"The train services from Lichfield Trent Valley (LTV) are unreliable and the station not fit for purpose" says Michael Fabricant. "Staffordshire County Council say that the lack of accessibility at the station is ‘a serious concern’.
"I have been pursuing this vigorously culminating with a meeting with the Managing Director of London Midland down at the House of Commons following Parliamentary Questions I tabled on train reliability and facilities at LTV".
"The reliability of the train service provided by London Midland since January has not been what was expected when the double tracking of the West Coast Mainline was completed" says Michael.
"The service has been patchy with cancellations on the Crewe to Euston (via LTV) service. Often on Sundays, the train down to London terminates abruptly at Rugby ‘due to staff shortages’ and passengers have to join a Virgin Train if it is available. I tabled Parliamentary questions about this resulting in a meeting with the Managing Director of London Midland, Steve Banaghan, and the Head of Communications Rachel Webster.
"I told them that the new London Midland service has been disappointing.
"Steve Banaghan claimed that London Midland are committed to improving the overall performance and reliability of services, after a period during December, January and early February where performance had been "unacceptably poor". This was due, he said, to a number of factors arising from the introduction of the new timetable from 14 December including: Infrastructure where a number of overhead line incidents at Rugby, Wembley and Watford, together with the air crash in Staffordshire; severe weather; some fleet reliability issues; the introduction of a brand new fleet of trains where a number of teething problems have occurred; the phasing in of the full December timetable which resulted in a number of late notice changes and rescheduling for London Midland services, which proved to be "less than robust"; and train crew resoursing issues to meet the demands of the new timetable.
"I strongly suggested that the change of train crews at Rugby were a cause of some problems and that there should be one train crew on the whole route.
"Mr Banaghan said that ‘LM accept that the change in train crews presents a problem especially on Sundays. Training for additional train drivers and conductors on the Crewe-London Euston route will help to reduce the number of changes of crew which currently take place at Rugby station and will ensure that where changes are required, the replacement crew are available and delays/cancellations reduced.’
London Midland added that these improvements will take effect from the May timetable change on Sunday 17 May.
Steve Banaghan adds "A number of actions had been put in place to ensure consistent performance improvement. We confirm that performance should stabilise from May onwards, when the next timetable change will enable London Midland to improve the robustness of the Trent Valley services and the West Coast timetable as a whole. These actions include fleet reliability improvements that are now taking place, the solution to teething problems with the new fleet of trains which are being implemented by the manufacturer with London Midland to ensure that the remainder of the trains in the new fleet (a further 20 vehicles are due to be delivered before the end of June) are modified during the manufacturing process and discussions with Network Rail on infrastructure improvements and reduction in delays and cancellations due to infrastructure problems."
London Midland confirmed that Sunday cancellations had been "unacceptably high in the last three months". They say the long term solution to these cancellations is two-fold: "firstly ensuring that more resources were available on Sundays wherever possible, to ensure that there was spare capacity to cover for gaps in staffing levels; and secondly the ongoing discussions being held by the company to harmonise terms and conditions across all traincrew. Currently all traincrew working for London Midland work to the terms and conditions form their predecessor organisations (Central Trains and Silverlink). Under these terms, Sunday working is voluntary, with only some Conductors having Sunday included in their contracts of employment as part of the normal working week. The discussions with unions and staff representatives on the whole range of terms and conditions are ongoing".
Michael now says: "I hope that there is now light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and that standards of service will be vastly improved from May 17th. It’s a shame it wasn’t right from Day One. I will continue to monitor the position closely".
Facilities at Lichfield Trent Valley Station
Earlier this month, Michael Fabricant tabled a Parliamentary Question to the Transport Minister:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when Lichfield Trent Valley Railway station will be (a) refurbished and (b) provided with disabled access to the platforms serving the southbound West Coast Main Line and the eastbound Birmingham line; and if he will make a statement."
Paul Clark MP, Minister for Transport replied: "There are currently no plans to carry out work at Lichfield Trent Valley under the Access for All or National Stations Improvement Programmes. However, London Midland are exploring options with the local authority to redevelop the whole site to improve station facilities, provide additional car parking and if possible, provide step free access to all platforms.
"If such a project can be developed, we would welcome an application for partial funding from the Access for All Small Schemes fund. An accessible ticket machine has recently been installed and improvements to the toilet and waiting facilities are due in the summer. Information points, customer information screens and a public address system are also planned."
Michael Fabricant says: "I find that a disappointing reply particularly in the light of my meeting with Steve Banaghan of London Midland and a letter I received from Staffordshire County Council earlier this month. Yet again, it looks as if disabled facilities – or simply facilities for people with young kids or heavy luggage – will continue to be merely a dream for Lichfield Trent Valley."
In a letter to Michael Fabricant, Dominic Davidson, Transport Projects Manager at Staffordshire County Council says "I agree entirely that the lack of accessibility at Lichfield Trent Valley station is a serious concern, particularly now that additional train services are calling on the Trent Valley route.
"The Council has taken every opportunity to highlight to the Department of Transport, Network Rail, and London Midland that improvements to accessibility need to be made at Lichfield Trent Valley. Significant investment is required at the station if it is to be made fully accessible. For instance, installation of lifts would cost several hundred thousand pounds. The Council does work closely with the rail industry to bring about station improvements wherever possible. However, the scale and nature of works needed at Lichfield Trent Valley require the lead to be taken by the rail industry".
But London Midland now say: "London Midland is exploring options with the local authority to redevelop the whole site to improve station facilities, provide additional car parking and if possible, provide step free access to all platforms.
"The most difficult obstacle to this is the fact that not all of the land required for the scheme is in railway or council ownership and therefore negotiations about land acquisition with the land owners are taking time to progress and could prove to be prohibitively costly. We are also working with Network Rail under their National Car Parks initiative to find a car parking solution independent of the bigger scheme outlined above. But the main issue again remains acquisition of additional land which is currently delaying progress and will add to the overall costs.
"Other improvements to the facilities at the station which London Midland is financing and managing include a new Ticket Vending Machine (installed earlier this year), refurbishment of the toilets, installation of a waiting shelter and re-signage. We are installing passenger information points, an automatic public address system and electric information screens. This programme of works is due to be completed in the summer."
Michael concludes by saying: "It seems that access at LTV other than by steps is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. This is particularly disappointing given all the initiatives for the disabled announced by New Labour in 1998 and 1999. These pledges all now seem forgotten. Nevertheless, there will be some improvements at LTV and I for one welcome them. Meanwhile I will continue to keep up the pressure for disabled access too."