Regular, reliable and affordable rail services are crucial for a huge number of my constituents, whether they are commuting into London for work or travelling locally from Uckfield, Buxted, Crowborough, Eridge and Wadhurst.
Securing improvements to the substandard rail services in Wealden is one of my priorities as your MP - I mentioned it in my maiden speech and have spent a considerable proportion of my first few months in Parliament challenging Network Rail and Southern to increase investment and improve their performance.
My approach is two-fold, focused both on existing services and rail infrastructure. With respect to services, what Southern currently offer is unsatisfactory – passengers have to put up with delays, cancellations, short form trains, overcrowding, strikes and poor communication. I firmly believe that passengers do not get what they deserve or pay for and that Southern have a lot of work to do in order to make sure that the service they provide is up to standard.
As a result, I have taken the following actions:
- Welcomed an investigation by the Office of Rail and Road into poor punctuality and reliability on Britain's rail network
- Expressed my dismay at the poor levels of passenger satisfaction with Southern in the National Rail Passenger Survey, and demanded that Southern listen to the views of their customers
- Wrote to the Chief Executive of Southern and the General Secretary of the RMT Union, urging them to resume their dialogue following the announcement of a strike in July, which was subsequently called off
- Spoke in a House of Commons debate on Southern's failure to provide a satisfactory service, urging the Minister for Transport to convene a regular forum at which passengers can raise their concerns directly with the management
- Wrote to the Office of Rail and Road and the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, asking each of them to carry out a focused inquiry into the substandard performance of Southern, particularly the failure of its management to communicate effectively with passengers
- Wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport following unacceptable service disruption due to staff absence, to seek clarity about the Thameslink Southern and Great Northern Franchise Agreement, and particularly financial incentives and penalties for cancellations
- I have called on the Government to set clear targets for Southern and Network Rail, and at a meeting of the South East Quadrant Taskforce I made it clear that it is unreasonable to expect passengers to continue to be patient as promises of improvement are pushed down the track by 6 months, then 12, then 18. I made clear that if those targets are not met, there would be strong arguments in favour of finding an alternative holder of the franchise
- I spoke in another House of Commons debate on the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail, and led calls for a Transport Select Committee Inquiry into their failures
- I expressed my disappointment that the RMT union decided to go ahead with a strike affecting Southern services, unnecessarily causing huge inconvenience to passengers
- On the first day of the five-day strike in August 2016, I spoke to the Transport Secretary to emphasise the extent of the disruption being caused
- I secured progress with Southern, who have promised to speed up the use of longer trains and to investigate putting on replacement bus services for any future strike
- I called for a compensation scheme to be brought in by the Government, to compensate passengers for the dire service, and welcomed the introduction of the scheme when the Government agreed to it
- While welcoming the reorganisation of the way train operating companies are grouped together, I also called for a further refocus on the too oft forgotten Uckfield line
I also believe strongly that rail services can only improve drastically with increased investment in infrastructure. Structural improvements will relieve pressure on the system as a whole and help achieve improvements to services.
My work in this area has included:
- Numerous meetings with the Minister for Transport about the structural improvements that would help Wealden
- Jointly with Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, contributing a submission to a study into the possible reopening of the Uckfield-Lewes line and the proposed Brighton Main Line 2
- Constant contact with Network Rail regarding the structural improvements that have already been announced, including securing confirmation about the timetable for platform extensions at numerous stations in Wealden
- Attending a rail summit at Network Rail's headquarters at London Bridge, with the Rail Minister and Southern Executives, at which I received assurances that the rolling stock Southern are refurbishing will be ready for use by July 2016
I am keen to impress upon constituents the importance of reporting poor service that they experience. The watchdog Transport Focus (@TransportFocus) collects complaints that are made, and it is these complaints that help to drive improvements. Please do report your experiences, so that they don't slip under the radar without being addressed.
My work on this issue is ongoing, and this page will be updated as developments occur. I am firmly of the belief that the failure of a number of organisations to provide an adequate level of service is unacceptable, a view I have regularly and consistently expressed to relevant officials. I will continue to do so until there is evidence that services have improved.