[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair] — Southeastern Train Services

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 2nd March 2016.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) 9:30 am, 2nd March 2016

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the reliability of Southeastern train services.

It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and I welcome the Minister. We had hoped to meet her to discuss the Southeastern situation before this debate, but we are here now and perhaps it is better to discuss it in public, so that people know what is said.

The situation that we have found ourselves in since Christmas is not entirely the fault of Southeastern—Network Rail is responsible for more than 70% of the failures—but quite frankly my constituents do not care who is to blame. They want their trains to turn up on time, as stated on the timetable, and to take them where they need to go. Since Christmas, the situation has deteriorated significantly. Trains are constantly being delayed, cancelled or diverted, and the landslide took services out for about a week.

My constituents and those of other hon. Members are bombarding us with complaints and angry messages. I will give a few examples. One constituent complained about the

“appalling level of service provided by Southeastern on the evening of Friday 19...Trains reduced from 8 and 12 carriages to only four”.

Another wrote:

“Terrible service on the Sidcup line…Constant complaints to Southeastern but no improvements despite repeated promises”.

One constituent said that when the first Bexleyheath service of the day was cancelled, he found that he could not use his season ticket to get the bus and tube from North Greenwich, because it was not recognised by Southeastern as a “reasonable alternative route”. Someone else complained about the

“appalling and deteriorating levels of service on the Sidcup line”,

which also serves part of my constituency. She regularly uses the delay-repay compensation scheme, which she found to be “clunky and time consuming”. I will come to that later, but I have received constant complaints about difficulties in claiming compensation for lateness or cancellations. Another person complained about constant delays after Christmas in a commute to London Bridge:

“Been commuting for 40 years and never complained before. Worst it has ever been.”

It just goes on and on, and I am sure other hon. Members could give similar examples.

To give my own experience during this chaos, on one occasion I managed to get a train in the direction of Eltham as far as Lewisham, from where there was supposed to be a replacement bus service. It was impossible to find the bus stop for the replacement service; the signage was appalling. I approached a group of staff, who were clearly beleaguered, and asked them when the bus service was likely to arrive, but they had no idea. I asked, “Where does it stop?” and they waved in the general direction of the outside of the station. I felt sorry for them, but they were not providing a good service, although that has to be because they had not been provided with the information by the rail company.

On another occasion—it was the same scenario—I went outside the station to get a bus and found a blind man wandering around the building works. I do not know if anyone else has had the pleasure of trying to find a way through the roadworks outside Lewisham station, but it is difficult for someone who is not blind. Yet I found that man just wandering around. I grabbed him by the arm and asked, “Where do you want to go?” He wanted to go in the same direction as me, but how is it that he was not given assistance? Why were the staff not on the lookout for people who clearly needed such assistance? He wanted to get to Bexleyheath; he could have been put on the replacement bus service, but was given no help whatever.

On another occasion, going home late in the evening on a Bexleyheath train, we got to Lewisham only to be told that the train was no longer for Bexleyheath, but for Sidcup. People on the train just got up and blocked the doors. They were so fed up with what was going on that they stood with their feet in the doors and said, “We’re not putting up with this anymore.” When they saw me—I had got off the train and was wandering across to see if a train was ever going to be going in the general direction of Eltham—they said, “We’re protesting: we’re fed up with this.” I do not know what the end of that scenario was, but it demonstrates the scale of the frustration that people are feeling about the standard of the service.