The following transcript is the debate in Parliament about Southeastern, their performance and state of services made by Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab):
Southeastern Train Services
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Gavin Barwell.)
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I am aware that the Minister is not in his place. I am told that he is in a car on his way here. I just hope that he is not on a Southeastern train.
Southeastern runs virtually all the rail services that serve my constituency, providing links to a range of central London stations as well as out to Kent. There are seven stations in my constituency: Hither Green, Blackheath, Lee, Grove Park, Catford Bridge, Catford and Beckenham Hill. There are four railway lines, three of which converge at Lewisham station.
Although Lewisham station, which sits on the border of my constituency and that of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), has the docklands light railway, my patch of London remains untouched by the tube map. Extending the Bakerloo line to Lewisham might be the long-term aspiration of many of us, but for the time being the trains operated by Southeastern are one of the key ways in which my constituents get about.
I am a conscious that a list of seven stations and four train lines may lead people to think that my constituency is well served by rail links. On the face of it, it is well served, but the daily reality for many of the 37,000 people in Lewisham who use the trains to get to and from work every day is grim: hot, horrendously overcrowded, late and slow trains, with a hefty price tag to boot. I am not prone to exaggeration, but I honestly believe that in this country we transport cattle better than some of my constituents.
Just last month, I was contacted by a constituent who told me that he had seen
“2 people collapse in the last 10 days due to overcrowded and overheated trains”.
This problem is very serious, and if the Minister had been present, I would have invited him to join me one morning to experience the problem for himself. Trains arriving at stations such as Hither Green and Blackheath at any time between 6.30 and 9.30 in the morning are already full. My constituents squeeze themselves on if they are lucky; if they cannot, they wait for the next train. I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being graphic, but people literally start their working day stuck in one another's armpits.
The journey to London Bridge should take between 10 and 12 minutes, but routinely takes between 20 and 30 minutes. There is often a constant stream of tweets from Southeastern, usefully providing the information that a train that was supposed to have eight cars will instead have six or four cars.
To add insult to injury, year on year we are paying more and more for the pleasure. An annual season ticket on Southeastern for zones 1 to 3, a point-to-point ticket that allows travel only from one station to another, now costs £976. It has gone up by £216 since 2010—a 28% increase in four years. Travelcards, which allow onward use of the tube and bus network, cost considerably more. The rising cost of those tickets has massively
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outstripped the negligible changes that people have seen in their pay packets and it makes a very significant dent in household budgets.
I have lived in the Lewisham and Hither Green area for the past 12 years. In that time, platforms have become noticeably busier, and that is borne out by statistics compiled by the Office of Rail Regulation. In 2002-03, Lewisham was the 55th busiest station in the country, and there were 3.6 million entries to or exits from the station that year. In 2012-13, the last year for which data are available, that number more than doubled to 8.2 million, with a further 1.7 million interchanges, making it now the 38th busiest station nationwide. That is significant growth.
That pattern is repeated at all other local stations and is consistent with the regional breakdown of growth in rail usage, which shows that growth in London is markedly greater than anywhere else in the country. To put that in a national context, Lewisham is a busier station than Newcastle, Nottingham or Southampton; it is comparable with a station like Sheffield. When we talk about increasing capacity on our rail network, we must not forget places such as Lewisham which are neither part of the affluent commuter belt nor on London’s tube map.
Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate on an issue that she has spoken out about in the past. Does she agree that although poor reliability may be Southeastern’s main failing, it is compounded by the poor communication with the commuters who are constituents of hers and mine?
Heidi Alexander: I do agree. In part, the problem is reliability, but one of the main issues that I want to focus on is the degree of overcrowding that we experience on our train services.
The case for tackling overcrowding on my part of the rail network is irrefutable. The problem is getting worse and is likely to deteriorate further if urgent action is not taken. Thousands of new homes are planned in places like Lewisham and Catford over the next few years, and it goes without saying that future residents will need to be able to get around. They will need to be able to get to work and to get back from other parts of London at weekends. Basically, they need a decent railway service to live their lives.
The population of Lewisham continues to grow. Despite asking various parliamentary questions on this subject, I am at a loss to understand when commuters in my constituency are going to see longer trains. All I know is that, according to an answer I received on 8 April, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who is the railways Minister, does not think there is demand for longer trains on all services. Beyond that, I am afraid that I cannot get much sense out of the Department or Southeastern.
Currently, no 12-car trains serve stations in my constituency during the rush hour, but there should be such trains. Platforms have been extended. I suspect that millions of pounds has been spent on doing that job, although again, despite my asking parliamentary questions, the Department cannot tell me how much has been spent and refers me to Network Rail. When I have asked Network Rail, it has not got back to me. We have spent money on lengthening platforms but we do
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not have longer trains to stop at them. It is almost as good as the one about the aircraft carriers with no aircraft to use them. Surely in difficult economic times we should not be wasting expenditure in this way—we should be reaping benefit from it.
In the written answer I received from the Minister at the beginning of April, I was told that a study would be done in 2016 and that some capacity enhancements may be forthcoming from 2019. That is at least five years away. It is simply not good enough. The Minister is currently in the process of negotiating a new “direct award” contract with Southeastern. Following the mess that the Government have made of letting franchises elsewhere in the country, they have put on hold the letting of the new Southeastern franchise, deciding instead to award a series of shorter, directly awarded contracts. Is there no way in which they could negotiate longer trains on some services calling at stations in my constituency sooner than 2019? Could some trains not start closer into London?
I would be really grateful if the Minister could explain the issue. Is it the availability of rolling stock? Is it an unwillingness on the part of Government to fund longer trains? Is it that when he looks at overcrowding statistics for services into London he thinks that there is not a problem on services run by Southeastern? If it is the latter, I would urge him to speak carefully to his civil servants about how the standard definitions of overcrowding —passengers in excess of capacity, otherwise known as PIXCs—are calculated....
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