Nick Herbert takes passenger complaints to Southern rail chief
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert is to meet Southern rail chief Chris Burchell this week to discuss complaints from Arun Valley commuters about a deterioration in the service.
Mr Herbert has received dozens of letters and e-mails from commuters angry about changes which have seen trains to stations including Pulborough and Arundel running more slowly and sometimes failing to stop at all.
The MP has accused Southern of "complacency" and demanded "a more constructive response" from the company after Mr Burchell responded to his letter by claiming that the timetable changes introduced a year ago had been "very successful".
In a further letter to Mr Burchell ahead of their meeting at the House of Commons on Wednesday (4 February), Mr Herbert said: "My constituents ... are angry about what they consider - in my view correctly - to be a deterioration in their rail service."
According to the West Sussex Rail Users Association, train services from stations along the Arun Valley are 10 minutes slower following the timetable changes introduced by Southern in December 2007. They say that commuters can now expect to arrive in London 5-10 minutes late due to the practice of splitting trains at Horsham. Mr Herbert pointed out that, as a result, many commuters are now spending an additional 40 minutes or more on Southern's trains each week.
Quoting figures supplied by Southern, Mr Herbert said that passengers travelling from stations between Arundel and Christ's Hospital had received a 7 per cent increase in their season tickets this year, an increase well above the rate of inflation. He said the fact that Southern would have been allowed to increase regulated fares by up to 11 per cent was "absolutely no defence".
He added: "There is a strong local feeling that Arun Valley commuters are both a minority and a captive market, and that consequently Southern is able to increase fares while cutting back on their service with impunity. Since you refer to your flexibility to vary fares, surely travellers from the Arun Valley stations are entitled to lower fares, or at the very least lower fare increases, to compensate them for the deterioration in their service?"
In his letter, Mr Herbert reiterated his concerns about the "numerous instances" of trains failing to stop at Pulborough, Amberley and Arundel when they are running late, meaning that passengers are forced to get off at Horsham or travel on to Barnham and then find their way back to the station they have just passed.
Mr Herbert said that a number of his constituents have protested about the new practice and added: "I am personally aware of the problem because on the morning of Friday 23 January I was suddenly informed, at Horsham, that my late-running train to Pulborough would no longer stop there. Apart from the inconvenience of suddenly having to get off the train at Horsham, this practice requires passengers to wait in the cold for the next train, and makes them even later than they expected."
Mr Herbert said commuters, whose service has already been downgraded by the delays at Horsham, have been "seriously aggravated" by the cancellation of timetabled stops when trains are running late. He urged Southern to reconsider this practice to prevent further ill-feeling.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Herbert told Mr Burchell that he was looking forward to discussing these issues at their meeting on Wednesday and added: "I hope that you will be able to come forward with a more constructive response to my constituents' concerns than we have received from Southern to date."
Mr Herbert met with Southern last year to discuss a number of concerns about services on the Arun Valley line.
Notes for Editors
1. For a copy of Nick Herbert's letter to Chris Burchell of 7 January, visit http://www.nickherbert.com/news.php/127/Rail%20passengers%20"justifiably%20angry"%20over%20Arun%20Valley%20service
2. For the website of the West Sussex Rail Users Association, visit http://www.wsrua.org.uk/.
3. For the website of Southern, visit http://www.southernrailway.com/.