Horsham MP Jeremy Quin led criticism of Sussex’s ‘galling’ rail services at a Westminster debate yesterday (Wednesday March 16).
He described a ‘horrible sense of déjà vu’ that politicians were having to discuss something that was causing such ‘misery’ to so many passengers across the county.
In the Westminster Hall debate, Mr Quin said that despite rail minister Claire Perry’s ‘hard work’ and entreaties from many MPs ‘we still seem incapable of securing the service for which our constituents pay so much’.
His constituents had a ‘sense of wonderment’ that Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs the Southern and Thameslink franchises, was looking at cutting opening hours of its station’s ticket offices with self-service machines slow and difficult to use.
He called for Network Rail to be more customer-focused in the way it approaches its problems, as well as more efficient, simpler, and more generous refunds through delay repay.
Mr Quin added: “The lines we are discussing subsidise the rest of the national network. It is right that there should be a relentless focus on customers throughout the network, but the service on this franchise is particularly galling.
“When I mentioned to one of my hon. friends that I had secured this debate, he said it was good because it would enable him to let off some steam on the grounds that he had simply run out of adjectives to describe to his constituents the performance of the franchise.
“I am grateful to the minister for saying that she will not shy away from more debates on this matter, although it is our sincere hope that this will be the last debate we need on it.”
Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP, said it was a ‘matter of deep regret and enormous frustration’ that they were having to come back and discuss Southern’s performance less than a year after the industry agreed to an improvement plan.
He added: “In the original performance improvement plan, the industry said: ‘You will notice real improvements from now onwards in the punctuality and reliability of our trains’.
“That promise has been broken. It will evince nothing more than a hollow laugh from passengers, who are absolutely fed up.”
He continued: “Where is the accountability for this lamentable performance? Who is being held accountable, and how, for the complete failure to deliver by the franchise’s own standards and the promises that it made?”
Ms Perry said: “I was asked at what point we do something radically different. Do we take the franchise back? Do we change?
“The truth is that this is an exceptionally busy, very difficult franchise to run.
“In my view, nobody out there could do a better job than the current management team, but we have to ensure that there is a relentless focus on the customer. It is inexcusable that the wrong communications are given.
“It is inexcusable that delays happen or trains are going in the wrong direction. That is customer relationship management 101. We expect the private sector to deliver on that.”
She argued that successive Governments had failed to invest in adequate rail infrastructure, but described how 60 per cent of delays are the result of infrastructure failures such as points failing, signals failing or other things going wrong, something she felt was ‘intolerable on a daily basis’.
However there was no magic bullet and instead they had to focus on ‘relentless focus on the day-to-day details of running a railway’.
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