‘No punches were pulled’ as furious and dissatisfied MPs criticised the performance of Southern train services over the past few months.
Both Mid Sussex MP Sir Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP, joined other politicians at a meeting with Network Rail, rail minister Claire Perry, and Govia Thameslink Railway - which runs both Thameslink and Southern - on Monday to discuss the constant disruption and delays to services since the start of December.
The event came on the same day that passengers faced lengthy delays due to separate signalling problems, one at Balcombe, and another between Preston Park and Hassocks.
After the meeting Sir Nicholas said: “This was a pretty rough meeting and it is safe to say that no one pulled their punches and the great dissatisfaction with the way that Govia Thameslink Railway are running this franchise was vigorously represented.
“It was also clear of the fury at Network Rail for the way that they mismanage some of their projects i.e. at the Clayton Tunnel this morning where they failed to complete a long planned job on time and in the process damaged a cable causing chaos and gross inconvenience.
“All the Members of Parliament present agreed that there has to be a substantial improvement in the way that the franchise is run.”
He felt that GTR was dealing with a ‘formidable’ challenge due to successive government’s failure to invest, but he urged the operator to do far better at communicating with passengers.
Sir Nicholas noted that not enough drivers were available, while London Bridge railway station is being rebuilt and said that such ‘huge scale of engineering investment’ did mean increased risk of delays.
But he added: “We will continue to monitor GTR and Network Rail very carefully to see that they keep to their promises. Although it was a pretty tense meeting there is no doubt that GTR and Network Rail are very clear that they have to raise their game.”
Mr Herbert added: “I repeated, along with a number of MPs, that if there was not immediate improvement then GTR/Southern should forfeit its franchise and Network Rail should be held accountable.
“It was a tough meeting which must have been extremely uncomfortable for the rail industry, but rightly so.
“Our constituents are fed up of the constant disruption in the service on which they rely. We all understand about the pressures on these lines and the investment which is being made at London Bridge, but there can be no more excuses.”
Meanwhile rail minister Claire Perry felt it was ‘inexcusable’ that passengers across Sussex were not receiving the service they deserved.
In a joint statement from GTR and Network Rail they said they were working together to improve punctuality by making track, signalling and other systems more dependable as well as bringing in new and more reliable trains and extra drivers.
However they explained that the increasing number of passengers and improvement work at London Bridge made any problems on the Brighton Mainline up to four times more difficult to recover from.
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