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Government must put pressure on rail operators to incentivize better performance

Government must put pressure on rail operators to incentivize better performance
3 min read

South East London MP Bob Neill writes ahead of his Adjournment debate on 'Southeastern rail services' affecting his constituents and other commuters.

The wrong type of ice, leaves, rain, heat and now, if you’ll believe it, sunlight. It sounds like a nature documentary from hell, but no, it is in fact a roll call of excuses I, and thousands of my constituents, have received from Southeastern and Network Rail over the past twelve months.

Despite doubling its profits from £10 to £20 million in the last year, the official figures for the Autumn period released by Transport Focus today show that Southeastern has the second lowest satisfaction ratings in the country. Perhaps most damning of this whole woeful tale of ineptitude is the mere 43% of customers who feel they are getting value for money, or the 35% who believe the operator deals effectively with delays.  

It’s very easy to glance over the lists and lists of statistics gloss eyed and detached, but behind every person interviewed by Transport Focus is an individual story of frustration and disappointment. Many local residents have written to me about the strain this is putting on their relationship with their employer, and the level of service is now so bad that others are being forced to up sticks and move, from what is otherwise a much sought-after suburban postcode, in search of better transport links elsewhere. It is this everyday reality of delayed, overcrowded trains, missed interconnections and unavailable staff that I want to raise directly with the Minister in my Adjournment debate tomorrow.

Of course, these are not problems unique to the south east London rail corridor, nor does the blame fall solely on the shoulders of franchises like Southeastern. With an estimated 70% of delays being attributable to things like signalling failures, faulty tracks or overrunning engineering works, Network Rail have an awful lot to answer for.

After last Thursday’s announcement to establish a joint regional approach to the management of rail services, transferring responsibility for passenger rail within the Greater London boundary to TfL once current franchises are due for renewal, a chink of light in an otherwise very gloomy tunnel has finally emerged. Overall this will lead to a more frequent, reliable service, better interchanges and a far greater rail capacity. But between now and 2018 – when Southeastern’s contract is due to expire – interim measures need to be implemented to ensure passenger satisfaction becomes front and centre over the next two years.

Like any commuter, I want to see greater accountability, value for money and, most importantly, real and tangible improvements to services. The Department for Transport can put pressure on operators to incentivise better performance, not least of all through financial penalties, and in the Minister’s response tomorrow I will want to see some evidence of a proactive, joined-up and cross-organisation plan to resolve these problems.  

Robert Neill MP is the Chair of the Justice Select Committee and the Conservative MP for Bromley & Chislehurst

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