‘Why do we have to wait until 2021 for a competent rail operator’ was the question posed to ministers by East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton.
Govia Thameslink Railway has run the vast majority of rail services in Sussex since 2014, but infrastructure, management, and staffing problems combined with industrial action led to severe and repeated delays for passengers from late 2015 into this year.
The Government’s ‘strategic vision for rail’, unveiled this morning (Wednesday November 29), announced a shift to smaller train companies, with the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise set to be split up in 2021 ‘as planned’.
Mr Loughton welcomed the news in the House of Commons today, but added: “It’s too big to be managed, has a management incapable of managing it, but given that it’s been frequently unable to live up to its performance indicators, why do we have to wait until 2021 to get a competent operator in charge of a manageable franchise area?”
In response Mr Grayling said: “The real thing we have got to do is get through the rest of the Thameslink investment programme, we will also in the coming months be doing some significant works on the Brighton Mainline.
“It’s spending the £350m I committed last year, it’s doing the big part of the projects at Balcombe for example.
“I would not wish to see us try to destabilise things in that period, but once that’s done we do need to get on with making the change.”
A spokesman for GTR said: “GTR was created to deliver a large-scale, once-in-a-generation modernisation project and it was always understood that at the end of the franchise in 2021 an alternative model would be introduced.
“By joining together four rail routes under one company, we have been able to fast-track the huge amount of work needed to upgrade the most congested part of the UK rail network.
“Starting in May, passengers across the South East will reap the benefits with faster, more reliable and more frequent services, including thousands more peak-time seats.”