Southeastern train bosses have been criticised after insisting any work to install air conditioning on their fleet must wait until the franchise is re-tendered.
Passengers regularly endure packed and uncomfortably hot trains during the summer months, with those travelling on metro routes suffering worse thanks to the firm’s continued use of older 465 and 466 trains which were commissioned by British Rail in the early 1990s.
Bromley & Chislehurst MP Bob Neill, himself a regular user of the service, wrote to Southeastern boss David Statham earlier this week urging action.
In his letter Mr Neill said “chronic overcrowding” made the “incredibly uncomfortable” travelling conditions even worse and warned that he’s “witnessed fellow passengers faint on more than one occasion.”
The MP added that advice for passengers to carry a bottle of water during the hot weather was an “utterly insufficient” response to the conditions customers are having to endure.
Rather than respond directly to Mr Neill, Statham passed the letter down the chain to his firm’s public affairs manager, Mike Gibson, who insisted the age of the trains meant it was impossible to retrofit any form of air conditioning.
While he expressed hope that extra trains being requested from the Department for Transport to ease overcrowding “will have air conditioning,” Statham insisted that extending this to the entire fleet “is something that will need to be addressed by the DfT in a future franchise”.
In a sharply worded response Neill branded Statham’s lack of courtesy in not responding personally “disappointing” and said the tone of Gibson’s response “misses the point entirely”.
The MP characterised Southeastern’s position as “this isn’t financially worth our while and soon may not be our problem” because of the looming re-tender.
He added: “It is precisely this sort of inflexible, negative approach to meeting passengers’ expectations that has led to my constituents and I losing all faith in Southeastern’s ability to properly manage the franchise, and will ultimately result in many of is actively opposing your bid to be re-awarded the contract next year.”
Mr Neill concluded his letter by saying the firm’s stance “is not only wholly inadequate, but I would suggest negligent and unsafe.”