First Capital Connect boss says: 'Judge us on our actions'
NEW First Capital Connect (FCC) boss Neal Lawson has got a tough task on his hands. He faces an uphill struggle to convince the thousands of commuters using the Thameslink line every day that the company is worthy of keeping its franchise. It s not going
NEW First Capital Connect (FCC) boss Neal Lawson has got a tough task on his hands.
He faces an uphill struggle to convince the thousands of commuters using the Thameslink line every day that the company is worthy of keeping its franchise.
It's not going to be easy given that many of his customers say they have already lost all faith in the services after months of chaos and the subsequent compensation package offered, but Mr Lawson thinks he is the right man for the job.
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In an exclusive interview with the Herts Advertiser, which was organised to put forward readers' questions as part of our campaign for a better service, Mr Lawson insisted that commuters are already seeing vast improvements.
He said that in the last three weeks FCC has run to its timetable and has only lost one circuit due to a driver calling in ill on his way into work.
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And he said that the damage caused to the fleet during the ice and snow should be completely repaired by the middle of this month so that all scheduled eight-carriage services will resume.
On top of delays and cancellations, these short formations have left people unable to board trains due to unprecedented overcrowding on a line which many would argue was already running above capacity.
In a bid to reassure passengers about overcrowding and health and safety fears, Mr Lawson said: "The trains are designed for crush loads that are even more severe than what we put on the train, so the train is well able to cope with the crowding. We are not happy about having people packed into trains but we have plans in place should anything happen on the trains and we would make sure that we follow those out."
Another area of focus for FCC is communication - just one of the topics that has incensed passengers who claim that the live departure board and the website rarely correlates with the real time service.
Mr Lawson promised an overhaul of this facility: "In the short term, we've done two things. We've strengthened the website and made it robust to make sure the information is on a more real time.
"We've also got some of our staff out on the platforms now and we've got a HQ customer information group sitting in the head office rather than in control. They are coordinating the messages out to people on the major stations on inbound services in the morning and outbound in the afternoon, to make sure that we are giving information on the platforms with proper public announcements."
FCC has also encountered strong criticism of its performance figures. As revealed by the Herts Advertiser last week, commuters have claimed the company is rigging its results by skipping stations so that a delayed train arrives at its final destination on time.
This accusation is one that Mr Lawson fervently denies and he insisted that skipping stations was to ensure that subsequent services aren't delayed.
"It doesn't skew the figures because if we miss a station we get penalised on two different accounts for that. We skip stations in terms of service recovery - that's not to say that we haven't caused disruption on the lines somewhere with our fleet, there might be an infrastructure issue or it could even be another train operating company.
"But once an incident happens that takes a long time to recover from, we have to recover the service and get trains back to the termini to be able to run the timetable to time later on.
"And so control will choose to skip stations, not FCC necessarily, to get that train back to the terminus to run the next service on time and sometimes we cancel services but that's not about fiddling any system, it's about recovering a service to hopefully impact on the minimum number of people.
"Now we do know there are people getting on trains to get to a destination and we start to skip stations and they get carried past and that's obviously not good.
"So, what we need to do there is ensure that we've got the information there to tell people before they get on the train and that's the real focus for us."
While the service has hit a downward spiral this year, FCC's parent company FirstGroup continues to make a profit, which hasn't gone down well with commuters.
But Mr Lawson insisted that passengers are always put first. He said: "I think the events of the last three months have worn down staff as well as customers.
"I think that some of the enthusiasm I know is there is already evident in the last few weeks as the service has begun to improve.
"All I can say is judge us on our actions.