Rail service is unacceptable

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Recent editions of the Observer have drawn attention to the industrial disputes currently affecting our rail services.

But it is important to recognise that there has been a steady decline in reliability since the new, and geographically much larger, franchise was awarded to Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) last year. By January, passenger dissatisfaction reached a level where a group of 16 MPs (including Huw Merriman) met the Rail Minister to demand improvements. Since then the onset of industrial disputes has undoubtedly made an already bad situation worse.

Passengers now daily face last minute train cancellations, increased overcrowding, and unexpected delays.

All too often, inadequate information is given about what is happening.

These disruptions affect services right across the franchise area. Rail User Groups like Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) can most usefully brief their MPs about current problems - and BRAG members are preparing for a meeting with Huw Merriman very shortly.

We want to press for more urgent and decisive action by the Department for Transport to take all necessary steps to achieve early solutions to the problems affecting this franchise. Taxpayers are the ultimate funders of our rail system and have a right to see that the Government is getting to grips with a situation which continues to deteriorate.

But unfortunately, Bexhill rail travellers face an additional, and unique, problem. In pressure situations GTR have increasingly resorted to terminating services from London and Brighton at Eastbourne instead of running on as scheduled to Bexhill and Hastings. This creates two problems.

First, passengers are obliged to wait for another service in order to complete their journey. Second, and more seriously, passengers waiting to catch the returning service to either London or Brighton at any of the stations between Eastbourne and Ore are in for a bigger shock.

The platform information displays suddenly change to show that their train is ‘cancelled’, often only minutes before its expected arrival. Sudden cancellations are also disrupting our service to and from Ashford International.

BRAG finds this situation totally unacceptable. These are all strategic services which only run hourly. Passengers flying from Gatwick (often carrying heavy luggage), heading for engagements in London or Brighton, or booked on Javelin services to St Pancras and Eurostars to the continent are having their plans ruined. And to add insult to injury a glance at the online ‘live running’ website will usually show that the so-called ‘cancelled’ train has in fact started ‘on time’ from Eastbourne.

BRAG has campaigned relentlessly against this ‘early termination’ practice.

We log the services which are terminated early or cancelled altogether. We regularly demonstrate to GTR the harm they are doing not just to individual passengers (including regular rail commuters), but also to the economy of Bexhill and Hastings when business and leisure visitors can no longer rely on getting there and back by rail.

BRAG includes members who have considerable expertise in rail operations. This has enabled us to make practical suggestions to GTR for reducing operating problems in the Eastbourne area to enable even late running trains to reach Hastings in time to provide the all-important return service. We will continue to press these options and we very much hope that our dialogue with GTR can lead to a sustainable improvement in services for Bexhill and Hastings.

We will welcome any comments and suggestions about local rail services. These will inform our contacts with Huw Merriman and GTR. Please contact us by email to our website - bexrag@yahoo.co.uk - or on Facebook - www.facebook.com/bexhillrailactiongroup.

Hugh Sharp

Chairman

Bexhill Rail Action Group

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