Kent Messenger column - 05-02-16 – Southeastern railways
Southeastern have been getting a bit of stick from Kent MPs again recently, even when there's no snow to blame. But how much rail commuter woe is actually their fault?
Dirty trains, smelly toilets, lack of information, these all are within the control of the operator and for the prices we pay we should expect better. But it is lack of seating capacity, delay and cancellation that are the real bugbears for most of us and this is often beyond the control of the franchisee.
According to the trains Minister in a commons debate last week, 60% of service failures relate to Network Rail's infrastructure and just 25% are directly apportioned to Southeastern. The problem is that we commuters often don't get to find out the reasons behind service failings at the time of the issue arising, and then automatically blame the operator. That's a communications issue which Southeastern must address if they are ever to improve public perception.
Disruption can arise for so many reasons, e.g. lack of investment in track dating back to the 1930's, the knock-on effects of the mammoth London Bridge station re-development, the awful fact that on average there is a suicide every 30 hours on our national rail network.
Rail passenger numbers have also doubled since privatisation and Southeastern have seen a 30% increase since taking over their franchise. So, despite having added 95,000 more seats in that time, most of the new capacity has been filled.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel (excuse the pun). Negotiations for additional rolling stock are presently being concluded, phase one of London Bridge will open in August this year with the remainder completing in 2018, and on communication, I understand that Southeastern has made a considerable investment in better real-time information systems.
Together with my Kent MP colleagues we will continue holding Southeastern and Network Rail to account and press for noticeable service improvements in the coming months.
Helen's weekly column is published every Friday in the Kent Messenger. The content shown here may differ slightly from the press version.