On Friday the Albion were told mid-way through a match with capacity crowd that the trains would not be running to take home the 30,000 fans who’d travelled far and wide to be there. The club did everything it could in the moments available to them but of course it was impossible to replace such a vital link for so many people at such short notice.
What unfolded was a dangerous crush on the platforms, families seen walking along the grass verge of the A27 in a desperate bid to get home, and thousands of people stranded in the cold and dark amidst total confusion.
Yesterday I met with the rail minister to run through the recent catalogue of failures in our service, starting with this. He has assured me that he will personally investigate what happened, who is to blame, and what will be done to ensure it will never happen again.
I have also spoken to Paul Barber, CEO of the Albion, who is rightly incandescent with anger about the position fans and the club were put in. This is such a massive and potentially dangerous issue that I have also written to the prime ministers outlining the severity of this issue and demanding a more robust government response.
Every morning I see the struggles people have getting to work thanks to social media, and every evening I see the same as they endeavour to get home.
I’ve said it before, but at times like this I feel powerless. Many people think as an MP I can press a button, make a call, or simply ‘do’ something at times like this. Believe me if I had that power I would have stripped Southern of the franchise a long time ago!
But I’m doing everything I possibly can, but I won’t list all that again here.
I just want you to know that my meeting with the rail minister, who came to parliament to meet me at very short notice (thanks to the group of MP’s I chair I am taken seriously on this by government, something I use to the maximum), covered many key issues from flexibly season tickets, the implementation of ‘Delay Repay 15’, a new compensation regime promised by the previous prime minister, and the upcoming independent report into the Brighton to London mainline. I also asked about the report George Osbourne promised into the longterm upgrade of the track over 18 months ago.
I’ll update you on these issues as we move forward. The minister is getting back to me on several of them as I wanted definitive answers in writing that I can pass on to you.
Soon the group I chair with Nicholas Soams will meet with the expert who’s drawing up the independent report which will be presented to government in December. This is the moment I believe we will finally get to see the full extent of the infrastructure challenge we face on this line and can demand the Treasury release the funds needed to get it fully functional before our economy and social fabric in Brighton and Hove are severely damaged.
I do believe things will get better but I am not going to offer you false hope. I will continue to make the sheer anger passengers feel is felt by those responsible and do everything I possibly can in helping solve these huge problems.
I’ve said it so many times before and I’ll say it once again here: I am desperately sorry to those who suffer so much at the hands of our commuter services. I’m doing everything I possibly can and not a week has gone by without my team and I sitting down to wrack our brains to think of new or more powerful ways we can act to bring about the change you desperately need. Yours, Peter