First Capital Connect - why YOU think this must terminate now

PUBLISHED: 11:18 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:50 06 May 2010

SIR – The service provided by First Capital Connect continues to get worse with the company lying to its passengers as to the reasons behind the delays and cancellations. As an example, on the morning of January 12 I was waiting for the 07.54 to Sevenoaks

SIR - The service provided by First Capital Connect continues to get worse with the company lying to its passengers as to the reasons behind the delays and cancellations.

As an example, on the morning of January 12 I was waiting for the 07.54 to Sevenoaks and actually boarded the train.

After a while of not moving we were asked to leave the train as it was being cancelled due to no availability of train staff.

This is a bit puzzling as the train somehow arrived at St Albans.

It transpires that the driver insisted that he was going to take a break and refused to continue on his journey and, even though collegues asked him to move the train as it was now delaying trains behind, he refused and asked not to have his break interrupted.

This conversation over the radios was overheard by a fellow passenger.

I find this type of behaviour totally unacceptable and it also led to an extremely crowded platform.

I feel the driver should be taken to task over this as sooner rather than later there will be an injury sustained by a passenger over this continued dispute.

And have you ever tried to submit a delay form through their internet site? It's impossible!

SIMON NORTH

Holborn Close, St Albans

SIR - I have travelled from St Albans to Central London via the mainline for over 30 years and have only one question to ask: how can First Capital Connect justify their franchise?

I regard myself not so much as a commuter but as a hostage to a company whose arrogance, greed and total lack of consideration to its customers is matched only by its towering inability to run anything resembling a train service.

Whilst other train companies (and I currently use three a day) appear to move heaven and earth to re-establish acceptable timetables in the face of oppressive climatic conditions, FCC cut their service and reach for their already over-extended book of lousy excuses.

Even at its best, the customers (their exploited masses) find themselves packed like livestock into overcrowded trains.

Truthfully, if FCC customers were chickens, EU legislation would protect them from such appalling conditions. But FCC customers have no such protection.

All they have is a hollow promise that things will improve. (Clearly that much has to be true as the present service is a laughing stock, or at least it would be if it didn't inflict such misery).

All I know is that if I ran my business like they run theirs, I wouldn't have a business very long.

Thankfully I have found the means to escape FCC incompetence. When I am working in London I drive to Cockfosters tube station.

It's £2.80 a day cheaper in the car park. I get one tube into Leicester Square. The trains leave every five minutes, I get a seat and it's approximately a third of the price.

The downside? It takes me 30 minutes to drive to Cockfosters. But trust me, with the erratic... sorry, I mean pathetic service offered by FCC, I still get to work quicker.

I will return to the BedPan line when the next franchise holder (and I pray every day it's not going to be FCC) can deliver a minimum acceptable level of service - providing an adequate number of trains that run on time and at a reasonable price.

Something tells me I won't be visiting St Albans City Station for quite some time.

BRIAN LEVESON

Jersey Farm, St Albans

SIR - I have lived in St Albans since 1983, using the trains to commute to my work in the City.

During that time we have seen electrification, privatisation, had a number of different operators of the trains to London, coped with the construction of the Thameslink, and so on. We have had periods of unusually cold weather, the "wrong type of snow" and industrial action.

I cannot remember the train service to London being as bad, as often, as it has been since First Capital Connect took it over. Can anyone else?

CLIVE BARNARD

Clarence Road, St Albans

SIR - It is now possible to review the last few weeks of Thameslink's service.

It would appear, not least from talking to others, that all the other rail companies in the South East made great efforts to overcome the problems whilst First Capital Connect (FCC) did not.

One set of explanations referred to difficulties with power, track, points and signals. On one of the days when there were effectively no trains from Harpenden we drove to Luton Parkway and took an East Midlands train.

Throughout all of the bad weather these trains sped reliably past what few distressed FCC trains there were, yet East Midlands use the same power, track, points and signals, whilst also serving the weather-affected East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

Of course the trains are not the same but it was about 20 years ago that Thameslink applied the expression "the wrong kind of snow" to its operations.

Obviously FCC knew of the problem when taking the franchise and chose not to make such modifications as were necessary to overcome the problem.

Perhaps they followed the Met Office's political "mild winters" forecasts and hoped there would be no snow.

Perhaps the fact that the cost would have to come from profits because of the regulated fare system was the reason. The no-doubt expensive orgy of corporate virility by FCC on the first day of the new franchise to try to remove any mention of the word "Thameslink" was, however, obviuosly worth it.

Nor is it an excuse that there were problems on the southern FCC operations as Thameslink is very quickly split as soon as any significant type of operational problem arises.

The drivers' dispute cannot be to blame either as there would obviously be enough crew to operate more than two trains an hour to and from London all day (including peak times when, for example, the usual service is well over 10 trains an hour and, after Hatfield, six trains an hour were inadequate).

All of this is probably insufficient to provide legal grounds to withdraw the franchise (and this week's new management appointment would be put forward as a reason not to do so) but the Department of Transport will no doubt keep a record of these recent events where FCC quickly gave in to the problems they faced and gave us what can only be described as a token service at best.

In particular, the contrast with other train operating companies must be down to the ethos of the company and the quality of its manangement.

Meanwhile it is a new week (Monday, January 18) with cancellations, delays and short formations.

FRED PHILPOTT

Silk Mill Road, Redbourn

SIR - I have sent the following letter to Peter Lilley and all concerned regarding the ongoing (since early November) First Capital Connect shambles:

Dear Peter,

I'm sure you are all too well aware of the ongoing carnage on the FCC route. I would like to put all concerned on notice that the ongoing harm to those using FCC Thameslink route, will (indeed probably has) result in serious damage both to those using the service and businesses which rely upon FCC to deliver staff in a fit state for work.

The Government and DfT appear to be taking no action in intervening and as such are ultimately responsible. In the event that a tragedy does occur they and FCC management will be held responsible.

Today's journey: Even though a thaw had set in, and the weekend had been available for remediation work, we find an emergency timetable in place, resulting in dangerously overcrowded trains unable to pick any passengers up beyond St Albans.

A passenger in the void I was crammed into fainted and had to sit on the soaking wet floor for the 60 minute duration.

I'm sure she would have appreciated a seat in Mary Grant's limo from her Bedfordhsire home to London.

Please - no responses about adverse conditions, I work with people from all over London and surrounds and NONE suffer anything like the conditions and delays we are subject to.

It is, as I said above, a disgrace that the Government and our representatives can allow such a situation to occur and continue without intervention.

RORY MCCARTH

Salisbury Avenue, Harpenden

SIR - A copy of a letter written to Lord Adonis, Minister for Transport:

As you are no doubt aware, the service on this train company over the past three months has been absolutely appalling due to the mismanagement of the company by the senior executives and their handling of the drivers' dispute.

From a commuter's point, it would appear that the senior management's first responsibility is to their shareholders not their passengers.

For the past few days the company has been running a revised timetable which means that they are only running two trains an hour even during peak times.

The conditions on the trains this morning were absolutely appalling with such extreme overcrowding (which surely breaks every health and safety legislation) that many commuters further down the line were unable to board the train and were left stranded.

I need not tell you how much an event like that costs the country when commuters are late for work. The basic question is if they can run two trains an hour which means that the trains are physically able to run, why can they not run four? As a commuter, I would like an answer.

I really think that the time has come for an official inquiry into the breakdown of this service.

It is the busiest (and most expensive) commuter route into London and, as mentioned above, the cost to the country of people being late to work and also arriving in an exhausted and agitated condition which renders them unfit to start work immediately, is costing the capital money.

I sincerely hope that when the company's franchise is due for renewal, that you do think extremely carefully before granting it to them.

MRS H R LEVESON

College Close, Flamstead

SIR - After yet another truly dreadful day of travel, I wanted to thank you hugely for your front-page article calling for the closure of FCC. Please do not let up on this campaign.

Thanks to your article, I have been compelled to join the online petition and also submitted a letter to the FCC customer care section - I will keep you posted on the response. I am also going to send this to our local MP, Anne Main. Any support you require in further lobbying, I'm in.

I am absolutely appalled by the standard of the service which has been provided to FCC customers over the recent months and the knock-on effect that this is having on the quality of my and fellow travellers' working lives.

My dreadful experiences are too many to mention, it is simply a relentless daily barrage of poor service both in and out of London which frankly cannot go on without some sort of protest.

Never have I felt so consistently angry and helpless at being forced to buy a service in order to fulfil my working life, to have no option other than this service to get into work and to be so consistently disappointed and distressed by the twice-daily experience.

FCC's senior management team should be utterly ashamed of the pain they are causing their thousands of customers. I used to look forward to my journey to and from St Albans and London as 25 minutes of quiet calm time at the beginning and end of day to compose my thoughts, take stock and prepare to do the very best job I can for my clients.

Now I must allow two hours to be certain of making a meeting on time, I must be prepared to daily miss my opportunity to put my young children to bed (time which I can never ever reclaim), I must be prepared to squeeze myself into a space which is inhumane and yet pay more than I have ever paid for this service...

It is simply time to close FCC down and find a business that can competently deliver a professional service. I'm seriously considering whether every FCC customer should participate in a single day of mass demonstration at the FCC headquarters... but sadly we're British and we tend to get our heads down and struggle on! But it's just not good enough any more.

MATT BOURN

Rodney Avenue, St Albans

SIR - During FCC's recent labour dispute and the utter collapse of attempts to run any sort of service during the snow, their sister service - as operated on the Welwyn Garden/Kings Cross line - has not fared nearly as badly, illustrated by a much better industrial relations record and reasonable attempts to deliver service during the recent poor weather, or at least no worse than any other national rail company.

This confirms that it is the management and those involved at FCC with the Bedford/Brighton line who need to be exposed for what they are.

It is all very well for Lord Adonis to say in his House of Lords answer that he hoped FCC "Thameslink's" industrial track record will be improved by the notional return to normal timetable from 18/1 and he is "aware" of the troubles facing FCC. Just what is he going to do about it if that "Thameslink" timetable is not replaced and improved next week or if there continues to be a catalogue of operating difficulties and daily parsimonious and patronising apologies for passengers to see on arrival at St Albans station?

If I was him I would suspend the entire "Thameslink" management pending an enquiry or bring in the management of the Welwyn/ Kings Cross route to handle daily operations.

At the very least let's start with some public sackings please.

WILLIAM GRIERSON

High Street, Kimpton

SIR - Much has been mentioned in the press recently of the poor service we have experienced travelling by First Capital Connect, but the January fare increases have barely been mentioned.

In my own case I travel three days a week from St Albans to Herne Hill in South London. I am a senior citizen travelling off peak on a slow train. To achieve the best rate of fare, I can purchase a return ticket to Elstree and Borehamwood, and a seperate return ticket from Elstree and Borehamwood to Herne Hill. I was staggered to find that the cost of the Elstree Borehamwood to Herne Hill segment of the journey had increased by 50 per cent. This certainly rubs salt into the wound when we are already receiving an eratic service.

Surely this rate of increase is a mistake? I am, as I mentioned, a senior citizen who continues to work to support my pension and this massive extra cost is a burden to find. I would welcome an explanation from FCC management about this because the staff at St Albans station certainly didn't seem to know it had gone up so much.

ALAN SCHAFFER

West Avenue, St Albans

SIR - I am absolutely amazed that FCC has got away with giving such sub-standard service for the last two months with no repercussions. They don't seem to be paying much attention to their "customers" so let's hit them where it hurts and make sure we claim compensation for every single delay we've had to suffer.

According to the FCC website: "If you have been delayed by 30 minutes or longer then you can claim compensation via the usual Delay Repay process. Customers are reassured that compensation will be made in line with the usual timetable, not the revised timetable."

SUSAN STEVENS

Bramble Close, Harpenden

SIR - Our MP, Anne Main, gives much entertainment as she performs that old circus act of riding two horses at the same time.

One horse is to keep the voters sweet to ensure re-election, the other is to keep business sweet to ensure the funds to campaign for re-election. Consquently, she rides forth as the passengers champion in the FCC shambles by "piling the pressure on FCC to sort things out ...", whilst at the same time acting as FCC apologist by saying "removing the franchise now will not do that... FCC has now got a chance to do things properly".

Surely, the franchise was awarded on the condition that they "do things properly" and by not "doing things properly" they automatically forfeit the franchise.

WALTER THORPE

Rodney Avenue, St Albans


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