Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin met with the rail minister, Chris Heaton-Harris on Wednesday (15 January) to raise concerns about the ongoing and serious issues with the reliability and punctuality of rail services in Bedford.
Despite assurances from the Department of Transport last year that peak-time EMR trains would return to Bedford in 2020, the rail minister and the Department for Transport were unable to guarantee a date when the service would resume.
A spokesperson for the DfT said, “Under the new franchise agreement, Bedford will continue to be served by the same number of East Midlands fast trains during peak hours as they were before May 2018, with a dedicated service starting and ending at Corby.
“East Midlands Railway is currently carrying out a public consultation for the timetable that will operate from December 2020.
“When this service is combined with the Thameslink services, Bedford will have more than 17,000 seats in the peaks to and from London.“
In response, Mr Yasin said, “The issue is not if the peak time services are being re-instated but when.
“The Government said the service would be delivered by December 2020 and now they appear to be back-tracking on that commitment.
“This is a further breach of trust for Bedford rail users, who have been very inconvenienced by the downgrading of their rail service. I urge all rail users to respond to the consultation to fight for the reinstatement of the service they were promised.”
At the meeting, Mr Yasin, gave the minister a briefing, detailing all of the concerns Bedford and Kempston rail users had raised with him over the months and years regarding Thameslink, the loss of peak-time EMR service, the planned downgrading of services to the North and the ongoing problems with the Marston Vale line.
Mr Yasin said, “The Bedford train commute continues to perform below acceptable levels, and this will affect the prosperity of Bedford as a major commuting town.
“I had a constructive discussion with the rail minister, and as a fellow commuter, the minister did seem to understand the fundamental issues.
“However, I asked for an update on the promised re-introduction of peak time EMR services and he was sceptical about the trains being part of the December 2020 timetable, as the previous rail minister promised.
“He was unable to guarantee the services would be reinstated at all this year saying, “in my experience of train timetables, nothing is guaranteed until its up and running”.
“I urge anyone who uses East Midlands or Thameslink services to respond to the EMR consultation which closes in February.”
This sentiment was echoed by Bedford rail campaigner and Green Party Councillor, Ben Foley.
“It is crucially important that lots of Bedford rail users respond to the current consultation, making the case for at least two trains an hour to give a service both between Bedford and Leicester and between Bedford and London with a journey time consistently less than 40 minutes,” said Cllr Foley.
“This would return us to the situation we had only a few years ago. Rail groups at other stations on the route are making the case for their station, and if we don’t make our case, we may lose out to their benefit.
“People are encouraged to join the facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/BedfordRail. The response of the minister should make it clear that if we don’t do enough to make the case for our train service, there are no guarantees.”
On train retro fitting, the Minister made assurances that all trains will have wifi, including Class 700 trains, but any trains not already fitted with tables will not be getting them.
On train punctuality – the Minister had no answers.
He said he knew it wasn’t ideal, but that the Thameslink service wasn’t as bad as other train services in the country.
Mr Yasin also raised the issue of ever-increasing ticket prices and the inequality baked into train fares, especially for part-time workers who aren’t eligible for season tickets or frequent user discounts.
The Minister said that in the long term, they will be moving away from the season ticket model and moving to a pay-as-you-go model, which would also address the discrepancy in charges for single and return fares.
He was unable to say whether this model might actually lead to increased fares.
Following the meeting, Mr Yasin said, “The meeting was valuable, and I want to foster a good working relationship with the rail minister to I can get a good outcome for Bedford.
“It was a constructive dialogue and I was pleased that the Minister listened to my concerns and asked me to send constituents’ correspondence to him.
“I urge anyone with rail issues to continue to write to me so I can give the Minister as full a picture as possible of the problems we encounter.
I have been assured that the Minister will write to me with a fuller response to the concerns I raised, and I will pass that on in due course.
“At the end of the day, however, actions speak louder than words and I remain unconvinced that the Government can make the reform needed to run a rail service that is both efficient and good value for money.
“The whole train network lacks a long-term, sustainable strategy and joined up thinking. Yet it’s the consumer that is paying the price, both with the added stress and inconvenience to their lives from a transport system that they can’t rely on, and being hit in the pocket, year on year, from a fare structure that lacks transparency and is out of control.
“The Government has created a system which puts profit before people and unless that changes, the rail network will not be fit for purpose.”
Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire, Richard Fuller, said he would work together with Mr Yasin to influence the minister on behalf of the Borough’s commuters.