Yesterday, along with a number of other MPs, I met with the Rail Minister, Claire Perry, and senior managers of Southeastern and National Rail to discuss the ongoing, substandard performance levels we all experience on Southeastern services. Every week my mailbox includes letters and emails from constituents understandably exasperated by the disruption, overcrowding and chronic unreliability they face when making their daily journeys. Commuting every day from Chislehurst to Westminster myself, I share their anger and frustration, and am only too aware of the problems that beset our local rail service.
MPs from both sides of the House were quick to interrogate Southeastern and Network Rail representatives about the unacceptable disruption at London Bridge, a major infrastructure project which frankly I feel is being used as an excuse for the wider failings of these two organisations. The problems passengers continue to face have existed for a long time – well before, I might add, the work at London Bridge started – and I am afraid Southeastern are simply not fulfilling the expectations we all have of them following the extension of their franchise.
At the end of the day, passengers are paying a huge amount for a service that is overcrowded and rarely runs on time, and those who attended the meeting from Southeastern and Network Rail can be left in no doubt that things must change. Employing more staff and improving communications is immaterial if you cannot even offer a comfortable, reliable service, which, if we are to be honest, is all passengers want. My Parliamentary colleagues and I were clear that financial penalties should be considered in the future to focus the provider on improving customer satisfaction and putting the passenger first.
On top of raising the complaints that have been passed on to me, I was keen to follow up on the letter I sent to David Statham, Managing Director of Southeastern, in October about the Bromley North line and the Grove Park connection (attached below). Without an Underground service or extension to the DLR – something I continue to push for – residents in Bromley and Chislehurst are solely reliant on the limited services provided by Southeastern for their rail journeys to and from central London. I maintain that rail provision in southeast London must be improved, and I hope to raise this specific matter with senior managers at Southeastern again in a one-on-one meeting in the very near future. I will, of course, keep you informed of any updates or developments as and when I can.
The picture above was taken shortly after the meeting with Rail Minister, Claire Perry, David Evennett, MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford, and James Brokenshire, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup.