My position on the Transport Select Committee gives me the platform to press for better local rail services for the Bexhill and Battle constituency.
This week, I joined the Rail Minister, 15 other MPs and the Managing Directors from Southern and Network Rail to discuss the performance of Southern Railway.
It was clear from our meeting that the service needs to improve quickly with some MPs even calling for Southern to be stripped of its franchise.
The difficulties with Southern are clear to any passenger who, like me, uses their services. Across the network, there are issues with driver shortages, overcrowding, train failures, signalling and equipment faults - all of which have a huge impact on passengers, leaving them late or stranded.
The Southern franchise is huge and carries 23% of all daily UK rail users. At 175,000 passengers, Southern carries more people per day than Heathrow handles. The track and rail equipment south of Croydon has not received any significant investment since the 1930s and London Bridge cannot cope with passenger numbers.
Thankfully, improvements are on their way. 200 new drivers are being trained and the contracts are being modernised to ensure that the train companies can decide driver shifts rather than unions. London Bridge station is being transformed from one of the capital’s most congested stations into one of the most modern, accessible and passenger-friendly transport hubs in the UK, as part of the government’s £6.5bn Thameslink project.
The project is due to be completed by 2018 and the reconfigured tracks and platforms will increase capacity allowing more trains into and through London Bridge – offering better connections than ever before.
Network Rail are investing in better track as part of the £39bl which the Government has committed to rail investment for the next 5 years. Closer to home, my neighbouring MP, Amber Rudd, and I meet on a regular basis with Southern to press for more carriages on the Marshlink line and to extend the Unizone student discount to Bexhill and Hastings. I am optimistic that we will succeed.
If life is not good for Southern’s passengers, what of Southeastern? Sadly, this is also a challenge as the constituents who travel on the Hastings line will know well.
On the first Monday back to work in January, signalling failed which caused me to write to Southeastern to ask them why they were unable to communicate that commuters could use nearby Southern services free of charge.
The lack of communication when services are delayed is inexcusable and has to change. A few months ago, I met with Southeastern, fellow MPs and the Rail Minister to discuss performance. Much like the meeting to discuss Southern, there was talk of a better future but scepticism from MPs as to when this would be delivered.
Our railways have been a huge success story. We are investing more in new rail projects than anywhere else in Europe. Passenger numbers have doubled in less than 20 years.
Successive Governments have failed to invest so the huge amounts now being spent are welcomed. However, rail fares are expensive and passengers are fed up with paying through the nose and receiving a poor service in return.
Patience is wearing thin. I have been commuting from East Sussex for ten years now and, using both Southern and Southeastern, I can assure passengers that I will carry on challenging the Department of Transport, Network Rail and our two train operators to get it right.