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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:02 am on 2nd March 2016.

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Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 10:02 am, 2nd March 2016

I think that Southeastern has lost the chance it had to restore faith and confidence in its service. The franchise should be removed. I would like to hear the Minister’s view on whether that should happen now or in 2018, when the contract lapses. However, Southeastern has lost the opportunity to recover that confidence.

The complaints and the frustration have given rise to a number of community groups in my constituency. I think of the Charlton Rail Users’ Group and the Greenwich Line Users’ Group, which exist solely to represent constituents’ concerns about the inadequate performance of Southeastern and to lobby for better services. Those groups are concerned with the three elements I mentioned.

The first element is overcrowded carriages. In late 2014, as a local councillor, I met the then managing director of Southeastern trains with my predecessor, the right hon. Nick Raynsford. We were promised that there would be 12-car trains by January 2015 on the Greenwich line. They did not materialise. I believe that that was because they were put on the Lewisham line, which if anything is more pressured in terms of capacity constraints. It is essential that we get those 12-car carriages, because on many occasions at the moment we do not even have 10-car carriages; as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham said, they are often carriages with eight cars or even less.

Southeastern, to give it its due, has squeezed out as much as it perhaps can in terms of enhancements via changes to the timetable. It now comes down to a question of rolling stock. There has been a delay in the Government’s announcement on rolling stock. I will be interested to hear whether the Minister can shed any light on what may be coming forward, in particular for the Greenwich line.

It is indicative of how Southeastern has planned the improvements to its services that even if we get those 12-car trains, some of the stations on the Greenwich line in my constituency, such as Woolwich Dockyard, will not be able to have those trains stopping at the station because the station has not been fitted in a way that allows 12-car trains to stop, or if the trains are able to stop, it will be with selective door operating to allow people to get on and off at those stations. I would like some assurance that if 12-car trains do come online, the people who will be put out by that problem will get fair compensation if they have to travel onwards to another station, such as Woolwich Arsenal.

I turn to service reliability, which, as Members have said, is extremely poor on these lines. By the magic of social media, I asked my constituents if they had any thoughts or comments in advance of this debate. I asked them to keep it clean, which reduced the number of responses. You could not make up some of the responses I got back. One gentleman told me that the 6.01 pm train yesterday on the Greenwich line was delayed for 30 minutes because of problems with the announcement system; passengers learn that from the driver via the announcement system. That is quite a common example of the bizarre things that happen. I was once on a train that had to stop and wait outside London Bridge because the sun was in the driver’s eyes. That sort of service just irritates people, frankly, when they are paying a lot of money for their train journeys.

I will finish on poor communication. I made the case long in advance of the London Bridge rebuild that communication about the disruption that would take place because of the Thameslink programme was inadequate. My constituents still regularly think that the Charing Cross line is going to be restored on the Greenwich line; it is not. I think there are good reasons why it should not be, in terms of increased frequency of trains and reliability, but some of my constituents do not know that. Communication in general is poor and needs to improve.

Turning to the future, I fully support the removal of the Southeastern franchise. There is a good case for Transport for London taking over these services in partnership with the Mayor. The way that that potential deal was announced a few weeks back was rather shabby and got mixed up with the election campaign, but there is general cross-party consensus on that. Some of us have been campaigning on it for a long time. We need to scrutinise that deal. In particular, we need assurances that in the years left to the Southeastern franchise up to 2018 it will not be allowed to let performance slip even further. It has an incentive, as part of the service groups, to perhaps bid for elements of Transport for London’s services once it is taken over in 2018. However, we need to know how Southeastern can be pressed in the years ahead, if it is going to lose its contract, to not let performance slip even further. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that.