Poor train services ‘cannot be tolerated’ says Crawley’s MP

Henry Smith at the Election count at K2 Crawley, West Sussex (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150805-020629008
Henry Smith at the Election count at K2 Crawley, West Sussex (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150805-020629008

The ‘poor’ level of rail services experienced by passengers ‘cannot be tolerated’, said Crawley’s MP at a Westminster debate.

Henry Smith argued that the existing rail infrastructure ‘can barely cope as it is’, and while £50million was being invested in Gatwick Airport’s railway station, line capacity meant it was the ‘wrong place’ for runway expansion.

He said it was ‘ridiculous’ that he had to allow himself an extra hour for his commute into Westminster, but he did welcome the efforts of rail minister Claire Perry over the last few months to try and improve performance.

He hoped Wednesday’s Westminster Hall debate on the performance of Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs the Thameslink and Southern franchises, would be another effort to encourage better services in the future.

Mr Smith said: “When I stand, all too often at peak times, with my fellow commuter constituents from Three Bridges, the level of service and the slowness of the services is simply not acceptable.

“Little things might seem quite minor, such as a train coming in from Brighton on the way into London and the announcement on the train or at the station that the train is going in the opposite direction, which occurs too often.

“The vast majority of people who get on that train every morning know that yet again a mistake has been made, but for a visitor to this country coming into Gatwick Airport, for example, that could be a major problem.

“Also, it does huge reputational damage to the railways.

“People can be seen rolling their eyes and saying, ‘They’ve messed up again’

“Indeed they have. Such a poor level of service really cannot be tolerated.”

He also welcomed previous investments at Three Bridges, with both the new Southern area control centre and Thameslink’s train care facility based in the station’s rail yard, and the extension of the Oyster zone to Gatwick .

Mr Smith said he would like to see smart ticketing throughout the network and thought this would make securing refunds easier.

But he added: “My constituents have been telling me about what they believe is the folly of ticket office closures.

“Of course we can have a more efficient system, and there will be some stations where ticket offices, perhaps with new technology, are a thing of the past, but at the moment it is not appropriate to go forward with such a programme.”

GTR is proposing to reduce the opening hours of ticket offices at stations including Crawley. Its ticket office would be open from 7-10am from Monday to Friday, while station hosts would be available from 5.25am-10pm during the week, 5.40am-10pm on Saturdays and 7.30am-10pm on Sundays.

Ms Perry said: “I was asked at what point we do something radically different. Do we take the franchise back? Do we change?

“The truth is that this is an exceptionally busy, very difficult franchise to run.

“In my view, nobody out there could do a better job than the current management team, but we have to ensure that there is a relentless focus on the customer. It is inexcusable that the wrong communications are given.

“It is inexcusable that delays happen or trains are going in the wrong direction. That is customer relationship management 101. We expect the private sector to deliver on that.”

She argued that successive Governments had failed to invest in adequate rail infrastructure, but described how 60 per cent of delays are the result of infrastructure failures such as points failing, signals failing or other things going wrong, something she felt was ‘intolerable on a daily basis’. However, there was no magic bullet and instead they had to focus on ‘relentless focus on the day-to-day details of running a railway’.

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