Rail companies pledge action after MPs demand improvements
Rail companies have pledged to improve performance on the Brighton line after MPs complained to Ministers about the deteriorating standard of service.
At a summit in the House of Commons convened by the Rail Minister, Claire Perry MP, on Monday this week (2 February) the bosses of Network Rail, Southern and Thameslink acknowledged that passengers on Southern and Thameslink services had endured poor reliability, and that the companies needed to put the situation right.
MPs including Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) and Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) told the rail companies that the service was unacceptable and that they must address their constituents' complaints.
Passengers have endured poor reliability and declining performance on Thameslink and Southern services over the past three years. A recent survey by Passenger Focus, an independent public body set up by the Government to protect the interests of rail users, found that Govia Thameslink Railway and Southern Railways had amongst the worst satisfaction ratings of any franchise.
The Chief Executive of Govia Thameslink Railway, Charles Horton, responded by pointing out that the network is under ever-increasing pressure, with the number of passengers on Thameslink growing by 40 per cent over the past five years, and by 32 per cent on Southern.
The rail companies insisted that the Thameslink Programme, which includes £6 billion of upgrades to London Bridge station, would solve many of these problems, but was also a cause of disruption.
But the companies conceded that poor reliability in recent months was partly due to failings in their part, and pledged to make improvements.
MPs accepted that there would be a certain amount of disruption caused by the London Bridge improvements, which would improve services in the future, but said that this did not excuse poor reliability on the Brighton line, where performance had been declining for some time.
Mr Herbert told the rail companies said that the standard of services on the Brighton line was completely unacceptable and that rail operators were losing the confidence of passengers who paid a great deal, through their taxes and fares, and were entitled to a reliable service.
The improvement plan set out by Network Rail, Southern and Thameslink includes new trains, upgrades to 38 key junctions, including Haywards Heath and Keymer, immediate timetable changes and additional maintenance work.
Some improvements will be delivered immediately, up to May this year, while others will be medium or long term changes that will be completed by December 2018.
The rail companies said that they would publish specific targets for the plan by the end of this month and accepted that they would be held to account for meeting them. The plan has been published on Southern and Network Rail's websites.
Mr Herbert met the Rail Minister last month to raise his concerns about local rail services. Mrs Perry subsequently convened the summit meeting with the industry and MPs, making clear to the rail companies that performance must improve.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Herbert said: “I welcome Network Rail, Thameslink and Southern's recognition that they have been providing a poor service for commuters and their pledge to improve performance.
“I was pleased that the Minister convened the summit and that a message in the clearest terms has been sent to the rail companies that they must do better.
"I will monitor this plan closely and together with my fellow MPs will hold the rail companies to account for the improvements that have been promised."
1. To read Nick’s news release ‘MP takes rail concerns to Minister’ see: http://www.nickherbert.com/news.php/584/mp-takes-rail-concerns-to-minister.
2. To read the performance plan by Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway and Southern Railway see: http://www.southernrailway.com/southern/news/network-rail-thameslink-and-southern-publish-performance-plan/.
3. To read the National Rail Passenger Survey Autumn 2014 Main Report see: http://email.passengerfocus.org.uk/passengerfocuslz/lz.aspx?p1=056884S909209&CC=&w=1104&cID=0&cValue=1.