Sussex politicians ‘will no longer accept the current level of rail service’ experienced by passengers, Lewes’ MP has said.
Maria Caulfield joined other MPs at a meeting with Network Rail, rail minister Claire Perry, and Govia Thameslink Railway - which runs both Thameslink and Southern - at Westminster today (Monday January 18) to discuss the constant disruption and delays to services since the start of December.
The event came on the same day that passengers faced lengthy delays due to separate signalling problems, one at Balcombe, and another between Preston Park and Hassocks.
Mrs Caulfield said: “A number of us demanded that the fines now be imposed on both the operator and Network Rail, dividends cease with immediate effect and for the franchise to be re looked at. Coming back in six months to just talk about the problems is unacceptable.”
At the meeting, the issue of the continuing unreliability of the service was the top subject raised, as well as the problems of driver shortages, substandard infrastructure and poor rolling stock.
Mrs Caulfield added: “Too often Network Rail appears too slow to repair faults and carry out programmed maintenance.”
She continued: “Constituents are very unhappy with the level of service being provided and as a group of SE MPs we will no longer accept this level of service. We await the minister’s response to our requests”
Meanwhile after the meeting Nus Ghani, Wealden MP, said: “I don’t know how many times I have met with officials at Southern both since and before my election as an MP, but at each and every one of those meetings I have heard the same old promises and plans for improvement.
“It’s no better when I meet with Network Rail either. Every time we meet, the horizon for improvements is pushed back by six months, to 12 months, then to 18 months.
“But 2016 has begun as 2015 finished, with performance statistics at appallingly low levels and my constituents having to put up with unsatisfactory service which shows no signs of improvement.
“The Government must set clear targets, on management performance, communication with passengers, planning in advance of disruption, procedures for giving compensation for disruption and plans for investment.
“If those targets are not met, there will be some very strong arguments in favour of finding an alternative holder of the franchise.”
Rail minister Claire Perry added: “It’s inexcusable that customers on this part of the rail network aren’t receiving the service they deserve. There are problems that are being fixed, such as driver shortages and old trains. But the operator and Network Rail have still got to do better when it comes to fixing faults and communicating with their passengers. We are all completely committed to getting this railway back to high performance by 2018.”
Last week, Ms Ghani wrote for a second time to the chair of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, urging the committee to conduct its own inquiry into Southern’s performance.
In her letter she said: “Holding an inquiry will enable Southern and Network Rail to publicly set out their reasons for why the disruption is occurring, and should allow them to better appreciate the inconvenience and exasperation they are causing when making their plans.”
Other Sussex MPs took to Twitter to give their initial reaction to the meeting.
Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP, said: “MPs - including me - giving GTR & Network Rail very hard time indeed in meeting abt unacceptable performance - minister agrees ‘inexcusable’.”
Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames added: “GTR and Network Rail getting a well deserved rough ride at MP’s meeting endless assurances it’s going to get better but a long way to go.”
Tim Loughton, East Worthing and Shoreham MP, added: “Just left woeful meeting with Network Rail, GTR, Rail Minister, DfT officials & 20 very angry MPs.”
Before the meeting, a spokesman for GTR said: “We know the train service has not been good enough and apologise to passengers. We are looking forward to meeting with the minister, listening to the MPs and explaining what we are doing together to improve the service.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We had a challenging but constructive meeting with the minister, listening to MPs and explaining what we are doing to improve services.
“Network Rail and GTR are working closely together to increase punctuality, with Network Rail making track, signalling and other systems more dependable and GTR bringing in new, more reliable trains this spring and still more drivers.
“Increased passenger demand and essential improvement work at London Bridge has made any problems that do occur on the Brighton Main Line up to four times more difficult to recover from, as there is simply less room for the huge number of trains we run every day. However, when this work is finished, our services will be transformed for passengers with greater connectivity and more capacity to, from and through the heart of London.”
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