This week I moved a debate in the Commons on the performance of Southern Rail. I was supported by many Sussex and Surrey MPs who share my concern about the rail service.
While the title of the debate focused on Southern, we were equally aiming at Network Rail who run the track and signalling that the rail companies use.
The latest National Rail Passenger Survey found that over a quarter of Southern’s passengers were dissatisfied, the worst rating of all train operating companies, and a deterioration from last year.
Trains are far too often late or cancelled. Infamously, the 7.29am Brighton to London Victoria train did not once arrive on time last year.
Trains can be overcrowded, forcing passengers to stand. They are often dirty, with food and rubbish left by passengers (who of course share the blame for that). Loos are usually disgusting and often out of service.
The rail industry will not be credited with improvements while their service remains so poor. In fact there has been a £21 million signalling upgrade on the Arun Valley Line, a new station building at Hassocks, and new trains.
The £6 billion London Bridge improvements which will deliver new platforms by 2018 are undoubtedly exacerbating the problems, but do not excuse them. Southern's standards have been sliding for some time.
The Rail Minister has been forceful in demanding better performance. Improvement plans are in place, but some targets are too modest. We need to go further.
There should be better and more easily accessible compensation schemes for customers when trains are late, so that the companies have sharper incentives to improve and are held properly to account.
Passengers pay high fares and are entitled to a decent service. Their patience has snapped. The time for excuses is over. This rail service must improve now.
9 July 2015
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