MP speaks out about railway failures during Parliament debate

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge at Sudbury train station
South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge at Sudbury train station

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge spoke last week at Parliament about the “infamous” problems with Sudbury’s rail branch line with Marks Tey.

On Tuesday St Edmundsbury MP Jo Churchill’s adjournment debate on the East Anglia Rail Franchise was held, as companies bid for the rights to take over the running of the franchise.

Mr Cartlidge explained the issues on Sudbury’s line, telling members that the faults which had caused trains to be cancelled for 13 days in November, were not actually on the Sudbury-Marks Tey branch line, instead on the main lines.

He told members: “I want to focus on one specific and increasingly infamous incident on our railway line in East Anglia in recent weeks. In fact, it is so infamous it has now earned its own title—leafgate.

“It was the recent closure of two branch lines in Suffolk for 13 days as a result of leaves on the line. The key thing is that they were closed not because of leaves on those lines but because of leaves on other lines in Suffolk, meaning that there were not enough diesel engines to go around.

“The lines from Sudbury to Marks Tey and from Felixstowe to Ipswich were closed because they were the easiest to close. Try telling that to passengers spending thousands of pounds a year on their season tickets.”

“The whole problem came down to the fact that when they had to go to the depots, the only places with a wheel lathe that could fix them were in Derby and Ilford, not in East Anglia.

“The [Sudbury] residents are a pretty stoic bunch, but when they were told that they would have no rail service for two weeks because of leaves on a different line, it was pretty humiliating for them. I have to say that it was pretty humiliating for me to have to deal with ever-angrier constituents.”

A number of MPs from across Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire attended and spoke during the debate.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Claire Perry said: “Rolling stock provision will have the highest score ever in this franchise.

“We will also have very clear customer performance targets in the franchise. I was shocked to find out that we used to let operators set their own. How can we possibly run a contract with an operator if we do not know what we are contracting for?

“I of course want to contract for measures such as punctuality and reliability, but crucially I want to contract for customers, because these are not empty boxes rolling around the network; they are boxes full of people, often over-full of people, trying to get to their jobs or home to their lives.

“I reassure right hon. and hon. Members that we are expecting a transformation in the quality of the rolling stock.”