Rail companies should face financial sanctions for the ‘dismal’ service they are giving commuters

Tunbridge Wells taxi drivers consider strike over racial and religious abuse

This the first in a series of monthly columns written exclusively for this newspaper by Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark, in which he offers his own unedited thoughts and opinions.

When I was first approached to contribute a monthly column to the Times of Tunbridge Wells, I thought that it would be good to start the New Year off on a positive note. Unfortunately this optimism has been seriously marred by the endless delays and cancellations we have been suffering on our trains over the last few weeks – the word that I think best sums this up is dismal.

It’s bad enough getting back into work after the festive break when mornings are cold and dark, but to make matters even worse our rail service has been chaotic – with daily delays and cancellations.

Although I persuaded Southeastern to introduce delay-repay compensation for delays to individual journeys five years ago (previously it was on the average performance across the network), it was on the expectation that this would be the exception rather than the rule. Thirty minute delays should be a rarity, not an everyday occurrence.

I believe that the threshold for compensation payments should be reduced to 15 minutes. But the real point is that we should get back to a reliable and punctual service.

For years, we suffered from double-digit fare increases as commuters across the whole of Kent were required to contribute extra for the costs of constructing the High Speed 1 rail link. I have always argued that the cost of this should have been absorbed nationally as it doesn’t actually benefit our local area directly.

As a result of this, an annual season ticket from Eridge, just over the border in East Sussex, is £1,500 cheaper than one from Tunbridge Wells.

We are paying premium fares and should expect a premium, not an inferior, service.

Given that we have had an especially mild winter, with no major snowfalls or icy mornings, it is difficult to understand why things have been as bad as they are.

I have asked both Southeastern and Network Rail to come to Tunbridge Wells to explain to us why there have been so many problems, and how they are going to sort them out. If you are interested in coming along to this meeting, just email me at: greg.clark.mp@parliament.uk and I will send you further details.

At £4,400 a year for a season ticket we have the right to expect a reliable and frequent train service. Southeastern and Network Rail have failed to provide this most basic requirement.

They must restore a good service without further delay and they should be sanctioned financially for their failures and, if they can’t provide an acceptable service, they should lose their franchise.

Greg Clark was elected to parliament as a representative of Tunbridge Wells in 2005. The Conservative MP has since held a number of positions in government and currently sits as a member of the cabinet in his capacity as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: www.gregclark.org

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