Statement from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Southern Rail.
Today members of the All Party Group on Southern Rail held an emergency conference with the newly appointed Rail Minister, Paul Maynard MP, in the light of Wednesday’s collapse in services.
Wednesday saw multiple failures on the Brighton mainline. A collapsed sewer in Forest Hill, speed restrictions due to the hot weather, signalling failure near Gatwick and a broken down train wreaked havoc on the network and left passengers suffering the kind of misery that should be unthinkable in 21st Century Britain. This included the need for police to ensure the safety of passengers at Brighton Station.
The Minister updated the Group on the causes and response to Wednesday’s incidents. One aspect of the disruption, the failure of air conditioning on some services, is still being investigated under the Minister’s direction.
MPs made the following points to the Minister:
· To many passengers, Wednesday’s experience was not unlike many other journeys they regularly made these days. Overcrowding, delays, poor information services and no air conditioning have all become a regular part of the passenger experience.
· We do not get the sense that investment into the track matches the severity of the problem. For example, we are regularly told that major upgrades are needed yet we rarely feel that ‘round the clock’ work is being carried out for sustained periods.
· Into the long-term, we asked for an acknowledgement that large-scale infrastructure investment is required into the service area from London to the South East commuter towns. The Group is supportive of major works in other parts of the country, such as Crossrail, but believe a similar sense of ambition is needed on our commuter infrastructure to avoid continued damage to our community and economic life.
· MPs emphasised the need for both Southern and Network Rail to improve their performance, for the Unions to bring their industrial action to an end and for major long-term investment in lines to Brighton and West Sussex to meet rising demand.
Finally, the Group has requested a statement from the Minister setting out what passengers can realistically expect from their rail service in the coming year. This should be a frank, unvarnished statement from Government that includes the impact on passenger experiences from improvements such as new rolling stock and the partial opening of London Bridge, but it should also level with passengers about the realistic quality of service they can expect in the foreseeable future. As individual MPs we are often left to interpret multiple Government and operator statements in order to keep our constituents informed. It is time for the Department of Transport to come clean and tell passengers directly, in plain English, about what they can expect their service to deliver in terms of reliability and comfort in the weeks and months ahead.
The meeting took place today in Parliament and via conference call.
Present at the meeting:
Rail Minister, Paul Maynard MP
Co-Chairs of the All Party Group: Sir Nicholas Soames MP (Mid Sussex), Peter Kyle MP (Hove and Portslade)
Vice-Chairs: Nick Herbert MP (Arundel and South Downs), Caroline Lucas MP (Brighton Pavilion)