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Our great city is being let down by its trains

Home / News / Lewisham news / Our great city is being let down by its trains

28 February 2014
Key issues in Blackheath This month the consumer watchdog Which? published a survey that has had train users in South London nodding in passionate agreement. It revealed that 11 out of 19 train operators achieved satisfaction scores of less than 50%. Southern scored a satisfaction score of 46% and at the very bottom of the pile was Southeastern Trains with 40%.

Whilst many Londoners depend upon buses, tubes and cars to get around, the overland rail network is a vital, if unpleasant, part of many people’s daily lives. In Lewisham, nearly a third of all people travelling to work use the train – that’s 38,000 people a day cramming themselves into horrendously overcrowded trains whilst paying hefty sums for the privilege. A zone 1-3 ticket from Hither Green to London Bridge cost £976 – it’s gone up by 28% (£276) since 2010. Quite a sum for a journey that should take a shade over 10 minutes. And quite an increase, given broadly stagnant wages. 

Some travellers might reconcile themselves to these price hikes if the service was improving but my postbag tells me differently. “The service is mediocre at best, appalling at worst” says one Grove Park commuter. Another says “my train to work has been cancelled twice, and this is not an unusual occurrence. My annual season ticket costs me £1,368 and rises significantly every year, even though the service does not get any better...It is quite embarrassing to be regularly late for work. Luckily my current employer is understanding and flexible, but I would not be confident of always having such an understanding employer.”

So, we know there are problems, but what are the solutions? Overcrowding needs to be tackled  with the wider introduction of 12-carriage trains. Significant work has been undertaken to lengthen platforms, so why aren’t all rush hour trains 12-car? The Government is happy to spend billions on improving rail links to Birmingham and Manchester but there are pressing capacity problems in the South East too.

Clearer communication and better contingency planning should be in place for periods of bad weather. I don’t underestimate the huge challenges involved but it can’t be right that a company’s website is not updated in real-time and that the best source of travel information is following the travails of other commuters on twitter.

London is a wonderful city to live and work in, but it is being let down by its failing rail network. I have no confidence in the government to intervene, learn lessons or correct the system – just look at the mess they made of letting train franchises elsewhere. And the result? Existing train operators limping on with passengers feeling voiceless and out of pocket. Put simply, if you expect people to pay exorbitant sums for their travel, give them an excellent service.

This article was originally written for the South London Press

If you are interested in reading more about my views on rail travel you can read my recent contribution to the Westminster Hall debate on Rail Services in South East England

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