Our communities need rail services that run on time and arrive when they expect. The performance of Southern, still far from perfect, has been consistently better this year. Earlier this week the House of Commons debated how further improvements will be delivered.
Chris Gibb’s 35 years’ experience in the rail sector is recognised by industry and the unions. It was absolutely right that the Government asked him to produce a detailed independent analysis of the network and a list of recommendations to achieve much needed improvements.
Chris Gibb reported last month and I am pleased that work on 34 of his 38 recommendations is already underway.
This year there has been a 23 percentage point increase in performance on Southern. Such a significant boost in performance is welcome but there is more to do.
Firstly, the ongoing industrial dispute needs to end. The Gibb report found industrial action to be the major factor causing disruption for passengers. Just when we began to think that services had stabilised, ASLEF, the drivers’ union, has restarted its overtime ban and the RMT has called yet more strike action this month. It is frustrating that drivers are being balloted for strike action on a 24% pay rise that the union accepted on the Thameslink and Great Northern routes. The railway line is getting better, services are improving, the changes being made to modernise the railway are safe and there is a significant pay rise on the table. I continue to urge the unions to put the needs of passengers first, call off their needless actions and return to talks.
Also, there is now joined-up management between the train operator and Network Rail working from a single base. £300 million is being invested in the network. We are working to reduce breakdowns, and signal and points failures. These steps have already had a significant positive impact on services and I expect further improvements to follow.
In our own area I am clear that High Speed Rail needs to be extended to Rye, Hastings and Bexhill. I am continuing to do all I can to make this happen. However, we also need solutions now to capacity problems. I am pushing for investment in new, longer trains for the Marshlink. I also welcome the Gibb report’s recommendation that the Ashford-Hastings service becomes part of the South Eastern network. This proposal will allow longer electric trains to run between Brighton and Hastings – addressing severe capacity issues ahead of High Speed – and the delivery of service enhancements, such as more frequent services, to the Marshlink.
Securing enhancements in our rail network continues to be a top priority for me. I will be holding a Rail Summit later this year so you can hear updates on the work being done. You deserve a fast, safe, comfortable and reliable service. I am determined to deliver this.