It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Heidi Alexander on securing this important debate and thank the Minister for organising Thursday’s meeting with Southeastern and Network Rail, which gave us an opportunity to get some answers to questions following the timetable changes. I met Network Rail on
My constituents who want to go to London Bridge, especially from Mottingham and New Eltham, are finding the Cannon Street trains to be dangerously overcrowded. It is clear that there was no plan for the extra demand for those trains. They are the only trains stopping at London Bridge, but there was no plan to make them longer to increase capacity. Will the Minister tell us what will be done in the short term to address the serious overcrowding on those trains? Overcrowding is also being experienced by those who are forced to go to Waterloo East and then try to travel back to London Bridge on the London underground. Southeastern seems to have taken the view that if it sits this out, passengers will be forced to find other forms of transport. My constituents have told me that they are getting off at Lewisham, which is becoming very overcrowded. British Transport police have to be at the station because the situation is becoming dangerous. Passengers are starting to use the docklands light railway as an alternative route. It is shocking that the approach seems to be to force passengers to go elsewhere. That is just not good enough. Southeastern has not planned for the capacity that is necessary to enable passengers to get to London Bridge and continue their journeys.
What will be done in the short term? Like my hon. Friend, I want to find out what will happen about the Thameslink trains, because we know that we need them. There should have been 12-car trains on our network from January last year, but Southeastern has failed to address the problem.
I shall make what will be my final point, because I know my hon. Friend Jim Dowd wants to speak. In response to this morning’s survey results, Mr Statham, the managing director of Southeastern, said:
“Over the next three years we’re investing more than £70m in the things that our passengers tell us are important to them. This investment will enable us to provide better information to our passengers”— that is fine—
“improve the interior and cleanliness of our trains”— that is excellent—
“refresh the look of our stations and provide extra staff to deliver more face-to-face customer service.”
That is all wonderful, but if passengers cannot get on the damn trains, what is the point? There is nothing in that statement about increased capacity, extra carriages or 12-car trains, which we have been promised by two successive Governments. The issue is capacity. Southeastern is not addressing the problem, so we want to hear from the Minister what she will do about it.