Network Rail should compensate passengers by spending £2m on improvements rather than having to pay a fine - according to one MP.
Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and South Downs, has led recent criticism of Southern, which has now merged with GTR, calling their performance ‘lamentable’ at a recent Westminster Hall debate.
Earlier this week the organisation responsible for the UK’s railway network was hit with a £2m fine in part due to severe disruption suffered by Sussex train passengers.
According to the Office for Rail and Road (ORR), Southern and GTR combined represented a third of punctuality delays and nearly half of cancelled and significantly delayed services in England and Wales in 2014/15.
But Mr Herbert believes compensation for passengers in the form of more staff or information screens would be a more appropriate step since Network Rail was in public ownership.
He said that if there was a penalty it should not be paid to the Government but ‘should be used to compensate passengers in some way, or provide something of direct benefit to them’.
Mr Herbert added: “Passengers have faced a dismal service and unacceptable disruption over the past year. They want to see improvements, but they also deserve some form of additional compensation.”
Last month he and other Sussex MPs were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the London Bridge station redevelopment to see the scale of the works, which are part of the £6.5bn government-sponsored Thameslink Programme.
The tour was followed by a meeting with rail minister Claire Perry, and senior Network Rail and Southern/GTR managers to discuss progress on improving train punctuality and reliability.
Earlier this week ORR chief executive Richard Price said: “Our investigation has identified important issues that Network Rail, working with operators, needs to address to improve performance for passengers on these routes. Our analysis shows that the company needs to develop a much better understanding of the impact of timetabling on the reliability of services and on rail users.
“These serious issues have caused severe disruption and frustration for passengers, most notably affecting services at and around London Bridge.
“ORR is therefore imposing a £2m fine on Network Rail – a decision we did not take lightly.
“The scale of the delays suffered by passengers was central to our decision to fine.
“The penalty sends a clear message to the Network Rail Board; Network Rail must urgently rectify these errors and deliver the reliability of services that passengers have paid for.”
The ORR’s investigation showed that for Southern and GTR there were serious weaknesses in the data that informed new timetables, Network Rail was overly optimistic in estimating and assessing the impact of the new timetables on performance, and raised issues experienced at London Bridge station.
Phil Hufton, managing director of network operations at Network Rail, said: “At the start of this year we had a number of problems that caused passengers disruption and frustration and we apologise for this. Since then we have proactively invested over £11m to improve performance for Southern and Thameslink passengers.
“This investment, which has seen the introduction of a revised timetable, improved equipment, the deployment of rapid-response maintenance teams at London Bridge as well as new information screens and better passenger information, is paying dividends and passenger service reliability has now improved by almost 12 per cent since January.
“While the nuts and bolts of our infrastructure are the most reliable they’ve even been, severe congestion caused by record numbers of trains and passengers makes delivering a consistently reliable service a daily challenge for ourselves and the train operators.
“At London Bridge we are undertaking the biggest and most complex station and track redevelopment ever attempted on Britain’s railways – while simultaneously continuing to keep services running.
“As we are now a public sector organisation, the fine must come from within our existing budget and will mean a reallocation of existing resources to pay it.”
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