Transport minister to meet Wealden rail campaigners

Wealden MP Nus Ghani speaking during a Wesminster Hall debate on the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail (photo submitted). SUS-160318-153046001
Wealden MP Nus Ghani speaking during a Wesminster Hall debate on the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail (photo submitted). SUS-160318-153046001
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Wealden rail campaigners are set to make the case for improvements directly to transport secretary Chris Grayling.

The area’s MP Nus Ghani met members of two prominent rail groups last week, East Sussex Rail Alliance and Rail Future, to discuss the current situation with Southern trains and ideas for the future of services in the constituency.

Mr Grayling has accepted Ms Ghani’s invitation to meet rail campaigners to hear their concerns directly.

The route from Uckfield to London has been dubbed the ‘misery line’ with Southern passengers facing almost constant disruption since late 2015.

Ms Ghani said: “It is important that local rail campaigners have the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss the future of the rail service in Wealden and their broader concerns about Southern Rail. As such, I am glad that the Secretary of State has agreed to a meeting.

“I look forward to discussing the sound financial and logistical case for the electrification of the Uckfield line and the additional depot at Crowborough in further detail with the Secretary of State.”

Both proposals were recommendations made in a report by rail industry expert Chris Gibb which looked at problems experienced by Southern last year.

In a Parliamentary debate on Mr Gibb’s report earlier this month, Ms Ghani said: “In Wealden the service provided by Southern has been unsatisfactory for a long time, and we have raised that time and time again.

“While its performance has gradually improved over the past year, the behaviour of the unions has deteriorated, and the current industrial dispute is entirely irresponsible and cynical.”

She added: “Wealden is in desperate need of a reliable modern train service that offers value for money. My constituents would like to know when the Uckfield line will no longer be known as the misery line, which will come about only once the strikes are called off. I look forward to working with the Minister to ensure not only electrification but a depot in my constituency of Wealden.”

The RMT union has been fighting Govia Thameslink Railway over the introduction of driver-only operation on Southern services since early 2016.

The changes made drivers responsible for opening and closing train doors, but the union has raised concerns about the potential loss of a second safety-critical member of staff on services.

Train drivers’ union ASLEF has banned its members from working overtime, and has called strikes for the first week of August as part of a separate dispute over pay.

The RMT has also instructed its members not to book shifts on the same days: Tuesday August 1, Thursday August 3, and Friday August 4.