Crawley’s MP led criticism of the ‘inadequate’ performance of Southern services during a House of Commons debate on Monday.
Henry Smith said that commuters were facing ‘daily difficulties’ getting to work and home again, with some employees facing disciplinary action and others missing precious family time in the evenings.
Passengers using services run by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) have had to put up with constant delays since the end of 2015, but problems have been magnified during a dispute between the rail operator and the RMT union over plans to change the role of conductors across the Southern network.
Mr Smith called on the Government to look at the price of season tickets in the new year, argued for the need for swifter and simpler compensation for passengers affected by delays, and while they were seeing some benefits such as new trains felt this was not happening quickly enough.
He added: “On behalf of all passengers, commuters and staff who want a decent rail network, I urge the Government to ensure that GTR is held to account and that these improvements are realised.”
The RMT has already held five separate walkouts this year over GTR’s plans to introduce Driver Only Operation on Southern trains.
Mr Smith said that the union could not ‘escape blame either’, which he thought saw the current problems experienced by GTR as an ‘opportunity for industrial action and the creation of further misery and difficulty’.
He explained that his constituents had asked him why taxpayers were paying for the £20m of improvement works just when GTR’s parent company announced yearly profits of nearly £100m.
He added: “As well as the £20m of investment, the Government have announced a new project board. The department has said that this is to achieve a rapid improvement to the service, and I sincerely hope that this means we will see benefits in the weeks ahead, rather in the months to come.”
In response rail minister Paul Maynard said he understood the ‘genuine distress that so many feel at the inadequate service they are currently receiving’.
He told MPs that since taking office he and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling were ‘determined to resolve these issues as quickly as possible’, and it had been a ‘priority’ for them both.
The £20m fund would allow them to replace equipment likely to fail and renew the most problematic stretches of track.
He added: “It is important to say that this £20m is not money that is going to Southern but money that is going to Network Rail to fund its priorities in improving the infrastructure to give Southern the best chance it has to run the very reliable and predictable service I spoke of earlier.”
He continued: “We need a joined-up approach to running the network and making things better.”
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