Emergency talks on this week’s ‘collapse’ of Southern services

New rail minister Paul Maynard, new rail minister, speaking to transport select committee (photo from parliament.tv). SUS-160720-171728001
New rail minister Paul Maynard, new rail minister, speaking to transport select committee (photo from parliament.tv). SUS-160720-171728001
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Sussex MPs held an emergency conference with the rail minister to discuss the ‘collapse’ of Southern services earlier this week.

A combination of a sinkhole on the tracks near London, speed restrictions due to the hot weather, and signalling failures near Gatwick ‘wreaked havoc on the network’ according to MPs.

According to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Southern Rail the ‘collapse in services’ on Wednesday ‘left passengers suffering the kind of misery that should be unthinkable in 21st-century Britain’.

New rail minister Paul Maynard met with MPs via conference call in Westminster yesterday (Thursday July 21) to update members on the causes and responses to Wednesday’s incidents.

The failure of air conditioning on some services are still being investigated.

Passengers have faced months of disruption with staff shortages leading to constant delays and cancellations.

Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs Southern services, has been locked in a dispute with the RMT over proposed changes to the conductor role, with both sides blaming each other for the staff shortages.

MP’s made the following points to Mr Maynard:

“To many passengers, Wednesday’s experience was not unlike many other journeys they regularly made these days. Overcrowding, delays, poor information services, and no air conditioning have all become a regular part of the passenger experience

-We do not get the sense that investment into the track matches the severity of the problem. For example, we are regularly told that major upgrades are needed yet we rarely feel that ‘round the clock’ work is being carried out for sustained periods.

-Into the long-term, we asked for acknowledgement that large-scale infrastructure investment is required into the service area from London to the Southeast computer towns. The group is supportive of major works in other parts of the country, such as Crossrail, but believe a similar sense of ambition is needed on our commuter infrastructure to avoid continued damage to our community and economic life.

-The inadequacy of the current compensation scheme was pressed to the minister. He responded that the ‘delay repay’ system applied to the original timetable and passengers were encouraged to apply. MPs suggested that this was not meeting the expectations of passengers and we were left with the impression that Mr Maynard was receptive to this viewpoint and we therefore hope for an announcement from his department soon.

- Finally, the group has requested a statement from the minister setting out what passengers can realistically expect from their rail service in the coming year. This should be a frank, unvarnished statement from government that includes the impact on passenger experiences from improvements such as new rolling stock and the partial opening of London Bridge. But it should also level with passengers about the realistic quality of service they can expect in the foreseeable future.

As individual MP’s we are often left to interpret multiple government and operator statements in order to keep our constituents informed. It is time for the Department of Transport to come clean and tell passengers directly, in plain English, about what they can expect their service to deliver in terms of reliability and comfort in the weeks and months ahead.”

The APPG is joint-chaired by Hove MP Peter Kyle and Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames.

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas and Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP, are the group’s vice-chairs.

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