Government faces legal threat over Southern, Thameslink, Gatwick Express and Great Northern Rail

Tap to watch a video report by ITV News Meridian's James Dunham

The Government's being threatened with potential legal action over the future of the UK's largest rail franchise.

Govia Thameslink, which runs Southern, Thameslink, Gatwick Express and Great Northern services is currently in discussions with the Department for Transport over its contract which ends in March.

Campaign groups Bring Back British Rail (BBBR) and Association of British Commuters (ABC) say Govia's franchise should not be renewed and say the network has been 'dogged' with problems.

They also raise concerns about Govia's owners, the Go Ahead group, which lost control of the Southeastern network last year because of a 'serious breach' of it's franchise agreement over failing to declare £25 million of historic taxpayer funding that it should've paid back.

Southern Railway services will be severely disrupted. Credit: PA

Go-Ahead say the issue affecting Southeastern was "contained within a separate company – London and Southeastern Railway – and had nothing whatsoever to do with Govia Thameslink Railway."

With Southeastern being taken under Government control, the campaign, which is currently crowdfunding to pay legal fees - argues the Govia Thameslink franchise should be too,

"This would provide much better value for money, and be more transparent and accountable to the public. In the long-term, it would also enable us to deliver a re-unified and integrated commuter railway, improving connections with Transport for London and across the SouthEast."

Ellie Harrison from Bring Back British Rail campaign said,

"There can be no justification for the DfT awarding the contract to go to continue running those railways unless they're prepared to make public the findings of an investigation that proves that we can be trusted with public money. And that's what we're asking for. We're asking for transparency."

Lawyers representing BBBR and ABC are planning to write to the Department for Transport over the 'serious concerns' of renewing the franchise.

Watch: Former Transport Minister Norman Baker said the Government taking over might not be the best solution

Since Govia Thameslink was awarded the franchise in 2014 there have been ups and downs.

In 2016, a row between Southern Railway and the unions saw several days of strike action, grinding the network to a halt, over changing the role of the guard.

While in May 2018, there was major disruption on Thameslink services when a new timetable was introduced.

Go-Ahead say Govia Thameslink has delivered huge improvements in the time that it's been running the franchise,

The Key smartcard can be used at most stations on the Govia Thameslink Railway network Credit: Govia Thameslink Railway/PA

"Since Govia took on the franchise, performance on Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern has been transformed. Govia has introduced more than 1,500 modern new railway carriages, introduced industry-leading smartcards and apps to help travellers and has achieved a steady increase in customer ratings over a five-year period.

"We’re proud of our record, which has been achieved against a backdrop of major infrastructure upgrades by Network Rail and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "We continue discussions over the Govia Thameslink Railway franchise, with the current contract due to expire on 1 April."

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