MPs SLAM SOUTHERN RAIL IN COMMONS DEBATE – WHILE MINISTER BLAMES UNIONS
All three of the area’s MPs criticised Southern Rail in a House of Commons debate on Monday – with Croydon North MP Steve Reed calling for fare rises to be ruled out.
Mr Reed, who is shadow minister for culture, media and sport said: “Commuters in Croydon and elsewhere have suffered enough, and after two years of rail chaos they certainly should not be expected to pay any more for the services they use.
“Will the Minister now show that he recognises the extent of the failure and rule out any fare rises on Southern rail services next year?”
Responding, Paul Maynard, Parliamentary under-secretary Department for Transport, said: “We have been very clear that we are going to cap rail fare increases on regulated fares at retail prices index plus zero.
“But to recognise the impact on Southern passengers we announced last Friday a compensation package that equates to one month’s free travel for annual season ticket holders.”
Jim Dowd (Labour Lewisham West and Penge) said he started commuting—both regularly and frequently—from Forest Hill to London Bridge and Waterloo East in 1963.
“In all those 53 years, the service has never been as unreliable and as chaotic as it is today. “I now no longer use Southern to go to London Bridge, as I use the overground service.
“Unfortunately, large parts of my constituency, and just about every other constituency of Members concerned about this matter, do not have that option.
“Many of my constituents blame the management for what is going on, and an equal number blame the unions. “Another set blames Network Rail and the infrastructure.
“We have heard from the Minister today about track failures causing chaos on the Brighton line. “When will he and the Government do something to reassure my constituents, and those of everybody in this Chamber, that the Government are actually trying to do the best they can for commuters, rather than leaving commuters to the fate of the most incompetent organisation in the entire UK rail industry?”
Responding Mr Maynard said: “As Members will be aware, Chris Gibb (See below – Ed.) is an experienced railwayman with a deep understanding of the industry and of that network. “His report will look at all the issues that the hon. gentleman has just raised.
“We look forward to receiving it and deciding the most appropriate action we can take to deliver the improvements that not only he but all of us in the Chamber are impatient to see.”
Helen Hayes (Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood) told fellow MPs: “I have here analysis of the feedback from the 1,000 constituents who have been in touch with me about the performance of Southern rail, and it is a catalogue of misery.
“The failure of Southern Rail is affecting my constituents’ work, family life, health and wellbeing, and they have had enough.
“When will the Minister confirm rail devolution for London, so that Transport for London, which has a proven track record and high levels of customer satisfaction, can run these services? “When will my constituents’ Southern Rail misery end?
Responding, Mr Maynard said he recognised the picture that the hon. Lady paints of the problems her constituents are facing.
“I hope she will join me in urging all sides in this dispute to return to the negotiating table and reach an agreement that puts the needs of passengers first, not the interests of the rail unions.”
The MPs were speaking during a Commons debate begun by Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton) who asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he would make a statement on Southern rail.
Responding, Mr Maynard said: “Performance on the Southern network has been affected by a combination of factors over the previous months. Those have included trade union action, infrastructure reliability and operator issues.
“The unions have stepped up their industrial action in the run-up to Christmas, additionally co-ordinating it with action on the underground network.
“Let me be clear: this strike action is politically motivated and has affected passengers for far too long. Union leaders have even described the action as ‘carrying on Fidel’s work.’ “That will be of no comfort to passengers who just want to get to work.
“I have a letter in my folder to my hon. Friend Huw Merriman from the director of railway safety at the Office of Rail and Road. “Responding to the safety concern from the unions, Ian Prosser says ‘DOO (Driver Only Operation) is safe.
“The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and ASLEF should not be misleading the public about their dispute with Govia Thameslink Railway. “Once again I can assure the hard-working staff of the GTR franchise that no train staff are losing pay and no one is losing their job.
“Passengers want and deserve improvements, which is why in September the Secretary of State appointed Chris Gibb, a leading railway professional, to work with the operator and with Network Rail to identify areas in which performance on the network can be improved quickly.
“Some of these £20 million interventions are under way and would be making a significant difference by now, were it not for the fact that owing to continued industrial action by the RMT and now planned action by ASLEF, Southern rail services are to be subject to further delays and alterations now and over the coming weeks.
“In recognition of the disruption to services this year, the Secretary of State announced on 2nd December a refund package that will compensate season ticket holders with a package equivalent to one free month in acknowledgment of the exceptional issues experienced this year.
“He also announced that GTR will be the first franchise to introduce Delay Repay 15* starting on 11 December.
“Compensation alone is not enough, however. “We have to restore a timely, reliable and predictable train service. “That is why the work of Mr Gibb is focusing on reducing the network rail faults, and why we have new safe driver-only operation trains that can cope with the volume of people wanting to use them.
“It is why I will continue to ensure that the management of the train operating company is doing everything in its power to run improved services. “But we also need the union leaders to stop their needless, unreasonable, disproportionate and politically motivated strikes.”
*Editor’s Note: Southern’s website says
“Delay Repay 15
We will be introducing a more generous Delay Repay scheme, ‘Delay Repay 15’, on 11 December which will offer passengers compensation for delayed journeys over 15 minutes rather than the current 30 minutes.
How to claim: You must apply within 28 days of your delay either online or by post.
Applying online is quick, easy to do and you can create an online account so that your details will be stored for your future convenience.”
Further reading: “Southern Dross” – this week’s issue of Private Eye magazine no.1433 9th December to 22nd December page five.
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