Calls made for train services out of Portsmouth to be improved

POLITICIANS have called for improvements to ‘Victorian infrastructure’ and slow train journeys from Portsmouth to the rest of the UK – saying that services are not good enough to tempt people out of their cars.

By David George, Josh Wright and Maria Zaccaro
Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 4:55 am
A train leaving Portsmouth and Southsea railway station. Picture: Chris Moorhouse
A train leaving Portsmouth and Southsea railway station. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

Data compiled by The News from National Rail's journey planner show that train journeys from Portsmouth to major cities across the UK have not sped up in the past four years. Although trains now run slightly faster between Portsmouth and Southampton, journeys to Bristol, London and Manchester all take just as long as they did in 2017.

Campaigners and politicians alike have called for train operators to step up their game - and vow to play their part.

In 2017, a journey from Portsmouth to Bristol took two hours and 25 minutes; now, the fastest weekday train does the same journey in two hours and 38 minutes.

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South Western Railway says services have been altered due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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While eight minutes have been taken off the time between Portsmouth and Southampton, the journey from Portsmouth to Birmingham now takes 16 minutes more than it did four years ago.

Stephen Morgan, Labour MP for Portsmouth South, said: ‘The government needs to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to the ‘levelling-up agenda’ – and that includes Portsmouth’s rail connections.

‘I know from speaking with constituents and using local rail services myself that for years, delays and disruptions have caused real misery for commuters, key workers and those using the rail network for leisure.

‘Our city’s economy cannot be held back by a lack of investment or political will by the government. Portsmouth deserves better than Victorian infrastructure.’

Portsmouth City Council's cabinet member for traffic and transportation, Cllr Lynne Stagg, added: 'There are still improvements to be made. Obviously with Covid there haven't been as many people using trains but regardless we still need to get on with this.

'Trains are such a key part of efforts to get people out of cars and the services in and out of Portsmouth are not good enough to do that. East to west trains are infrequent and tend to stop everywhere.

'If we want more people travelling by train we need to increase the frequency of services and also their speed. But perhaps even more important is that fares are brought down.

'The big issue is that we have private companies running them and I don't believe transport should be privately-owned.'

According to Transport for South East, Network Rail is working on route studies to identify areas that need improvement, including routes that could be made quicker.

Rail services also play a significant role in the organisation's plans for net-zero carbon sustainable economic growth.

Cllr Rob Humby, deputy leader of Hampshire County Council, says the Covid-19 pandemic must be taken into account when looking at the data.

He said: 'We are keenly aware of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on rail travel and understand that demand had fallen by as much as 80 per cent or more, leading train operators to significantly reduce the number of services they run, with a consequent impact on some journey times.

'We are also aware that demand has started to recover, particularly at off-peak times, and we are fully supportive of all initiatives which further encourage people to travel by rail – not only does this reduce congestion on our road network but it also contributes to improving air quality and, in turn, helps to tackle climate change.

‘We would like to see rail - and other public transport - play a key role within Hampshire.’

Lyn Brayshaw from Southampton Friends of the Earth says rail services are crucial to improving our carbon footprint - but added that improvements must be made.

She said: 'A third of people don't have access to a car, so we obviously need a rail service that works well.

'Prices needs to go down in order for train fares to be more comparable with private vehicles and flying.

'Faster routes are better so an even faster train from Portsmouth to Southampton would obviously be great, if it could fit in around the stopping services.'

Royston Smith, Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen, added: 'I have been campaigning for years to improve journey times between Southampton and Portsmouth so I am pleased to hear that times are improving.

'The government has set out ambitious spending plans to improve our railways across the UK and open former stations.

'Electrification of our train lines will lead to faster journey times and I welcome plans to introduce more electric trains to our rail network.'

South Western Railway explained that service changes have been made over the past 18 months, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but that there are plans to add more fast trains along the Portsmouth line.

A spokesperson said: 'Throughout the past 18 months, we have ensured that any alterations made have not prevented us from amply meeting customer demand.

'As we emerge from the pandemic, we are consulting with our stakeholders on proposals for a long-term timetable, which will commence from December 2022.

'As part of this, we propose to increase the number of fast services running on the Portsmouth line from one to two per hour on weekdays, on top of the existing stopping service.

'Two fast trains per hour on Saturdays will continue to be available, as they are currently.’

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