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BARBER ON TRAIN DISRUPTION

22 November 2016

The Albion CEO comments on the cancellation of several services after Friday's match.


Brighton & Hove Albion chief executive Paul Barber has urged the government and MPs to step in and resolve the rail dispute - which has blighted commuters for much of 2016 - and warned them that safety is being severely compromised by the ongoing lack of service and communication across the network.

Thousands of Albion and Aston Villa fans were left stranded on Friday night, with no warning, as Southern Rail cancelled a raft of services from Falmer Station shortly before the final whistle and gave the club little chance to put an effective contingency plan in place.

The club's operations team did eventually get the vast majority of fans home, but there were reports of some away travellers having to sleep rough at Brighton Station, having missed connections, and children being forced to walk home the six miles from Falmer to Lewes.

Barber fears if the dispute isn't resolved it could lead to even more serious problems. He said, "Once again, it was totally unacceptable. We had no communication, no warning, and therefore no ability to put our contingencies in place.

"Once again Southern have let us down, let down our supporters and the supporters of another club, and left the club's operations team to pick up the pieces.

"There's no accountability, there's no responsibility and there doesn't seem to be any pride in providing a service to the public. Like so many, who rely on the rail network for their livelihoods, our fans have had enough.

"We have one of the best travel plans of any football club in the country. It was a condition of the stadium being built that we put in a sustainable travel plan, which means using trains, buses and fewer cars.

"Where are the politicians and the government now? Where's the accountability to bring this organisation to account for the poor service to thousands of people in this city, week in week out? It's not just about 30,000 people coming to a football match, this dispute is having a devastating effect on people's lives.

"The reputation of Brighton & Hove is being severely damaged every week and it's time the politicians got more involved, started taking responsibility and represent their electorate. More importantly than the economic effects, there is an increasing risk that someone will get seriously hurt or worse.

"On Friday, Sussex Police, British Transport Police and our operations team did a superb job in the face of real adversity on Friday evening to get everyone through the station eventually, but a totally unnecessary panic was created by a lack of communication from Southern, and could have caused serious issues.

"Due to the excellent work of our stewards alongside the police, thankfully nobody was crushed or knocked over on the platform, or hit walking down the A27 to try and get to Brighton or Lewes."

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Barber says the dispute has been allowed to rumble on for far too long, and called on the government to come up with an alternative plan, if the dispute cannot be resolved quickly.

"It felt as if they have tested us with a strike, tested us by cancelling services at half-time, when we played Reading last month, and now pushed us to the limit by cancelling services with no reasonable notice whatsoever. Typically, in the aftermath of Friday, the two sides have simply blamed each other.

"The arrogance on display here is shocking. Since Friday evening, we have had zero communication, after zero communication on Friday night and as Southern Rail's biggest single customer, they've let down 30,000 football fans, and we have not even had an email or phone call to offer an apology or explanation.

"It's quite disgraceful. Southern Rail knew they didn't have staff to operate the trains on Friday night, I don't believe that people suddenly dropped out of work at a couple of minute's notice and left no staff or drivers to operate a train after the match.

"We had been publicising for several days leading up to that game that we were expecting 30,000 in the stadium. We told Southern Rail and they knew it was a huge game and that there'd be huge numbers of people trying to get home on a Friday night.

"They knew that the weather conditions were likely to be poor - had they warned us, we could have brought in extra buses as we have done previously - but that was absolutely impossible with no notice whatsoever.

"Enough is enough. Now, it is time for the local politicians and government - who have the power to resolve this dispute - to start to take some responsibility and bring the two organisations to account. Ultimately if this cannot be resolved quickly, then the government needs to come up with a proper contingency plan - and fast!"

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