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Enough is enough - Government must take action to address the Southern Rail crisis

Enough is enough - Government must take action to address the Southern Rail crisis
3 min read

Conservative MP Maria Caulfield says that Southern Rail strikes have caused a 'dystopian future' of delays and cancellations for stricken passengers.


For Southern Rail commuters, severe delays are not an aberration, but the norm. Even before the recent rail strikes, Southern Rail has routinely been the worst performing franchise in the country.  For 18 months commuters have been plagued by regular delays, cancellations and sporadically running trains with an inexcusable Daily Performance and Punctuality Measure of 68%, compared to over 90% across the country. 

The causes of these delays were originally down to engineering works to deliver the new London Bridge terminus. Commuters were initially understanding that these works would cause short term delays, but they have now mutated into the long term and the current dispute has only exacerbated these delays. 

The dispute centres on the changes to the role of conductors, who are being rebranded as ‘onboard supervisors’ and will no longer close the doors on new trains being brought into operation. Although the independent rail regulator says that driver only operated trains are safe (and are already in use on Thameslink trains), the unions claim that this practice is unsafe. 

However, this dispute is really about the unions’ fear for the job safety of Southern’s employees due to increasing automation. This argument is implausible because Southern Rail has promised not to axe jobs and have said that they will normally run trains with a second staff member; they simply want to retain the right to run trains with one. 

This combination of poor service and union strikes have led to a fully-fledged crisis, and has had a devastating impact on my constituency, of which parts are a Southern only area. Commuters routinely face up to three hour journeys to travel just 58 miles into London, and local businesses have suffered a 30% decrease in trade since the dispute. 

As well as the detrimental economic consequences, the crisis has had a particularly damaging impact on people’s daily lives. As a rural constituency we have few viable forms of public transport and consequently rail travel is a necessity to get our young people to school, to get those who are sick to their hospital appointments and for people to visit friends and relatives.

With rail replacement services for many months in some parts of my constituency, I have seen hard-working constituents lose their jobs, suffer marital problems and miss the birth of their children. All because of a lack of a reliable rail service.

Although ASLEF has recently reached an agreement with Southern Rail to resume normal service for the indefinite future, this is not a panacea. It only resolves the short-term consequences of strike action and negates the persistent failures of Southern Rail. 

I have therefore called for an Adjournment debate on the 20th January in order to highlight the plight of my constituents, as the Southern Rail service is ill-equipped to accommodate the needs of its passengers and significant improvements are desperately needed. 

The real people suffering from this crisis are the passengers and they deserve better than this dystopian future of indefinite delays and uncertainty.

Maria Caulfield is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Lewes

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