More Trains, More Seats, Better Connections
So say Southern as RMT Union prepare to strike again
Hugh Sullivan reports
In a Which survey published in January this year, Southern Rail was identified as providing the worst train service in Britain for the third year running, with only 28% of passengers declaring themselves satisfied (that’s over one in four – where did they find them?). The parent company Govia put the blame squarely on union disruption. And last week it unveiled what is claimed will be a significantly enhanced service through Hastings. The new rail timetable, which will come into effect from 20th May, offers four trains an hour between Hastings and Eastbourne in place of the current three, while trains to and from Ashford will regularly stop at Ore. Better connexions at Ashford will reduce the average journey time between Hastings and London St Pancras by over ten minutes to around ninety overall.
Even more welcome to regular passengers may be Southern’s pledge to double the length of most trains on the route between Hastings and Brighton from two carriages to four – a long overdue move to redress the daily over-crowding on many current services that deprives the majority of a seat for much if not all of each journey.
Govia boasts that these improvements come as part of a grand strategic initiative, RailPlan 20/20, ‘to modernise services, improve reliability and boost capacity across our network, which is the most congested in the UK.’ Phil Hutchinson, who heads the company’s Strategic Planning unit, led a 16-month consultation. “By consulting openly and extensively with councils, passenger groups and other local representatives,” he says, “we have been able to listen to concerns and create a vastly improved train service that will be a real boost to the local economy.”
Hastings Council leader Peter Chowney has showered praise on the consultation process. “I am delighted. This is a great timetable for local residents and visitors to Hastings, and we are very grateful to Southern for listening to our comments when they consulted on the new plans. We hope this is a precursor to even faster journey times if we can get high speed trains running through Hastings from St Pancras.”
All of which seems to leave the RMT union further out in the cold, still nursing its grievance over the spread of driver-only trains but abandoned by the drivers union ASLEF, which settled with the rail company last November. The RMT remains adamant that Govia, along with other rail companies which have introduced similar working methods, are compromising passenger safety, and it has called for a 24-hour walk-out by guards on 12th March. General secretary Mick Cash said on announcing the strike that the union was “bitterly disappointed that Southern and the Department for Transport continue to reject our call for round table discussions involving all parties with an interest in resolving this dispute.”
Govia though have been dismissive. Its spokesman has said that it expects Southern to run a normal service on most routes on the day, and renewed its call for the union “to end this pointless dispute.The RMT should face the reality that the changes they are objecting to were successfully introduced a year ago.”
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