Since my last update (which can also be found on my website) I have continued to press the Department for Transport (DfT), Southeastern and Network Rail to work together to improve train services for passengers in Bromley and Chislehurst.
While noticeably fewer problems have occurred in recent months, disruption, cancellations and severe overcrowding still too often mars many of the journeys we take, and I am under no illusion that the considerable, underlying challenges facing the network have yet to be properly addressed. I set these out further in a letter to the Rail Minister on 22 February, a copy of which can be found at the bottom of this page.
In that letter, I was also keen to convey local frustration at a number of recent incidents, including the freight derailment at Lewisham on 24 January that held many of us up for the remainder of the week. It was clear that although this was not a problem Southeastern was directly responsible for, their response to this issue, and the quality of communication throughout the subsequent disruption, was simply not good enough. Ultimately, on such a congested network, things need to run perfectly, as the knock-on effects of any delay will be all the worse.
Passengers were let down by rigid timetabling and a lack of contingency planning, and the Minister acknowledged in a meeting I held with him on 28 March that passenger information during disruption (PIDD – a key indicator in the industry) must be a priority of the new franchise. A rigorous investigation is currently underway, but from the discussions I have had, I understand the problem was caused by the track being out of tolerance leading it to buckle.
During the course of that meeting, MPs representing constituencies served by Southeastern also discussed with the Minister the ongoing consultation on the new South Eastern franchise. I have been assured that much more will be expected from whoever is awarded the deal, which I believe can be achieved through regulation to encourage greater cooperation between the franchise holder and Network Rail, as well as the introduction of commercial incentives, and conversely, penalties, to ensure targets are met. I will be responding to the consultation in full during the next week or two as the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Bromley and Chislehurst, and will post my submission on this website. The consultation can be found here:
This is also something I discussed in a meeting with John Halsall, Network Rail’s Route Managing Director for the South East, last week. Mr Halsall has made a number of significant changes since starting this role nine months ago, and I am hopeful that these alterations should start to make a tangible difference in the near future.
In particular, he is keen to improve communication when problems occur, making full use of social media; has strengthened response teams so that they are better able to deal with on-site repairs urgently; and will be overseeing the rollout of remote condition monitoring – to allow engineers to more effectively check the status of points - on the entire Southeastern network. The meeting also gave me the opportunity to lobby again on a number of other important local issues, including the upkeep and repair of Station Approach in Chislehurst, as well as the unnecessary felling of trees along the line from Bromley North to Grove Park, something I made urgent representations on.
One of my top priorities is to secure additional rolling stock to alleviate overcrowding on the network. This is something I have continued to press for at every available opportunity, including in Transport Questions last month (https://goo.gl/VnfZ5d) and in a further letter to the Minister today. Again, a copy can be found at the bottom of this page.
Improving our local service is something I have fought hard on over the last couple of years, and will continue to do so – as your Member of Parliament, and as a frustrated commuter – if re-elected on 8 June.