A letter to Paul Homes, MP about the Railways

Paul Homes MP

Houses of Parliament

February 11th 2020

Dear Paul

Congratulations on your new job. I challenge you to solve a massive problem.


I am one of your constituents. I am writing to you on behalf of the very large and significant number of the people you represent who lives are being destroyed by the ongoing failings on the train services to London.

Many of your constituents across Eastleigh commute on a regular basis to London on South Western Rail. I would imagine they include many who chose to balance high power jobs in the Capital against the lifestyle benefits of living on the South Coast.

I was seduced by that dream. For many years it worked – a 1-hour reliable train journey from Southampton Parkway to Waterloo, a full day in the City, and back home every evening. It was expensive, and more so every year as the cost of season tickets soared to finance “better services” and “train improvements”.

Now it is a nightmare. And the cost has become fraudulent.

In recent months the train service to London has practically collapsed. Every day there is at least one train failure, insufficient crew, leaves on track, wrong kind of weather, signalling problems, a day’s shutdown to remove a tree, slow moving goods traffic – the excuses are legion. We suffered through the whole of December written off by a pointless strike over guards on trains, and in late January the service was destroyed by an entirely avoidable goods train derailment at Eastleigh which will take months to fix.

Do not lecture me about it not being the responsibility of the train companies for the poor service, nor tell me that Network Rail is responsible for the track. The byzantine complex and foolish arrangements for UK rail transport – dividing the service into private rail companies and a public owned track – have been a disaster of your party’s making, and a rip-off for tax-payers.

But the immediate problem is the service, its unreliability, and what you are going to do to ensure it gets fixed.

So far in 2020 I have been unable to get to work on 8 days. My morning train has not run on time on one single occasion. I am only one of some 8,000 of your commuting constituents suffering.  The stress, anxiety and strain of the daily uncertainty of trying to get to work, the threat to our jobs and livelihoods, is creating a massive potential health issue. And it is entirely avoidable.

Our Season Tickets now cost nearly £7,000 per annum, and the only “improvement” we’ve seen over the past 10-years has been the withdrawal of comfortable inter-city trains and their replacement by old Class 442 “Plastic Pig” trains that once served as the Gatwick Express. They’ve been given smaller seats, tables positioned at exactly the wrong hight, re-painted and fitted with new carpets. These trains are over 32 years old, rickety, they rattle and roil, and smell like a melting clutch when bouncing over points. Some carriages of the same class are already being displayed in railway heritage museums!

Yet they are used on the busiest morning services and praised as proof of improvements. We suffer them because the greedy companies perceived a cheap solution to put money into the train company owners’ dividends. Putting lipstick on an aged pig does not make it acceptable!

Someone needs to take responsibility and be accountable for the failures on South Western Railway.

We know it can be sorted – but only with political will. In the 1850s the UK managed to lay 40,000 miles of track in just a few years. For decades we led railway innovation. The service has been neglected – improvements to Victorian infrastructure have been stopgap. But that doesn’t excuse the failure of Network Rail and Government to fix the service.

Improvement is impossible under the current arrangements – unless Government holds feet to the fire. The train operating companies happily bid for the franchises and then paid their owners millions in inflated dividends rather than delivering the promised service improvements. Network Rail was responsible for the infrastructure and track, with inadequate financial resources and an increasingly demotivated staff. The government has been loath to interfere in the system – relying on the companies and the track provider to sort it out. Instead, the relationship between operating companies and the service company has broken down. I understand they barely talk to each other. Notwork Rail is just too convenient an excuse for the train operators to blame, and to justify their fares. Government lacks the will to lop heads.

Please discuss this with the relevant minister, but I intend to raise the government’s incompetence re the railways across the City and elsewhere unless its addressed. Your party’s record in terms to delays to the Elizabeth Cross-rail line in London and uncertainty over HS2 is hardly stellar.

We need accountability. We need to see the operating company management punished and flogged for failure. We need to see cash recouped from all the operating companies. The management of Network rail needs a dose of reality and reconstitution.

As a new MP this is an opportunity for you to deliver something tangible to your constituents. We want improvement. We want service reliability. These are long-term goals. In the short-term we want satisfaction and our money back. We get £3 back for delays over 15 minutes. We should get 100% back every time a train is a moment late. Or something similar. Chase out the operating company and get the trains working.

You decide, but decide to do something… or don’t expect our votes.


Bill Blain