It is a delight to serve under your sagacious direction, Mr Evans. I start with an apology for having to leave before the end of the debate because I have an appointment later this morning at King’s College hospital and it has already been postponed twice. You will understand, Mr Evans, that when one gets to my stage in life, one does not take liberties with one’s cardiologist. I look forward to reading what the Minister says and I congratulate her on taking the problems not just of Southeastern, but of Southern and the whole debacle of the London Bridge redevelopment seriously for quite a time.
In my constituency there are seven stations served by Southeastern, and a further six on the borders are used by large numbers of my constituents—all the stations are in zone 4—so it is obvious how critical the Southeastern service is to the life of my community, not just economically but socially. The cost of an annual rail ticket between Penge East and Victoria starts at £1,280, and a zones 1 to 4 annual travelcard costs £1,860. Southeastern even has the effrontery to offer a first-class season ticket between Penge East and Victoria for a staggering £1,920. That is spoiled only by the fact that none of the trains that run between Penge East and Victoria actually has first-class carriages. The ever-increasing cost of rail tickets is a different debate entirely, but it is surely not unreasonable for the constituents of all hon. Members present—I join in the general wailing and gnashing of teeth about the service provided by Southeastern—to expect a reasonable service, particularly in light of the amount of money that they pay.
I wish that Southeastern would put as much effort into running the trains on time as it does into providing excuses for why it does not. I complained on behalf of a constituent about the service from Charing Cross to Hayes and received the following reply:
“The causes have been primarily infrastructure-related, i.e. track, signal, and power supply failure, fatalities”—
I personally would not call that infrastructure—
“the collapse of the Dover Sea Wall”— other hon. Members have mentioned that—
“landslips on the Bexleyheath and Hastings lines, fatalities at Hildenborough and Dover”—
I think those were probably passengers who gave up waiting for a train—
“a broken rail in the Crayford area and only this morning, a track…failure at Gravesend. While these may seem unrelated to the Hayes line the complexity of our network means that disruption on one line inevitably has a knock on impact on another.”
Well, I would have great difficulty explaining to people at Kent House and in Sydenham and Penge why the collapse of the Dover sea wall means that they cannot get into London. That is just ludicrous.
Recently, Southeastern even blamed service delays on “strong sunshine”—my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook has already mentioned this—making it difficult for drivers to read signals. Of course, the rail industry once came up with the wrong kind of snow; now, the wrong kind of sunshine affects people’s service. It is, as many other hon. Members have said, a scandalous position.
I could quote at length what other constituents have said, because I get complaints about the service three or four times a week, if not every day. One constituent said:
“I genuinely cannot remember the last time the trains were running even remotely close to the timetable. This is hugely frustrating when juggling commuting and childcare commitments. It is not fair on my employer that my time of arrival at work is largely in the lap of the gods and not fair on my son when I have to work late to make up for my late arrival.
As you are aware, it is an expensive business commuting into London and it is absolutely unacceptable to receive such a shoddy service at such a high price.”
And so say nearly all the constituents who have contacted me on this matter. Another said:
“I board at Kent House on the 8.59 or 9.14 trains most working days and the trains have been late by 5-15 minutes every day this year, and some are cancelled on a semi-regular basis. As the services are costing more and more every year, the level of service…is not adequate.”
Indeed, it is going backwards. That is the experience of my constituents and those of most other hon. Members who have spoken. It is completely intolerable. As others have said, if Southeastern cannot run the trains, it should hand the franchise over to someone who can.