Newhaven Mayor criticises rail bosses over emergency timetable

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The mayor of Newhaven has strongly criticised rail bosses for ongoing disruption following the introduction of the emergency timetable earlier this month.

Newhaven mayor Steve Saunders says the town - which has seen its scheduled train services cut from 79 to 15 under the temporary timetable – is experiencing “misery” as a result of the continuing issues.

In an open letter to of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) CEO Charles Horton, Mr Saunders calls on the company to take immediate action to restore the service.

He said: “As well as inflicting personal misery on rail passengers, this awful situation will have a severe effect on the wellbeing of the town.

“People who find it prohibitively difficult to travel by train will either use their cars instead, adding to air pollution in a town which [has] already been identified by Lewes District Council as suffering from poor air quality – or they will choose not to come here at all, which will negatively impact our shops, businesses and tourist attractions.”

Mr Saunders also raises concerns for disabled residents as well as the reliability of replacement bus services and the impact on work to support the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route. He adds that the company’s past claims about staff sickness is a “smoke screen to hide deeper problems”.

He said: “Anecdotal evidence locally does not appear to support this contention. We have been informed of train crews being available and ready to operate a train, only to be told at the last minute that their train has been ‘cancelled due to staff shortages’. It appears that staff sickness is being used a smoke screen to hide deeper problems with the operation of the franchise.

“We appeal to you and your company to take immediate and effective action to restore train service to their former level and to turn Southern Rail back into the well run, professional company it once was.”

In response to Mr Saunders letter, a GTR spokesman said: “We are sincerely sorry for the alterations we have had to introduce at Seaford because of the train crew shortages we have suffered since the RMT began its unnecessary industrial action.

Seaford has kept its direct London Victoria services and some of the peak shuttles to and from Brighton.

“And the buses we have put in run four times an hour which is twice as frequent as the trains they are replacing to account for the longer journey. Passengers do not have to wait too long for a connection at Lewes.

“We are acutely aware of the needs of our less mobile passengers and most of our buses are able to take people in wheelchairs. For those who are not we have again rebriefed station staff to ensure alternatives are arranged.

“But there is no question that the community deserves a better service and we are doing everything we can to restore it as quickly as possible.”

Mr Saunders has also sent his letter to Lewes MP Maria Caulfield, transport secretary Chris Grayling and the prime minister Theresa May.

The full letter reads: “Dear Mr Horton, I am writing on behalf of the community of Newhaven in East Sussex and its town council to express our anger and disbelief at the current state of affairs with regard to train services in our town.

“Following a long period of unreliability , a new timetable has been introduced until further notice which cuts train services between Seaford, Newhaven and Lewes/Brighton from 79 trains a day to just 15, with the remaining services replaced by a bus service.

“Many of the buses operating this replacement service are not accessible for the disabled or parents with buggies, who are consequently left, sometimes for more than and hour without any means of travel. The suggested alternative of arranging a taxi has often proved impossible to sort out.

“The replacement buses are unable to connect properly with onward trains from Lewes to London, adding further delays to the travel misery which commuters living in our town have been forced to live with in recent weeks.

“As well as inflicting personal misery on rail passengers, this awful situation will have a severe effect on the wellbeing of the town. People who find it prohibitively difficult to travel by train will either use their cars instead, adding to air pollution in a town which [has] already been identified by Lewes District Council as suffering from poor air quality – or they will choose not to come here at all, which will negatively impact our shops, businesses and tourist attractions.

“Newhaven has a vital ferry link to Dieppe in France. Newhaven Town Council has been working hard with partners here and in France to try and make the ferry service more sustainable in order to secure its future. The parlous state of the rail service can threaten those efforts.

“Newhaven is also a town in need of regeneration, especially in the straitened economic times we find ourselves in. It has recently been designated as an Enterprise Zone which ought to be a great opportunity for the town. Without a viable rail link as an alternative to our local car choked roads it will be difficult to capitalise on this opportunity to attract new businesses to the town.

“We note that GTR and Southern Railway are blaming the crisis on staff shortages due to sickness. Anecdotal evidence locally does not appear to support this contention. We have been informed of train crews being available and ready to operate a train, only to be told at the last minute that their train has been ‘cancelled due to staff shortages’. It appears that staff sickness is being used a smoke screen to hide deeper problems with the operation of the franchise.

“We appeal to you and your company to take immediate and effective action to restore train service to their former level and to turn Southern Rail back into the well run, professional company it once was. Please act to end the current misery for your customers and staff and our residents. Yours sincerely, Steve Saunders.”

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