The Southern rail dispute continues despite numerous attempts to resolve it by local MPs, ACAS and even the Government. Many constituents ask me why the dispute is ongoing as the disruption is hitting Sussex harder than most other parts of the country given we rely so heavily on the Southern rail network for travel.
There are three main aspects to the ongoing disruption. The first aspect and most urgent issue is the rail strikes. Despite the conductors new contract having being signed by conductors, staff continue to strike and the train drivers have recently joined in, cancelling overtime and running a series of all out strike days. These have seen the network close completely across many parts of Sussex with the argument by the unions being these strikes are over the safety of driver only operated trains (DOO). There is much discussion around the safety concern given that a third of the rail network across the country already use DOO trains and even on our local Brighton Mainline DOO is already used by Thameslink and Gatwick Express trains on the same Southern stations often by the exact same drivers. Recently the independent rail regulator has concluded that DOO is safe to use and many of us are left wondering why then the unions are striking on this issue. I am urging the unions to call off their strikes and get back around the table to iron out exactly what the problem is so we can get our trains back running again.
We all know though that the strikes are all but one of the issues affecting our rail services. The second is the delays caused by Network Rail. Over 50 % of the delays we experience on our network are down to network infrastructure failure due to decades of lack of investment. Signal failures, track faults and engineering works are the most common cause of delay and the Government is putting £20 million in to the network to fast track some of the works needed to rectify these continuing problems as well as changing the management of Government owned Network Rail.
The final issue is the shocking performance of the Southern Rail operator which has consistently been the poorest performing service in the country. I have called for their franchise to be stripped, however with the other two aspects in place no other rail operator, including the Government, want to take over this service.
I am sure many of you will have seen me raise this issue with the Prime Minister, during Prime Ministers Questions, and I alongside many other Sussex MPs are urgently trying to get this situation resolved. As a fellow commuter I don’t think the Government has intervened quickly enough on this issue but it is not too late for the unions and Southern to resolve this and give Sussex commuters the best possible Christmas present. A rail service that works for everyone.