South Downs MP raises concerns over ‘unacceptably poor’ train service with rail minister

Sir Nicholas Soames chaired a meeting of MPs with rail minister Claire Perry which Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert attended (photo submitted). SUS-150527-112133001
Sir Nicholas Soames chaired a meeting of MPs with rail minister Claire Perry which Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert attended (photo submitted). SUS-150527-112133001

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert raised concerns over an ‘unacceptably poor’ train service with the rail minister this week.

He was one of several MPs to meet Claire Perry, the minister at the Department for Transport with responsibility for the railways, on Tuesday to lobby for improvements to Southern services.

Just this week commuters on Southern trains compared themselves to ‘animals travelling to the slaughter’, but the train operating company said that ‘the railway is even more popular than ever, with passenger numbers growing year on year’.

Mr Herbert said: “The fact that West Sussex MPs asked for this meeting with the rail minister so soon after the election demonstrates our concern about the local rail service and our determination to see improvements.

“The service remains unacceptably poor with late or cancelled trains, overcrowding and unpopular timetable changes.

“Southern now has the unenviable reputation as the worst rail company in the country, but the problems are also down to failures of Network Rail.

“I emphasised to the minister that my constituents are fed up with excuses - they want action and tangible improvements to the service.”

Rail users have been hit with severe delays twice in the last month. Problems with engineering work at Clapham Junction on April 30 led to an entire day of delays and widespread cancellations across Sussex, while emergency engineering works had to be carried out at Haywards Heath on May 20, which resulted in another day of misery for passengers.

In a letter to the MPs at Tuesday’s meeting Mrs Perry said she was ‘really proud’ of the Government’s investment in the multi-billion pound Thameslink project, but was also ‘extremely concerned’ about the direct and indirect impact works were having on passengers.

She said at times the delays and disruption were ‘simply inexcusable’, and was looking at a review of the problems on the specific lines carried out by Network Rail, which includes recommendations for both service and operational changes.

Earlier this month Southern also made hundreds of changes to its timetables, which included the removal of some peak time services, and has annoyed many commuters.

One rail user wrote on Facebook: “Animals travelling to slaughter get more room by law than most people get travelling during peak times in overcrowded trains.

“Surely Southern know how many people travel on average during peak times and should provide the correct amount of rolling stock rather than maximising the profit made on a journey.”

A spokesperson for Southern said: “We have introduced new train fleets during the current franchise to meet this growth, providing a total number of additional carriages on our network to 227 – resulting in a net gain of over 10,000 extra seats across the network.

“This has provided some much needed relief to thousands of our passengers who now have a more comfortable journey.

“The decision to start the 6.56am Brighton to London Bridge service from Gatwick Airport was one of hundreds of changes made to departure times and calling patterns in the new summer timetable. These changes are designed to improve punctuality performance – something that we know is very important for our passengers.

“Looking ahead, the £6.5 billion Thameslink project will enable the introduction of more new trains on the Brighton Main Line, further increasing capacity.”

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