I’ve been trying to remember the last time no trains ran between Brighton and London but I can’t remember. I’ve asked around but no-one seems to remember either. I even asked the House of Commons Library and their rail expert came back saying he thinks it might have been 1991 – while Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, I had just turned 21, and Bryan Adams was at number one in the charts.
Two or three times since I became your MP I’ve thought our rail service has hit rock bottom, and then it gets worse. Last week in the Commons I told the rail minister that month after month I have heard ministers make pledges, promises, and announce new schemes and yet every single month the service gets worse and worse. I am totally despairing.
Today thousands of people are stranded, unable to get to work, to shop for Christmas, or to see the people they love. I feel two things. Firstly I am boiling with fury at every organisation responsible for our rail service who chooses – it is a choice – to wage war against another part of the service rather than take steps towards solving this problem. Both sides in this dispute are obstinate and government continue to sit passively in the shadows, too cowardly to step up to the challenge of being an active partner in solving this dispute. My anger towards all of these parties know no bounds, not least because they have made me powerless to advocate for you, the passengers who turn to me at times like these, and I hate the powerlessness that has accompanied this nightmare.
Secondly I feel heartbroken for passengers affected. Each week I read many hundreds of messages and speak directly to dozens of people affected. I’ve spoken to people who have lost their jobs or given up their jobs, and who’s businesses has suffered. I’ve heard from people who are on medication due to the distress of travelling on overcrowded and late running trains, and I’ve spoken to a man who was traumatised by the sight of another passenger having a breakdown by a platform edge. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me of the heartbreak of missing out on family time. And then there’s the anger, raw and unmitigated, of people being treated in utterly inhumane ways by an uncaring, unapologetic, and inaccessible rail network.
People rightly ask me, ‘what are you doing’. It’s a good question. In the last fortnight I’ve written to the prime minister, spoken in the Commons, met the rail minister twice, and chaired a meeting of the group I set up with Sir Nicholas Soams that includes every MP in the Southern commuter area. I’ve also been in constant touch with the Albion regarding the dangerous situation that occurred there a short while ago.
I’ve met several times with Chris Gibb who’s been appointed by government to complete an independent review of the Southern region to deliver improvements in the short and medium term. His report is handed to government in January and I’ve already read his initial findings which are extremely detailed and I believe, if government act on them, will have a big impact on the infrastructure of our service.
This is one area where media pressure is having an impact too, so I’ve been out not eh airwaves as much as I can to tell the broader public just how bad things are. From the papers, where I’ve been in the Times, Guardian, and Telegraph in the last week, to TV where I’ve been on almost every station, to the radio and social media….I’m doing everything I can humanly do to put pressure on government to do something to end our misery.
I’m at work today because I have a London-based kind and generous friend who also happens to have a sofa-bed. Im well aware that I can do this because I have such a friend but I also don’t have a family so it’s not the end of the world if I don’t make it home at night. But for others it’s very different and it’s those people whoa re suffering most at this time.
If you can think of anything I could do that I am not then please let me know and if it has a hope of making a difference then I’ll do it without hesitation.
I know many of the people who are reading this are genuinely suffering because of this situation. Please believe me when I say how sorry I am that you have to endure this, I am doing everything I can and I won’t give up. Yours, Peter