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Rail Services: Southend

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2016

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mark Spencer.)

Christmas has come early for me, with our reaching the Adjournment debate earlier than usual. However, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister, with good heart, that there is no point in having an Adjournment debate and exchanging 15 minutes of words each unless there is a positive outcome, which is what I expect. There could be no finer Christmas present for my constituents than improving the very disappointing train service that c2c and Abellio Greater Anglia offer.

There is some irony to the debate because I had an Adjournment debate on the same subject at the beginning of the year and again, the business ended rather earlier than expected. On that occasion, the Minister and I were caught out, but we certainly have not been caught out this time.

My hon. Friend the Minister was elected to the House in 2010, so he has not had the opportunity of listening to me talking about the railway service that my constituents enjoy or suffer. He is dependent on the briefing that his officials give him, and they are dependent on the briefing that the people who run the services give them. That shows how things have changed in this place.

Once upon a time—the violins come out—the democratically elected Member of Parliament raised an issue, the Minister was concerned about all he had heard and he could do something about it. He could actually make a difference. In 2016, it does not feel like that. The way in which power has increasingly seeped away from this place is disappointing. Doubtless the Minister will shock me at the end of the debate and I will leave here happy, with him guaranteeing to have a good word with the deliverers of the two rail services and saying that things will improve.

When I was Member of Parliament for Basildon—the violins come out again—I called for the privatisation of the Fenchurch Street line. I am not an MP who talks about rail services hypothetically. I am a commuter and have been for many years. I was a commuter before I became a Member of Parliament, and my wife and I remember standing on crowded platforms, our hearts in our mouths, as the train stopped, the carriage doors opened and people fell out because there was such a crush. We would think, “Oh crikey, we can’t get on the next train. We’re going to be late for work. What will our bosses think of all this?”

Our train services have improved, and I pay tribute to my predecessor, the late Lord Channon, and the late Lord Parkinson. Both those former colleagues, when they were Secretaries of State, were responsible for much of the improvement of the tube and railway services that we take for granted. However, if they were alive today, they would be very disappointed to see what has happened to the c2c line.

I do not blame the women and men who work for the two train companies. They do a wonderful job under difficult circumstances. However, I blame the management and the senior management, particularly of National Express. They tried to shut me up earlier this year because I was trying to get an improvement in the services. I absolutely blame them and will not stop raising these matters in the House of Commons until there is a dramatic improvement in services.

All those years ago, when the things we did in the House were reported, I had an argument on live TV with the then chairman of British Rail. I can remember coming back from the broadcast and being applauded by colleagues in the Division Lobby because they thought it was good that a local MP had taken the national rail service to task. Everything changed. We used to be called the misery line. The line was privatised and we became the happy line. It was completely transformed and the constituents I represented at the time were pleased with the improved services.

Since 1997, I have been the Member of Parliament for Southend West but I use the same railway line. The stations that serve the area I represent are Westcliff, Chalkwell, Leigh-on-Sea and Prittlewell, which is served by Abellio Greater Anglia. I am very pleased to see in their places my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and for Fylde (Mark Menzies)—it is always good to have his support. I could go on to mention other colleagues. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) is not in his place but would also support me.

I am here in my capacity as a member of the Transport Committee. My hon. Friend has raised this matter on many occasions, and I want to share what he says in this Adjournment debate with members of the Committee and see whether we can look at it and help him.

I am flattered and honoured. I had forgotten that my hon. Friend is a member of the Transport Committee. It is very good news that he might raise this matter with the Chair and the Committee.

This time last year I was looking forward to Christmas. The gentleman running the line contacted me and my colleagues to say that, although there would be some changes, it was all good news, and that the wonderful service would be even better. On 13 December 2015, the timetable changed. We were told that, as a result, there would be improved passenger experiences, which is definitely not the case judging by my inbox, and increased reliability, but a constituent has said that it is

“rarer to have a day without issues than a day with”.

We were promised quicker commutes and more seat availability, but another constituent has written to say that people are already standing by the time the train arrives at Westcliff. I am not criticising the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East who get on at Thorpe Bay and the other stations—they are more than entitled to do so—but by the time the trains reach Westcliff where I get on, they are already packed.

We were also told that, if the changed timetable failed, we would more than likely return to the old one, but that has obviously not happened. Within days of those initial changes in December 2015, my mailbox and inbox were piling up with complaints, so I did not have as happy a Christmas as I had anticipated.

Constituents showed the extent of their upset by protesting at a famous, or infamous, rally. People do not often have rallies on platforms, but we had one on the platform at Fenchurch Street station on 14 January 2016.

In April 2016, following the public rally in the railway station, the wonderful Essex radio broadcaster Dave Monk interviewed Mr Drury, the gentleman responsible for running the line. Mr Drury said that he was

“Going to reduce the number of trains and use those carriages to lengthen the other trains, so we’ve got longer trains.”

The logic of how that would please my constituents is a little confusing, but that is what he said. In response to people saying that they did not want four-coach trains, he said that there were going to be longer trains, but there were not going to be so many. But they did not want fewer trains! He was told that he was not meeting an increased demand if he increased the length of trains but decreased the number of trains running. Daily correspondence has continued. The misery line has returned, at least for my constituents.

There was then an exchange between me and the then chairman of the Conservative party. I received a letter from the then chairman in which it was suggested that he had received a complaint from the chairman of National Express, the gentleman in overall charge of c2c. He had written to the party chairman, asking him whether he was aware that one of his colleagues was making life difficult, in a rather disagreeable fashion, by complaining about the c2c service. Now, that is not acceptable. It is gutless. If anyone has a beef, let them meet the MP eyeball to eyeball. Do not go behind their back. Did the chap think that the chairman of the Conservative party was going to tell me off? If he had, he would have got it all guns blazing! That well and truly backfired, and I am never, ever going to forget what that gentleman did. It undermined my role, and the role of all MPs, in representing constituents’ views.

I will now read out a selection of letters I have received about the service:

“They appear to have cancellations, delays and faults virtually every day now, which is extremely frustrating given their previous excellent performance.”

The next one is a letter to c2c:

“I have written to you before, expressing unhappiness about when things go wrong. Passengers are pretty much left to fend for themselves. There seems to be no information at Barking and it is exhausting to keep swapping platforms”—

it is quite a journey to get to the other platform—

“for services that then do not run or have left by the time you get there. You apologised for the inconvenience and stated that this would be looked into and improved—this clearly has not happened.”

Even today, I received an email alerting me to the fact that there was disruption on the line. The next letter states:

“I am also starting to tire of all the apologies made to the travelling public. Like many others, I would prefer to see real change and proper information given to customers, rather than the current mantra which seems to imply ‘we can do as we like as long as we say sorry’. My feeling is this is not acceptable given my fare is now well over £3,000 per annum, my second largest bill only to my mortgage.”

It is a lot of money. Here is another one:

“This morning, I checked their website at 6.45am to see if the service was ok. It was. The 7.02 am fast train from Chalkwell was on time. I walked to the station to discover the 7.02 was cancelled. No reason given. I asked c2c on Twitter what happened. Was told it was under investigation. Despite repeated requests for an answer via Twitter, I’ve been ignored and have not received an answer. I will not accept being ignored by them.”

Jolly good show.

The next one reads:

“I shouldn’t have to leave home earlier and get on a slower train but pay more money for the benefit.”

I absolutely agree. Another constituent said that her fare was over £3,000 a year, which again is a lot of money for a poor service. The next one reads:

“The only thing we get from c2c is: don’t worry, more carriages are coming. Carriages are not the answer. The problem is the shambolic timetable.”

The problem is indeed the timetable, which I was told would be good news for constituents. The next one reads:

“I now refuse to take my kids to London on the trains because of the poor state (especially toilets if they are working), but more because I am worried for their safety in such awful conditions.”

The final one reads:

“Still major problems, no end in sight even with new carriages. When will C2C put passengers before the profits of cramming people in to hop between barking and West Ham?”

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, with the briefing from his wonderful officials, is not going to say, “It will all be fixed because we are going to have new all-singing, all-dancing carriages and more trains”, because that will not fix the problems. Indeed, the design of the new carriages is totally unacceptable. It can only have been done by somebody who does not commute.

There are some very interesting statistics on the performance of the line. From autumn 2015 to January 2016, according to the c2c website, there was a 20% increase in the number of passengers departing from Fenchurch Street in the evening. Surely this is largely due to people using the train as a replacement for the tube between Barking and West Ham. In the same period, there was a 5% increase in the morning at the busiest point. In January 2017, c2c will introduce 24 new carriages along with the new timetable, which promises four more fast services each morning and evening, which will cut journey times by up to six minutes, and a 6% increase in the number of seats.

Nevertheless, the new timetable—yet another new timetable—starting on 9 January 2017 still has most of the trains stopping at Barking and West Ham, which is where a lot of the severe overcrowding occurs, particularly at evening peak time. This is because people can use the c2c line as opposed to the tube to get between Barking and West Ham, which is rather unfair because they are paying the Transport for London tube prices, not the price that c2c customers have to pay. Does c2c receive a financial incentive from TfL to stop at east London stations?

The following figures are calculated on the basis of all trains arriving at Fenchurch Street between 7 o’clock and 9 o’clock and do not count trains that go via “the loop”, which is the wonderful little journey through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock. It is not that my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East do not want to go via Tilbury or Stanford-le-Hope, and all these other places; it is just that it delays the journey quite a bit.

In 2015, leaving Westcliff between those hours, there were 16 trains and a total of 144 carriages. Under the 2017 timetable—this is the crunch—Westcliff will be served by 13 trains with a total of 136 carriages. That is eight fewer carriages. We are being fed absolute rubbish, and it is insulting to my intelligence and that of my constituents. The figures are exactly the same for Chalkwell. Those with the longest commute—the first six stations on the line—are the worst off. There is an increase in the number of carriages at Leigh—144 in 2015 compared with 152 in 2017—which is great for the residents getting off at Leigh, but reducing the earlier stations will only lead to a bottleneck for commuters. On Friday, c2c also announced a fare increase. That is not its fault—it is in line with Government policy—but still it has rather upset my constituents.

Turning to the Abellio Greater Anglia service, a station that serves commuters from my constituency was upgraded, which is well and good, but my goodness, the line is dire beyond belief. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was the Minister when the franchise was renewed, but there was a £150 million investment to upgrade the network, which was good. I understand that an agreement was reached with c2c for ticket acceptance between the two lines for 2017 during relevant engineering works, the details of which will be published on the website shortly. Abellio is in negotiations with c2c about ticket acceptance over the festive period, too. However, a constituent wrote to me complaining that

“The trains are out of date”—

they certainly are—and “overpriced”, compared with other services. She said:

“I am shocked that this franchise has been given the contract again to run this shocking service.”

I have met the management of Abellio Greater Anglia, and given the others bidding for the line, Abellio was probably the best of those offering to run it. Given that it had also been given money to upgrade services, I thought, “Let’s go with it,” but my constituent says:

“The impact this is having on my personal life is so detrimental that I have put my house on the market, so that I can move to another address…after commuting on the Southend Victoria train line for 20 years, I realise how terrible the service is and I cannot contemplate having to endure this nightmare commute anymore!”

That takes me back all those years to before I became an MP, when my wife and I would stand there, hearts in our mouths, when the doors opened, and could not get on the train. It is still a dreadful service.

My constituent goes on to say:

“Nearly every day there is an issue and at weekends no trains at all. Now we understand that although there is no service over the Christmas period they will not allow season tickets to be used on c2c line”.

That certainly needs to be sorted out. She asks:

“Why would commuters want to take trains to Billericay, buses to Newbury Park”—

both nice places—

“and tube to London, this surely cannot be classed as an alternative service?...The fares on our line are much higher”

than on other services. She says:

“the rolling stock is ridiculously out of date yet they are again given the contract for our region. I am hoping that my complaint is one of many that you are receiving and that something will happen to improve the misery commuters pay over £3,000 a year to face every day.”

Jamie Burles, the excellent managing director of Abellio Greater Anglia, said at the press launch last month, on the subject of corporate responsibility, that

“it is a mark of a good business of how quickly we put things right”.

On proposed maintenance work that will cause disruption on the Southend Victoria to London Liverpool Street line, he admitted that there would be

“a tiny bit of pain for a very long gain”,

and that there would be “step change service improvement” to the line, which will have multimillion-pound investment. Judging by some of the complaints that I have received, however, if this “tiny bit of pain” means changes to the timetabling, frequency and capacity of trains, just as we experienced on c2c, Abellio will be held accountable for its reputation by me and my colleagues.

I hope that this railway company will get behind Southend becoming the alternative city of culture next year. If it wants to curry favour with local residents and local MPs, it might consider that it would be wonderful if, when we start our celebrations as the alternative city of culture on 1 January, it sponsored and helped with a few events.

I hope that I will not have to seek another Adjournment debate to raise the same subject next year. I fully understand that the Minister may still be reading his way into the brief, and I am not sure how familiar he is with this line, so I do not expect him to wave a magic wand. However, if he is not able to cover all the points that I have raised, perhaps I, and others, could have a meeting with him and his officials in the new year.

In spite of everything, I wish the staff of c2c, Abellio Greater Anglia, and everyone else, a very happy Christmas and a great new year.

I am sure that constituents reading the report of this debate will not fully appreciate the fact that most junior Members of Parliament have only half an hour in which to debate issues of constituency interest. It is a great testament to my parliamentary neighbour that he has secured a three-and-a-half-hour debate, not just once, but twice.

It is also good to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) is present. I recall that when I was a Whip, one of the most frustrating things was not being able to ask questions or make speeches. I know that my hon. Friend will be making a beeline for the Minister afterwards and delivering her speech to him in person, bending his ear on all things Thurrock in respect of the c2c service. If I were to give the House a foretaste of that speech in three words, they would be “more rolling stock”—so I think the Minister is forewarned.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) for allowing me to join in the debate. Both c2c and Abellio lines pass through his constituency, but both of them terminate in mine. We certainly do not want to see a return to the misery line. I am slightly more “glass half full” than my hon. Friend, but as he has made clear, our constituency experiences are different.

During the initial timetable consultation I met Julian Drury, and raised concerns from the outset. Once things began to go wrong, I looked back at the letter that I had sent him following our conversation, and was quite shocked by the clarity and strength of my language and how assertive I had been in saying that they would go wrong. I would have wished to be proved wrong myself, but, alas, I was not.

I wanted a reversion to the faster trains that had taken my constituents to London, and I adopted terminology similar to that which had been used by the campaigners for faster trains on the line between Norwich and London. I was asking for all trains from Shoeburyness to London to travel that distance in less than 60 minutes, which I think is a critical point. Train journeys from Shoeburyness can take about an hour and 10 minutes. The company has listened, and some trains manage 59 minutes, but it would be very useful if, over the years, we could reach a point at which they all took less than 59 minutes.

The Department could be helpful in this regard. c2c has some of the highest punctuality rates, but—it may seem rather odd for me to say this—I think that we should give it permission to be less punctual. If on four days out of five we arrived two minutes later than advertised, it would be good if, on the other days, we arrived five minutes earlier than we currently do. That would particularly benefit constituents in Shoeburyness, at the extremity of the line. A friend of mine used to run the line at night from Shoeburyness all the way to Fenchurch Street in only 32 minutes. Admittedly there were no other trains on the line, and admittedly they did not stop at any of the stations, let alone all of them, but his point was that it was possible to pick up time along the line so that the journey would always take less than 59 minutes.

The new timetable precipitated other problems. Everyone was coming back from the Christmas holiday, and the changes in London had clearly not been thought through. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock will point out to the Minister later that Transport for London made a number of representations, with quite a narrow focus, for people travelling between Barking and West Ham, to the disadvantage of our constituents in Southend, Thurrock and Rochford.

Following the problems, a meeting was held in my constituency offices by c2c and Shana Doherty, who had organised a petition, to discuss what could be done to rectify some of the problems. There has been incremental change. I think a full reversion to the old timetable would be wrong; as I have said, I want to speed up some trains, rather than simply revert to the old timetable. Some of the rolling stock will help, although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West that the design is not perfect. I travelled on one of those trains, not since they have been used during rush hour, but on a special trip with local people to see what they were like, just before they were introduced, and some things were obviously wrong. There were big sections for luggage, as if we were travelling to Heathrow or Gatwick, for instance, whereas it is quite rare to see someone coming down the line with large items of luggage. I made that point and was told that those areas could have been got rid of and an extra two seats put in, but that would have required quite a big change, whereas there were these standard trains that could be bought, which were new, but had that format. It was easier to get them in quickly. It seems somewhat incongruous to have that sort of luggage space, however.

Some people further down the line have been critical of the removal of the three-seat rows. They see that as a kind of metro-isation of the service, which I oppose. I must admit that as a slightly larger person, I am rather sympathetic to the case for two-seat rows. Some 10 years ago, my doctor said I was borderline obese, which, although actually true, I thought was a little unfair, but I have noticed that even much smaller people prefer to stand than sit three abreast, which is socially uncomfortable. The rules on seat-sizing could be changed further by the Department. However, for my constituents, the configuration of the new rolling stock certainly is a benefit.

I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has had many problems with c2c and in his dialogue with it, and finds the correspondence with the chairman slightly troubling and wrong-footed. From my point of view, Julian Drury has actually been quite good, and is one of the better representatives of big business working with the community. I cannot explain the difference in experience; perhaps it is in part due to the fact that my constituents get on the services earlier and do not have quite the same problems. Indeed, I have not had the experience that my hon. Friend has had of the problems in Basildon and the misery line and so on.

The Abellio service was shocking, and on the face of it, it was an incredible surprise that someone running such a shocking service got reappointed. In reality, Abellio’s hands were very much tied by the investment it could put in under the old contract, and it was quite clever in making sure that the tendering document required everyone to step up; as a result, we could not get anyone coming in to run the rubbish stock. To be frank, I felt that my suit needed to be dry-cleaned if I sat on the seats, yet the service is more expensive than c2c. That is because, again, there is a legislative problem in the way Departments have handled these things over the past two decades; the misery line, as it was, was cheaper to take into account the fact that it was pretty crap. Now it is the happy line, but fare increases have been proportionate across all tracks. Fares have all gone up at the same rate, and the differential from when it was not the happy line has been coded in.

We can make changes. The announcements in the urgent question earlier today on rail and track reunification will greatly help the rail services in Southend, particularly the c2c line, as 80% of it is used only by c2c. There are other parts of the country where that would be less useful, however.

I want to mention a third train line in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West looks confused, but he forgets that there is a train on the pier. The pier train line is subject to exactly the same rules and regulations as the other train lines, and it is difficult for the local council to get in the right expertise to run that line. I gently probed Julian Drury and Rob Tinlin, the chief executive of Southend Borough Council, who has done an excellent job over the past 10 years in Southend and, sadly, is due to leave. I asked them whether c2c could take over that 1.3-mile train service, because it has the expertise to do so. Furthermore, I suggested that we introduce through-ticketing, so that people could come from London to Southend Central, and then, after a short walk, get to the end of the pier. That would encourage them to spend more money there, it would be a nice publicity stunt, and it would bring in the expertise of a professional railway firm—particularly if there was rail and track reunification—and its greater understanding of track issues. It would then be running more pleasure down to the end of Southend pier.

Julian Drury is, in my view, rather better than my hon. Friend thinks he is, and we both agree that Rob Tinlin is fantastic. Having raised this issue with them a few years ago, I rather hoped that it would come back as a council or c2c idea. Sadly, that has not happened, and in this debate I would like to nudge them a little bit further in that direction.

It is a pleasure to be called here once again to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who, in his customary style, has regaled us with tales of what is occurring on rail services to Southend. He invited me to shock him in my response to his speech. Perhaps a “shock and awe” strategy is not precisely what his railway line needs, but I urge him never to stop campaigning on behalf of his constituents. To me, he is the Duracell bunny of Members of Parliament in this regard. Ever since I was elected, he seems to have chaired all my Westminster Hall debates, and he has never been less than enthusiastic every step of the way. So if he chooses to raise an issue, far be it from me say that there is no issue at all.

If I can beg my hon. Friend’s indulgence, I will—if I dare—start by being slightly positive about his railway line. As he might be aware, c2c is actually one of the best performing franchises in the UK, second only to Merseyrail, and it conceded first place only recently. As of 12 November, the percentage of trains arriving at their destination within five minutes of their booked time—also known as their public performance measure—was 95%. As many hon. Members have rightly pointed out, this stands in stark contrast to the late 1990s when the line was known as the misery line. Going back to autumn 2000, passenger satisfaction was as low as 63%, but it now stands at 81%, although that represents a small decline from the high of 89% that it achieved in the previous national rail passenger survey. However, I expect c2c to have improved on that in the autumn national rail passenger survey that will shortly be announced. When I say that I expect that, I mean that I want the outcome to be achieved.

We have come a fair way since those days. The necessary infrastructure work and replacement rolling stock have helped to deliver one of the better performing commuter railways in the UK, with over 24 million passenger journeys a year. As recently as 2015, c2c won the passenger operator of the year award at a prestigious industry awards ceremony. Its customer-interfacing app, c2c Live, won the innovation award for passenger experience at the 2015 Railway Industry Innovation Awards. So we can find some good things to say about c2c’s performance.

However, as my hon. Friend is aware, c2c’s performance has begun to suffer once again, especially in the last couple of months. A significant factor has been an unprecedented number and length of temporary speed restrictions imposed by Network Rail due to the London clay in the area expanding in response to the change in the weather. This opens up small voids underneath the track and, for safety reasons, trains are therefore required to reduce their speed in those areas. In order to address these and other challenges, c2c has intensified its engagement with Network Rail. The company recognises that other issues, such as fleet reliability, are well within its control, and it is working with its suppliers to address them urgently. Today, for example, a lorry has unfortunately struck a bridge between Southend East and Thorpe Bay, which has meant that c2c will need to make adjustments to its evening timetable while emergency inspections are carried out on the damage to the infrastructure. I, and no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, will be keeping a close eye on the progress of that work.

I turn now to the issue in hand and the December 2015 timetable. More and more people are using our railways. Passenger journeys on the rail network have more than doubled since rail privatisation, and the picture is no different for c2c. The number of passengers travelling into London on c2c morning peak services has risen by 15% since 2010. c2c has had to listen to stakeholders up and down the route to understand what they want, which is more services, better connectivity with the three inner-London stations and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) pointed out, faster services. That is why c2c proposed the first significant change to its timetable for nearly a decade. The change was designed to deliver 1,400 more seats and space for 3,000 more passengers into London in the morning peak and 20% more services on the network. Passengers in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, and along the whole route, have undoubtedly benefited. The number of seats arriving into Fenchurch Street between 8 am and 9 am from Westcliff and from Chalkwell increased by 12% and from Leigh-on-Sea by 53%. The increase in capacity at those stations is more than the increase in morning peak demand.

The attractiveness of the new timetable brought more passengers than forecast to south Essex stations in the morning peak. In other words, it almost became a victim of its own success with an increase of 9.3% when compared with autumn 2015. That inevitably had similar effects during the evening peak of people leaving London to return to south Essex. All that was further exacerbated by the obligation to stop 95% of trains at Limehouse, West Ham and Barking. This greater connectivity for long-distance commuters was welcomed by key stakeholders on the route. However, the new service pattern provided a faster journey than the District line between the stations, and therein lies the rub. That prompted passengers who previously used the tube to use c2c services, especially those requiring Barking. That led to overcrowding, not least in the evening peak. It was a genuine cause for concern, as my hon. Friend rightly identified at the time.

As a consequence of my hon. Friend’s observations and those of other campaigns, c2c took some action to reduce overcrowding. For example, in response to my hon. Friend’s specific concerns, I understand that the 7.18 am from Shoeburyness into Fenchurch Street, which travels fast along the entire route, was lengthened from eight carriages to 12, providing more space for passengers. c2c also used its excellent, and unique, on-board automatic passenger counting system to fine tune the timetable yet further. Other changes reduced from four to just two the number of services departing with people standing during the morning peak from the three stations serving my hon. Friend’s constituency. Those two services are fast, and services either side have seats available. Understandably, my hon. Friend’s constituents are choosing to travel on those direct services as a result of the fast journeys into London. c2c also increased the number of seats from Fenchurch Street by 1,000 between 5 pm and 6 pm and removed the Barking stops. As a result, eight services leaving Fenchurch Street in the evening peak do not stop at Barking.

Following the positive changes made to hone the timetable in January, c2c also made use of the timetable change date in May 2016 to further improve services for passengers. Primarily, this involved reducing Barking stops on a further five services in the evening peak, with the effect of reducing the number of services leaving Fenchurch Street in the evening peak with passengers standing from 31 to 24. Clearly, 24 remains too many, but that does demonstrate that progress is being made. This is because the removal of these stops further reduced the attractiveness of the c2c service compared with the District line, thus reducing overcrowding for c2c’s evening commuters. c2c plans to make further changes in January 2017. Specifically, it will start a train from Laindon at 7.31 am, as requested by the Laindon user group, and, for the reasons I stated earlier, further stops are to be withdrawn in the evening peak at Barking.

My hon. Friend also mentioned some issues relating to the Abellio franchise and concerns his constituents might have had. I draw to his attention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East did, the fact that the new Abellio Greater Anglia franchise is one of the most ambitious ever embarked upon by this Department. With £1.4 billion of investment, I am sure that travellers across that network will welcome the fact that we will be replacing every piece of rolling stock on that franchise. That can only be good news for people, not just in East Anglia, but those at Bombardier, in Derby, who will be making the carriages. By 2021, there will be more than 32,000 more seats on services arriving at Liverpool Street in the morning peak. There will be an extra train per hour, in addition to the existing three, between Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria, with two new fast peak journeys in each direction between the two. That comes in addition to the major station enhancement that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West referred to, so there is good news also in the Abellio franchise.

My hon. Friend is, however, right to point out the need to continue to improve rolling stock across the network as a whole. Twenty-four new carriages are being phased into service across the network by the end of December and they will provide 13,000 extra seats at peak times every week. From October 2019, a further 12 carriages will be introduced, meaning that by the end of that year the new franchise will have introduced a total of 36 additional vehicles into service on the route.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East rightly mentioned issues relating to accessibility and departmental rules on rolling stock. We have a looming deadline of 31 December 2019 to ensure that every rail carriage on our network meets the regulations on persons with reduced mobility. That is an unmovable target and we have to abide by it. I also point out, because this was alluded to, that this is an enclosed network between London and Southend, which makes it ripe for a number of attempts to improve the service, not just in terms of bringing train and track together, as the Secretary of State has announced today, but in terms of investigating whether we can progress with digital signalling on this part of the network. Members will have noted that in the autumn statement it was set out that the Treasury will be investing £450 million to roll out digital signalling across the network in the coming years. All that is good news, and I echo the hope that if c2c can manage to run a railway from London and Shoeburyness, it can offer some practical help on a 1.5 mile stretch down a pier. Our piers are very important to our coastal towns, as I well know, so I hope that c2c will hear this debate and think about the practical support it can offer on that.

Let me go back to being positive about c2c—I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West to forgive me for that—as it is leading the way on compensation. Since February, c2c has provided automatic compensation of 3p per minute for registered smartcard customers when their train is delayed by between two and 29 minutes, which is over and above what we are committed to as a Government nationally under Delay Repay 15. Indeed, the standard delay repay bandwidth of 30 minutes-plus has already been automated and there will be further automation for those with smartcards when we move to Delay Repay 15. My officials are shortly to commence engagement with c2c to agree the timescales for implementation. That is an important way of putting the interests of passengers first. Nobody wants to see delays on the network, but when they do occur, it is important not only that we make that compensation available, but that we make it as easy as possible for passengers to claim.

I noted the concerns that were raised regarding passenger information during disruption. It is a frequent bugbear that I also hear from rail users. They say that, while they are having breakfast at home, they look at their mobile, their iPad or social media to check that their usual train will be leaving on time and that all is going according to plan. Their smartphone tells them that the train is good to go and that it is on time. They arrive at the station only to find that the train was cancelled hours ago. There is a fundamental disconnect between the social media information being put out and the information that is available at stations. It is a matter that Transport Focus, the passenger watchdog, is looking at very closely. I have asked it to accelerate work on that so that all train operating companies, particularly in commuter areas, ensure that, when information is available, it is put out on every channel at the same time and that there is no discrepancy between one source of information and another. In industry parlance, we speak of a single source of truth. That is what customers need as well.

In conclusion, c2c is delivering more seats, more services and an improved journey experience for its passengers. I urge it to continue to engage with key stakeholders, including local Members of Parliament, and to make the necessary changes to address the overcrowding that arises from the fact that its current timetable is attractive to customers. There is an absolute commitment on the part of both the operator and the Department to ensure that the passenger is at the forefront of decision making with regard to these changes.

I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West and I extend that invitation to MPs on the entire line of route, most of whom are gathered in the Chamber today. I will if I may invite Julian Drury along as well. We can then have a very informed debate on how to improve one of our better performing commuter networks to make it perform even better.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.