Trains in ‘crisis’ after Bexhill Carnival cancellations

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Campaigners are furious with the railway service over the weekend as nearly a third of trains were cancelled on one of the busiest days in Bexhill’s calendar.

The Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) is calling for action from the MP after 29 out of 103 scheduled trains were cancelled due to a lack of staff on Saturday (July 30).

Many would have been travelling to the town for the carnival and BRAG chairman Hugh Sharp has told Huw Merriman the service is in a ‘state of crisis’.

“Local rail users are very angry,” Mr Sharp said.

“I have suggested to Mr Merriman that there needs to be a further mass-lobbying of the Department for Transport (DfT) by Sussex and Surrey MPs, who are affected by the Southern dispute.

“Resolution can now only lie with the DfT. All our complaints to Southern Rail merely elicit platitudes and dead-pan responses.”

BRAG claims Southern Railways’ attempt to implement a ‘robust’, temporary timetable during the week has failed, with at least six trains a day cancelled.

This measure was approved by the DfT in response to unofficial industrial action and high levels of sickness by train conductors and to give ‘more certainty’ to commuters.

According to BRAG, the 08.35 to Brighton failed to run three days out of five last week.

Mr Sharp said many carnival-goers would have arrived late and their trains home may have been cancelled because of the issues, which would have brought a dampener to their day.

“This was carnival day, one of the most important dates in the town’s calendar, when visitors from across the South East come to Bexhill, many of them by rail,” he said.

“Rail passengers will have arrived late, and in many cases found their train home cancelled.

“For much of the day, the only service running was the two-car Ashford service, which was subject to immense overcrowding.”

“There is also a long-running pattern of services to and from London being curtailed or restarting at Eastbourne, which is immensely frustrating for local travellers with onward connections or flights to catch at Gatwick Airport.

“This pattern was repeated on Sunday with three services from London – and the return services from Bexhill - cut-short at Eastbourne.”

A Southern spokesman said: “We sincerely apologise for the number of cancelled trains which were due to call at Bexhill on Saturday.

“Although 74 of the 103 scheduled services did call at the station, we were forced to cancel 29 due to train crew non-availability.

“Events like the carnival are very much considered when planing our service and although cancelling trains is not ideal when there is more of a need, we provided Bexhill with the best possible service in the circumstances.”

Mr Merriman and Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd wrote to the rail minister last week to urge government intervention to resolve the dispute between Southern and its staff.

The Bexhill MP said he was ‘exasperated’ by the current situation and he expected those in charge to sort it out.

“I am exasperated that, in 2016, we are faced with this maddening situation where we cannot get to work, study or enjoy leisure events like this, due to an argument over which staff member opens a door on a train,” he said.

“All across the country, train doors are opened by a driver so why we have to be picked on in Sussex is beyond contempt.

“The conductors have been guaranteed jobs on the trains, as the union is well aware.

“I have used my position on the transport select committee to directly challenge the rail minister, Southern and union bosses to meet and sort this out.

“I expect this to happen and this misery to come to an end.”

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