IT IS no exaggeration to say that the past few years on the rail network in the south east have been marked by extraordinary change.

There has been the £1 billion redevelopment of London Bridge station, and the £800 million redevelopment of Waterloo station to include five more platforms.

Then there is the ongoing upgrade of Thameslink services, delivering space for 40,000 extra passengers into the capital each morning peak.

And the launch of brand new state-of-the-art Intercity Express Trains out of London’s Paddington station, as part of the Government-led £5.7 billion Intercity Express Programme.

These are just some of the huge investments that have already begun benefiting rail passengers in the south east in recent years.

And as the industry prepares to launch a brand new five-year period of investment in rail infrastructure on the network next month, work continues apace to meet the needs and demands of passengers across the south east.

Between 2019 and 2024 the region is set to benefit further from a share of the £48 billion funding across the UK rail network, focused on improving reliability and punctuality for passengers.

There’s no denying 2018 was a difficult year for many passengers, including those who suffered disruption following timetable changes.

We have been clear that reliability has not been good enough.

Put simply, passengers have deserved better.

But as we move into this new period of investment, it’s important to remember that we will continue to see the positive outcomes of a lot of work started in the past five years too.

In 2017, Waterloo, London’s busiest station, serving 100 million passengers every year, underwent a huge redevelopment with work to lengthen and widen platforms, replace old signalling and bring four former Eurostar platforms back into domestic use.

The first of 57 new Class 800 Hitachi trains also started running on the Great Western line out of London, providing more seats for passengers and better on-board services like improved wi-fi.

Then last year, London Bridge station re-opened following a huge refit, to unveil one of the biggest station concourses in the UK – roughly the size of the Wembley football pitch – offering direct and easy access between all 15 platforms at the station.

The new Crossrail trains are already running between Shenfield and Liverpool Street in the east and Paddington and Hayes and Harlington in the west.

When it is fully open, the line will carry up to 200 million passengers a year from west to east across central London.

And work also continues on the £300 million Brighton Mainline upgrade, bringing in faster, more reliable services for an estimated 300,000 passengers a day.

But it’s not just the largest projects that make a difference.

Smaller schemes have also helped to improve passengers’ journeys every day.

That includes a new station at Lea Bridge, new lifts at West Hampstead to improve accessibility, alongside a further 15 stations which have been made step free under the Access For All programme.

It is a programme dedicated to make the network more available to all of the travelling public.

All of this work has been done by an army of men and women working for the train operators, Network Rail and others – and I want to pay tribute to them; thousands of people who have helped to transform and upgrade the network for millions of passengers who rely on it every day.

A great many lessons have been learned and great deal has been achieved too. Improvements to trains, tracks and stations will continue as the Government and industry strive to give passengers a rail network fit for the 21st century.