A strong rail network is vital for the employment opportunities, journeys to school, and family life of many. Following service disruption last year, I have been working with the rail industry on its £15 million Passenger Benefit Fund, which was levied by the Government on train operator Govia Thameslink Railway (Southern, Thameslink and Gatwick Express).
£290,000 for local passenger improvement projects was announced earlier this year, following delays endured by rail users at Three Bridges, Crawley, Ifield and Gatwick Airport stations.
In June 2019 I held a public meeting for local passengers and stakeholders to find out more about the fund; I continue to make the point that decisions on how the fund is to be spent should be made at as local a level as possible.
I have welcomed proposals to reduce rail fares with the new 16-17 Railcard guaranteeing 50 per cent off all rail travel expected to benefit up to 1.2 million young people, and I have written to Crawley schools and colleges to urge headteachers to encourage students to sign up.
The Disabled Persons Railcard offers a third off fares. Everyone in Crawley should have the opportunity to travel by train. I was at Gatwick Airport recently to welcome proposals for the future of its railway station; of which improved accessibility and swifter journeys are at the heart of a £150 million upgrade plan.
Regulated rail fares have been frozen in line with inflation, meaning annual season ticket holders will have approximately £425 more in their pockets in the five years to 2020.
While some may seek vast restructuring of who runs our railways in pursuit of a political ideology, my priority is ensuring time and money are spent on practical improvements which will actually benefit local passengers.
The Government have confirmed £300 million of funding for engineering upgrades and fixes on Southern/Thameslink lines; Network Rail will target locations where the most significant delays have been shown to originate, causing recurring problems for the train operator and passengers.
Work is to include: replacing tracks and signalling and renewing key junctions; improving security to help prevent trespass; improving drainage in Victorian era tunnels to prevent water damage to electrical equipment; and shoring up cuttings and embankments to reduce the risk of landslides.