Rail minister Claire Perry has backed Southern Railway to improve after two fellow Conservative MPs demanded that ministers take action over its recent poor performance.
Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South, said Southern’s recent performance was ‘absysmal’ and called for the franchise of which it is part to be removed from the current holder Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and broken up.
London's Victoria Station
Fellow Tory Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, quoted figures showing that 2,274 trains on the Southern franchise were cancelled between 25 April and 23 May.
She said: ‘Despite repeated attempts by MPs across Sussex to ask Southern Rail to improve their services, this month sees the worst performance to date with figures showing Southern and Thameslink being the worst performing operators.
‘My constituents can take no more and are fed up with cancellations, late running trains, strikes and early terminations. I have asked to meet with the rail minister as a matter of urgency.’
Ms Perry acknowledged that passengers are frustrated ‘and aren’t always getting the service they deserve’.
She said: ‘I’ve been clear that Southern must continue to work hard to ensure they provide a reliable service free from disruption.’
However, she added: ‘The operator is making improvements that will benefit passengers, including training more new drivers and introducing new state-of-the-art Gatwick Express trains on Southern routes, but this will take time.
‘We’re are closely monitoring progress and remain fully committed to working with Southern to get this railway back to high performance.’
GTR said a high level of sickness absence amongst conductors was currently causing significant disruption to its services on the Southern franchise, with 1,066 days of conductor absence in the last 32 working days.
The company said the rate of absence has more than doubled since the first strike by conductors on 26 April over the issue of driver only operation.
In addition to the current industrial action by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, the company faces further strikes after members of the drivers’ union ASLEF voted overwhelmingly for industrial action on the same issue.
On Tuesday GTR applied for a court injunction to prevent ASLEF members taking action, claiming that its vote was invalid. A decision is expected next week.
As Tory MPs criticised both the size and execution of the GTR franchise, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced that the Department for Transport (DfT) has published its refreshed programme for rail franchising.
In a statement to Parliament, he said: ‘[The DfT] is making it clear to the whole rail industry that competition for rail franchises is the best way to secure services for passengers at good value for the taxpayer.’
In 2014, when ministers announced the award of tthe seven year franchise to GTR, they said it would ‘transform travel across London and the South East’.