Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Dirty trains and disruptive delays were among a catalogue of complaints which rail bosses were told makes the Great Eastern Rail link the “line of misery” for commuters.
A group of regular train travellers, who have been copying in MPs on social media as they vent their frustrations about their daily commute, were invited to Westminster to spell out to Greater Anglia and Network Rail their experiences of life travelling on the line.
Six members of a group who use Twitter to chronicle the shortcomings of the service, attended the meeting chaired by Norwich MP Chloe Smith, who is leading a taskforce currently writing a report to make the case for investment in the line.
Greater Anglia’s managing director Jamie Burles was told that while rail fares have gone up, the standard of the service had got worse, with dirty trains and increasing numbers of delays.
Grant Lee, who commutes from Colchester to London, said that he had started using Twitter as his fares went up and met other users who he said seemed to be suffering an even worse service than he was.
“It led me to questions why it is that the service has dipped when rail fares have gone up? Why is the reliability getting worse? It seems to me as though maintenance and cleanliness have gone down, and so has the general repair of the trains. Seats have fallen apart, toilets have been closed, windows and pantographs are getting struck on a more regular basis these days.
“It seems to me fundamental stuff. If that is the stuff I see inside the trains, then what about wider security and safety concerns.”
James Elmer, who commutes from Marks Tey and is a long-standing campaigner for a better rail service, said there were four pillars - comfort, cleanliness, reliability and value for money.
“That is what I feel all of us around the table want from the service,” he told Mr Burles.
Another traveller from Marks Tey, who uses the Twitter handle @Delayed_Again, told MPs that the Great Eastern Main Line was one of the most profitable in the country for the Department for Transport, yet suffered poor quality signals and tracks.
He added: “Every other commuter line into London has even decently refurbished rolling stock. We don’t have that. It is just falling apart, That is the great medium of Twitter, we have many disenfranchised people out there.
He added: “This is not just Abellio’s fault, it National Express that started it, and John Prescott who put the original franchise in place with zero investment. That is where the problems come from.”
A spokesperson for Abellio Greater Anglia said: “Abellio Greater Anglia and Network Rail together with regional MPs held a positive and constructive meeting with a group of rail customers who travel from stations in Essex, to discuss priorities and progress in delivering improved services on the Great Eastern Main Line.
“We outlined initiatives the company was already planning and implementing to make further improvements in some of the key areas mentioned - such as punctuality, reliability, train cleanliness and customer information - and highlighted enhancements planned as part of the new short franchise through to October 2016, which includes a major refresh for the intercity trains used on the Norwich - London route.
“Another key point discussed was the importance of continuing to lobby the Department for Transport and ministers to ensure that major upgrades to trains and infrastructure in this region are secured as part of the next Greater Anglia franchise process and investment plans agreed for Network Rail. The Norwich in Ninety Taskforce, of which Abellio Greater Anglia is a key player, is preparing a report which will recommend the best way of achieving many of the upgrades which everyone wishes to see on the Great Eastern Main Line.”