First Capital Connect - commuters' misery set to continue

PUBLISHED: 19:07 17 December 2009 | UPDATED: 14:47 06 May 2010

CATTLE truck conditions and delays for commuters on the Thameslink line could well continue into at least mid-January despite an improved pay offer. First Capital Connect (FCC), which operates the line, admits that drivers have been slower than expected

CATTLE truck conditions and delays for commuters on the Thameslink line could well continue into at least mid-January despite an improved pay offer.

First Capital Connect (FCC), which operates the line, admits that drivers have been slower than expected in returning to work overtime and on rest days following the dispute over the annual pay rise.

FCC has now made an improved two-year offer with a pay increase in both years which has resulted in train drivers union ASLEF withdrawing its ballot for industrial action that had threatened FCC passengers on Thameslink with chaos at Christmas.

The union is also recommending that its members accept the revised pay offer which equates to a five per cent increase over two years. This fuelled hopes of an early restoration of a full service but this now looks less likely.

A spokesperson for FCC said: "The drift back to work by drivers has been slower than anticipated but we estimate we are currently providing around 70 per cent of our usual services at present."

Although the members' ballot papers do not have to be returned until January 13, ASLEF spokesperson Mick Whelan maintained that would not hinder restoration of normal services.

He said: "The drivers are returning to working rest days and overtime but the real problem which may hinder the restoration of services is the time of year. Many drivers take holidays around Christmas to be at home with their children."

The new pay offer brings drivers' annual salaries up from £35,000 to £38,000.

Some commuters feared that the ASLEF website pointed to likely further industrial action in March when members' right to work on rest days would be reviewed.

But Mr Whelan said that referred to a routine three-monthly review of the situation which was standard practice.

He also denied that his members were still unhappy about the shortage of drivers. He said: "As far as I am aware there are likely to be an additional 20 drivers in place by Spring next year."

FCC confirmed that some drivers would be rolled out earlier once their training had been completed.

Blob/A lasting resolution to the misery caused to FCC passengers is needed, insists St Albans MP Anne Main.

Her comments follow a meeting between MPs on the lines affected by the dispute and FCC chief executive Mary Grant last Wednesday at the House of Commons.

Mrs Main said that the company apologised profusely for their failures in communication with MPs and passengers during the recent problems.

She said: "We are told that new communication mechanisms will be put in place and I hope these will prove much more effective."

The MP said she pressed FCC for answers on contractual arrangements for new drivers to ensure that a lasting resolution was in place but she was told that the information could not be disclosed due to 'commercial sensitivities.'

She also called for a goodwill package to compensate season ticket holders which FCC has agreed to consider.

Mrs Main added: "It was a tough meeting and I was pleased to have a chance to put some issues to management directly, and also pass on some of my constituents' experiences to give them a real sense of the anger of commuters.


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