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Mon 13 Jul 2015
Tim Loughton, Member of Parliament for East Worthing and Shoreham, has spoken out against Southern Railway in a special Westminster Hall Debate.
The debate was organised by Nick Herbert MP with support from MPs all over Sussex, who are growing increasingly frustrated at the rail operator and the level of service it provides to passengers.
MPs from across the county reported that constituents were complaining in their droves about the punctuality, reliability, customer service and value for money that Southern Railway offers.
The Rail Minister, who was presented throughout the debate, accepted that action needed to be take and that the network had real problems in the South.
She outlined some of the action that the Government was taking to try and address the problems raised by the Members of Parliament present.
In the debate, Tim said:
“Other hon. Members have given the same reasons for complaint about the appalling service from Southern rail: poor timekeeping; cancellations; diversions; overcrowded trains; poor value for money; the rarity of refunds; the extraordinary coincidence that many delays seem to amount to 28 or 29 minutes, just below the 30-minute compensation threshold; and appalling communications when things go wrong. Problems are compounded for pedestrians as well. In my constituency and in Worthing West, delays while level crossing barriers have been down have meant pedestrians and motorists having to wait for 48 minutes out of every hour in some cases. Commuters on trains are therefore not the only people affected.”
“My constituents travel along the coastal strip—often having to change at Brighton—come into London and go to Gatwick airport. If that airport is to be expanded, when the issue is finally decided, having a reliable rail service will be an essential factor, but that is another argument for another day. The Southern rail problems go well beyond the ubiquitous, traditional excuse that always used to be trotted out of the signal box fire at Penge or the landslip at Balcombe.”
“Poor communication, poor time keeping, poor value for money and a worsening situation: things are not getting better, and given the rising demands on our rail service and the increasing population in the south of England in particular, they can only get worse. Frankly, the rise in passenger numbers that the rail companies always quote to us as some sign of satisfaction has come about because our constituents have no choice but to catch trains if they are heading northwards into London. The fact that they do not get proper compensation payments only adds insult to injury. This has gone on for far too long, and our constituents deserve better.”
Commenting, the Rail Minister Claire Perry said of the lack of drivers:
“One big challenge for Southern was that it did not take on enough drivers when it took on the franchise. Its driver recruitment plans are now running ahead of where it wanted to be. It is losing drivers as other parts of the network grow, but it is recruiting. It is 50% ahead of plan, and training is proceeding apace. That is incredibly important.”
Referring to the underlying problems, the Minister said:
“The chief executive of Network Rail, when he gave a presentation to the Department for Transport board, said that the recovery of the area of the country that we are debating was one of his top five priorities for this year. It is obvious to everyone that the system is creating millions of hours of misery for millions of people in one of the fastest-growing areas of the country. That is simply unacceptable, and it is not good enough to have one-off interventions, despite the fact that we have unprecedented levels of work going on.
“There are three main problems. The first is that delivering the London Bridge improvement programme will not solve all the problems on the lines in question, particularly the Brighton main line. The second is that although the public performance measure is improving, recovery from delays and the volatility of the service remain real challenges. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is no longer in her place, some trains are always late, and that is simply not good enough. The third point is that rail customers—those who are paying for the goods and services—are consistently unhappy. They have lost trust. They do not see the improvements, and they do not think they will be sustained.”
And noting what needs to be done, Ms Perry commented:
“Network Rail brought in its chief engineer to do a deep dive on the real, underlying problems on the line, from both an operations and an infrastructure point of view. That has been turned into a short-term and long-term plan for real recovery.”
“We have a manifesto commitment to deliver better compensation—and part-time season tickets—right across the industry. I continue to look at the problem of giving compensation to passengers from London Bridge. It is difficult, because it is hard to target those passengers in a fairly open network, but we continue to work on it.”
“Of course, there are already companies, such as c2c, that are delivering compensation automatically to people’s phones if they are more than a minute delayed. That is the sort of model that we want to see. I will also refer to DelayRepay.net, which is a way to take all the paperwork out of claiming compensation. There are already some important innovations in the industry.”