I was extremely disappointed to learn of the new 14-day strike action planned by the RMT over the long-running dispute to stop the modernisation efforts to bring in one driver trains across the line.
There are now two key concerns – firstly, is the frankly outrageous actions being taken by the RMT. Just to reiterate and make clear, these strikes are aimed at blocking a very simple change. It is firmly my view that who shuts the doors, is not the main concern for fare-paying commuters, who ultimately want a reliable service. In addition to this, it must be noted that one-driver trains have been safely in operation for over thirty years across the rest of England, so there is no real safety argument against this move.
Yet, the RMT announces more strikes which will gridlock the network and bring misery to thousands of people who depend on Southern services in order to get to work. Playing politics with passengers is something I strongly abhor. The union understands the havoc it will cause, yet refuses to reconsider its actions.
Secondly, there is the ongoing poor performance from Southern, which despite repeated promises, is still failing to deliver a reliable service. The service provided by Govia over the past few years has been far from the standards expected on today’s British railways. Govia has consistently failed to deliver, leading to misery and frustration for many of my constituents who depend on a reliable service in order to commute to work. There has been some progress recently, with the timetable being restored to some extent, but there is still a long way to go.
On both of these issues, I am committed to do all I possibly can to help push Govia into delivering a fast and speedy service which runs on time. I understand the deep frustrations – this has been going on for several years and I have on many occasions experienced the delays myself. At the root cause of this issue, is poor management.
The Government has taken recent action, proving a new £20 million fund to tackle problems on the line placing more rapid response teams on the franchise, accelerating the replacement of worn track, and hiring extra staff at key stations to make sure trains get away on time. This is coupled with the appointment of Chris Gibb, one of Britain’s most experienced rail industry figures, to head a new project board, working with GTR, the Department for Transport and Network Rail in these areas.
Last week, I visited the Three Bridges control centre in Crawley which controls the signalling networks across the line to see first-hand how delays and congestion on the line are dealt with. I have also made direct representations, meeting with the Secretary of State calling for more measures to be put in place to help commuters with compensation claims, whilst also outright rejecting the planned fare increase in January.
There has been some progress with compensation repayments with the “Delay Repay” scheme allowing passengers to claim for refunds online. My aim is to bring the time down from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, in allowing commuters the right to claim full refunds. I also support moves towards flexi-ticketing and will continue to push the Department hard on this issue. Allowing flexi-ticketing, would help save part-time workers potentially hundreds of pounds per year and research shows women especially would benefit from plans to introduce flexible ticketing options.
There is no easy fix to this problem. Some have called for the operator to be nationalised and returned into public hands. I strongly believe that this would not alleviate the structural problems on the line but worsen them. To have a fully functioning service, requires structural action, incentivising good performance and putting in place measures which punish failures to deliver the expected service. Across the UK, this has worked successfully with train user numbers doubling since the advent of rail privatisation. I will continue to work with Govia and Southern to help address the problems and will monitor the situation extremely closely. This is frankly, being made very difficult by the RMTs reckless and politically motivated actions, which are damaging the efforts taken to provide the quality of service, which passengers rightly expect.