Rail Services in West Sussex

Speaking in the Commons debate on the Queen’s Speech this week, I welcomed measures on neighbourhood planning.

The need to support neighbourhood plans was underlined by meetings I held in Hurstpierpoint and Hassocks last week, where the villages face unwelcome speculative development applications that run contrary to their plans.

I also welcomed the announcement of Bills on superfast broadband and fair schools funding.  But my speech was mainly focused on the lamentable standard of our local rail service.

There’s been severe disruption to the service over the past few weeks.  Already poor standards have been exacerbated by industrial action.

I don’t accept the rail unions’ claims that moving to driver-operated doors  on trains will make the service unsafe.  Four out of ten Southern trains already have this feature, so safety can’t be the real issue.

And I recognise that infrastructure improvements like the £6 billion upgrade of London Bridge station not only will take time to come through, but in the short term are actually causing more problems as the work reduces capacity on already crowded lines.

60 per cent of delays are being caused by rail infrastructure problems out of GTR’s control.

But I do blame GTR for management failures.  A shortage of drivers has bedevilled the service, and a joint performance improvement plan with Network Rail, launched over a year ago, has not met its own benchmarks for improvement.

I met the Chief Operating Officer of GTR this week to discuss these issues, and I relayed the real anger of my constituents about the service.

The Government believes that infrastructure improvements will eventually produce a more reliable service, but that these will take time.

Passengers should not have to wait.  The first goal must be to end the industrial action which is making the service even worse.  The second must be for Network Rail and GTR to adhere to their own improvement plan and deliver better performance to their promised timetable - not years ahead.

With rising demand the rail infrastructure in West Sussex is clearly overloaded.  It needs a major upgrade on top of the London Bridge improvements.

I will strongly support the necessary investment, and have discussed plans with Network Rail.  But in the meantime the rail companies must do better - or face the consequences.

Nick Herbert