Slammed rail firm called to answer

RAIL operators who failed to keep stranded passengers informed during the recent deluge of snow have been slammed by the town’s MP and a group of train lobbyists.

As reported in last week’s Observer, services between 1066 Country and the capital were severely hit by the weather.

By Thursday morning all trains leaving Hastings had been cancelled and earlier in the week dozens of locals had been stuck on trains for hours without moving an inch – with one man and his four children forced to bed-down overnight after finding themselves stranded on a service back from London after watching an evening game at Arsenal.

Football fan Dave Willis summed up the feeling among travellers, saying he did not blame Southeastern for the delays but that the lack of information was inexcusable.

Now Amber Rudd – who represents Hastings and nearby Rye – has taken her constituents’ complaints straight to the top during a meeting with Southeastern’s chief executive Charles Horton.

Speaking after the head-to-head earlier this week, Ms Rudd said: “I told Mr Horton of the complaints that people have raised with me and asked him to address them.

“The main criticism was the awful communication and incorrect information that passengers received.

“I stressed this to him and he recognised that there were failings and stated that the company was taking action to improve communication with passengers for future extreme weather events.

“I have left him with a list of serious questions that need to be answered to ensure that passengers are not put in situations like they were last week and he has agreed to answer them all.”

Ms Rudd has also contacted Network Rail - the group responsible for clearing the tracks and de-icing the rails - to demand an explanation for the apparent lack of work.

And local rail action group St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement Programme (SHRIMP) has also criticised Southeastern over the handling of the snow.

Spokesman Martin Woodfine hit out: “Southeastern failed in many ways, including severe disruption for nearly a week and continuous mis-information to its customers.

“The group’s neighbouring operator Southern has had similar challenges but in most circumstances has continued services with similar rolling stock, the same snow, the same infrastructure and the same communication tools - so it can be done.”

Mr Horton defended Southeastern, but was quick to apologise for the firm’s shortcomings.

He told the Observer: “We are sorry that many of our passengers had severely disrupted services last week due to the snow and icy conditions on the track.

“Ice on the conductor rail makes it impossible for trains to draw electricity causing major disruption.

“We accept that there were shortcomings in information provision and this made the disruption even more frustrating for passengers.

“We’ve already identified some short-term measures to improve this but will be working to achieve more significant improvements.”