East Worthing and Shoreham’s MP has blasted the ‘shoddy’ service experienced by train passengers at a Westminster Hall debate last week.
Tim Loughton described the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs both Southern and Thameslink franchises, and Network Rail as one of the ‘single biggest annoyances’ in his and other Sussex MPs constituencies.
Last Monday he visited the rail operating centre in Three Bridges and said it was clear that GTR was ‘still nowhere like on top of the problems’.
He explained: “We were shown charts that were not just red, but pink, which is when it is in complete meltdown. The very morning that I was there, the whole signalling structure was outed for some ten minutes, causing absolute chaos.”
He continued: “I recognise the problems and challenges of the infrastructure going back to the 1930s, and we heard all about that at the heated meeting with the management and the minister back on 18 January.
“We recognise that the responsibility for the problems is something like a 60:40 split, with Network Rail responsible for 60 per cent.
“However, on the day I visited, it was quite clear that there were problems that were Southern Rail’s own making.”
He said it ‘really is deja vu all over again’ as MPs were having to raise the same problems again, and described how a constituent had been told a service from Shoreham had been cancelled, only to see the train shoot through the station.
Mr Loughton added: “Later in the day, I found out that, in fact, the train had not been cancelled.
“There was a problem with the train crew at source. Southern had then chosen to shoot through some stations to try to make up that time, so, effectively, it had lied to consumers.
“It is no wonder that our constituents are getting cynical about the reasons for some of the delays.
“I said to GTR that it needs to be honest with passengers. Passengers will understand when major structural problems cause delays, but they need to be told the truth.
“If trains are to shoot through stations, passengers need to be given good warning of that and told exactly the reason why.”
He described how last week’s meeting between managers from Southern and constituents was an opportunity to highlight the current ‘shoddy’ service.
Some of the performance charts he posted were ‘quite appalling’ as on one day only 51 of 114 Gatwick Express trains arrived on time, and 30 were more than 30 minutes late or cancelled.
Some commuters had told him they would have to move back to London, while students were late for lessons because of trains missing out stops.
Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP, said it was a ‘matter of deep regret and enormous frustration’ that they were having to come back and discuss Southern’s performance less than a year after the industry agreed to an improvement plan.
He added: “In the original performance improvement plan, the industry said: ‘You will notice real improvements from now onwards in the punctuality and reliability of our trains’. That promise has been broken. It will evince nothing more than a hollow laugh from passengers, who are absolutely fed up.”
Rail minister Claire Perry said: “I was asked at what point we do something radically different. Do we take the franchise back? Do we change? The truth is that this is an exceptionally busy, very difficult franchise to run.
“In my view, nobody out there could do a better job than the current management team, but we have to ensure that there is a relentless focus on the customer. It is inexcusable that the wrong communications are given.
“It is inexcusable that delays happen or trains are going in the wrong direction.
“That is customer relationship management 101. We expect the private sector to deliver on that.”
She argued that successive Governments had failed to invest in adequate rail infrastructure, but described how 60 per cent of delays are the result of infrastructure failures such as points failing, signals failing or other things going wrong, something she felt was ‘intolerable on a daily basis’. However there was no magic bullet and instead they had to focus on ‘relentless focus on the day-to-day details of running a railway’.
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