09 JAN 2017

No way to run a railway

Kent Messenger Column - 06-01-17

January fare increases edge annual London season tickets toward £5,000 for commuters from Maidstone & The Weald, rubbing salt into pre-Christmas wounds from poor service, cancellations and strikes.

Cost of the fare aside, the persistent failure to deliver commuters to their destinations on time is threatening the jobs and livelihoods of my constituents and that is unacceptable. As a fellow rail traveller I share that pain.

The feeling from the ground is we can stomach the cost if there was a scheduled service that departed and arrived on time and where a seat is usually available. The main reasons for service failure are threefold; track and signalling problems, shortage of decent rolling stock and 20th century working practices.

The common link is modernisation so where are we now?

Track and signals are part of the nation's largest infrastructure investment for a century. The £35bn programme controlled by publicly owned Network Rail will bear fruit for the South East with the completion of London Bridge in Jan 2018 – the end is in sight.

Private franchise operators are responsible for providing decent reliable rolling stock but effective long-term investment is dependent upon a modernised workforce too. And that takes us to the strikes, allegedly about the lack of safety of driver only trains. I've heard nothing in support of this proposition from stakeholders beyond the Unions; the rumble is that with no guards required on trains, they can't walk out and cause future disruption.

Government intervention has thus far been restrained, but the unbearable cost to commuters no longer allows denial of what is now transparently about Union power rather than passenger safety.

With no solution in sight the 'do nothing' option cannot survive. If you're old enough to remember British Rail you'll know full nationalisation is not the answer. It is time for the Secretary of State to roll up his sleeves and end this dispute.

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