Calls mount to end First Capital Connect rail franchise

PUBLISHED: 14:45 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:50 06 May 2010

CALLS are mounting for First Capital Connect (FCC) to be stripped of their franchise after despairing commuters suffered yet another week of misery. It was the sub-zero temperatures that plunged the Thameslink line into chaos this time and no trains whats

CALLS are mounting for First Capital Connect (FCC) to be stripped of their franchise after despairing commuters suffered yet another week of misery.

It was the sub-zero temperatures that plunged the Thameslink line into chaos this time and no trains whatsoever were running between Bedford and London last Thursday after thick snow froze overnight, affecting the tracks and trains.

Passengers then faced an emergency timetable with severe delays and many cancellations from Friday until Tuesday when FCC reverted back to the reduced schedule implemented in December after a pay dispute with drivers erupted.

But further snowfall yesterday (Wednesday) morning caused more delays and commuters reported that 80 per cent of trains were cancelled despite the live departure board stating otherwise.

St Albans MP Anne Main, who raised the problems in Parliament this week, said the company told her the weather caused points on the line to freeze, icicles to form on overhead power lines, as well as doors and traction motors on some trains to cease up.

However, some light at the end of the tunnel emerged yesterday when initial results showed a ballot with drivers on a revised pay offer saw 70 per cent vote in favour.

That should result in the operator reverting back to its normal timetable by next week after nearly three months of delays and cancellations caused by the drivers refusing to work any overtime or on rest days.

But for many FCC customers, the ongoing chaos has taken its toll and there is a growing campaign for the Government to terminate the company's franchise agreement.

A petition has been launched on the Downing Street website calling for the action and yesterday afternoon it had nearly 1,400 signatures, a number growing by the hour.

Angry travellers have also posted damning videos on various websites and the Herts Advertiser has been inundated with complaints about FCC.

Ruth Leveson, from Flamstead, has even written a letter to Transport Secretary Lord Andrew Adonis to call for an official inquiry into the service failings.

Commuter John Morgan, from St Albans, said: "What you see on the FCC website is supposedly a live departure board but it does not bear any relation to reality. And when you finally do get on a train, it is freezing cold inside - I came home from London on Tuesday on an unheated train and I could see my breath in front of my face."

Excuses

Brian Leveson from Jersey Farm has now resorted to driving to Cockfosters tube station every morning rather than travelling with FCC.

He said: "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."

Rail union RMT's general secretary, Bob Crow, also waded into the row on Tuesday.

He said: "FCC has once again proven itself to be a complete disaster in terms of service delivery and the only solution to the continuing and repeated chaos on their franchise is to bring it back under public ownership with proper resources and staffing put in place to deliver for the travelling public."

Mrs Main has been piling the pressure on FCC to sort things out and during a conversation with them yesterday, they promised change - including a management restructuring process and a better compensation deal for passengers.

She said: "Commuters will get some compensation but what they are putting in place will never give them back the hours they have wasted and lost in work. But removing the franchise now will not do that either. FCC has now got a chance to do things properly and if they don't then we need to call into question the franchise."

A spokesperson for FCC said the company welcomed the decision of drivers to agree the pay deal and explained that the service should be back to normal by next week depending on the weather.


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