Meeting with Andrew Jones MP – Rail Minister
Last week I met with Andrew Jones, the new Rail Minister, at the Department for Transport. I outlined to him the continuing problems that commuters in the constituency are still facing. He reassured me that the December timetable will aim to rectify the outstanding issues that emerged from the May Timetable changes.
We also discussed the Governments plans to expand the Oyster Card scheme. I made it clear to the Minister that many of the passengers in our constituency would greatly benefit from having an Oyster Card/Contactless option available to them. This will make (i) compensation faster, fairer and much easier, and (ii) easier travel and cheaper cost. We should hopefully be hearing from the Government soon on this matter
BIM AFOLAMI MP MEETS WITH PROFESSOR STEPHEN GLISTER, CHAIR OF THE OFFICE OF RAIL AND ROAD (ORR)
This morning I sat with Professor Stephen Glaister, Chair of the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the railway regulator. He is soon due to publish his final report into the reasons for the timetable disaster of this summer. I was reassured that the ORR was fully appraised of the particular difficulties that both Hitchin and Harpenden have faced, and urged them to be very clear and blunt about the failures to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.
UPDATE & THREE STEP PLAN
Since GTR’s new timetables came into effect on May 20th, we have seen nothing but chaos for rail users across Hitchin and Harpenden. I was incredibly disappointed and frustrated to see my warnings come true, after receiving assurances for weeks and months from GTR, Network Rail and the Department for Transport that this timetable would only bring positive news. That was absolutely not the case, and there should have been transparency about the risks involved from the offset.
For several months, I have been taking every action possible to secure a more appropriate timetable, including meeting the Transport Secretary and the Rail Minister, the Chairman, Chief Executive and Route Managing Director of Network Rail, as well as the Chief Executive and Route Managing Director of Govia Thameslink, among others. I have also spoken to radio and TV news about this issue, held a debate in Parliament, asked questions in the House of Commons, requested an investigation by the Transport Committee, submitting written questions to the Department for Transport, and publicly asked the Prime Minister for assurances that her Government is tackling this problem.
I have been told by GTR and Network Rail that we should be seeing improvements every day, and in mid to late July there will be a significant change to services. It has been recognised by those responsible that the timetable’s introduction was not appropriate, and they are making changes both in the short term, and to how they will introduce future changes.
I have also received explanations for why some of the issues we have seen happened in the first place. The core problem was sheer incompetence as there were not enough trained drivers on the relevant routes, and not enough time between the timetable being finalised and coming into effect to get the drivers up to scratch.
Ahead of the timetable being introduced, I requested that additional peak time services be added, and the loss of stops such as Kentish Town and Finsbury Park being reconsidered, as well as asking for guarantees that risks of serious of overcrowding at St Pancras would be monitored and addressed, which I have received.
I am holding two public meetings for rail users in Hitchin and Harpenden, with senior represenatives from GTR and Network Rail.
Hitchin – Wednesday 4th July starting 19.30, at The Sun Hotel
Harpenden – Thursday 5th July starting 19.30, at High Street Methodist Church
Going forward, I have a three-step plan:
- To increase train capacity and frequency from both Hitchin and Harpenden when the new timetable is fully implemented. The new timetable is not perfect – and for both Hitchin and Harpenden many changes need to be made, however I am campaigning for those improvements with all involved parties.
- I am proposing a new law be introduced in the House of Commons to create automatic compensation for rail passengers when operators break their contract for a proper level of service. This already has cross party support, and will hold train operators to account for the services they offer.
- I am also going to give public evidence to the Transport Select Committee who are doing an urgent review into the shambles of the train timetable introduction. This should never happen again, and the people accountable should no longer be in place.
On top of all of this, I will continue to lobby for better services for right now, and for the right level of service for the future, for my constituents
HITCHIN TRAINS UPDATE
Unfortunately, I have not received a response from the Secretary of State to my letter on 14 May regarding the changes coming into effect for Hitchin next week. I had expressed to the Department for Transport that the issue is very time sensitive, and asked it to be prioritised, yet I have not received a detailed response, or answers, yet. I am still also waiting for a response to my letter sent 30 April.
However, to give you an update ahead of next week, please read my letter to Chris Grayling, so that you have full sight of the changes I have asked for.
HARPENDEN TRAINS UPDATE
I know a lot of people are very worried about the new timetables coming into effect next week, and have been waiting for answers. I can now report back on my discussions with the Department for Transport.
I have been given confirmation by the Rail Minister Jo Johnson that the following will come into effect in December 2018:
- Introduction of a 07.25 service from Harpenden to London (semi-fast), made up of 8 coaches.
- Increase number of coaches on the 07.34 from Harpenden to London from 8 to 12. There is no reason why this introduction will be delayed.
- Introduction of a 17.13 service from London to Harpenden (stopping train), made up of 8 coaches.
- Increased number of coaches on the 17.11 from London to Harpenden from 8 to 12.
Unfortunately, it will not be possible to introduce the 07.25 earlier in the year as I requested, however the Minister has instructed his officials at the Department for Transport to keep this under review with GTR.
Additionally, the Minister has told me that once the upgrades north of Bedford are complete, GTR plan to introduce additional fast services into the peak time, however he did not offer a timeline for this.
The Minister has written that he has made it clear to officials that he would like the Harpenden’s issues to be raised with GTR so they can be considered in the appropriate timetable planning meetings.
I am concerned that the Minister has admitted that no assessment of crowding at peak time for commuters has been made, which is a problem to be expected with such significant changes. He writes that the operator, GTR, will keep crowding under review as the timetable is introduced, however I do not think this is satisfactory for the scale of disruption expected.
Overall, I remain unsatisfied with the response time, and quality of responses, from the Department for Transport. Following a very productive meeting with Network Rail, I had expected the suggestions I put to the Department to be given more weight, however this has not been the case.
This is not the end of the line. I will continue to use every avenue available to me as your MP to lobby for a better deal for Harpenden, and will keep you all updated.
BIM RAISES ISSUE IN PARLIAMENT
BIM MEETS WITH JO JOHNSON AND TRANSPORT OFFICIALS
I have now had a meeting with Jo Johnson, the Rail Minister, and a number of officials from both the Department for Transport and Govia Thameslink. During this meeting, I raised concerns expressed to me from constituents about proposed timetable changes that will affect morning, and evening, commuters. See the letter here that I sent to the Minister after our meeting [View: Page 1, Page 2].
I spoke to the people who put this proposed timetable together, and they talked me through the technical reasons behind the decisions and why they are unwilling to change the May timetable due to practical constraints.
Overall, the big loss to Harpenden is going to be the 8.10 fast train, as well as the 7.12 fast train. I challenged this, raising concerns many have had about the impact on working parents. See the spreadsheet showing the timetable in detail attached. Thameslink claimed that they had fully considered the impact on Harpenden – I made clear that I’m not sure that they fully understand the real difficulties many commuters, taking the train at peak times, will face.
Thameslink said they will be reviewing these timetable changes this autumn, and monitoring the impact. They did try to stress the positives of the changes, and said we will have an indisputably improved service by 2020, with those improvements starting in December 2018 (this can be seen in the spreadsheet).
To be completely honest, I find it hard to be 100% confident in their claims about an improved service in the future, given their performance in recent years, with so many promises not being delivered.
I am continuing to put pressure on for a decision change publicly in Parliament, whilst also lobbying ministers personally. I am also petitioning the Speaker for a public debate in the Commons. As attached above, I have also written to the Department for Transport raising a number of questions brought up in the meeting. We need to await their response for more detailed explanations.
Your views and concerns have been invaluable in shaping the approach to the Department and Thameslink, so please continue to send them in to the addresses below. They say they are listening – let’s keep making our voice heard and force a change.
Last night I met with the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, and had to opportunity to raise concerns about Thameslink services from Harpenden.
My main point was that the proposed changes are completely unacceptable to Harpenden commuters, especially working parents. He tried to reassure me that as the proposed timetable is not finalised, it is still subject to change, and is fully aware of how busy the service between Harpenden and London is, and how many people it will affect.
Mr Grayling also told me he will try to ensure that morning peak capacity is “broadly comparable to today”, and that evening peak capacity is increased. I was firm (but polite), and said the detail here is very important, because frequency is as important as capacity.
Additionally, I stressed the legal issue of Thameslink not consulting on changes that will have a “material adverse impact” to services – and made clear that locally people are willing to challenge Thameslink and the Department for Transport if necessary.
A meeting with the Department for Transport officials is being arranged for next week.
I am taking this to the highest possible level with senior civil servants in charge of overall timetable to make sure your concerns are heard as they finalise their decisions.
ATTENTION HARPENDEN COMMUTERS
Thanks so much for the many people who attended the meeting last night with me, and Thameslink representatives, to discuss the new timetable. It was an incredibly useful meeting – it gave us all an ability to question Thameslink on the decisions that they have taken without any consultation with local people (or with the local MP or Council).
To put it bluntly, Thameslink confirmed that peak morning services are going to be reduced from Harpenden. There is still some uncertainty about exactly by how much (despite several attempts by me and by other residents to do our own analysis) as Thameslink still has not published the official timetable!
In short, Thameslink stated that the timetable changes were done as a result of direction from the Department of Transport. I have arranged a meeting with the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, on Tuesday night, which is to be followed up by meeting Department of Transport officials to discuss the changes to see what can be done. They need to understand the real impact on Harpenden. I know how important this is – that is why I arranged the meeting, and that is why I am determined to try and get these changes amended.
I will be reporting back next week after my meetings with the Department of Transport, and advise on next steps.