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- 5 January update letter from the Secretary of State for Transport below
The ongoing disruption to rail services is having a detrimental effect on the health, quality of life and livelihoods of thousands of local residents. I share constituents' anger and frustration and I will do everything within my influence to improve the situation. Currently, it is of course of primary and critical importance that the industrial action is halted. I will explain my position on this below, however, I want to assure you that I have been seeking to minimize service disruption long before the industrial action started in April 2016, ever since the announcement was made to undertake the London Bridge Thameslink upgrade works from the beginning of 2015. These works, necessary though they are, have had a serious negative impact on service levels and reliability.
London Bridge Thameslink programme
Since September 2014 when service changes planned for the duration of the London Bridge works from 2015 became known, I was repeatedly in touch with Southern Rail to convey rail users’ dissatisfaction at the withdrawal of a third of morning services and the diversion of services to London Victoria. I asked then for a fairer reconfiguration of services during the works and for a proportional reduction in season ticket prices. With no satisfactory response, I took up the issue with the Office of Rail Regulation and the Minister responsible for railways, unfortunately to no avail.
You will then recall that there was significant disruption at the beginning of 2015 when the London Bridge works began. I then took passengers’ concerns to a meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport in January 2015. Then, and repeatedly since, I asked the Secretary of State to reduce ticket prices until the London Bridge works are completed in 2018 and to address the disparity between fares from Transport for London (TfL) Zone 6 (Coulsdon South) and stations further along the line [An annual season ticket to London terminals from Redhill now costs £892 more than from Coulsdon South; for Zone 1-6 travel the difference is £1,120]. After meetings I had with Network Rail, Southern Rail management and the Rail Minister in early 2015, I wrote again to the Secretary of State expressing my dismay at the operating arrangements which were disadvantaging local rail users. Replies stated that the Secretary of State was ‘considering the case for reviewing compensation but I am unable to make any guarantees.’
Extension of Zone 6
In early 2015 the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users’ Association, of which I am President, developed the case for TfL Zone 6 to be extended to Merstham, Redhill, Reigate, Earlswood, Salfords, Horley and Gatwick. I absolutely support this, as a way to reduce and simply fares, and I have been pressing for it since February/March 2015 when I wrote to Govia Thameslink Railway and the Secretary of State for Transport proposing Zone 6 at least on a provisional basis during the London Bridge works, with a reappraisal of zoning thereafter. This could have been implemented at the same time as Pay As You Go and contactless (which started in January 2016) as the Oyster card reading equipment was installed on Redhill line stations to Gatwick. The online petition for Zone 6 organized by the Rail Users’ Association obtained support from almost 3,000 people and was presented to the Rail Minister by me and members of the Rail Users’ Association in October 2015. Since then, I have written repeatedly to the Rail Minister, Claire Perry MP and her successor Paul Maynard MP, and to the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLaughlin MP and his successor Chris Grayling MP, imploring them to examine and consider the business case for Zone 6. I shall be meeting TfL and Govia again soon to continue to seek their support for rezoning under the Travelcard Agreement.
Protest and campaigning
At the Rail Users’ AGM in March 2015, I explained that ‘polite letters and meetings haven’t yielded results’ and, given the strength of feeling about the reduced services and lack of compensation, I called on commuters to protest by working from home on 1st June. I promised to write to the employers of anyone taking part to explain that the employee’s travel to and from work arrangements have been so disrupted that they wish to protest by not travelling to work that day. By impressing upon employers the seriousness of the situation for their commuting employees, I wanted to enlist their support and provided template letters for them to send to Ministers and rail management. I publicized this throughout spring 2015 but only a handful of commuters took part.
I made reliability, fairer fares and compensation central to my campaign for re-election at the 2015 general election, including organizing a call for action endorsed by other candidates to show unity across the parties. I continue to make clear to Ministers and others the top priority I and constituents attach to improving the rail service.
Following the general election, I met the Rail Minister in May 2015 and the Secretary of State for Transport in June to again impress upon them the seriousness of the situation. Claire Perry MP announced that she was working with Network Rail to conduct a root and branch review of the problems on the Brighton Mainline to develop an action plan in conjunction with the train operating companies and that she would look at ‘improving and targeting compensation’ for Southern passengers. At this point, the Minister started to chair a weekly meeting of relevant DfT officials, Network Rail lead managers and train operating company heads to focus on the action plan’s implementation.
Case for fair fares and compensation
In July 2015 I participated in a Commons debate on Southern Rail calling again for compensation, a review of Delay Repay (phased compensation from 2 minutes delay), and the extension of Zone 6. This was at the time when the new Govia Thameslink Railway management contract was coming into effect. Under this contract, the ticket revenues are passed directly to the Government rather than retained by Govia [See the Answer to my Written Question Govia Thameslink Railway: Finance (WPQ 46064), 15 September 2016]. Given the scale of these revenues, estimated to be £2.9 billion from 2015/16 to 2021/22 (though likely to be lower due to the industrial action), it is perfectly possible in my view for the Government to set aside some of these revenues for the purpose of properly compensating passengers and reducing fares. This is the point I have continually made because, whilst many operational aspects and the industrial disputes are largely outside the control of the Government, the collection and use of fares is something the Government can directly control. See my most recent letter on this to the Chancellor of the Exchequer below.
The announcement made in December 2016 to repay the equivalent of a month’s travel as compensation is a welcome first step, but is in my view inadequate given the prolonged and continuing disruption. The changes to the Delay Repay compensation scheme, allowing passengers to claim compensation for train delays in cash rather than vouchers from July 2015 and providing compensation after 15 minutes delay for Southern passengers from December 2016, are also welcome but could go further.
In August 2015 the Office for Rail and Road proposed a £2 million fine on Network Rail for the disruption caused at London Bridge in early 2015. I wrote to the Chief Executive of Network Rail and the Rail Minister asking for the fine be used to compensate affected rail users, to no avail, and for wi-fi to be made available at East Croydon, Clapham Junction and Victoria (wi-fi has since been introduced at Reigate, Redhill and East Croydon).
In January 2016 I called a Commons debate on Redhill and Reigate rail, following further major disruptions. In March I spoke in another debate on the performance of Govia asking the Minister to use imagination and energy to address the unfairness rail users were facing with a rotten service. In June I took the Chairman of the local Rail Users’ Association to meet the Secretary of State for Transport and, as soon as he was appointed in July, followed up the issues on reliability, pricing, investment and timetabling with the new Secretary of State, Chris Grayling MP, as well as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In August I took part in a protest march organized by the Campaign for Better Transport seeking compensation and a stronger voice for passengers. Their campaign called for a fares freeze; I argue that the circumstances are such that a fares reduction is justified. Regrettably, however, this has been ignored.
I have also supported a former constituent who brought a case against Southern Rail in the small claims court regarding reduced and overcrowded services in 2014, on the grounds that the rail service provider breached its duties under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. In October 2016 a judge overturned an earlier ruling of a district judge to strike out his claim and, before a hearing took place to which I offered to provide evidence, an out of court settlement was agreed. Whilst the details of the settlement are confidential, this clearly suggests to me that legal action on behalf of rail users affected so badly in 2015 and 2016 could be successful. I am therefore investigating whether it might be possible to organize a group action, perhaps funded by crowdfunding and publicized by me and the local Rail Users’ Association. Separately, I met with the Chief Executive of Ombudsman Services to discuss how consumer redress in the rail sector can be improved.
Since April last year, the underlying problems on the rail network have been exacerbated by the totally unnecessary industrial action taken by the RMT and subsequently by ASLEF, whose leaders’ calls for rolling industrial action are completely disproportionate to the issues at stake. The ongoing strikes are clearly negatively affecting the economic welfare of the region and indeed the country, as well as having serious personal impact. The prosperity of the area is largely dependent on a regular and reliable rail service not only for commuters to and from London, but also for the many local firms that rely on staff travelling to work by train. Unfortunately, as a backbench MP, I have no powers or means to intervene in industrial disputes. However, I do not believe that the unions should be allowed to prevent the modernization of our railway system where such modernization is proven to be safe and does not affect the working conditions or remuneration of rail staff. Please see below a recent letter from the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP, outlining the Government’s position, which I support, regarding the industrial dispute. Also of interest is a recent letter below from Paul Maynard MP.
There would seem to be some wider union agenda in that, by wrecking the operational performance of the vulnerable Southern network whilst London Bridge upgrade works are taking place, the unions are advancing their cause for the re-nationalization of the railway system. This is not a legitimate union activity. In December I wrote to the Minister responsible for labour relations to ask that all legislative options are considered, such as mandatory and binding arbitration.
The Thameslink project is long overdue and will offer a significant increase in capacity for passengers on Europe’s busiest rail route, as well as transforming the ability of passengers to travel north to south across London and the flagships stations of London Bridge and Blackfriars. The £20 million fund for resilience improvements announced in September 2016 is welcome, but should be the basis for further sustained infrastructure investment. The fund will tackle problems on the Brighton Mainline by placing more rapid response teams on the Southern network, accelerating the replacement of worn track, and hiring extra staff at key stations including East Croydon and Gatwick.
I have met with Chris Gibb who has been tasked with identifying ways to address resilience problems and stressed the importance of improved track layout and signalling at key crossing points between Redhill/Reigate and London. Specifically, I sought a new platform on Reigate Station that can accommodate twelve car Thameslink trains to enable direct services to London; a flyover at Stoats Nest to enable trains using the Redhill line to cross over onto the fast track towards London; and re-tracking of the area immediately to the south of Redhill station.
As these issues are considered, I have continued to meet with the Secretary of State for Transport and questioned him on infrastructure spending for the rail network in Surrey in the House of Commons in November. I have also joined the All Party Parliamentary Group on Southern Rail to continue to apply pressure on Ministers and to urge funding and discuss solutions with them. I met the Prime Minister in December to convey constituents’ concerns about the gravity of the current situation.
It is crucial that future services are configured in a way which will provide a better overall service on the Reigate and Redhill routes following the completion of the London Bridge works. Therefore, when Govia Thameslink Railway recently consulted on a draft 2018 timetable, I convened a local stakeholder group to press for improvements to the proposed timetable and I arranged a local public meeting in November for rail users to meet Govia to discuss the proposals and coordinate a response. I have endorsed the submission by the Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users’ Association seeking more direct trains to London Bridge and London Victoria, as well as the reintroduction of withdrawn direct services to the south coast.
In the short term, it is crucial that industrial action ceases as soon as possible, but it is also imperative that the underlying infrastructure, capacity, performance, reliability, frequency and pricing issues for passengers using local stations are addressed. These are areas in which I can apply some influence as an MP, so I am concentrating my efforts here.
I hope that improvement works at London Bridge and on the track will make a real difference to passengers, as will the new improved timetable, and the ongoing introduction of new trains across the network. In the meantime I, like you, remain utterly frustrated about the length of time it is taking to resolve the industrial action, improve reliability, and address the anomalously high fares being inflicted on local rail passengers for what can only be described as an appalling service.
|Chris Grayling MP letter||1.12 MB|
|Paul Maynard MP letter||570.64 KB|
|Letter to Philip Hammond MP||421.36 KB|
|5 JANUARY UPDATE FROM CHRIS GRAYLING MP||73.57 KB|