MPs grilled the new rail minister today over Southern’s woeful performance after the service went into meltdown yet again yesterday, culminating in the doors to Brighton Station being locked to stop dangerous overcrowding inside.
Peter Kyle and Caroline Lucas grabbed Paul Maynard outside this afternoon’s Transport Select Committee, which discussed the ongoing issues on the Southern network.
— Peter Kyle MP (@peterkyle) July 20, 2016
During the committee meeting, Mr Maynard described the situation as a “perfect storm” and said he was in daily contact with Southern’s parent company GTR to get them to sort out the mess.
He said: “It is entirely the case that the level of service is unacceptable. Since I was appointed I have looked at this in very great detail.
“We’re having a perfect storm of circumstances – the upgrade of London Bridge, the current unofficial industrial action and trying to cope with all of those is a great challenge. I’ve exhorted GTR to improve their performance and put the passenger first.
“We had the issues at Brighton yesterday caused by a signal failure. It’s clear that the whole stretch of line has serious resilience issues.”
He said that he was insistent the revised timetable was a temporary measure and that as resilience on the network improved with driver training and more staff, services could be brought back on the weekly basis.
He added: “I have a good working relationship with the RMT. It’s in both the RMT and GTR’s best interests to put the passengers first. I am moderately perplexed as to what the RMT’s concerns actually are.”
This morning, Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas called for an emergency summit. She said: “This is an emergency situation which requires an urgent response. I’m seriously worried that someone could be injured or worse. The Government must immediately call an emergency summit between all key stakeholders including Network Rail, the train company and ministers”
“The horrendous situation at Brighton Station was a new low for this failing train service. I’ve heard reports of passengers fainting and being stuck on sweltering trains on an extremely hot day.
“The failures yesterday were caused by a combination of problems with Network Rail, some of which were unavoidable, plus the usual delays on the service and what looked liked serious failures at Brighton station. Specifically I’ve heard reports of communication failures outside the station – and serious overcrowding on the platforms.
“Passengers have suffered for many months now and, with a new Government in place, it’s time for real action to address the multiple problems with this service.
“As a start the minister should signal his intent by taking the service into public hands so Government can truly get a grip on it.”#
Yesterday’s problems at Brighton were exacerbated by a sinkhole at Forest Hill knocking out services to London Bridge, signalling problems at Gatwick and huge crowds of daytrippers returning from a day on the beach.
A GTR spokesman said: “We sympathise strongly with our passengers who were caught up in the disruption caused by the temporary closure of Brighton station last night, and are sorry for the delays many experienced in getting home.
“The problem was caused by a signal failure at a critical point in the Gatwick area on the Brighton Mainline. Network Rail worked hard to rectify the problem, but services into Brighton were severely disrupted as there was reduced capacity through Gatwick for a period of two and a half hours between 6 and 8.30pm.
“This came on top of a series of infrastructure failures across the Southern network yesterday, including the loss of all four lines between East Croydon and London Bridge for the whole day due to repairs to a collapsed sewer at Forest Hill which also affected Brighton services.
“The failure at Gatwick meant that the station concourse and platforms became overcrowded – so much so that on the advice of the British Transport Police, the station management team temporarily closed the station.
“Crowd control measures were put in place once the station was re-opened to ensure the safety of passengers.
“We will of course review how the situation at Brighton last night was handled.
“Train services across the whole of the south of England were affected by heat related infrastructure problems yesterday, with many London terminals also experiencing crowding and delayed trains.”