Just before the summer recess, the Government announced they were abandoning plans for the electrification of the midland main line. A consultation on the new east midlands rail franchise announcement followed—a process that was rushed, chaotic and, as has recently come to light, a sham. Throughout the time when my constituents were feeding into the consultation process in good faith, much bigger plans were being put together behind the scenes, without consultation or even a whisper in Whitehall, under which Bedford train users will lose their peak-time east midlands service in May.
The announcement has hit my constituents hard. Many fear they will lose their jobs or have to give up work because the changes to the timetable will mean they cannot balance, or rearrange their lives around, their family commitments. Rail users nationwide have been betrayed by this Government, but Bedford commuters are taking a bigger hit than most. Bedford passengers are being forced into trains run by Govia Thameslink, which we learned today is the worst train operating company in the country. It is clear from the NAO report that the Government awarded the franchise to Govia in the full knowledge that disruption would be very likely. Bedford passengers have felt that disruption.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the franchising process. I expect the Transport Secretary to recommend to East Midlands Trains and Thameslink that Bedford rail users are entitled to reduced fares for their reduced services. Bedford is a growing commuter town, and the use of services is increasing year on year. It markets itself as an affordable place to live with a 36-minute commute to the capital. Over the last five years, the use of Bedford station has risen by 20%. The Government should be improving and increasing services, not reducing them, and I hope that the Transport Secretary will now commit to doing so and ensure that the new franchise includes a solution for peak-time trains to be reintroduced in Bedford.