Rail problems aired at Westminster

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Poor performance and high fares for rail users were discussed in Parliament on Tuesday last week.

Reigate MP Crispin Blunt secured time for the debate through winning a ballot.  During the session at Westminster Hall on Tuesday 12 January the MP said:

“I want to highlight the particular injustice faced by passengers using the Redhill and Reigate routes, who are not only taking the brunt of service reductions and disruptions but uniquely facing disproportionately higher fares”.

Performance

Prior to describing in detail service and performance issues that have plagued the line in recent months, including staff shortages, Mr Blunt said:

“Passengers recognise that service alterations are inevitable while the works to upgrade London Bridge are under way, but no one imagined that Southern, now under the Govia Thameslink Railway management contract since July, would fail so catastrophically to deliver even the reduced timetable. Indeed, reliability has deteriorated to the extent that it is barely possible to say that a functioning timetabled rail service exists. The service to and from Redhill and Reigate is a nightmare, with delays every morning and evening. Delays are being unreasonably heaped on the Redhill line.”

Rail Minister Claire Perry MP’s responses included discussing a remedial plan that was put in place with Govia Thameslink at the end of last year:

“Clearly, there has been an unacceptable period of poor performance and we have notified the franchise holder that it was effectively in breach of its contract. The first stage is to come up with a remedial plan that sets out the measures that it will take, which is what I am referring to, particularly on the driver side.

The other question is on Network Rail because, as I have mentioned, most of the delays are related to infrastructure. My hon. Friend will know that Network Rail has been put on notice and has agreed a £4 million package of remedial works for the Brighton main line to address some of the more immediate performance issues.”

Ms Perry also said the franchise would only be removed from Govia Thameslink if the Government felt the management team could not deliver. She added:

“I think everything is being done to address the performance issues, the driver shortages and the roll-out of new rolling stock. For the next 18 months, there will be a difficult period of performance. It does not need to be as difficult as it has been, and we are doing all we can to ensure that the new timetable delivers the sort of reliable service people want.”

In response to the debate, a spokesperson for Govia Thameslink told reigate.uk:

“We know our performance is not good and we apologise to our passengers for this. While work on London Bridge and the surrounding track as part of the Thameslink Programme is going on, we have lost one of the four routes into the station and we have had to divert many of our trains into Victoria. This has seen a greater impact on performance than anybody anticipated. With the improvement work going on, this makes an already congested railway far more susceptible to delays – a single signal fault, for example, is causing much longer delays now which knocks on to affect many more services across the network.

Working with Network Rail we have rewritten the timetable to even out off-peak services putting us in a better position to deliver more punctual trains in the evening rush hour and, with the completion of engineering work this Christmas, this timetable can now be put through its paces.

With Network Rail we’re delivering everything we said we would on a joint improvement plan but we recognise there is more to be done.”

The spokesperson also commented on an assertion by Mr Blunt in the debate that since October no evening peak trains from from London Bridge to Redhill had arrived on time:

“Between October 1st 2015 and 11th January 2016, there were 506 evening peak trains from London Bridge to Redhill. Of those, 196 were on time. However, we acknowledge that this is far from acceptable and that the punctuality of these services needs to improve.”

Fares

The Fair Fares campaign was also again put forward by Mr Blunt. This seeks the extension of Oyster Zone 6 to local stations on the basis that other routes have lower fares to London, including some stations further away from the capital.  The MP argued that the resulting lower fares would attract more passengers:

“The expected increase in usage alone would recover most—or probably all, if not more, based on previous experience—of the approximately £6 million cost of introducing zone 6 to the stations at Redhill, Reigate, Merstham, Earlswood, Salfords and Horley.”

However, Ms Perry said any zone extension would need to be considered in the context of the wider network as a whole, but said the Government was looking at “who does what” between TfL and rail franchisees, with a possible consultation later in the year.

On fares, the Govia Thameslink spokesperson told reigate.uk:

“Regulated fares such as season tickets are regulated by Government which is committed to RPI plus 0%. This year, Govia Thameslink Railway’s fares rose on average by just 0.8% – and many tickets were frozen completely. Singles and returns from London to Gatwick with Gatwick Express, stayed the same as did all fares under £10 on services that start or end outside the London Travelcard zone.”

Other points and praise for rail users’ group

Other points discussed included service improvements after London Bridge works are completed in 2018, with Ms Perry pointing to increased services and capacity. The Rail Minister also referred to plans to reduce the minimum delay period for compensation from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

She also said:

“I genuinely welcome the ongoing campaigning and activity of the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users Association, of which my hon. Friend is president. The campaigning and the information and analysis that the group has presented to me is truly excellent. That is exactly the sort of on-the-ground, forensic analysis we need to ensure that we get things right.”

Ms Perry reminded Mr Blunt of a meeting of a south-east quadrant taskforce, due to take place today, Monday 18 January.  The group, chaired by Ms Perry, brings together parties such as Network Rail and train operators to discuss issues.  MPs also attend.

Links

Watch last week’s debate below (starts at 11:00)

Move video to 11:00 for start of debate

Read the debate here

Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users’ Association – Facebook, website

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