Will a rail review really reveal anything we didn’t already know?
Months on from the timetabling fiasco, Southern rail passengers are still suffering. This review must result in change, says Maria Caulfield
The problems with Southern rail have been ongoing in the south-east for over two years now, first with industrial action followed by the disastrous implementation of a new timetable, and continuing with station skipping, last-minute cancellations and short-formation trains leading to overcrowding.
I have had emails and letters from thousands of people regarding Southern rail over these two years, probably more than any other issue, which shows just how much of an impact it has had on my constituents from every town and village.
Given the largely rural nature of the Lewes constituency and the single Brighton mainline to take passengers from my constituency towards London, any problem quickly becomes a disaster affecting every rail passenger in the area.
With the industrial action over, passengers in Lewes were told that a new timetable would bring more trains and greatly improve their travel experience, which was much needed after the strike action. What was promised by the network operators and hoped for by passengers was sadly very far from what was actually delivered. Chaos ensued with scores of trains cancelled and passengers left stranded.
Months on from the disaster of a timetable launch, passengers in my Lewes constituency are still suffering. Last-minute cancellations still take place, although less frequently than at the worst times. The issues that are mainly affecting passengers now are short-formation trains and station skipping to make up time on delayed journeys.
Passengers are forced to stand for entire journeys, and I am not talking 10 or 15 minutes between a couple of stops, but for over an hour and a half from London Victoria to Lewes, nose to nose with other passengers.
Just imagine the frustration of having to stand for so long after a full day at work because the train has four fewer carriages than it used to. The frustration is only exacerbated as the train hurtles past your station, meaning a lengthy wait at the next stop or an expensive taxi ride home.
This just isn’t good enough. I take every opportunity to raise these issues with the rail minister and the secretary of state for transport, but am told that the experience of Southern rail passengers is no longer as bad as it once was and that it is no longer such an issue. My constituents and my inbox beg to differ.
This is why I have asked constituents to tell me every time their train is severely delayed, cancelled at short notice, is overcrowded, or their station skipped. I am now sending every single one of these emails and letters in a weekly bundle directly to the secretary of state for transport so that he can see the levels of pain being caused on a daily basis on Southern rail; to show him that it is still very much an issue and that something needs to be done. Passengers need to be compensated, not stung with price hikes. Southern rail needs to have its franchise removed. Passengers need a rail operator they can depend on.
A wide-ranging review into the railways is welcome, but will a potentially costly and lengthy review reveal anything that myself or my constituents don’t already know? My hope is that the review will come up with what myself, neighbouring MPs, and our constituents have been calling for over such a long period of time.
If a review is necessary to formally gather the evidence for the much-needed action to be taken, then of course I am in favour of this and hope that it really does bring about the changes across the country to make sure that our railways can be depended upon for commuting and travelling for leisure.
Maria Caulfield is Conservative MP for Lewes
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.