Chuka has blasted Southern Trains and Network Rail for providing a terrible services to commuters and called on the Transport Secretary to give an urgent statement on what he will do to force the companies to improve services dogged by delays and cancellations.
Speaking in the Commons, Chuka said: “The service that has been provided by Southern trains with Network Rail to hundreds of thousands of commuters in my constituency in London and the south-east has been an appalling joke—an absolute joke. Southern has admitted that it does not even have enough drivers or enough decent trains, which are basic requirements to provide a service. Will the Leader of the House get the Transport Secretary here to give a statement or at least to write to both the hon. Member for Reigate and me explaining what he is going to do to get those companies to sort their act out? They have broken promise after promise. Enough is enough.”
He was joined by senior Conservative MP for Reigate and former Prisons Minister, Crispin Blunt, in his condemnation of the companies. Mr Blunt said.
Can the terms of [a debate on Heathrow] be set widely enough to include consideration of the extraordinary proposition from Gatwick that it can put five times as many passengers up the Brighton main line, particularly in the light of Southern Rail’s performance in the past week? Let me repeat a tweet from my constituent Jonathan Freeman, managing director of a Prince of Wales charity, who was travelling to work. He wrote: ‘Really @SouthernRailUK?!Again?!Are you on some sort of sponsored screw up?’ We realise how desperate the situation is, when he says: ‘CrispinBluntMP-you are our only hope!’”
Labour MP Steve Reed (Croydon North) and Conservative MP Maria Caulfield (Lewes) also tweeted in support of Mr Umunna and Mr Blunt’s comments.
The Leader of the House, Chris Grayling, acknowledged the issues, promised to ask the Transport Secretary to respond but also defended the companies against the attacks, saying:
“I understand the pressures on the line that passes through the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Those are affected by the massive investment taking place at London Bridge, which will create a much better infrastructure for the future, as well as the completion of the Thameslink service on what is now the integrated franchise. I take note of the comments of the hon. Gentleman and of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate and I will make sure that the Transport Secretary is aware of them. However, in defence of at least part of the Southern service, at present on the line via Epsom the service seems to be working reasonably well.”
Commenting on Mr Grayling’s remarks after, Chuka said: “In coming to the defence of Southern, he has shown he is out of touch with the experience of commuters who are furious with what they are having to put up with every day. Ministers should not come to the defence of a failing rail company – they should get them to sort their act out.”
You can watch the Commons exchanges here.