Doubts raised over train seats pledge
PROMISES of thousands of extra seats for local commuters could be years away, according to rail watchdogs. The Association of Public Transport Users (APTU) say the pledge by First Capital Connect, which takes over the Bedford to Brighton franchise from Th
PROMISES of thousands of extra seats for local commuters could be years away, according to rail watchdogs. The Association of Public Transport Users (APTU) say the pledge by First Capital Connect, which takes over the Bedford to Brighton franchise from Thameslink on April 1, depends on trains being released by another company. The assurance of extra seats was given by the new company's owners, FirstGroup, when the franchise was announced last month. APTU spokesperson Adrian Jackson-Robbins of Park Mount, Harpenden, said the extra 5,000 seats promised in each peak period depended on 14 Class 319 trains being released by Southern Railway which is owned by Go-Via, the current operators of the Thameslink franchise. Improvements Mr Jackson-Robbins added: "The snag is that these have been leased to Southern Railway until 2009 and current indications are that there is no way Southern will let them go." The news follows a meeting between members of the association's Bedford to London line committee and First Capital Connect's managing director Elaine Holt. The new franchise also includes the Great Northern franchise which links London and Cambridge. FirstGroup chief executive Moir Lockhead has announced that the company will spend £52 million across the two lines, mainly on station and car-park improvements, together with an upgrade of the interiors of the Thameslink fleet. But Mr Jackson-Robbins said that after the meeting with First Capital Connect, it was clear that these would be largely cosmetic and would focus mainly on the toilets. He added: "More positively, First Capital Connect recognise that the poor reliability of the 319 fleet is a major challenge and we like the proposals to improve it." Mr Jackson-Robbins said APTU was also pleased at the company's plans to improve its working relationship with Network Rail and the day-to-day running of the service. This week, Elaine Holt commented: "We believe the extra seats are very important to the future of the service and we will be working hard with the Department for Transport." She said Southern was due to carry out a review of its fleet in the spring and a decision on the future of the trains would be taken after that.