Johnson ‘having a laugh’ over rail claim

South Western Railway (SWR) has contradicted a claim made by the prime minister in Parliament over its timetable.

The prime minister suggested the train services would return to last December’s pre-Omicron levels in a fortnight, thanks to the lobbying of a Tory MP.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (2 February), Chris Loder, Conservative MP for West Dorset, complained that SWR had cut off ‘Dorset, Somerset, most of Wiltshire, and Devon’ from services to London, ‘as well as slashing our service in half, most of which is totally unnecessary’.

An SWR train at Weymouth, Dorset, last year

In reply, Boris Johnson said that Mr Loder had ‘lobbied very effectively for his constituents’, adding: ‘I’m told that the timetable is expected to return to December 2021 levels from Saturday the 19th of February.’

Mr Loder subsequently claimed that he had ‘been successful with forcing a u-turn’.

However, SWR made clear that it could not back the prime minster’s claim.

A spokesperson said: ‘We are developing plans to increase our service levels as customers and colleagues return to the railway, and will announce the details as soon as they are finalised.’

BBC South transport correspondent Paul Clifton wrote that ‘a respected and long-serving SWR employee’ had told him: ‘You're having a laugh. Not enough trains; not enough people to fix them.’

As Transport Network has reported, last month SWR introduced a timetable that significantly reduced services in Dorset and into Devon, which it blamed on the Omicron variant leading to ‘fewer people using the train and staff shortages impacting on our ability to consistently deliver the current timetable’.

The firm has recently reintroduced a small number of trains, including an early morning train from Weymouth to Waterloo, after 'an increase in staff availability'.

On Thursday at Transport Questions in the Commons, rail minister Wendy Morton said that the Department for Transport ‘is working and continues to work very, very closely with rail operators’.

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