It’s Friday and hopefully you’ve survived you last horrific train journey of the week, so I just wanted to update you on the things I’ve been doing to make your journeys to and from work better.
Thank you so much to the hundreds of people who turned up to the public meeting I chaired with the chief operating officer of Govia. I was really proud of our community that day because despite the intense frustration and often rage that people feel about the way they are treated as paying passengers, everyone was passionate and respectful. The discussion was intense and heated, and questions ranged from reliability to industrial relations, from punctuality to the impact of overcrowding and staffing levels on people with disabilities.
My favourite comment came from someone who said that every time he’s on a train that stops at Haywards Heath he trembles with fear at the sound of the intercom because it is always a harbinger of misery.
Of course I was disappointed that Dyan, the Govia boss, was unable to give firm dates by which things will turn around. But the meeting was important so that you can speak to the boss face-to-face. Please let me know if you came to the meeting and what you thought and if you’d like me to arrange meetings like that again.
I’ve spoken to Dyan twice on the phone since the public meeting. I promised you that I would be a constant thorn in the side of Govia until things improve and I am doing just that.
We were told at the meeting that London Bridge is a major source of problems so I went to visit for myself. I toured the construction site with the project manager and saw first hand what is being done and where the delays have been caused.
The first thing I need to say is that the new station is going to be extraordinary and huge compared the one we remember. The concourse is vast and extremely well planned. The platforms are long, fully covered from end-to-end, and the flow of people will be much better managed. They have also introduced a new system for trains so that when they approach the station they are fully automated, meaning that the speed, stopping, doors opening, and departure will happen without any engagement from drivers at all (door closing will be). This means that arrival and departures will be far smoother and more reliable.
I went to the control room at the heart of the new station and was talked through the reasons why the construction caused so much more disruption than expected. In short it was because government miscalculated (I’ll spare you the long version!).
Also this week I co-chaired the very first meeting of the group of MPs and peers for the area served by Southern. I called the group together and it is the first time it has ever happened in this way because it will be a regular group that will summon ministers and representatives from all the organisations responsible for delivering the service we all use.
This group won’t solve all the problems, and I’m really keen not to be another organisation that makes you promises that aren’t kept, but we all hope we can make sure that passengers are better represented by us all working together from different parties. I co-chair the meetings with Sir Nicholas Soames and I’m really pleased that our other city MP’s back our work too – Caroline Lucas has become a vice chair (Simon Kirby is unable to join as his role on the government frontbencher prevents it but I have met with him twice now to discuss the group and our work).
In September when parliament returns from recess we are going to have two meetings, firstly with the new rail minister and secondly with a Network Rail boss.
Finally I have written to the Transport Secretary to demand information and to put a series of questions to him. Seeing as though we have experienced such a sharp fall in the service I want to know from him at what point government will step in and take over the network directly? How bad do things have to get before something fundamental changes? I have posted the letter here so you can read it.
Everything I’m doing is so I can try my very best to make your journeys better now, this week. And when it goes wrong I want your anger to be felt by those at the top.
I have hope that soon things will start to rise from the pits of despair where they currently sit. Over the summer some of the investment will pay off and I implore all sides in the industrial dispute to settle their differences. I believe though that it will take years, not weeks, before the major investment programme delivers the reliability of service we need. But until then things should be so much better than they are now and I promise you from the bottom of my heart that I won’t stop with all this work on rail until it does. Yours, Peter