I met Govia representatives at Westminster today to discuss a number of issues relating to their train service through my constituency.
Watton at Stone
I expressed my deep concern at the impact on my constituents of the proposed bus service from Watton at Stone to Stevenage. Govia stated that they felt they had no alternative other than to suspend the train service in order to allow for additional capacity on mainline commuter routes and the wider range of services resulting from the expansion of Thameslink. They had originally expected that Network Rail would provide a terminating platform at Stevenage for Hertford Loop trains. Despite being considered a priority project by all concerned, Network Rail had put back work to the next infrastructure planning cycle. If the Hertford Loop trains continued to use one of the existing platforms, it would not be possible to provide additional capacity and services on all other mainline routes.
I made clear that this was not acceptable and that it also impacted on commuters in neighbouring constituencies. I would seek an urgent meeting with the Minister for Rail, Paul Maynard MP, along with Mark Prisk MP and Stephen McPartland MP. We will be pressing the Minister and Network Rail to bring forward the timetable for work on the Stevenage platform.
I explained the strength of feeling amongst Baldock residents at the proposal to lose fast services during off-peak hours Monday-Friday. Govia confirmed that they had received a considerable number of responses to the consultation document on this point and will be reviewing the proposals. They pointed out that any change would have to be discussed and agreed with the 6 other operators using the mainline.
Overall level of service
I expressed my disappointment at the current poor level of service, particularly in light of the experience of high performance levels on our line under previous franchise holders.. The majority of incidents occurred because of matters relating to Network Rail, but over one-third were the direct responsibility of Govia, including shortage of drivers. Govia explained that part of the problem was that they had begun to train their existing drivers on the operation of the updated trains coming over from Thameslink. This took drivers away from routine services, but there was then a delay in the new trains arriving. If a driver had not begun driving the new trains within 3 months of his training, he was required, for safety reasons, to re-train and was again not available. The reason for the delay in the trains being transferred was that the brand new rolling stock being built in Germany for Thameslink has suffered serious software problems. At the same time as this training was taking place, all existing drivers had also had to be trained on using the new layout at the Hornsey depot. This again reduced the numbers available for scheduled services. Recruitment of new drivers had been strong, but they had to undergo a lengthy initial training process.
I shall be meeting Network Rail shortly to complain about the delays caused by incidents under their control, particularly relating to signal failures on our line, and press them for an improved performance.