise would have been.
In fact, the failure to acknowledge the loyalty and commitment of guards and platform staff has been an important factor in the current dispute.
Personally, my feeling is that the best response to this kind of bluster is to put money into the legal case against the government. Remember: commuters don't have to win the case to win - all they need to do is force the officials to drop these parrot-like, patronising responses. And they will.
See my book Cancelled! on the Southern Railways disaster, now on sale for £1.99 (10p goes to Railway Benefit Fund).
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