Constituency Blog – RAIL CHAOS UPDATE - UNDERTAKINGS

In view of the serious hardships being imposed on the local rail travelling public as a result of the bodged implementation of GTRs new timetable, many constituents have, understandably, contacted me to ask what I have been doing about it. This blog is intended to provide information about meetings I have had this week with the Secretary of State (SoS) for Transport and senior personnel from Network Rail (NR) and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) on this issue.

During my meeting with the Rt Hon Chris Grayling (SoS) in Westminster yesterday, I was able to press upon him the particular impact of the current disruption to travellers on Reigate and Redhill services and elicit from him the following undertakings:

  • To review immediately the disproportionate nature of cuts to Redhill/Reigate services whilst 2018 timetable recovers
  • To review the GTR 2018 timetable in view of its betrayal of Southern Rail’s 2014 promise it would improve.
  • To take advice on the potential to accelerate plans for a new 12 car platform at Reigate station to enable more direct London services.
  • To look favourably on proposals to eliminate, through a rolling fare freeze, the Redhill fare hump, in the absence of any wider fare system rationalisation.

Meetings I had earlier today with John Halsall (Route Managing Director, South East) at Network Rail, and Angie Doll (Passenger Service Director) at GTR, provided the following information which may be useful in putting the current situation into context:

  • The reasons behind the current chaos, already documented, relate primarily to a lack of coordination/communication between Network Rail and GTR. A decision in principle regarding the timetable was reached in November 2017. However, due to the massive complexities of the operation, Network Rail and GTR at that point also decided to move to a staged implementation approach. This led to new conversations and engineering work parting away from November 2017 agreement in principle which were finalised late (three weeks before the go live date and not the usual 18 weeks) due to over engineering. The final publication of the timetable in May 2018 revealed large differences with the November 2017 agreement in principle yet GTR had been using the latter as the basis for their operational preparations. In the three weeks between May 2018 and the launch of the new timetable, it was agreed that the rail industry collectively should have voiced concerns but the parties were focused on local implementation and not the national picture which led to no individual body raising the flag. All parties equally agree that the worst thing to do now is to blame each other. Instead, they believe all efforts should be made to learn from the experience and put things right as soon as possible.
  • In terms of putting things right, we have recently experienced, much to our frustration, the ‘on-the-day cancellations’ phase, but we have now moved on to the ‘predictability stage’ whereby there is forward notice of service cancellations, wherever possible. The next phase will be to identify and plug serious service gaps that are being caused by cancellations, such as Redhill area local services.
  • It is not expected that services will not be running fully to the new 2018 timetable before mid to late July or early August. 
  • GTR will be providing a briefing on passenger compensation arrangements. The key points are: a) for all delay and repay claims, delay times should be based on the published 2018 timetable, and not any temporary or emergency timetables, b) according to existing rules already, season ticket holders are entitled to ‘double-compensation’ if there have been 12 or more days of disruption within a four week period, and c) Southern key card holders are automatically prompted to claim delay repay if their service is delayed or cancelled, oyster or credit card holders are not.
  • It was admitted that a) the Redhill line has been particularly badly affected by service cancellations following the new timetable introduction (though not the worst on the network) and that, b) fares paid by rail users from Redhill, Reigate and surrounding stations are still anomalously high compared with other local fares.
  • GTR and Network Rail promised that, once there is normal functionality in the new timetable, it will review changes made to Redhill and Reigate services since 2014 with a view to revisiting the current timetable to potentially seek improvements.
  • Whilst GTR does not dictate fares (this is the remit of the Department for Transport), it can make recommendations to DfT. In this context GTR has made an undertaking to put together a proposal for the elimination of the ‘Redhill fares Hump’ in conjunction with local rail groups and myself, which can then be presented to DfT to add weight to the existing promise already made by Rail Minister Jo Johnson to explore ways to address this issue by summer 2018.

It is said that one should not waste a good crisis. I am making very clear the case for earlier action on delivering a 12 car service to Reigate through constructing the new platform 3 is unanswerable, and it would be one way of making some recompense to my long-suffering commuting constituents. The sustained poor service over four years is impacting economically on our community and this reinforces the case for compensatory investment locally. I hope the advancement of this £25m plus project is one of the upsides of the current crisis.  

There are a lot of complex issues here, and undertakings do not necessarily mean that things will happen. However, I believe that the voice of Reigate and Redhill district rail users has at least been heard in the right places this week. It will now be important to keep up the pressure to ensure that our services are improved as soon as is possible, that we see improvements in future infrastructure and timetabling, and our fares structure finally being brought in line with other local fares.