Train Services: Southend

– in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 11 May 2016.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Barclay.)

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 4:25, 11 May 2016

I am absolutely delighted that I have been successful in securing this Adjournment debate. I am even more delighted that technically I have until 7 o’clock to speak on train services in Southend—although I saw that on PoliticsHome it was billed as “Train Services in Scotland” so I think people there got slightly confused.

I want to apologise for my voice, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is the result of hayfever, which I was told that I would grow out of 60 years ago, but much more importantly it is the result of attending a football match last night. I was honoured to attend the last match of West Ham United at Upton Park, together with my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson), for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), and for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). All I can say is that I have been blowing bubbles ever since—it was a wonderful occasion. My hon. Friend the Minister will be interested to know that the behaviour of West Ham supporters on the c2c train last night was absolutely exemplary. As she knows, I have one or two criticisms about what has happened on other occasions, but last night it was definitely the happy c2c line.

I am also delighted to share with the House the fact that it looks likely that we have a Conservative-controlled council in Southend again—a minority Conservative council with 24 councillors. I know that the House will want to send congratulations to first-time councillor David Burzotta, who is a wonderful tenor, and to David Garston and Mrs Helen Boyd, who won Prittlewell and Blenheim Park wards. Alex Bright, a member of staff of my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, was also successfully elected to the council. I mention this because three weeks ago, on 21 April, Councillor James Courtenay tabled a motion in the council about the c2c service that made a number of observations about it. His motion was accepted unopposed.

Last month, my hon. Friend the Minister and I had a meeting about train services in Southend, and we had an exchange of views. This debate gives me an opportunity to reflect on the situation since she and I had that meeting. Because the debate has come on early, my right hon. Friend Mr Francois and my hon. Friend James Duddridge have not been able to join me just yet, but although they are not physically here, they are here in spirit. They have both shared with me a number of observations on train services in Southend.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, who is a robust politician—I celebrate that fact—will not take offence at anything that I am now going to say. I will probably sound like Victor Meldrew. I am delighted to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East has hot-footed it from the Foreign Office and now joined us in the debate. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford will be on his way in due course.

When I was first elected in 1983 as a Member of Parliament for the then constituency of Basildon—this does sound like Victor Meldrew—Ministers had huge power, but I feel as though, for whatever reason, their power is not what it was. I do not blame my hon. Friend the Minister for the repercussions of the timetable changes on Southend services. As a newly elected Member of Parliament all those years ago, I stopped the closure of an A&E unit with two days to go, for example, and I prevented three schools from being closed. My noble Friend Lord Patten and I were able to do something about re-siting a young offenders unit. We were able to do all sorts of things. All these years later, I feel as though my power as a Member of Parliament is greatly diminished.

As we all know, when Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997—the number of Conservative Members of Parliament was reduced to 165, and then to 164 following a by-election—much power was given away to unelected quangos. My hon. Friend the Minister would be right to reflect on the fact that, because of privatisation, Ministers have much less control over such matters than they once did.

I have, for more years than I care to remember, been a commuter on trains to London. I was born in London, which is why I am a lifelong Hammers fan. I regularly used to commute on the Greater Anglia line, and I shared with fellow passengers the nightmare of being unable to get on to crowded trains, and worrying about being late for work and being told off by the boss. In those days, we did not have flexi-hours, and we used to worry about how on earth we would be able to get into the overcrowded carriages. My hon. Friend the Minister will be pleased to know that the trains eventually improved, and London Liverpool Street station was redeveloped. It is now an iconic building. That gave great comfort to all the commuters.

In the constituency that I now represent, only one station, Prittlewell, is served by that line. The station was included in the constituency six years ago. The trains that service the line are completely clapped out, the fares are far too high and the service is pretty poor in every respect. The present operators—I have to be fair to them—accompanied me on a public journey to Liverpool Street. The managing director, Jamie Burles, who is fairly new, was up for going on that public journey. He has been quite open and transparent with me about how to turn the line around and invest in it, and his company is submitting a fairly reasonable case to secure the bid. I am less than enthusiastic about supporting National Express’s bid to secure the franchise, simply because of the way in which it has dealt with me over the timetable changes. I will explain more about that in due course.

I turn to the c2c service, and in particular to trains that stop at the three stations in the area that I represent: Leigh-on-Sea, Chalkwell and Westcliff-on-Sea. Before I do, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, the late Lord Kelvedon, a former Secretary of State for Transport. He got a bad press for all sorts of reasons, but I have never met a colleague more honourable than Lord Kelvedon. Together with the late Lord Parkinson, he can take a great deal of credit for many of the improvements in our rail services. I was loosely involved in the then Department of Transport while each of them was Secretary of State, because I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Michael Portillo, the Minister of State for Transport. Together, we oversaw the channel tunnel rail link and so many other improvements.

The present Secretary of State for Transport was a junior Minister in the Department at that time. Nothing has given me greater pleasure than to see what a huge success the Secretary of State is today. I think he has done a magnificent job in leading the Department under challenging circumstances. I am not saying that I agree with everything he has done, but I agree with most of the things he has done. He is certainly another robust politician.

It has so often been overlooked that the late Lord Parkinson and the late Lord Kelvedon were responsible for many of the excellent things that are happening in our transport system today. For instance, Crossrail is an absolutely fantastic project, and I never thought that I would live to see all the improvements. The fact that we have new rolling stock on our tube lines was absolutely due to those two Secretaries of State. It is marvellous that the carriages we now get on to are open from one end to the other and do not have the terrible congestion that there used to be. For the refurbishment of our stations, which obviously takes 10 or 20 years to happen, I give great credit to those two individuals.

Let me turn specifically to c2c. It was when I was the Member of Parliament for Basildon under a Conservative Government that I found myself as the champion for privatising the Fenchurch Street line. I did not seek that title, but that is how it turned out. In those days, the line had a well-earned reputation as the misery line. The rolling stock was awful, the trains kept breaking down due to points failure and the passengers had regularly had to walk down the line from Horndon-on-the-Hill.

The rest is history. It was down to the fact that the then chairman of British Rail agreed to go on a public journey with me. In those days, this place was regularly covered and I succeeded in having a public row with him live on television in one of the clapped-out carriages. That night—we used to sit into the wee hours of the morning—I was clapped through the Division Lobby by my colleagues, who thought that I was right to express myself, on behalf of my constituents, about how awful the service was.

The line was privatised, and in 1996 it was awarded to Prism Rail, which operated as LTS Rail. Relatively late on, LTS Rail was rebranded as c2c, which was sold to National Express in July 2000, and the line was transformed into the happy line. That was not the result of gas, but of the fact that everyone was very pleased when they got on the train—it arrived at the station a bit like the bullet train does in Japan—and very happy with the travelling experience. When I became the Member for Parliament for Southend West, I found that customer satisfaction had been transformed. I enjoyed a good relationship with the operators and became their greatest cheerleader.

All that changed, however, on 13 December 2015. The managing director told me about the new timetable changes. I had not asked for any timetable changes, and I had not had any letters, emails or phone calls complaining about the service, but he contacted me to say that the timetable changes would mean an improved passenger experience. I told him that I was already having a very nice experience, but if he could make that even better, so be it. He said there would be increased reliability—I thought the trains were very reliable—and that there would be quicker commutes and more seat availability. He told me that, in any case, if things did not work out, it was more likely than not that things would be returned to the way they were before.

I did not give the matter a second thought. I looked forward to Christmas and, far from being alarmed, I was absolutely delighted. It was now a Rolls Royce service, in which one was transported to Fenchurch Street practically in sedan chairs. However, within days of the changes, I received dozens of emails from constituents complaining about how difficult their journeys to and from London had become as a result of the new timetable. At that time, I did not quite understand what they were talking about.

I then began to receive a large amount of correspondence, on a daily basis, about how dreadful the c2c line had become, with many people stating that they feared the misery line had returned. I found that incredibly frustrating, as I had put in so much hard work to fix the problem all those years ago. At that point I knew that it was absolutely essential that my constituents’ voices were heard. They claimed that their concerns were being overlooked—the managing director was apparently not taking much notice of them and had not made any public journeys at peak times to see the situation for himself.

I do not have a team of people to deal with the sort of absolute torrent that I faced at the time. As we all know, as power has seeped away from this place, politicians now often seem to exist simply to be blamed for things; as the Member for Southend West, I found myself being blamed for the impact of the timetable changes. Now, I have never been a trainspotter or an expert in timetable changes, so I did not quite understand exactly what was going on. But I was left to fend for myself with all these constituents’ problems.

It is no wonder that so many of them are still so displeased with the new timetable, when we look at the precise changes that have had an impact on the three stations serving my constituency. Trains servicing the stations in my constituency at peak travelling times now have fewer carriages, and almost all of them stop at every London station on the line. That is absolutely ridiculous, especially when we take into account the fact that c2c has reportedly recorded a 19% increase in evening peak travel and a 15% increase in traffic in the past three years.

It is clear why the commute has become a very unpleasant experience for my constituents. They tell me that at peak time they now face overcrowding. The trains are full before they depart from Fenchurch Street, yet there is the prospect of more passengers attempting to board at Limehouse, West Ham and Barking. I have been contacted about a number of issues caused by that overcrowding. It is important that I highlight the most serious problems that my constituents face.

I have been inundated with emails. I will not name the constituents—I will call them X. One says that he has given up emailing the MD of c2c

“as he seems to be fond only of providing glib comments or poor statistics…The May revisions”— that is, the ones happening this month—

“do nothing to help the people to the east of Leigh-on-Sea…Even with the revised timetable I still lose 24 minutes a day…compared to my previous journeys, I am certainly no better off, and would argue nobody east of Leigh-on-Sea benefits at all from the May revisions. The railway is being run for the benefit of those in the Barking/West Ham areas…I am not convinced the new trains promised for later this year will materialise”.

The next says:

“The timetable is now a total mess…No ‘clock-face’ pattern or consistency.

‘Flagship’ trains like Leigh starters in the morning and the 16.58 down are withdrawn or wrecked by additional stops. Promises to local commuters broken.”

The next says:

“Paying in excess of £3,000 per annum for this privilege I fail to see how and why the service was changed, and after writing numerous emails to C2C complaining about the timetable changes, I have received no satisfactory response. Their last email to me advised me to contact the Ombudsman.

How could they not see the damage they would do by changing a timetable which, in my view, worked perfectly, and served commuters down the line more than adequately. Extra stops and fewer coaches, packed trains, no guards, the list is endless…The new timetable has returned us to the days of the Misery Line.”

The next one asks why c2c is discriminating against commuters from Chalkwell to Shoebury:

“Why don’t we have any fast trains in the morning between 6-7am”— well, I do not know—

“why are they stopping every station? The overcrowding is horrendous—daily—why? Because they stop everywhere!...How can they justify journey time increase from 45 mins to almost an hour?...Why are C2C favouring East London?”

It goes on and on.

One commuter stated:

“I have used this line since 1964 and commuted between the early 1980s and 2007. Until the new timetable, I have never had any issue with c2c’s service”.

He pointed out some of the problems:

“18:00-19:00 capacity to Leigh reduced by 39%...7x 8-car trains having Leigh station calls removed between 17:00-19:00…Unacceptable tiny 4-car ‘off peak Tilbury loop’ size trains on the main line evening peak”.

I do not mean this as an argument against the constituency of my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price. The same commuter continued:

“The Leigh service is now further reduced to just 44 carriages (the 18.04 increased to 12-cars from 8, but 18.13 reduced to 4-car from 8, 18.58 8-car withdrawn with 4-car 18.49 added).”

As you see, Madam Deputy Speaker, my constituents go into fine detail about this, although I am not an expert in any of it.

Another constituent stated:

“Commuters from Leigh-on-Sea are not able reliably to jump on a train in the evening…Previously, semi-fast trains used to take 38 minutes whereas now the fastest train to Leigh-on-Sea is 46 minutes. c2c continue to run four coaches…c2c is running the new Metro trains down the line”,

which is having disastrous effects. In reply, c2c said:

“a good timetable is about the operator keeping up with its reputation of good performance. From Day One we will be making sure it works. We value our customers, and are providing a service for all.”

As my constituent said, however:

“I am afraid that the recent timetables changes have failed to maintain the sentiments in this statement”.

Another constituent said:

“Although I understand that the Minister for railways has agreed to waive the contractual obligation for more trains to stop at London connecting stations, c2c services continue to stop at more stations and it is us long distance commuters who suffer as we experience crowded trains,”.

She mentioned the contract to purchase more rolling stock, and said that yet again c2c is

“looking after the ‘local’ travellers and not the Southend areas commuters.”

Another constituent says:

“I no longer believe that the service is being run for my benefit…The additional London stops are unnecessary….very few people from south Essex get on or off at Barking or Upminster….c2c’s communications have been poor.”

Yet another says:

“In the AM peak, the number of trains servicing all the stations…has reduced…The changes on 16 May have absolutely NO effect for any commuter from Shoebury-Leigh on an ‘am’ peak service! In fact, the ONLY changes to Essex stations is that Benfleet has actually lost one train but West Horndon have gained two extra trains!”

I do not want to seem at odds with my parliamentary colleagues, for whom I have the greatest affection, and this should not be about one constituency against another. I am simply saying that I was not warned that these timetable changes would have an adverse impact on my constituents.

Within the first few months of this new timetable, a number of people have been taken ill owing to the cramped conditions. That is not something that just affects the unfortunate individual; it is also a cause of delay for trains that many people are relying on to get them to work on time. Pregnant women are unable to get a seat as there simply is not enough room for them to reach one once everyone has crammed on to the train and filled the gangways of the carriages. People have been unable to board and leave trains owing to the sheer volume of people, and that has even led to aggressive behaviour among passengers.

So how has the Member of Parliament for Southend West reacted to all this? Any Member who kept quiet about these issues would be failing in their duty. I did not want to be involved in this hoo-ha, but it all stems from 13 December. All I have done is represent the concerns of constituents about changes to the service. I felt that it was my duty not to be an apologist for c2c, but to represent my constituents’ concerns. As I have said, I have had, and continue to receive, lots of emails. Until Christmas last year, however, I had received absolutely no emails from constituents with complaints about the service, and no one said that trains should stop at Barking and Limehouse. No one said we had a huge increase in passengers and a crisis of numbers—not one word.

I do not like being misled, as I feel I have been by National Express, so I took great exception to the letter I received from the Conservative party chairman. During my time as a Member of the House, we have had many Conservative party chairmen. They are transitory in that role. The party chairman is not my boss. This particular chairman has done a fantastic job, raising an awful lot of money for our party. Someone wrote to me and said: “David, do you realise that the reason that National Express are trying to silence you is that they are big party donors to the Conservative party?” I certainly was not aware of that, so my office looked at the accounts. Apparently, in 2014 National Express gave £4,000 to the Conservative party and £2,500 to the Labour party nationally. It is having it both ways, but I do not regard those donations as in any sense tainting National Express’s views on the line.

The current chairman of National Express has only been chairman since 2013. I had a great regard for him and what he did with the Olympic stadium. He did a splendid job—I had the privilege of the chairing the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill Committee. However, I think National Express has got its PR slightly wrong. If I were the chairman, I would have said, “Get on the phone to the Member of Parliament and have a word.” I would not have written a letter to the party chairman. What was the party chairman supposed to do about it? It was absolutely ridiculous and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I have raised the issue many times at business questions. The chairman of National Express has had a response to the letter he sent to the party chairman, although I have never seen the letter. The managing director of c2c sent me a letter last month. I am not suggesting that this Adjournment debate has triggered a huge amount of activity—it would be wrong of me to suggest that—but I am absolutely delighted with all that activity. I have since had a good meeting with the manager of c2c. He said he wants to work with me—there has never been any problem with his working with me and he knows where I am. The BBC radio interview was very unfortunate and childish. My hon. Friend the Minister absolutely insisted that all Members of Parliament affected by the line should be told at the same time about what is happening with the future timetable changes and rolling stock, but I was the only Member of Parliament who was not told. That was absolutely pathetic—I have the transcript of that radio interview.

Anyway, I want to draw a line under that. Personally, I have not suffered as a result of the timetable changes. I tend to avoid the peak commuting hours and usually return to Southend after midnight, so I have a comfortable journey and no complaints at all. I praise all the staff at Westcliff-on-Sea, Chalkwell and Leigh-on-Sea stations. They do an absolutely fantastic job.

I know my hon. Friend the Minister has no control over this but the quiet zone, which I always travel in, is a bit of a joke—not everyone can be hard of hearing. The ridiculous noisy mobile phone conversations one has to listen to in the quiet zone are really annoying. She will recall that at our meeting I shared with her the impact of football supporters’ disappointing bad behaviour on the train that day. I was very embarrassed about it, and it was frightening for some of the commuters. It was unfortunate that there seemed to be no one there to deal with the situation. Ironically, the very evening after the meeting with the Minister, there was an incident—resulting from football again—and we were stuck at Leigh-on-Sea station for half an hour while the person involved was taken off the train.

The following week, there was absolute chaos on the lines, which always makes one a little irritated. I got on the tube to Tower Hill, then to Liverpool Street station where I was told the trains were running, but then I was told to go back to Barking. In fact, there had been a tragedy. The train had just pulled out of Barking station when the train driver collapsed and died—an absolute tragedy for the family, and I know that Members will want to express their deep sympathy to the train driver’s friends and family.

My other current annoyance is the building works between Tower Hill and Fenchurch Street station. For nearly a year, a building has been re-developed, resulting in commuters having to navigate their foot passage between Fenchurch Street and Tower Hill. It is an absolute disgrace, and no apology has been offered. The City of London Corporation and Tower Hamlets Council keep sending this backwards and forwards, while not a thing is done about it. It will be a war of attrition until the work is actually completed. I think that commuters are owed an apology—not from the Minister, but from the people who are developing this new property.

In conclusion, we are told that there will be further timetable changes this month and more rolling stock. Well, let us see exactly how that turns out. As the House has heard, my constituents have lost faith in National Express and c2c, and I am not absolutely sure why commuters who are served by Leigh-on-Sea, Chalkwell and Westcliff stations should celebrate these changes to a service that is slowly promising to go back to what it was before 13 December, when it was a happy line. I was contacted by Which? today with a briefing on the Consumer Rights Act 2015, but I shall write to the Minister about that. It concerns the Government’s indication that they will further exempt the rail industry from certain provisions of the Consumer Rights Act until October 2017, including section 57 relating to liability.

Let me now use the dreadful expression “lessons learned”. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East has already raised this with the Minister. He is very keen for all trains on the c2c line to take less than hour—hence his “Shoebury to Fenchurch Street in less than 60 minutes” campaign. I certainly support him in that. It means sacrificing some punctuality for greater speed. My hon. Friend wants c2c to remove the metro branding, because Southend is neither metropolitan nor part of the London metropolis, and he also wants new stock and small changes to the timetable, which would be welcome. He feels that the Government should call for further action if that does not work. Most of the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford, whom I feel sure will be in his place before the debate finishes, catch the train at Leigh-on-Sea, and I know that he supports me in all that I have shared with the House this evening.

The lesson I have learned is that I cannot take at face value what c2c and National Express have told me. The lesson they should learn is not to make an enemy of my good self, because I can be someone’s worst enemy and best friend. One of my many failures is that I remember everything and bear grudges—it is a terrible thing to admit! I have said, however, that I am prepared to draw a line under what has happened since 13 December and start afresh on this journey.

The Minister knows that I am an optimist. That is how I have managed to survive in this place for 33 years, and I will keep fighting until I see the service restored for my constituents. I hope that there will be a brighter future not only for c2c commuters, but for Greater Anglia line commuters, too.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:59, 11 May 2016

Before I kick off—I know that we have until 7 pm, but I have no intention of detaining the House for as long as that—let me offer my heartfelt thanks to the House staff, and, indeed, to the Whips Office. The House was dealing with a very complicated piece of business, but thanks to plenty of clock watching and organisation, we arrived in the Chamber bang on time, like the best-run trains.

I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend James Duddridge, sitting on the Bench beside me. He will not be able to speak, because of his ministerial position, but he has left me in no doubt of his views. My hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price has also been in touch with me many times about this line, along with others.

It has been a real pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend Sir David Amess, both today and on occasions when he has raised other issues. It is always important for us to listen and learn from experience and history, and he has left us in no doubt about his long-term commitment to improving rail services for his constituents, as well as about his disappointment that the service changes have caused so much disruption. I am always happy to listen to him, and I admire his ongoing optimism, which is a good thing to have in this place.

Like many other Members who use this line—and I should, of course, also mention my hon. Friend Stephen Metcalfe—my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has been very vocal about the timetable changes that were introduced by c2c in December. He was, however, an equally vocal supporter of c2c during the turnaround of what had been the misery line. Although I do not believe in revisiting history, I think that it would be helpful for me to explain, very briefly, how we got to where we are, and then talk about where we are going, because I too want us to move forward with complete confidence.

Of course, we no longer have nationalised railways, as we did when my hon. Friend became a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department, and that, I believe, is one of the reasons why the railways have been successful. We pull slightly different levers now. We do not get British Rail operators and managers in so that we can beat them up, because there are those different levers in our contracts, and, of course, we listen carefully to the customers who, ultimately, are paying for the services. We rely on highly skilled train operators to respond to the changing needs of their customers.

There had been big improvements in performance on the c2c lines, along with enormous growth. In five years, 15% more passengers had travelled on c2c trains. However, there had been no timetable changes for more than a decade. I think it is always right to ask operators to try to change their timetables in order to benefit those who use their services. Proposals were made by c2c in response —a strong response—to the heartfelt cases made by passengers who wanted to get on or off at Barking and West Ham, but also in response to the fact that those stations were, and are, among the most crowded in the network, and to the need for more connectivity.

The new timetable had some benefits, and it was supposed to benefit my hon. Friend’s constituents. The number of seats on trains from Westcliff that reached Fenchurch Street between 8 am and 9 am should have increased by 12%. Indeed, the number of seats on trains arriving at Fenchurch Street from Leigh-on-Sea did increase by a sizeable 53%, because so many trains were starting from there rather than arriving already laden. However, there were what could almost be termed unintended consequences. Clever London commuters began to realise that they could use those trains rather than trains on the District line.

I want the train companies to take people in and out of the metropolis, especially the many who are paying a great deal lot of money for their season tickets. I do not want those lines to be substitutes for existing tube lines, which, incidentally, is not very economical, because, I understand, only the tube fare is reimbursed. However, it is never entirely possible to predict what passengers are going to do, and, as was clear to my officials and me, and indeed to c2c, overcrowding rapidly became a problem on peak-time services. People who had been able to get seats for many years were now having to stand, and we saw some really uncomfortable overcrowding.

I think that people had been led to expect better from the line, because the percentage of passenger satisfaction, which 10 years ago was a meagre 63, has gone up into the 90s. It is the best performing rail passenger franchise in terms of passenger satisfaction, and it is up there in terms of punctuality. C2c has also been very innovative. It has introduced automatic compensation, for example, and per-minute compensation for delays. So if you sign up for its key card, it will automatically reimburse you at a rate of 3p per minute if your train arrives more than two minutes late. That is the kind of thing we want to see across the network.

It was therefore an unexpected negative that we suddenly had this crowding, and the question was: what were we going to do about it? I could not call everyone in and give them a talking to, but we had to get the company to respond. In fact, it wanted to respond very quickly, and there was an immediate adjustment to the timetable. My hon. Friend was kind enough to bring in some of his constituents to talk to me, and one of the questions they asked was how we know how many people are getting on and off the trains. C2c actually has monitoring technology and it knows exactly how many people are on each train. This means that it can flex and adjust the trains quite quickly to deal with crowding. It immediately changed the timetable, lengthened some of the trains and reduced some of the stops. It tried to improve the capacity on the fast services, which are the most crowded. Understandably, people will always choose to travel on the fast services even if there are seats available on the slightly slower services either side of them.

So some changes happened immediately, but we wanted that to be just the start. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, there was a contractual obligation in relation to the timetable for 95% of the stops to involve stations such as Barking. Working with my excellent officials, I said to c2c, “We just want you to sort this out for your customers. If you need to come back to us and propose that that limit should go, that will be absolutely fine.” So another series of stopping changes will be happening this week, on 15 May. At the moment, 98% of the evening services departing from Fenchurch Street stop at Barking, but that will drop by almost a quarter to 76%.

The aim is to get people who are going to Barking by train back on to the tube. In that way, they would no longer be occupying seats for two or three stops and forcing long-distance commuters from my hon. Friend’s constituency—and, indeed, from my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East’s constituency —to stand. We are already seeing those adjustments. There will be another timetable change later this year, and the operator will continue to monitor the situation. I know that my hon. Friend is interested in this, and he will be able to see almost hour-by-hour crowding charts for these trains to show what the impact has been.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West rightly said, we do not want to rob Peter to pay Paul. There is a whole series of constituencies along this line, and we expect the operators to work closely with the local MPs and local authorities to ensure that they are delivering the best possible service. Sometimes there will be tensions involved, depending on where trains start and finish and where they stop along the way. However, I completely understand his request for faster services. There is infrastructure work going on, and I agree with him that Shoebury in 60 minutes would be a great thing, but that would require some other timetable changes which could be difficult to deal with in the round. However, that is the right aspiration to have. So there will be further timetable changes, and I want to leave the House in no doubt of my absolute commitment to getting this right. This is a really good operator and I think that, up until last Christmas, most of the constituents represented by Members in the House today would have agreed with that.

We then asked the operator to go further and to provide new rolling stock. It is clear that one of the problems is that it simply does not have enough trains. It immediately went out and sourced new rolling stock, and 24 new carriages will come into operation progressively over the next few months. That might not sound like a lot, but they will provide 13,000 extra seats at peak times every week. An additional 32 carriages are being procured and will be introduced after October 2019. That means that, by 2024, the new franchise will have 68 additional new vehicles in service along the route. That might not be enough—we don’t know. Growth on the railway continues to exceed all expectations. It is a wonderful thing that people choose to travel by rail, but we need constantly to monitor these organisations to ensure they are delivering.

My hon. Friend raised an important point about the company’s engagement. I know that he feels let down by some of the communication issues, and I am sure that no one wants that. However, c2c has committed to meeting passengers and to getting them involved in the timetable changes. It held a “meet the manager” event at Fenchurch Street station in November, and I understand that it was a robust meeting.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

May I take my hon. Friend back to what she said about new rolling stock? Did she say “2019”? Will she tell the House whether the carriages will be built in this country and whether they will be arriving all at once or over a period?

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the trains will be British and built by Bombardier. Some of them are already under construction. They have been procured by one of the rolling stock companies for just this sort of thing and to try to add capacity wherever it was bid for. They will start to be introduced later this year, so relief is coming. The expectation is that the full fleet will be in operation by October 2019.

As I said, the trains are being built by Bombardier in Derby, and the supply chain that that supports is absolutely immense. My hon. Friend’s line does not yet have the space for them, but he may be interested to hear that the new high-speed intercity express trains, which will be running up and down the east and west coast mainlines, are now being built in Newton Aycliffe. For the first time in many years, the UK now has two train manufacturing sites, supporting hundreds of jobs directly and thousands of skilled jobs in the supply chain, which is incredibly exciting. The trains will provide relief and will be brand new, so customers will hopefully be able to see and feel the benefits.

I want to return to the consultations and the conversations that have been happening. I hope my hon. Friend will agree that the franchise management team has not been shy in talking to its customers. In fact, it has frequently consulted its customers on many issues.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I feel a little guilty that, when there was this—how can I put it?—gathering of people at Fenchurch Street station at the beginning of the year, it was not fully explained that it was a “meet the manager” event. I would not want to criticise the UKIP MEP who represents the area including the constituency of my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, but he seemed to take over the meeting, which was a bit unfortunate. Will the Minister share with the House any detail of what format future “meet the manager” meetings might take?

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Some politicians—my hon. Friend is not one of them—campaign on things about which they know nothing entirely to raise the temperature of the moment. I might say that the gentleman just referred to is an example of such a politician. The temperature was raised and I believe that there were shouts of, “Out! Out! Out!” First, that would be a terrible situation to be in. Secondly, if someone is trying to explain quite complicated changes that were made in good faith—I am not defending the management team here, but the changes were made in good faith in response to a new contract—then that is not a constructive atmosphere in which to have a conversation.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Our right hon. Friend Mr Francois is anxious that his constituents are involved in “meet the manager” meetings. Does the Minister have any information to share with him? Will there be specific meetings for his constituents or will they be taking place in London?

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend pre-empts what I was about to say on the process. It is great to see my right hon. Friend Mr Francois, who is also an assiduous campaigner, here on the Front Bench.

Interestingly, only some 9% of journeys are made by rail. That figure rises to 30% in the London area, and 70% of all rail journeys begin and end in London. Rail seems to have a disproportionate impact here; we all love our trains and we hate it when things go wrong, which is why I feel I am perhaps not the most popular but the most lobbied Minister. Everyone wants a piece of railway action.

My hon. Friend has invited me to comment on what the “meet the manager” schedule looks like, and I am happy to do so. The sessions are starting this month at London stations. In July, they will be going out to stations in mid-Essex, and finally they will be at stations in the Southend area in October. These are “meet the manager” questions; the intention is to explain what is happening, with the manager answering questions about the trains. All these events will be advertised a week in advance. My hope is that enough people can attend so that there can be a constructive conversation about the changes. I have to say that I do have confidence in this managerial team. I meet them frequently, as I do with all the franchise operators, and they have been particularly assiduous in recognising the problem and trying to solve it.

Let me say something about the West Ham football fan problem. All of us have seen the pictures, where football fans— or, indeed, rugby fans; we should not be “sportist” about this—have got on a train and behaved in a manner that can be described only as intimidating. I have experienced that, and I often find, as a woman on the network and a mother of two daughters, that it can be very concerning. West Ham is a Transport for London-operated station, so TfL has overall responsibility for operating the station, for security and for crowd control. On a match day, the British Transport police rightly look at the whole c2c route when constructing their plans and then share those with TfL, with c2c providing staff to TfL at West Ham station at busy times, including match days. The operation tends to focus on Barking, because it is the main station for the stadium. In addition, c2c provides roving security teams on board the affected trains, which is helpful. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend tell us of his most recent experience, as it seems the fans were better behaved, or perhaps the team won—

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Last night, we had a great victory. We were leading one-nil, then it was two-one to Manchester United and we ended up winning three-two—it was marvellous. The Minister will be aware that the station at Upton Park is tricky to manoeuvre through, and crowd control is difficult there. I just wonder whether she might factor into her ongoing discussions the fact that West Ham move to the Olympic stadium this September, which will mean a completely different route for the fans. They will be using the Greater Anglia route. Stratford is a huge international station, but will she consider putting together some sort of working party to see what the passenger experience will be for the new stadium? It has double the capacity, with the potential to hold 60,000 fans instead of 30,000.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend raises a good point, and I hope my team in the Box are making assiduous notes about it. I had a meeting yesterday with my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, as now that AFC Bournemouth have made it into the premiership, suddenly thousands more fans are going through Pokesdown station and there is a desire to see development work there. I have to put on the record the fact that I cannot let Keith Vaz be the sole keeper of support for Leicester City. I have been a lifelong Foxes fan, and my brother, who is nearly 60 and so ought to know better, lives in a house called “The Foxes” and goes to every single match. The level of delight in my household when Leicester finally triumphed was something to be seen.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Conservative, Tamworth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Sir David Amess, a parliamentary neighbour, for securing this important Adjournment debate. I do not come from Southend, but one of my researchers does and so makes this trip regularly and understands the challenges that my hon. Friend, in securing this debate, has spoken about. Can the Minister confirm the importance, in whatever is done to improve train services to Southend, of British rolling stock being considered in that innovation and development, particularly those of Bombardier, which has a unit very close to my constituency? Trains to Southend are important. It may be that Chips Channon, the former Member, used to drive around in his Rolls-Royce and would come up to London in it, but many people, including my researcher, have to make the journey by train.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend saw what we were discussing on the annunciator and rushed into the Chamber to make those points on behalf of his researcher. What is fascinating about working in the DFT is that many of our staff who commute by train sit around with their official hats on saying all the right things, but as soon as someone opens up a debate about what it was like at Victoria station or at another London station that morning, everyone surges back to reality and describes what it is actually like commuting on the network.

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was in his place when we talked about the new rolling stock that will be coming into service on this line over the next few months. It is built by Bombardier, and part of it has already been procured by Porterbrook, one of the rolling stock companies. It is a very exciting development. I have visited Bombardier many times. In fact, I have driven a train on its test track. Not many Ministers can say that—actually, I am sure that every rail Minister has probably said the same thing. Bombardier is building the Crossrail fleet as well as the S-class trains—the new worm trains as we call them—that are currently running on the tube network. They are wonderful as they can clear a whole platform of many hundreds of people in a matter of moments.

What is exciting in all of this is that a single line, such as the one we are discussing today, encapsulates so much of what is going on across the whole rail network. First of all, we have unprecedented levels of passenger demand. Although people might wonder whether privatisation was the right thing to do—I do not think that—what we can say is that our railways have never been busier. At no time since the 1920s, pre-Beeching cuts, have we had so many passengers. Indeed, passenger numbers and journeys have doubled since privatisation, largely because of the energy, commitment and fair innovation of many of these private companies. My hon. Friends will recall from the pre-privatisation days that it was not this Mecca of wonderful customer service that people like to cook up. I used to take the line from university to home, and all we could get was a curled up old sandwich if we were lucky and there was no apology if we were late.

Let me mention the compensation scheme—hopefully, my hon. Friends’ trains are never delayed, and so they never have to claim. I urge them to sign up for the automatic season ticket—the key card—because then they get compensation automatically. Our compensation schemes are among the most generous in Europe. People always talk about compensation. Of course we want it to get to the right people, but let me explain the levels that we pay. A person will get 50% compensation if their train is delayed by 30 minutes and 100% compensation if it is delayed by 60 minutes.

Assiduous Members will have seen that, in our manifesto, we have a commitment to introducing compensation payments if the train is delayed by 15 minutes. I am happy to tell the House that we are working up that proposal. I am looking forward to announcing it as soon as permitted. It is an important development, because on many of these lines, where the journey time is not hours, but minutes, it will mean that we can all claim should the trains be late. [Interruption.] There is an awful lot of excellent dancing going on behind the Speaker’s Chair. The aim of all our proposals is that we should not have delayed trains. We should have trains that run exactly to time.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Conservative, Tamworth

Quite rightly, the Minister says that we must not have late or delayed trains. Does she also agree that trains in Southend and elsewhere should not be overcrowded as well as delayed? One reason why trains are sometimes overcrowded is that fair prices rise rapidly or fall rapidly at certain times. Perhaps if we were able to look at a pricing mechanism that did not have these cliff-face increases or falls, we would be able to spread the load over the railways, rather than having a few people trying to crowd on to a few trains at specific times.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about pricing and fares. Of course people want to feel that they are getting value for money, but if I may again clock some of the great things that the Government have done for rail users, it is important to note that we have frozen rail fares for the duration of this Parliament at RPI plus zero. That is worth about £700 million to the fare-paying public and will save the average season ticket holder about £425 over the course of the Parliament.

My hon. Friend Christopher Pincher makes an important point about peak and shoulder fares, as they are called. It seems that people either feel or are told by their employers that they have to get to work at a certain time, so that is when they travel. We could be far more creative and innovative in trying to get people off the peak and on to the shoulders by using pricing and, potentially, conversations with employers. What tends to happen in this country is that we buy lots and lots of trains to fill peak demand, and they run empty for large portions of the day. That is not an economic thing to do.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

This is the last time I will intervene on my hon. Friend because the debate must end. We think of the film “Brief Encounter” and about how romantic the carriages used to be, with the leather strap one would pull down at the window and all of that, but she is absolutely right that we see these things through rose-coloured glasses. Before she finishes, can she give any indication of when the franchise decision for the Greater Anglia line will be taken?

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend invites me to comment, but all I can tell him is that it will happen shortly. Thanks to the changes to franchising that have been made in the Department, the level of customer-facing benefits, including new rolling stock, has never been higher. On that particular franchise, where it is absolutely right that we get rid of some of the outdated rolling stock and get some new trains, the score that a franchise bidder will get for new rolling stock has never been higher. I confidently expect, just as we saw with Northern, the TransPennine Express and Virgin East Coast, that we will see some great benefits for consumers.

I have been given the opportunity to have a full discussion about many of the positive things that are happening on the railways. I could carry on all night because I have so much more to say. I welcome the fact that, as we are all aware, we are not going back to the misery line. There have been unintended consequences of some decisions that were taken in a genuine attempt to improve connectivity. There is an absolute commitment on the part of the operator and the Department to make sure that the changes are put in place, that new rolling stock comes in and that the constituents who have been represented so ably here today by my hon. Friends get the service they deserve.

The most refreshing thing I heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, who is an eternal optimist, is that we are all prepared to draw a line under the episode and start afresh, determined to deliver for our constituents. That is why we are all here.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.