Southern Railway should ‘hang its head in shame’ due to its ‘lamentable’ performance – that is according to West Sussex MPs.
The train operating company has repeatedly come under fire over the last few months after a number of incidents that have led to severe delays for passengers.
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert tabled a motion to discuss Southern’s recent performance at Westminster Hall last Wednesday, and said that as the ‘worst performing franchise in England’ the company ‘should hang its head in shame’.
According to Mr Herbert, passenger satisfaction has fallen from 82 per cent in autumn, 2010, to 72 per cent by spring this year, giving them the lowest satisfaction rate of any franchise.
On punctuality, 6.2 per cent of Southern trains were cancelled or significantly late in the fourth quarter of 2014.
He argued that Network Rail should bear some of the blame for Southern’s ‘lamentable’ performance over the last few months, but felt that people were ‘fed up’ with excuses from the rail franchise.
Mr Herbert also raised problems with overcrowding, timely information, cleanliness, and the need for a better compensation system.
Claire Perry, the minister at the Department for Transport with responsibility for the railways, admitted that passengers had ‘lost their trust in the operator’.
But she also told MPs that the region had some of the oldest and most complicated track layouts in the country, and improvement works were ‘like doing open-heart surgery on a marathon runner’.
Mr Herbert did pay tribute to Mrs Perry’s work in addressing the poor performance of both Southern and Network Rail. His points were echoed by a number of other Sussex MPs.
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said: “Poor communication, poor time keeping, poor value for money and a worsening situation: things are not getting better, and given the rising demands on our rail service and the increasing population in the south of England in particular, they can only get worse.”
Horsham MP Jeremy Quin asked about the Government’s plans for investment from 2019 onwards, as commuters in his constituency were already thinking about how dealing with pinch-points could improve their journeys.
Mrs Perry replied that although she could not comment on longer-term spending, she would listen to him and his constituents.
Following the general election, Mrs Perry met with a number of Sussex MPs in May to discuss similar issues.
The meeting was chaired by Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames and was attended by Mr Quin and Mr Herbert, Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley and Crawley MP Henry Smith.
Southern is due to officially merge with Thameslink and Great Northern later this month as part of the new Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) franchise.
Mrs Perry said the merger would lead to a raft of new performance measures, and improvement plans would drive a ‘slow and steady improvement in performance’.
On its website, GTR admitted that ‘passengers have not been getting the service they expect from us and are understandably feeling increasingly frustrated’, but it was providing constant updates on its joint improvement plan with Network Rail and Southern.
According to the most recent report, the punctuality of Southern services has improved significantly since the start of the year when measured by the number of trains arriving at their destination within five minutes of the scheduled time.
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