SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: Travels – coming and going

Peter Bottomley questioned rail minister Paul Maynard about the Southern dispute

Peter Bottomley questioned rail minister Paul Maynard about the Southern dispute

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Broken rails have added to the hell of travelling by railway. Instead of failures every month or so, there have been two this week (I write on Tuesday with fingers crossed for the following days).

In addition to planned meetings, I have taken part in putting questions to rail minister Paul Maynard in the Commons chamber on the Southern Rail dispute; with Tim Loughton MP and other MPs, I have questioned the Transport Secretary; and we attended the briefing by the rail rescuer Chris Gibb who has made progress in the three months project to make the passenger railway work better.

My thanks go to constituents who have told me of their frustrating experiences, including the effect on their jobs, their families and their happiness (or lack of it). They have had a miserable time. It is a long time since the RMT union has chosen to put their case to Parliament or to passengers.

I wish I could with confidence offer assurance that all problems will evaporate. The problems are multiple: staff shortages, London Bridge restrictions that have impacted services down to the coast, equipment unreliability – these exist even before rail employees who are members of the RMT and ASLEF rail unions started and have continued absences and strike actions that have put lives at risk on overcrowded platforms and in their forced alternative travel arrangements.

The resolution will be by agreement and, if that is not quick, by the coming into effect of the new employment terms. My rough calculation is that there are perhaps 2,500 passengers for each train guard or on-board supervisor. Ministers and Chris Gibb has said that the operating company is not planning to reduce staff numbers, not planning to cut pay. In effect, unlike too many passengers, their employees, the union members, have pay and employment guaranteed.

I believe in resolving matters by talking and I welcome the Transport Secretary saying that he can talk with union leaders if they suspend strikes and hopefully train drivers and other staff restore themselves to health rather than falling out with late onset ill-health, such as the day when 30,000 football fans were stranded outside Brighton.

Claims were originally made about safety. The greatest risks are now of crushing on platforms. Seriously, I wish no one to share my experience twice of being in places where others were crushed to death.

I will continue, without much publicity, to talk with all sides. I will continue to encourage and to make possible progress to a modern reliable rail service, using technology and investment to make it safer, more reliable with working arrangements that respect the lives of rail staff without continuing the over reliance on rest day working and the risks of sudden ‘working to rule’.

In the past few days I have been discussing the need for greater investment on our roads in the region and for helping a major local medical group obtain premises where care givers and care receivers can come together without overcrowding and queuing.

Additionally, the Worthing Society has been encouraging developers to consult before bringing forward proposals for consultations. As a member of the society, I encourage others to talk first. My recommendation is to think of a tall building near Worthing station rather than at the Aquarena site.

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