Norman Baker writes Open Letter to Southern Rail

Previous Lewes Lib Dem MP and Rail Minister Norman Baker has written an open letter to Southern Rail, following months of problems with the rail operator, and his own experience with continued delays, lack of planning and staffing issues. 


The letter reads; 

"An Open Letter to Southern

Last Sunday morning, I arrived home in Lewes at 3.35am. My Southern rail journey from London, which should have taken an hour, had taken well over five.

The tragic cause was someone throwing themselves in front of a train. Sadly, especially for the unfortunate drivers, these events do occur and nobody can blame Southern or Network Rail for such incidents or for some delay as a consequence.

But when I was rail minister, a good deal of work was put in to make sure that the inevitable disruption to passengers could be minimised. That work seems to have gone to waste with Southern.

We have learnt in recent months to lower our expectations as to what we can expect from Southern's useless management, but even I was shocked by the total lack of any sort of plan to deal with such an event.

It was decided by Network Rail, probably sensibly, to divert various trains full of passengers to Redhill, but as soon as this decision had been taken, Southern should have made sure there were replacement buses ordered and waiting for the passengers upon their arrival, that their staff at Redhill and on the trains were fully briefed, and that in turn the passengers were made aware of what was being done to get them to their destinations as soon as possible.

None of this was done. The consequence was that literally hundreds of people were told to go to the front of the station at Redhill to await buses which never appeared and had not in fact been ordered, and to await taxis. Taxis! For hundreds of people on a Saturday night. And to go where? Nobody knew if there were trains running south from Gatwick or Three Bridges, which is where the taxis had been asked to take people.

Over two hours later, the people who were still waiting in the cold for a taxi that was never going to arrive (I was told the taxi companies had stopped taking calls) were ushered back onto the very same train they had left. This was the first engagement with those passengers in over two hours. If Southern are incapable of organising replacement buses, they could at least have left their passengers on the train in the warm.

I put on record that the individual staff members I spoke to at Redhill, and eventually Brighton, were helpful and did their best, as did the driver of my train, but they were woefully let down by a failure further up the chain of command.

But this is just one event and there are all too many, daily in fact. It is terrible to see Southern, which was until a couple of years back a friendly and efficient railway under Chris Burchell, deteriorate into what is now by some distance the worst railway service in the country under Charles Horton. And if there is one thing worse than the appalling service, it is the smug self-satisfaction of those who run Southern – who take out crass adverts asking us to “strike back” at the unions, and who insist they are putting passengers first when they are doing no such thing. Only in Southern's parallel universe can a reduction in trains and a lengthening of journey times, their latest announcement, be presented as an improvement in services. They clearly think their passengers are mugs.

If Charles Horton has a scrap of decency left, he will resign from his post and give the company a chance to scrape itself off the floor."

Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Kelly-Marie Blundell welcomed the letter, commenting; 

"My thoughts are with the family of the man who committed suicide. This tragic event gives rise to the continued problems with Southern Rail and their inability to manage the rail services we need in Sussex. 

"Norman spent years working to improve our rail services. In the 18 months since the Conservatives narrowly took the seat in Lewes and a parliamentary majority, we have seen all that hard work undone. 

"Residents have come to me complaining about train delays, replacement buses and continued failures in services. 

"Southern Rail staff have spoken to me privately about cuts to staffing levels and poor planning by their employer. 

"What is clear is that Southern can't run the railway, and the Conservatives need to strip Southern of the contract and get our trains back on track." 

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