December 9th 2010
News of the MPs meeting with Southeastern (Charles Horton) last night has already hit the airwaves so please forgive any duplication of information.
There were fourteen Kent and Outer London Members present (including the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and several Ministers) to hear the Managing Director`s “take” on recent weather-related failures.
Mr. Horton was at pains not to blame Network Rail for the recent shortcomings but this cannot disguise two salient facts that emerged.
It appears that two vital de-icing trains run by NWR were, incredibly, undergoing a service at the time that they were desperately needed. Questions as to why there was no window of opportunity to service these engines between March and October produced no explanation!
It transpires that the National Data Systems run by NWR and the TOCs are unable to respond to urgent amendments. So when Southeastern took a 2am decision to cancel trains “The System” was unable to respond and continued to transmit wholly outdated and incorrect information. The overall effect of this was that notice of cancellations was not made available in time to be of value to the travelling public and that when trains were actually running that information was not made public either.
Suggestions that the rail network should invest in some semaphore flags are not regarded as particularly helpful (!) but it is clear that the entire rail information service – and those running it – needs an overhaul.
To the question as to why in the hardest-hit North East mainline trains continued to run while in the South East and South they ground to a halt received no real answer. It does seem, though, that the intelligent and sophisticated new rolling stock is so sensitive that the trains cannot adjust to even relatively modest conditions of ice and snow – in sharp contrast to the more robust old “slam-door” trains.
I questioned Mr. Horton as to the justification for a wholly unacceptable 12.8% fare increase heaped on top of three years of already above average increases. The response appears to be that “ we have to take a market judgement” which seems to me to be a euphemism for “We`ve got a captive clientele in East Kent so we are holding them to ransom to pay for the “High Speed” trains and for reductions in subsidy”.
Looking to the future it will, of course, be for my Kent colleagues to judge but my view is that we should now invite Network Rail to talk to us, then hear in person from a selection of commuters and then write and produce a report to submit to Mr. David Quarmby for consideration by the Secretary of State.
I have made it clear to Southeastern that I will, personally, oppose any renewal of their franchise. Whether that view will find support in the House or within the DfT I know not but one thing is certain: we cannot continue in this climate of “more for less” payment.