Ranil Jayawardena MP—Opinion Piece April 2019

If you read my last column (!), you’ll know I’ve been writing about ‘Our Plan’ for a better North East Hampshire recently – six priorities to make our constituency an even better place to live and work. Among these are a new school, revitalising our retail centres, local services which make us greener, cleaner and safer, and local improvements in our NHS. One thing which does a lot to tie these things together is our ability to get around a large and fairly rural constituency. That’s why better roads – and faster, better, longer trains – are also part of ‘Our Plan’. So let’s talk about trains.

As many of you know, I grew up in the constituency, I live here, and I use the same services you do. Many of these are excellent but others very much require improvement. I remember the old ‘slam door’ British Rail trains and I’m pleased that we’ve seen improvements. But, many of us rely on our railways to get to and from work and can probably agree that, in the past year, this service has simply not been good enough. In February this year, only 81.2% of South Western Railway’s mainline services arrived at their destinations within five minutes of the scheduled time – compared to a national average of 89.1% - while only 53.9% actually arrived at the scheduled time.

But this isn’t just about South Western Railway. Network Rail, which is in public ownership, owns and maintains the rail network and infrastructure – and many of the delays in the figures above will have been out of South Western Railway’s control, including those all too common signal failures. That’s why I don’t buy the argument that nationalising everything is the solution to our problems. We wouldn’t have had the investment we’ve seen – and, more importantly, we wouldn’t get the further investment we need. So I will always speak honestly, hold the right people accountable and seek to find solutions, but there’s plenty we can do together, too. We’ve done it before.

You may remember that, in 2017, South Western Railway proposed reducing the trains going through Hook and Winchfield in their December 2018. I launched a petition to send a signal to South Western Railway that these changes must not happen and that we needed our services to London – particularly at peak times. Over 3,000 of you signed this petition and, in response, South Western Railway committed to consult on an alternative timetable which protected the level of service from Hook, Winchfield and Fleet, whilst boosting the number of seats and speeding up some journeys too. This proves we can make positive changes when we work together – and I hope we can do so again now.

I’ve made your frustrations clear to both Network Rail and South Western Railways, and they have agreed to meet you to listen to what you want from your railway. The public meeting will take place in Fleet on Thursday 20th June. More information is available here – or email me: email@ranil.uk – and please sign up to attend. It is important that we send a clear message. If you can’t make it, or you want to raise something else with me, you can always meet me at one of my regular ‘Tell Ranil’ events. Again, details on my website!