Yesterday evening our rail service let us down badly. I happened to be there as the words ‘cancelled’ rolled out across the departures board and immediately the concourse began to crowd with people.
I overheard some pretty heartbreaking conversations, passengers were on the phone telling people they wouldn’t be home for dinner, to see their kids before they went to bed, or to see friends. One poor woman was in tears as the inevitability of missing her flight from Gatwick dawned on her.
I was heading home to join the team for our Christmas dinner. We were all so excited for it after a pretty tough few months and I wanted to be there to thank them for everything they’ve done for me and also what they do for our whole community. Having arrived at Victoria at 4.45pm I finally made it to our celebration at 9.30, just in time to hand out the secret-Santa presents and eat some food they’d kindly saved me!
First thing this morning I was on the phone to the director of Network Rail. A large section of the Brighton mainline had suffered a brief power outage from the National Grid. If our signalling systems had been fully modern this wouldn’t have been a problem, but as some of our core signalling infrastructure is ageing it simply shuts down. Like a home computer once down it stays down until someone turns it on again. This is why it took so long because units of engineers had to jump into cars with blue flashing lights and physically travel to all the units that had gone down and manually restart them.
As you know, the group of MPs I established in Parliament got new money out of government during the previous crisis, and yesterday’s events show why that level of investment needs to be maintained until we get a service that it truly robust and reliable. Even though other regions suffer too from under-investment, never forget that our area has the lowest per-passenger funding in the country and we deserve better.
We have a load of new MPs in our area and I want to give them time to settle in, but I’ll be writing to all of them with an update today on what happened and calling a meeting very early in the New Year so we can get our teeth into this and a bunch of other nuts we need to crack. I’m also going to be thinking about a new partner for the group as Sir Nicholas Soames has deserted me by standing down. So I’m searching for a new Tory to work with to ensure we all work together to focus on doing whatever it takes to get you the service you deserve.
On the subject of Sir Nicholas, he called me up last weekend and very generously congratulated me on my re-election and then immediately launched into giving me his thoughts on what needs to happen to sort our train service out and a whole load of other things too. I was hugely pleased to see proof that we’ve definitely not seen the last of him!