MP raises Hassocks rail “shambles” in Commons debate
Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert demanded to know when the timetable “shambles” would come to end when he called a Commons debate on rail services in Hassocks yesterday (Tuesday 19 June).
Mr Herbert also raised the loss of direct peak-time trains from Hassocks to Clapham Junction in the new timetable, calling for the services to be restored, and he repeated his concerns to Nick Brown, GTR’s Chief Operating Officer at a meeting in the House of Commons today (Wednesday 20 June). Mr Brown undertook to review the loss of the service, while the Rail Minister, Jo Johnson, said that he would “go back to Network Rail and GTR” to check that their underlying assumptions, which formed the basis of the timetable changes, were “realistic”.
Hassocks village has a population of 7,700, making it the largest settlement in the Arundel & South Downs constituency. The station’s rail links into London serve a large number of people, many of whom do not live in Hassocks itself, and it is the tenth busiest rail station in West Sussex.
Introducing the debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Herbert said: “A large number of people use the rail service from Hassocks in my constituency, and the Minister knows that they are very angry indeed .... Just as it looked as though we might be moving towards a steadier state for rail services in West Sussex, which over the past two years have been absolutely dismal, we have serious disruption again.”
Mr Herbert acknowledged that the new timetable should mean more direct services to Victoria and the same number to London Bridge, but it also removed four direct peak-time morning trains from Hassocks to Clapham Junction, affecting some 56,000 journeys a year. He said that passengers seeking to travel to Clapham Junction were now being asked to change at Gatwick Airport, Haywards Heath or East Croydon, in some cases with only four minutes to switch trains.
Mr Herbert said: “I defy the Minister, GTR executives or anyone else reliably to be able to change at Gatwick at peak time, even if the trains were operating properly, based on only a four-minute window,” and he pressed the Minister to review the timetable changes.
“I would therefore be very grateful if I could repeat to the Minister the request that I have made to him, to the Secretary of State [Chris Grayling], to GTR and to Network Rail: will they please reconsider the new timetable, which has withdrawn what was an essential service for a large number of my constituents?”
The MP said that between 245 and 312 Hassocks services had been cancelled every week since the timetable was introduced. He read an e-mail from a “despairing” Hurstpierpoint resident who said that on Monday morning (18 June) he had “never seen so many people waiting for a London train on the platforms at Hassocks” and that it was “totally unacceptable for people to be standing on a train service at 0630”. Mr Herbert agreed, pointing out that steam trains in 1905 provided a direct service from Hassocks to London in just 1 hour 17 minutes. He quipped that it was probably a more reliable service than “the chaotic, shambolic, disrupted, withdrawn and cancelled services that they are facing now.”
Mr Herbert called for greater accountability for the recent disruption, and a “modern, sharper form of compensation system that is better than delay repay, so that the rail operating companies feel real pain when they are providing a shambolic and shoddy service like this, and passengers are compensated on a much more immediate basis. We need that not just because it would be fair to customers, but because it would introduce greater accountability.”
The MP concluded: “It is important for [the Minister] to understand just how angry our constituents are now about this perpetually bad service and how despairing they are that there seems to be no end to it. They just want a normal, reliable rail service. In the 21st century, is that really too much to ask?”
Responding to the debate, the Rail Minister, Jo Johnson, said that Mr Herbert was "an extraordinarily powerful champion for his constituents”. He claimed that “passengers from Hassocks will benefit from the performance benefits that will come in time from the full separation of Gatwick Express and Southern services”, and he believed that “the vast majority of passengers travelling to London from Hassocks” would be “well served” by the timetable change. But he recognised that “a significant number” of people travelled to Clapham Junction from Hassocks.”
He said: “Peak-time services from Hassocks no longer stop at Clapham Junction …. because all peak services between Hassocks and Victoria are Gatwick Express trains coming from Brighton, which cannot stop between Gatwick airport and Victoria. However, there can be a single change at Gatwick airport. We can examine [Mr Herbert’s] view that a four-minute positive interchange was an unrealistic ambition; I will certainly go back to Network Rail and GTR to see whether four minutes is a realistic interchange time.”
On the issue of redress, the Minister said: “We have also announced a special compensation scheme for GTR passengers. It is to be funded by the rail industry and it will ensure that regular rail customers receive appropriate redress for the disruption they have experienced. I encourage passengers to apply to GTR for delay repay compensation.”
1. Photograph: (left to right) Nick Herbert speaking in the Westminster Hall debate (19.6.18).
2. To read the Hansard report of the full Westminster Hall debate see https://tinyurl.com/yav9lng5.