The unacceptable state of Southeastern rail services is having a direct impact on family life in Tonbridge and the area’s economy, MP Tom Tugendhat has warned.
With the issue topping the list of letters sent by concerned residents to the Tonbridge & Malling MP, he has made it one of his personal goals to improve rail standards.
Repeated criticism over delays to London-bound trains has seen Southeastern services being voted second worst in the country, with a National Rail Passenger Survey revealing only 75 per cent of passengers were satisfied with the company’s performance.
Mr Tugendhat explained that while he was ‘not interested in bashing rail companies’, he is seeking action on the punctuality of peak trains.
He said: “Our economy is largely based on people being able to travel. Many Tonbridge commuters are working 40 hours a week and are sometimes wasting a further two hours getting to work and two hours getting home again.
“This means they are often forced to leave earlier in the mornings to ensure they get to important meetings and appointments on time because they don’t have any faith in the trains running to schedule.
“And if they are always late returning home, they are missing out on their young children’s formative years and can’t help out with things such as school events and homework.
“You can’t plan your life when trains continually fail to run according to the timetable.”
Among the key priorities he identified for improvement were reliability of commuter services and greater recruitment of rail staff, as well as enforcement of the new Delay Repay passenger compensation system.
Mr Tugendhat said: “The rail service from Southeastern is not acceptable, but there is a fundamental problem in that Southeastern is working with track that is 150 years old.
“The single biggest thing that needs to change is the reliability of services, not whether trains are faster or slower. If that can be achieved, then people can plan their business lives and their lives outside of work. So we will have to demand more from both Southeastern and Network Rail on this.”
John Reynolds, Vice Chairman of Tonbridge Line Commuters, shared the MP’s concerns.
He said: “We feel that in West Kent we are being discriminated against by Southeastern. It seems they think people in Tonbridge are richer than everyone else, with the cost of an annual season ticket from here to the city, which is over £4,000, working out more per mile than the price travelling from Folkestone to London.”
Southeastern has acknowledged its services are not performing to passengers’ expectations but says it plans to invest millions in improving its performance.
Southeastern and Network Rail have been accused of blaming each other for the problems, but a recently released joint statement read: “We appreciate that since the start of this year the train service has not been as reliable as we want it to be, or as passengers rightfully expect it to be.”