A quick round up of the current state of affairs with the rail services.

ON COMPENSATION PLANS ANNOUNCED THIS MONTH

I was really pleased to see the Secretary of State for Transport announce plans that passengers can begin claiming compensation for delays starting from 15 minutes and passengers on Southern will be the first to benefit before the new scheme is rolled out nationally. I have been clear since the beginning of the dispute that my constituents need to be properly compensated for the unacceptable delays and I am pleased we are moving a step closer to this.

Earlier this month the Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into this force which means passengers can now claim compensation for poor service not just delays.

ON THE NEW INITIATIVE AND FUNDS TO BRING ‘TRACK & TRAIN’ CLOSER TOGETHER

At a meeting of the Southern Rail All Party Parliamentary Group, Chris Gibb who is the Chair of the Board set up in the summer to drive improvements between Southern and Network Rail. As you may recall as many as 50% of delays on the line are caused by infrastructure issues, such as the Balcombe Tunnel incident a fortnight ago, and so if services are to ever get to the level the town deserves both Southern and Network Rail need to drastically improve.

The meeting was positive and it was good to see the actions Mr Gibb is taking to finally tackle the long list of problems on the line. Some of the action taken in six weeks include unifying management structures and ensuring there are proper command structures to respond to disruption. Some of the improvements on the line will take time to filter through, such as devising systematic maintenance programmes or proper plans to reduce the effects of leaf dropping on the line.

ON NEW STOCK

Other more substantial plans being put in place speeding up the roll out of new trains on the line which replace the unreliable aging rolling stock which causes knock on delays across the Mainline.

ON RESTORING SERVICES

It is good to see that 63 services were restored this week and another 46 will follow next Monday including the Hastings to Ashford service.

ON THE 2018 TIMETABLE

Moving forward plans are being put in place to manage the new timetable from 2018. There is new capacity on our East Coastway Brighton connection and some small time savings on the London run.

ON THE INDUSTRIAL DISPUTE

Eastbourne residents have had to endure six months of strikes and industrial action. We are enduring several weeks of industrial action which isn’t scheduled to end until the first week of December.

Whilst I cannot doubt the important work that our conductors do as safety critical personnel it is important to bear in mind that Southern have moved considerably from their initial proposals for Driver Only Operation. Now they guarantee all trains that currently have a guard will continue to have a second member of staff aboard. The remaining contention is that should a guard be unavailable for work due to delay or sickness in a very limited number of occasions, Southern is proposing that the train would still be able to disembark.

This has been the sticking point in industrial action since August causing cancellations, delays and even an emergency timetable. Ultimately the people who have suffered the most have been my constituents trying to get home to see their families at the end of a hard day’s work or visitors trying to get to our town who are the lifeblood of our local economy. I continue to urge dialogue in good faith between Southern and the RMT union and hope that this damaging strike action is called off soon.

26th October 2016

It is possible we will have a few minutes shaved off the peak time train journeys to London from 2018, if proposed changes go ahead, currently being consulted on.

With statistics from the Office of Road and Rail showing that rail use from Eastbourne has more than doubled since 1997/98 any reduction in times is to be welcomed.  We must always push for more, but we need to be realistic with what is likely to be achieved given the vast increase in the numbers of people using the rail service.

They hope to shave off between 5-10 minutes and regularise a 90 minute journey from Eastbourne to Victoria by stopping direct Seaford to London trains so that will save 10 minutes in the evening peak as the train will not need to divide at Seaford.

They also hope by reducing direct trains to Seaford and Ore you create less delays as turnaround times are too tight leading to ripples and knock on delays.

It is also planned for the fast Victoria to Eastbourne trains to reduce the frequency of stops at Cooksbridge and Plumpton as passenger numbers are quite low. So trains will only call at one hourly and alternate i.e. a fast Victoria train will call at Plumpton every two hours.

Southern are also considering how they can reduce journey times and overcrowding on trains to Brighton.

The consultation runs until December 8. To comment visit www.southernrailway.com/2018consultation and feel free to email your thoughts to me at caroline.ansell.mp@parliament.uk

21st Sept 2016

You may be interested to know that Southern publishes a ‘Daily Performance Report’ on their train services.  You can see this here…

A great many people have been in touch with me over the last days, weeks and months regarding the poor service they have experienced travelling by train.  here’s my update on the current situation.

I absolutely understand the frustration and stress caused by cancelled and delayed services to and from our town. I have lost untold hours and routinely arrived past midnight and my children too have been caught up in the chaos and been stranded at the station.

I am just as keen to see this resolved as the next and working hard to that end. It’s just not as straightforward as stripping away the franchise and for every claim, there is a counter claim.

At the meeting with Transport Ministers, MPs challenged the operators and I gave examples of how this was affecting our town.  On certain points I was satisfied but questions remain. We  asked to meet with union bosses to discuss this dispute and to get some answers about why it’s continuing.

Key questions are: the RMT says the dispute is about safety but I’m told that driver only services have been operating for decades in other parts of the network.

The union also says it’s about jobs, but I’m told by Govia that no jobs will be lost and no one will lose money.

I don’t want to make a decision on who is making this situation worse until I have heard from the union, but one thing is absolutely clear, it’s the passengers who are stuck in the middle and this is utterly unacceptable. I have put it to operators that they must consider greater compensation in light of the extraordinary level of disruption to their passengers.

I am dismayed that last month’s conciliation talks with ACAS only resulted in another strike day.

On recruitment, I am told this current travel chaos is not driven by a staff vacancy issue; that earlier in the year there had been problems where drivers couldn’t be deployed effectively because of historic contracts and recruitment policies; that now there is a commitment to have 200 drivers in training at any one time until the franchise expires in 2021 to ensure there will be a pool of drivers to deploy- there may be a legacy issue here as the training programme is twelve months but it seems they are up to speed on this commitment. On guard vacancies, 18 unfilled posts represents less than 5% and it is not unusual in the industry to have spare capacity so that workers can continue to access overtime. Again I have been reassured that overtime is still available to those who took strike action and the practice of mutual shift swapping has been re-instated.

On Southern withdrawing family passes and car parking to inconvenience workers who were ‘disrupting the lives of passengers by their strike action’, I told them I thought this was low behaviour. I am in communication with a number of drivers and conductors and supporting individuals.

Re. crew shortage notices. The response I have received is that there have been a very small number of incidents where the ‘due to crew shortage’ message on info boards was an error, some services have been cancelled in advance because of knock on effect of previous days’ disruption & displaced trains (and not whether drivers had reported in or not) but the vast number of cancellations are due to staff sickness – accounting for 1066 lost days in May; sickness call in has doubled since the initial strike action – no organisation could absorb that.

I was a union member for all of my many years in teaching and I do not see any ideological political drive here to destroy the unions. This to my mind, is the argument of last resort.  It is also worth saying that whilst some union members are calling for Southern employees ‘to dig in and prepare for war’ others – in the same union – see the strike as unwarranted, do not want to resist new trains and instead, want to ‘manage change’.

Over the course of these months I have met with the Rail Minister, GTR and the Secretary of State. I have submitted anonymised correspondence from rail users in Eastbourne & Willingdon to the Transport Select Committee.

A new all-party parliamentary group, specifically on Southern, and its performance, is to be formed and I will contribute to its work. It’s first meeting is due to take place on the 13th July.

I have secured a meeting for local people to meet with Southern Rail leaders at Eastbourne Station. This was held on Tuesday 28th June, 5.30-7.30 pm and I have secured another meeting with managers for morning commuters on the 22nd July. It was estimated that as many as 100 local people attended the session.

On Monday 4th July I also met with the RMT in a private session and I paid close attention to the witness session at the Transport Select Committee. I was very disheartened after both sessions that it became clear the RMT union would not continue to talk on the subject of DOO.

I do however welcome the reinstatement of parking passes to Govia staff as a gesture of goodwill and I hope this will lead to an improved climate at the company.

I have called on the company to offer enhanced compensation due to the extremely prolonged disruption my constituents have faced.

For the long term I have also met with the Minister to press for Wifi on our trains, to improve capacity on the line with infrastructure works at Keymer Junction and to prevent the restriction of trains into London Bridge in 2018.

I will continue to press for the very best train services for the people of Eastbourne.

7th July 2016