MP calls on Network Rail to compensate passengers following fine by regulator
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called on Network Rail to compensate passengers following the decision by the rail regulator this week (Monday 10 August) to impose a £2 million financial penalty on the track operating body.
The Office of Rail and Road, the independent economic and safety rail regulator for England, has proposed the fine in relation to Network Rail's impact on Govia Thameslink (GTR) and Southern services for performance failures last year.
The regulator said that poorly planned new timetables and works at London Bridge caused severe disruption and frustration for passengers.
Southern and GTR combined represented a third of punctuality delays and nearly half of cancelled and significantly delayed services in England and Wales last year.
Network Rail has the opportunity to offer reparations for affected passengers instead of having to pay the fine. However they say that this does not mean cash to passengers, who they claim have already been compensated for poor journeys, but instead means "passenger improvements", such as more customer information staff or screens, to the value of £2 million.
Mr Herbert questioned whether the system of fines made sense at all since Network Rail is in public ownership and, as they have pointed out, the resources have to be reallocated from their existing budget.
But he said that, if there was a penalty, it should not be paid to the Government but "should be used to compensate passengers in some way, or provide something of direct benefit to them. It should not be allocated to things which would or should be provided anyway."
The MP added: "Passengers have faced a dismal service and unacceptable disruption over the past year. They want to see improvements, but they also deserve some form of additional compensation".
Last month Mr Herbert and other Sussex MPs were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the London Bridge station redevelopment to see the scale of the works.
The station is being completely rebuilt as part of the £6.5 billion government-sponsored Thameslink Programme. As part of the tour Mr Herbert walked through the brand new concourse – larger than Wembley football pitch – that is being constructed under the existing station.
The tour was followed by a meeting with the Rail Minister, Claire Perry MP, and senior Network Rail and Southern/GTR managers to discuss progress on improving train punctuality and reliability.
Last month Mr Herbert called a debate in Westminster Hall to review the poor performance of local rail services, saying that Southern should “hang its head in shame” after being rated the worst performing train company in the country by passengers.
Following the intervention of the Rail Minister and MPs, the industry has worked together to create a joint performance improvement plan which initially saw punctuality improve. However the latest update on the plan, published last week (8 August), revealed that punctuality has again deteriorated.
The rail industry has apologised to passengers and say that they are committed to improve performance on one of the most congested railways in the country. They point out that more than 3,000 trains a day run on the railway linking London and the Sussex coast and admit that performance has declined in recent years as demand has grown.
They claim that the rebuilding of London Bridge as part of the Thameslink Programme will ultimately bring vitally needed extra capacity to the route, but in the meantime it has added an additional strain with fewer routes into and out of the station
1. Photograph 1 attached – MPs Maria Caulfield (Lewes), Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle), Nick Herbert, Jeremy Quin (Horsham) and Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham).
2. To read the Office for Road & Rail news release see http://orr.gov.uk/news-and-media/press-releases/2015/orr-investigation-finds-network-rail-in-breach-of-licence-in-2014-15.
3. To read the fact sheet produced at the briefing for MPs at London Bridge see http://www.nickherbert.com/data/files/150720_Fact_Sheet_for_London_Bridge.pdf.
4. To read the August update on the Network Rail/GTR/Southern performance improvement plan see http://www.southernrailway.com/your-journey/performance-results/performance-improvement-plan/.
5. To read Nick’s news release following his Commons debate on the performance of Southern MP see http://www.nickherbert.com/news.php/646/mp-says-that-southern-railway-should-quothang-its-head-in-shamequot.