First Capital Connect offers new promise to St Albans commuters

PROBLEMS with First Capital Connect services on the Thameslink line were given a thorough airing last week when new MD Neal Lawson came to the city to respond to criticism of the service.

Mr Lawson and Larry Heyman, integration and partnership manager, agreed to attend a meeting of a St Albans overview and scrutiny committee in light of the problems Thameslink passengers have faced in recent times.

And chairman, Cllr Julian Daly, welcomed their openness about the situation and has asked them to give an update later in the year on the promised improvements.

Members of the public had been invited to send in questions in advance of the meeting and among the issues raised were overcrowding, lack of communication and why FCC still ran trains with four carriages instead of eight, especially at evenings and weekends.

There were also concerns about reduced services both last winter when FCC was hit by a drivers ban on working overtime and rest days in a dispute over pay and more recently, cancellations at the times England was playing in the World Cup.

The committee heard that 49 drivers were being trained to add to the existing 283 qualified drivers, 20 of whom would be qualified before the start of the next winter season and a further 18 by the end of winter. All 23 new Electrostar trains had also now been delivered which had meant more peak hour seats and a 50 per cent reduction in short four-car peak trains.

Mr Lawson and Mr Heyman also spoke about improvements planned in the speed and accuracy of communication with passengers and FCC staff thanks to new software which is due to be in place by the end of September.

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Cllr Daly said after the meeting “The way they were talking, there will more than enough drivers to compensate for any reduced overtime.

“I have a particularly strong view that they need to work on communications and they have the new software now. That is one of the things we have been pushing quite had to get them to focus on.”

He accepted that change would not happen overnight but felt it was constructive for the two men to come to a St Albans council committee so they knew people were looking over their shoulders, not just users on Facebook.

He added: “Drivers, better communication and new coaches will all take time and quite a lot is work in progress. We have got some confidence now and have asked for an update come December.”