MPs have urged Network Rail to bring forward a major programme of overhead line work to improve winter resilience.
The cross-party transport select committee said the conversion of the line from Southampton to Basingstoke to an overhead electric supply should happen over the next couple of years.
Network Rail has currently only committed to the planning stage of the project in the upcoming control period, which runs from 2014, beginning in April, to 2019.
But a report published this month by the committee said action was needed sooner.
“We welcome the progress made in improving the winter resilience of the third rail network south of the [River] Thames. The conversion of the Southampton-to-Basingstoke route is a good first step towards upgrading the third rail network,” says the report.
“The government should push for this conversion to take place in the early part of Control Period 5 in order to allow time to evaluate the benefits and build a business case for a more comprehensive third rail conversion scheme in Control Period 6 [beginning in 2019].”
The committee was also critical of failures to keep passengers informed about progress in tackling disruptive incidents.
Network Rail told the committee that the restoration of services after the St Jude storm in October had gone well. But it added that there was a shortage of information on the status of networks that it could pass on to passengers.
The MPs said the Office of Rail Regulation should ensure that train operating companies develop better procedures to identify how long a period of disruption is likely to last and to communicate this.
They also called for better information about road conditions to made available.
“We recommend that the Highways Agency initiate a review to investigate the barriers to providing comprehensive real-time information to drivers; identify technological and other solutions to providing real-time information, particularly during periods of disruption; and develop a strategy for implementing these solutions across the strategic roads network,” says the report.