Chris Grayling has been “rewarded for failure” during the worst crisis on the railways for decades, a commuter group has said.
Mr Grayling has been reappointed transport secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet following the general election.
The RMT and Aslef unions are embroiled in a bitter dispute with Southern rail over driver-only operated trains.
The Department for Transport has insisted that Mr Grayling has made the network a priority since day one.
Martin Abrams of the Association of British Commuters said: “We are outraged that the transport secretary that has presided over the worst crisis we have seen on our railways for decades has been essentially rewarded for failure and reappointed at a time when we need a fresh pair of eyes.”
The RMT union has called for an urgent meeting and urged Mr Grayling to change his approach.
RMT regional organiser in the South East Paul Cox said: “I despair, I think the man lacks political acumen and is probably out of his depth in the role.”
He added: “Mr Grayling has refused point blank to speak to us in the past. I just plead with him to speak to us about rail safety.”
However, the Department for Transport denied this and said it was prepared to “get around the table” if the union suspended strike action.
It added: “Performance on Southern has been consistently better since the new year…
“We have taken steps to improve services on Southern and are investing £300m to improve performance and resilience.
“Nearly 60,000 Southern passengers have now taken up a special package of compensation [and they] are also the first in the country to benefit from compensation if their train is more than 15 minutes late.”
Conservative MP for Reigate Crispin Blunt said he believed Mr Grayling was the right man for the job.
“He was elected in a constituency that has been served by Southern Rail and is familiar with all the issues.
“I think we can have confidence in the fact that we have got a secretary of state who knows what he is dealing with,” he said.
But Mr Cox pointed out that the Conservatives had lost three key seats in the South East, including Brighton Kemptown and Eastbourne.
He claimed: “Clearly the arguments have been won in the eyes of the travelling public… Perhaps Mr Grayling wants to reflect on what he is doing.”
He called on the government to publish a long-awaited report by industry expert Chris Gibb on the troubled network.
“I think it will be embarrassing for Chris Grayling and the government,” he said.
The Department of Transport said the report would be published in due course.