MP slams 'absolutely lamentable' rail service
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert has described Govia Thameslink’s management of its rail franchise as "absolutely lamentable" and called on the company to honour its promise to deliver improvements to the service.
Speaking in a Commons debate on The Queen's Speech on Monday (23 May), Mr Herbert said that ongoing rail failures and industrial action were now causing "real anger" amongst his constituents.
The MP told the Commons that the performance of Govia Thameslink (GTR) had been unacceptable over the past year. He acknowledged that 60 per cent of delays were the responsibility of the rail infrastructure managed by Network Rail, and that the Government’s £6 billion upgrade of London Bridge would improve services in future.
But the MP said that GTR were falling below their own modest performance improvement benchmarks set a year ago. Service failures were now being exacerbated by “misconceived industrial action” by RMT members.
The MP said there was “no justification for the action" and pointed out that train guards seemed to be suffering from “an unusual level of sickness”, a reference to the now daily alerts issued by GTR who have been unable to run a complete service for several weeks owing to staff illness.
Rail unions have claimed that GTR's plan to roll out driver-operated train doors are unsafe, but Mr Herbert said that the change could not be a safety issue since drivers rather than guards already controlled the doors on 40 per cent of Southern train services. He said that there was "no justification for the industrial action and it should not continue".
The MP said that the combination of poor service and industrial action was "now causing real anger" among his commuting constituents who depended on the rail service to get to their places of work.
Mr Herbert asked for the Government to ensure that GTR and Network Rail were held to account for their poor performance and to ensure they met their own improvement standards.
When asked if he thought that the franchise should be removed from GTR, Mr Herbert said that this was the ultimate sanction available to the Government. He noted that that the GTR franchise had only recently been awarded, but that the company had failed to plan for enough drivers, resulting in a year-long driver shortage.
Mr Herbert said that the "company assures the Government that it can improve its performance. The Government are reluctant to withdraw the franchise and find themselves in the position of running the railway, but unless the position improves more radical measures will have to be taken to deal with the underperformance of this service. "
Mr Herbert concluded that the rail service had been "simply appalling" and was "unacceptable", warning that it was "time that both Network Rail and Southern recognise that it is no longer acceptable to deliver a low-standard performance of this kind."
Yesterday (Tuesday 24 May) Mr Herbert followed up his speech by meeting the Chief Operating Officer of GTR, Dyan Crowther, to discuss industrial action on the railway and the company's performance failures. The MP told the executive that his constituents were furious about the current service, which had been especially bad in recent weeks. He said that while he recognised that infrastructure improvements were slowly coming on stream, improvements to the service had to be delivered to the timetable which GTR had promised.
In a letter to Mr Herbert earlier this month, the Rail Minister Claire Perry pledged that the Government would "return the network to the performance that all passengers deserve", but that the benefits of infrastructure improvements would take some time to realise.
1. To read Nick Herbert's speech see http://nickherbert.com/media_centre.php/828/defending-public-services
2. To read the Rail Minister's letter to Nick Herbert see http://www.nickherbert.com/data/files/160506_Claire_Perry_Letter.pdf.
3. To read Nick’s news ‘MP demands accountability for rail failures’ see http://www.nickherbert.com/news.php/709/mp-demands-accountability-for-rail-failures.