Bexhill and Battle Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, Huw Merriman, was shown around the redevelopment work at London Bridge and spoke with managers from Network Rail and Southern Rail to discuss the recent difficulties which local commuters have been suffering.
Many commuters on the Hastings line are no longer able to alight at London Bridge. For those commuters who are using Southern services from the constituency, the services have been extremely poor since the beginning of January. Network Rail apologised for the poor services which commuters have been experiencing at London Bridge and assured Huw that lessons have been learned and are being utilised to ensure a better service is offered.
However, Huw sought answers for two poor episodes which have occurred over the last 7 days.
On 3 March, London Bridge experienced overcrowding which caused the station closure and some passengers to vault over, or crawl under, the gates. Network Rail and Southern apologised and explained that this was due to an attempted suicide on the line to Victoria, a suspected broken rail on the line to London Bridge and a broken down train on the East London line. These events caused a build-up of trains and, with 100,000 commuters using the service at peak times, the matter got out of hand and the station was closed. Both organisations asked Huw to pass on sincere apologies and explained that all lessons have been learned.
In these circumstances, and Huw having been caught up in the crowds himself, the situation did appear difficult to manage. Huw expressed frustration that the reported broken rail was not broken at all. Assurances have been sought as to the balance between train safety from suspected broken rails and overall passenger safety from overcrowding due to being unable to use the services at all.
On March 9th, an engineering train working on the London Bridge redevelopment managed to break down on the tracks at New Cross. This blocked Southern trains coming into London Bridge and halved the available platforms. Commuters were stuck on the trains for hours. Huw requested that Network Rail consider having another train on standby for this occurrence. It was explained to Huw that this engineering train was so large that this was not feasible. This matter is not satisfactory and Huw, having himself been caught up in the chaos, made his views known to the managers from Network Rail and Southern (who offered apologies and expressed frustration that this had occurred). Ironically, and somewhat illustrative of current bad luck, the engineering train was working on points renewals at Sydenham which was identified as one of the immediate actions being implemented to get better service levels in place for 2015.
In response to the issues since January, and in particular over the last week, Huw said "In the event that I am elected, I have provisionally arranged to meet with Southern and National Rail managers to keep the pressure on service improvements. As a commuter of 10 years on both Southern and South Eastern lines, I share, and experience, the frustration which commuters suffer on an all too regular basis."
London Bridge Redevelopment
Huw found better news in the progress being made to redevelop London Bridge into a state-of-the-art rail station which will rival Kings Cross St Pancras as a rail and leisure experience. Huw was shown underneath the platform level where demolition experts are knocking down the maze of Victorian viaducts and creating new additional platforms and an underground concourse and shopping complex the size of Wembley Stadium. Work is progressing quickly, with the new Thameslink trains entering into service in 2016. Once work is completed, Southern and South Eastern services will resume, more capacity will be created, Thameslink trains will run 24 services per hour from Bedfordshire to Sussex and the station will be an architectural and visiting experience which, it is hoped, will go some way to make up for the disruption which we commuters have had to endure.
Reflecting on his visit and briefing, Huw said '"f elected on May 7th 2015, I pledge to continue to keep on the toes of Southern, South Eastern and Network Rail to ensure that commuters get a better rail experience for the large amounts which are spent on rail tickets. As a commuter myself, I share the frustrations and concerns and will therefore be incentivised to press for a better service. Having seen the enormity of the engineering project at London Bridge, I can better see the challenges and progress being made on our behalf and I hope that we all get a better deal from now on."