WE need better rail links and we need them now.
That’s the call from politicians and business leaders who say this area is losing out because of the time it takes to get to and from the capital.
They say improved links would help with the regeneration of the region after the loss of nearly 1,000 jobs in the shipbuilding industry.
At the moment it takes 90 minutes to get from Portsmouth to London by train.
That is much slower that many places much further away.
Portsmouth - London (75 miles) 1hr 30min
Southampton - London (81 miles) 1hr 20min
Chippenham - London (97.8 miles) 1hr 8min
Solihull - London (110 miles) 1hr 27min
Crewe - London (168 miles) Ihr 30min
Kettering - London (79 miles) 1hr 1min
Now Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage has written to the head of Network Rail David Higgins to ask why journey times cannot be slashed.
‘It is often assumed that geographical proximity to the capital means fast connections, yet it takes longer to get from London to Portsmouth on the fast train than it does to get from London to Doncaster — a distance that is more than twice as far,’ she said.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt has also put forward the idea of an express train to link Portsmouth to the capital without stopping in the suburbs.
She said: ‘Our best chance of getting an improved service is to have more stringent franchise rules in 2016 when the area’s lines come up.
‘It takes one-and-a-half hours to get to London.
‘What they have done is move towards the 450 carriages to combat overcrowding.
‘Surveys show it does not help, and they use them at weekends when there is not an overcrowding problem.’
The call for a better service comes only weeks after a report singled out the current rail infrastructure as ‘acting as a severe brake on economic growth’.
Commissioned by the Minister for Portsmouth, Michael Fallon and prepared by Rear-Admiral Rob Stevens, Transforming Solent names rail connectivity as a top priority.
Maureen Frost, Hampshire Chamber of Commerce’s deputy chief executive is backing the call.
She said: ‘Obviously transport infrastructure is vitally important to our members and it is a big part of how businesses decide whether to locate somewhere and if they can attract the right staff to that location.
‘If there could be a new service that could go straight from London only stopping at Guildford, that would help bring more businesses into the area.’
Philip Holmes, associate at Vail Williams commercial property company in Portsmouth, said businesses may be more willing to invest in the city if better services were available.
‘London-based occupiers may see Portsmouth as a viable place to capitalise on the lower rents, the skill base, the lifestyle and the opportunity to take the quality, unbuilt office in space in the city.’
A spokeswoman for the South West Trains-Network Rail Alliance said: ‘The reality of services on the Portsmouth line is that we face practical capacity constraints due to the high volume of services which already operate.
‘Converting stopping services to express trains would result in a significantly poorer services for passengers travelling from other stations on the Portsmouth route, including Guildford and Haslemere.’
Not value for money, say customers
OVERCROWDING and uncomfortable journeys also add to the list of complaints rail users and business leaders have about the service connecting the Portsmouth area to the capital.
According to PassengerFocus’s latest research of rail passengers, those using the Portsmouth to London Waterloo line are among the least satisfied in the country in terms of value for money.
Only 29 per cent said they were happy with the service they got for the money paid.
The season before found 23 per cent were satisfied.
Just one other line fared worse in the survey.
Results in the same PassengerFocus survey show 59 per cent of passengers using Virgin Trains’ London to Manchester service, which stops at Crewe, felt they got value for money.
Denis Fryer of South Hampshire Rail Users’ Group says passengers using the London Waterloo to Portsmouth route ‘often travel in miserable conditions in hard, narrow, cramped seats’ because of the carriages chosen to serve the route. There are plenty of trains in the Solent area, but the overall service is far from ideal,’ he said.
‘Southampton to Portsmouth is probably the worst inter-urban service in the south east.’