Southern Railway has repeatedly come under fire over the last few months after a number of incidents that have led to severe delays for passengers.
A Westminster Hall debate into the train operator’s performance was called by Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert last Wednesday. He called the company’s performance ‘lamentable’ and said it should ‘hang its head in shame’.
He also raised problems with overcrowding, timely information, cleanliness, and the need for a better compensation system, all of which were echoed by other MPs.
Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, said: “Passengers and my residents are fed up of game playing and excuses — national rail issues are often used as an excuse when the problem is actually a Southern issue.
“A number of members have mentioned London Bridge station. Although the improvement works there are welcome, they are too often used as an excuse for Southern’s poor service.”
She raised the impact of timetable changes on Wivelsfield commuters and her support to campaigns for a second mainline from the coast to London and more services for stations such as Cooksbridge.
Claire Perry, the minister at the Department for Transport with responsibility for the railways, admitted that passengers had ‘lost their trust in the operator’.
But she also told MPs that the region had some of the oldest and most complicated track layouts in the country, and improvement works were ‘like doing open-heart surgery on a marathon runner’.
Mr Herbert did pay tribute to Mrs Perry’s work in addressing the poor performance of both Southern and Network Rail and his points were echoed by a number of other MPs.
Meanwhile Nus Ghani, MP for Wealden, felt that customer experiences ‘do not seem to be heard about at the top table at Southern or Network Rail’ and called on them both to hold regular meetings with passengers.
She also raised the Uckfield line’s reputation as the ‘misery line’, where problems have recently been blamed on work going on at London Bridge.
As a daily rail commuter for almost ten years Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle, felt that although ‘things are difficult’ they were not as appalling as on other lines.
He raised the issue of capacity and overcrowding on the Uckfield line in particular, and argued that Network Rail and the train operators had worked hard through the disruption caused by the London Bridge works.
Mr Merriman added: “Things are sometimes incredibly difficult and frustrating, but for the vast majority of the time they work well.
“It is important to encourage people to see things that way, otherwise there is a danger that we will become doom and gloom merchants, and we cannot then encourage people to see better times ahead.”
Southern is due to officially merge with Thameslink and Great Northern later this month as part of the new Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) franchise.
On its website, GTR admitted that ‘passengers have not been getting the service they expect from us and are understandably feeling increasingly frustrated’, but it was providing constant updates on its joint improvement plan with Network Rail and Southern.
According to the most recent report, the punctuality of Southern services has improved significantly since the start of the year when measured by the number of trains arriving at their destination within five minutes of the scheduled time.
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