Teddington: Cutting local rail services would have disastrous effects, MPs warn

  Posted: 22.10.21 at 19:18 by Rory Poulter

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Warnings of a disastrous spiral of reduced rail services and higher fares have been raised by the MPs for Richmond Park and Twickenham.

Sarah Olney and Munira Wilson spoke out in a House of Commons debate where they challenged plans by South Western Railway (SWR) to make permanent drastic cuts to services.

The company is proposing a 50 per cent reduction in trains between some stations in south west London and Waterloo at peak travel times.

People using Whitton, Hampton, Teddington, St Margarets, Mortlake and North Sheen will be hardest hit.

Trains connecting Whitton to Richmond and Waterloo would be cut by half, while changes to the so-called Hounslow loop services would hit commuters, school children and others.

Peak time services from Kingston and Norbiton into London would also see cuts.

Her lib-dem colleague Sarah Olney led the debate

Today, the two MPs launched a passionate defence of rail services, arguing the cuts would be bad for travellers, bad for the economy and bad for the environment, because they will force commuters into their cars.

Ms Olney said it is too soon to plan for permanent cuts to rail services when SWR can only guess at future passenger numbers.

She said: "It is ridiculous that SWR think they can make long-term forecasts about future demand when they do not have any post lockdown demand figures to look at."

The MP warned that a reduction in services could see people give up on rail. As a result, she said, the train companies would then look to maintain their income by raising fares.

"More and more commuters will choose not to use a rail service that offers every increasing prices for fewer and fewer services.

"We will see underused stations gradually close, there will be fewer services and rail operators will find it harder to cover routine maintenance costs," she said.

"Reduced rail services and reduced income will eventually result in a spiral of fewer services, eventually cutting off those services entirely.

"We need to incentivise rail travel and encourage commuters and other travellers to use it."

Teddington's MP Munira Wilson criticised a consultation on the rail cuts, saying it had been conducted during the summer holidays and did not seek input from passengers.

She said: "The proposals to permanently slash services by up to 50 per cent to some stations are fundamentally flawed. The impact on busy suburban stations, where there are no Tube alternatives, are frankly unacceptable.

"My constituents are just bemused as to why these decisions are being taken now.”

The MP said SWR should wait to make permanent changes to services until there is better information on passenger numbers.

"There is great concern about over-crowding if these cuts are implemented," she said.

"The local and London-wide economy can’t afford these cuts, our planet can’t afford these cuts and residents in Whitton, St Margarets and Teddington can’t afford these cuts.”

Opposition to the cuts ranges across all parties, including Labour representatives in Brentford and Hounslow, and the Conservative MP, Chris Grayling, a former Transport Secretary.

Despite the pleas, there are mounting fears the Government will allow SWR to reduce services with a proviso they will be reviewed if passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.

The trains minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, told MPs that passenger numbers are only expected to return to 76 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the end of next year.

He suggested that as a result of this it may be right to offer a reduced service. The minister even argued that running fewer trains could be good for travellers because it would improve punctuality and reliability.

He said that after the reductions are made, travellers would still get 89per cent of pre-Covid services and 93per cent of capacity.

Mr Heaton-Harris said: "The pandemic has changed the way people use our railways and the railways absolutely have to respond.

"The industry must rethink its offer to passengers and freight, whilst … delivering reliable passenger services and good value for money for hard working taxpayers that use it and those that don’t."

The minister said he expects and hopes that people will return to the railways in big numbers

He added: "I am very sympathetic to the concerns of both honourable ladies about the level of service on public transport, especially from the environmental perspective."

On a positive note, the minister said SWR has confirmed that there will be flexibility built into the timetables to allow for train services to increase if the demand is there.

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