Monday 17 September 2018

Thameslink Chaos - Time for Matthew Offord to review his cunning plan?

Thameslink Chaos Explained (courtesy London Reconnections)
Like many people who live in Mr Matthew Offord MP's constituency of Hendon, I regularly use the Thameslink service from Mill Hill into the city. Over the past few years, the service has been absolutely chaotic. This blog has regularly chronicled the failures, and the privations suffered by commuters. If you are interested in the sheer scale of the abject failure of the service in May when the new timetable was introduced and the reasons for it, there is a comprehensive analysis on the London Reconnections website.  The problems are summed up by this excellent flowchart. The article explains that the whole thing was a disaster from start to finish and  unbelieveably no one seems to have noticed. The article makes it pretty clear that the problems are not only the fault Govia (the train operator), but Network rail and the government.

In years gone by, the Transport secretary, Chris Grayling would have been swiftly sacked for such a cock up, but these days ministers simply do not take responsibility, so the country just ends up with a no blame culture of shoddy delivery from top to bottom. Let me just state that I am not saying this because of Graylings party allegiances. Competence is not a party political issue. I am equally critical of how the Labour Mayor of London is managing the Crossrail project.

The effects of this mismanagement on ridership of Thameslink since Govia have taken over is demonstrated by a huge drop in ridership at Mill Hill.

National Rail annual entry and exit
2012–13Increase 2.040 million[1]
2013–14Increase 2.482 million[1]
2014–15Increase 2.675 million[1]
2015–16Decrease 1.949 million[1]
2016–17Decrease 1.884 million[1]

This was before the new Timetable, so we can only speculate the loss to the economy. Given that the average Londoner earns £22.32 an hour, every day that Thameslink disruption causes an hours lateness to Mill Hill commuters, this costs the economy over £115,000. If we speculate that Mill Hill commuters have lost an hour 44 times this year as a result of the disruption, that is over £5 million pounds of economic impact. That is without considering the sheer hassle that this causes. The cancellation of meetings, the disruption to family plans, the cancelled wedding anniversary meals and birthday celebrations etc, as people wait for trains that never come or too busy to board. As the figures indicate that over 5,000 people a day use Mill Hill Broadway, this is a huge number of locals who are inconvenienced.

What disappoints me more than anything is that our local MP is the chair of the Thameslink group in the House of Commons (according to his website). I would expect such an insider to be tirelessly battling for us and campaigning on our behalf. I had a quick look through his recent Parliamentary activities. The last mention of Thameslink that I could find was on the 4th June, over three months ago. Mr Offord asked the following question and got the listed reply from Grayling

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, HendonThis really is an appalling situation and one that we should have seen coming down the line given the history of the train operating companies. I have emails from my constituents that complain about lack of communication from Govia Thameslink. They say that the refund procedures are lengthy and difficult to navigate and that the timetable implementation has simply not worked. Will the Secretary of State give serious consideration to introducing a short deadline to ensure that GTR in particular brings the service up to an acceptable standard, or finding another train provider that will do so?

Chris Grayling The Secretary of State for TransportI am very clear that I expect GTR to deliver an improvement to the current situation as a matter of real urgency. If it does not do so, it will lack the credibility to continue as operator.

This is a pretty poor show. On Mr Offords website, he has a TAB that lists his plan. Item number 2 is one to get a "better deal for rail users". Sadly, as plans go, Mr Offords is far from cunning.  Below is the entire text of his plan

As a Hendon resident I am a regular user of the Northern Line and understand how important it is that hard working commuters and other Tube and train users have a smooth and comfortable journey.
I will continue to campaign for improvements to the Northern Line and Thameslink and am Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group to improve the Thameslink line.
It is no surprise to me that we are seeing such appalling service when our MP has so little interest and puts so little effort into representing his constituents interests. Whilst I have no wish to become the MP for Hendon, if I was, I would, like Mr Offord, have a plan for Rail users. Here is my plan.

1. Hold fortnightly meetings with the management of Govia and Network Rail, to update on progress to resolve the issues facing commuters, until such time as the timetabling issues were fully resolved. I would then hold monthly meetings. I would provide a full update on my website of these meetings.

2. I would hold monthly meetings with TFL to ensure that commuters issues are fully understood by TFL and the Mayor of London.

3. Hold monthly meetings with regular users of both the Northern Line and the Thameslink route, to ensure that I could properly represent my constituents.

4. I would draw up a list of transport improvements that would improve the lives of my constituents, and lobby tirelessly to make them happen. Amongst the proposals that I would champion are the following
 - Step Free Access for Mill Hill Broadway and Hendon Thameslink Stations
 - Step free access for Northern Line stations
 - Full support for the West London Orbital route, with provision for an extension of the plans to RAF museum in Hendon and Mill Hill Broadway.
- Work to secure the route of the disused railway between Mill Hill East and Edgware, initially as a dedicated cycle path, with a view to reviewing options for light rail or full reopening if possible.
- Ensure better integration of the rail, tube and bus networks and seek introduction of better cycling provision to rail hubs.
- work with residents groups, commuter associations and the industry to deliver these objectives.

Provide regular update on all of these via my website.

It may well be that Mr Offord doesn't think any of these ideas are a worthwhile use of his time representing the Constituency of Hendon. He has asked plenty of questions in Parliament since it resumed sitting earlier this month. I will leave you to decide whether these issues are more important to the average Hendon voter.

Photo of Matthew Offord

Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether he has made an assessment of the potential productivity of the livestock industry over the next six months.

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether he has made an assessment of the potential productivity of the arable industry over the next six months.

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, how many parking penalty charge notices were issued under the Forestry Commission Byelaws 1982 for (a) non-payment and (b) insufficient payment in 2017.

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, if he will seek a change through the International Maritime Organisation to ban ships from using heavy fuel oil when travelling in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

Finally let me finish with my favourite of the lot. We have previously noted Mr Offords interest in Cheese shops. Now it seems that he's taken up the cudgels for our local potato farmers. I hadn't realised that these were more important to the local economy than the thousands who commute into the City, but as we all love a nice bag of chips, it shows he's got his finger on the pulse.

Photo of Matthew OffordMatthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what estimate he has made of the potato crop for England and Wales in 2018.
The answer is also quite fascinating (if you find counting potatoes fascinating).

Photo of George EusticeGeorge EusticeThe Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

With the cold, wet spring followed by the prolonged dry spell over June and July, some yield and quality issues are expected for the potato crop this year. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) estimate that there is a 3% reduction in the planted area in Great Britain. The harvest is on-going and estimates of yield and production will be published in Agriculture in the UK next spring.

If it wasn't for the fact that thousands of commuters every day have been subjected to complete mayhem on Thameslink, you would be forgiven for thinking that maybe Mr Offord hasn't got much to do with himself.

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