Talks between rail operator and council fail ahead of Brighton Pride weekend

People attending last year’s Brighton Pride festival. Govia Thameslink Railway has announced that no trains will run to or from Brighton on Saturday (Maurice Bafunno/PA)
People attending last year’s Brighton Pride festival. Govia Thameslink Railway has announced that no trains will run to or from Brighton on Saturday (Maurice Bafunno/PA)

Talks between a rail operator and a council about its decision not to run trains to a city hosting a Pride festival have broken down.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) blamed an overtime ban by the drivers’ union Aslef for its announcement that no trains will run to or from Brighton on Saturday.

Brighton & Hove City Council said talks with the train operator had been called off after GTR confirmed its decision.

Council leader Bella Sankey expressed her “extreme disappointment”, saying the authority had wanted to discuss a compromise solution which would ensure that some trains would run in and out of the city for most of Saturday.

Cllr Sankey said: “This is an extremely disappointing decision from GTR that will negatively impact all those wanting to participate in the country’s foremost Pride celebrations.

“In spite of our best efforts to work with GTR to find a creative solution, they’ve instead decided to maintain their position of running no trains, effectively cutting off the city.

“This has knock-on consequences for traffic congestion and risks leaving people stranded.

“In my view, and based on the data provided by Pride organisers, a workable and safe solution could have been found by a company tasked with providing an essential public service to our city.

“GTR have failed in their most basic function as a train company and they have also mismanaged the process.

“The impact on the public of this failure to provide a service seems to come very far down the list of what is important to GTR. They must now reflect and ensure this unacceptable situation never happens again.

“Our priority now is now to work with our excellent emergency services and all those involved in facilitating Pride to support the event and seek to address the many issues and increased costs GTR’s flawed decision raises.

Chris Fowler, GTR’s director of network operations, said: “We share in everyone’s deep and heartfelt disappointment that we’ve had to make such a difficult decision, but we simply cannot compromise on keeping people safe.

“Since Aslef announced a nationwide ban on overtime on July 17 – meaning we could not run the enhanced service we always provide for Pride – we have explored many options to find a solution and held discussions with key advisers including the emergency services.

“These options will not provide enough room to safely carry the huge volume of people that will try to travel if any train services are available.

“We know now that 20,000 people could be stranded in Brighton on Saturday late at night if we run services.

“This would lead to severe overcrowding at the station with people getting injured or worse, and many thousands of people left with nowhere to stay overnight. We cannot let this happen on our watch.

“We look forward to be back supporting Pride for the full weekend next year, as we have proudly done for many years.”

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef said: “It is outrageous and utterly ridiculous to try to blame Aslef for problems which are entirely of this train company’s own making.

“The simple fact is that this company does not employ enough drivers to deliver the services it has promised passengers, businesses and the Department for Transport it will run. That’s why it is dependent on drivers working overtime.

“Overtime is entirely voluntary, not mandatory, and drivers are not working overtime because they are in dispute with a company which has not given them a pay increase for four years – since 2019 – although the cost of living, as we all know, has soared in that time – up well into double digits.

“GTR has known the date of Brighton Pride and about its failure to employ enough drivers to deliver the services it should for a very long time.”

“Yet they are only running trains to Three Bridges – just three-quarters of the way down the line – in a deliberate and malicious attempt to disrupt the LGBT+ day and then to blame Aslef for its own manifest failings.

“The company should do the right thing – give our members, their drivers, the pay rise they deserve – and give the people of Brighton the train service they need, not just on the Saturday of Brighton Pride, but on every day, of every week, and for the rest of this year.”