Blain’s Morning Porridge, Jan 24th 2022: Trains: An Open Letter to Paul Holmes, MP (Conservative)
“The only reliable way to catch a train is to miss the one before…”
This morning: I have worked in finance for nearly 40 years. I have withstood psychotic managers, overcome multiple business hurdles, survived a major health scare and triumphed as a small firm guy against big vested interests.. but I am pretty sure it will be British Railways that will put me in a box. This morning a rant:
Apologies for no porridge this morning. Blame the train.
Paul Holmes is my local MP. He is a rather fine and hard-working Conservative MP – with the decency to have resigned over the toxic-culture in the Home Office. He’s great on local issues, and he’s done a great job since the previous Tory MP, Mimms Davies, jumped ship for a safer Tory seat at the last election.
This morning I decided to write to him about the railways.
An open letter to Paul Holmes, MP.
I am one of your constituents – living in Hamble.
I am writing to you about the railway, specifically the Southampton – Waterloo line. As MP for Eastleigh, one of the historic centres of railway excellence in the UK, could you please explain your thoughts on why the service is now such a catastrophic mess and what can be done to make it work again?
The quality of service is critical to the large number of your constituents who are reliant on the Southampton – Waterloo line to get to work in London. Many of your voters have chosen to commute from this constituency for life-style and family reasons. They will tend to be in well paid jobs – natural voters for your party. Many of them are now finding their mental health under pressure as they fear the increasingly chaotic unreliability of the service will cost them their health and livelihoods.
The pandemic taught us we can keep businesses open by using Zoom, but to create growth and improve productivity, and meet the nation’s potential at a time when the UK seems to be plummeting down the global economic league tables, its critical we are able to return to our offices. We need face-time with our colleagues and meet our clients. Zoom calls are a useful substitute, but they will never beat face-to-face meetings. Unfortunately, Zooms are the only option for your constituents because of the sickening unreliability of the trains.
Prior to the pandemic, myself and thousands of the voters who supported you enjoyed a reliable service. For many years I would catch the reliable 6.38 am train from Southampton Parkway and be at my desk in London by 8 am – refreshed with a cup of tea from the trolley, a comfortable seat and a table to work on. I spent the trip writing my morning market commentary, Blain’s Morning Porridge (which, incidentally, is read by many of your colleagues on both sides of the House, but is targeted at the UK’s senior-most institutional wealth managers.)
Even before the pandemic it was clear the line was in crisis – miscommunication between NetWork Rail and the operating companies meaning delays multiplied. The rolling stock was tired and jaded. It got worse as comfortable trains with seat-back tables to work on were replaced by local services where its impossible to work. But, since the pandemic the rail service has completely collapsed.
Perversely it’s not the strikes that have hurt commuters. These we can understand and plan for. Most of us would willingly give workers a 100% payrise if it meant the service was made reliable again.
It’s the sheer unpredictability of our daily commute that is killing us. Each and every trip to London is now a struggle, a lottery. We face uncertainty on which trains will be running, which will be cancelled at the last moment due to staff shortages, which will breakdown, what will break on the line that day, and the sheer randomness of events like the wrong kind of snow, the wrong kind of leaves or it being too hot or too cold for the tracks. Recently we were told the third rail electric supply wasn’t working because of weather conditions.
Not a single day goes by without some delay. Last week it was cancellation of the service completely due to the embankment at Hook, washed away be the rains, and looking like a 6 week repair. Each morning the Russian Airforce bombs the heart out of the Ukrainian railway system, and its back up and running by the evening. What are we missing here in the SouthWest?
This morning I waited at the station 35 mins for a delayed train before being told it was blocked by a vehicle blocking the crossing at Brokenhurst. We waited, waited, waited some more, before it percolated out the earlier trains had been switched from a London service to a Basingstoke service, and the fastest way to London would be the local stopping service that takes 1hour 50 mins. By this time 4 London trains of passengers were crowding on the platform. Standing for 2 hours on a packed train is no fun – especially for old men like myself with Dodgy Tickers.
I had to grab a taxi, and head home to cover a critical business meeting on Zoom. Later this morning I’ll go back to the airport to try again to see if I might get lucky and get to London for a client meeting this afternoon..
By any standard the rail service to London (and locally) has become intolerable. The cost has risen for the past 12 years at a rate way above inflation, and the standard of service has plummeted. Declining service, rising cost – is that really what your party stands for? Over the time the Conservatives have been in power (and I voted for you) we have seen nothing but decline.
As our local MP, and a member of the party that has been in government these past 12 years could you explain why the service has so deteriorated, and what you are going to do about it in the interest of your constituents?
You are a fine MP, and I particularly admire the great work you’ve done for your constituents in my village, and that you stood against the toxic-culture some of your ministerial colleagues promoted, but unless something is done about the train service I will be heading to an early grave brought on by the repeated stress. I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one.
Very Best Regards