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Kent MPs meet with Network Rail to discuss their winter performance

14th February 2011
Kent MPs meet with Network Rail to discuss their winter performance

Kent Members of Parliament, including local MP Gordon Henderson, last week met with Dave Ward (Kent Route Director), Chris Wiggan, and other Network Rail officers at the House of Commons to discuss the winter performance on the Kent lines and related issues.

At the meeting, which was chaired by Roger Gale MP (North Thanet) , Mr. Ward gave a candid explanation of a catalogue of circumstances and failings of which, he said, Network Rail “was not proud” but, having outlined the reasons for the poor performance then spent some time detailing how changed software systems (particularly on Bombardier trains), the use of anti-icing trains running in service (20 modified and running by next winter), selective conductor rail heating and other changes would lead to an improved winter performance in the future.

Mr. Ward also explained the weaknesses in the existing communications systems that led to such poor information being provided to passengers throughout the period of snow and ice. It is hoped that the introduction of a “Passenger Information During Disruption” system may allow for an improved service in the future although it was clear to Members that the existing computer programme, serving 174 systems, remains unsatisfactory. (The input cut-off time is currently 2pm for the following day. The computer gates open at 5pm and it can take until 2am following to download information to all 174 systems – clearly inadequate in developing weather or other critical conditions).

Network Rail also briefed Members on investment plans, progress towards the full upgrading of the signalling on the Kent Coast line and evaluations in progress relating to an upgrade of the Ashford/Thanet (Parkway/Ramsgate) service.

Following the meeting, Gordon Henderson said,

“My colleagues and I wanted to highlight to Network Rail the frustrations being experienced by rail users in the Kent area, particularly those, like my own constituents in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, who use the Kent Coast line.

“This meeting followed one with Southeastern Railways and another with the Transport Minister, in which we complained bitterly about the escalating cost of rail fares accompanied by a deteriorating service. We left them in no uncertain terms as to the anger we felt on behalf of our constituents.”

Roger Gale said:

“I think that the eight Kent MPs able to be present appreciated the open manner in which Network Rail explained both the difficulties that they faced and the measures being taken to try to mitigate the disruption caused by snow and ice in the future. His was in considerable contrast to the attitude taken, to date, by South Eastern.

“We note that while Network Rail have paid compensation to South Eastern Trains for failings for which Network Rail take responsibility South Eastern Trains have yet to make any gesture of compensation to commuters who have paid high fares for a very poor service.

“It is also clear that considerable further investment will be needed from the Department of Transport in order to pay for some of the necessary improvements and Kent Members are taking this up with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

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