GTR bosses admitted at a meeting in Parliament this week that their assessment of travel patterns and demand at Preston Park failed to count commuters on station platforms or trains – meaning their decision to scrap services at the busy station was based on deeply flawed data from ticket sales.
Local commuters explained that season tickets are the same price from Brighton or Hove so they are rarely recorded as Preston Park passengers. There are no barriers at the station, so passengers can’t be counted that way either.
The commuter chaos at Preston Park, where train services have been slashed by around 30 per cent at peak times, has left passengers desperate.
At the meeting with senior figures from Govia Thameslink (GTR), Network Rail and representatives from the Department for Transport (DfT) this week, Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas demanded to know who would make the final decision on her calls for urgent improvements, including the reinstatement of Gatwick Express services. The MP called the meeting in order to achieve redress for the hundreds of constituents who have contacted her “at their wits’ end”.
Gatwick Express trains, which have called at Preston Park for 10 years, no longer stop there at all. Services that do stop now collect passengers at 11 other stations before reaching Preston Park – which means they are often full on arrival.
Caroline has repeatedly raised the issue of cuts to services at the station, which have led to dangerous overcrowding, resulted in commuters fearing for their jobs and left parents unable to collect their children from school – but GTR, Network Rail and the DfT have until now passed responsibility for the situation between themselves.
After a grilling from the MP about “where exactly the buck stops” on reinstating the services, it was revealed that recommendations had to come from GTR bosses and these would be decided on by Network Rail.
Caroline and local commuters were also told Network Rail is about to look at proposals for future changes from GTR relating to several Brighton Mainline stations, and will respond later in the Autumn.
Whatever improvements are agreed would not be implemented until May 2019. Network Rail claims such a long lead-in time is now required to prevent a repeat of the extensive disruption caused by timetable changes across the country this May.
Backed by members of the Preston Park Train Campaign (PPTC), Caroline pushed for exceptional steps to be taken earlier.
Caroline Lucas MP said: “It should never have taken months and months of campaigning for commuters to finally be told where responsibility for their misery lies.
“GTR, Network Rail and the DfT are keenly aware of the distress they caused with May’s timetable chaos and it’s vital they change their processes to prevent future problems.
“But for the rail operators to delay fixing the fallout simply to comply with those new rules is completely unreasonable. The situation at Preston Park is exceptional and a ‘computer says no’ attitude is unacceptable. Rail bosses and their Ministers should be bending over backwards to clean up this mess and take immediate action to restore Gatwick Express services.”