Yesterday, after months of delays, overcrowding and utter chaos at London Bridge, I finally had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, and his Junior Minister, Claire Perry, to request their intervention in the matter.
During the meeting, led by Harriet Harman, I and a number of south London MPs outlined the sheer disorder seen in recent months at London Bridge, and the distress and frustration felt by all those involved.
We then identified two key asks for the Transport Secretary. The first, that he personally intervenes to end the ongoing commotion; the second, that he ensures that those who have been caught up in it are fairly compensated.
The problems at London Bridge has caused thousands of passengers across south London, untold stress and financial loss and have added intense pressure to their daily lives. With this in mind, it is absolutely essential that the Minister takes a personal interest and intervenes directly in this situation, meeting with Train Operating Companies and Network Rail on a weekly, if not daily, basis, to bring the disarray to a swift end.
After months of spiralling decline at London Bridge – sometimes descending into meltdown – and the London Assembly vigorously pressing senior officers of Network Rail and Southern, I made it very clear to the Transport Secretary that I have no confidence in the capacity of either organisation to deliver a decent, reliable service. The government, led by the Transport Secretary, must now step in and get a grip.
If we are to see this rebuild project through until 2018, it is essential we see a single unified management structure at the station and one controlling mind to be in charge of service operations and infrastructure. Should the Transport Secretary take note of our plea, we could see a fast resolution to some of the worst troubles we have experienced at London Bridge. That said, the Government must do more if it is to placate those caught up in the commotion of recent months.
A key message we sent was that we need to properly compensate passengers whose journeys have been so badly disrupted. Many commuters pay thousands of pounds each year for season tickets, and yet they are simply not receiving value for money. They have faced consistent last minute cancellations and delays, increasingly reduced timetables and trains bypassing their stations. According to ‘Right Time Arrival’ data just 50% of Southern Rail services arrived on time in the last year, and only 42% last week.
Transport for London operates a compensation system that kicks in faster than National Rail and can be done automatically, without cumbersome form filling. One option we pushed with the Transport Secretary was to compensate passengers for at least 50% of their season tickets, and to make that process as simple as possible, as an apology for the pitifully poor service they have received.
I count myself among those feeling constantly frustrated with the situation at London Bridge and I hope that, after yesterday morning, the Transport Secretary now understands the severity of the situation and is willing to act accordingly.
It is difficult to overstate the extent of the rail industries’ myriad of failings at London Bridge. Nothing works – the management, the timetabling, the staffing arrangements, the information management and communication with passengers. Even the status of some of the new infrastructure seems questionable. To misquote Churchill, never have so many people been let down so badly by so few.
If more journalists or Government Ministers lived in South East London this debacle may have made national news. However, my biggest fear is that, with dangerous overcrowding occurring all too often, it won’t be long until a tragic incident occurs that does make the National news.
If that happened I would be one of the many people queuing to give evidence at a Public Enquiry against an incompetent Network Rail management and Board, an incompetent Southern Rail management and a disengaged Secretary of State. I sincerely hope the Transport Secretary acts now so we can avoid such a tragedy.
Val Shawcross AM is the London Assembly Labour Transport Spokesperson. Follow her on twitter: @valshawcross