Shameful start to new Thameslink operator’s tenure

The Thameslink line through St Albans

The Thameslink line through St Albans - Credit: Archant

Angry Thameslink passengers are continuing to rail against the route’s new operator, which in turn has admitted to a deteriorating service.

Commuters have taken to social media in their droves to show their despair at Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which took over the franchise from First Capital Connect (FCC) and began running the Bedford to Brighton service on September 14.

Faced with near-daily delays, driver unavailability and old trains, passengers have criticised Govia with one saying on Twitter: “I didn’t think it was possible to deliver a worse service than FCC but somehow Thameslink has done it. Take a bow.”

Another pleaded to “Bring back First Capital Connect.”

With train services worsening - in the face of a looming fare rise - St Albans district council took the rail operator to task at a local services scrutiny committee meeting on December 4.

A Network Rail representative admitted the route had suffered increased delays since April and was “23 per cent behind target” in relation to the number of delayed journeys.

He said incidents including fatalities, suicides and trespass “continue to plague us”.

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And the financial impact of lengthy delays “can run into tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of costs – and that is just in terms of compensation payable for failing to keep the railway performing.

“The extent to which we can prevent those incidents is a challenge. It is significantly expensive.

“We have invested over £1 million in fatality defences [deterrent measures] and staff training.”

The spokesman admitted it had been a “battle” to improve the reliability of Network Rail’s infrastructure.

This included having to replace LED lighting in signals a second time, after the first lot failed.

There have also been “significant issues” with vegetation along rail tracks causing power outages when in contact with overhead lines.

Councillors were told that the Thameslink performance has continued to “decline since September 2013”.

Dyan Crowther, GTR’s chief operating officer, said, “Some of the feedback is that it has got a lot worse since GTR took over, and yes, it has got worse, not a lot worse, but it’s been following a trend.”

Performance had been hit by a number of factors, including an “unprecedented” seven fatalities in the first three weeks of the new franchise.

And while GTR had assumed it would have 631 train drivers upon taking over from FCC, there were just 611.

Ms Crowther said: “We need 666 to be able to deliver the services; we have started that recruitment campaign.

“We assumed that drivers would be more productive than they are. We assumed a sickness level of eight per cent, and we are up at 13 per cent.”

She added: “From the infrastructure side, we didn’t expect the asset to perform as badly as it has.”

Ms Crowther said there would be no “overnight fix” but new trains, greater reliability and improved information were “key themes” for a better service in future.

After the meeting committee chairman Cllr Anthony Rowlands said that with neither Govia nor Network Rail able to say when the “Holy Grail” of good service would be achieved, “commuters will continue to pay thousands of pounds for a poor service”.

Meanwhile, passengers continue to bite back at the operator.

Mediocre, late, abysmal, a joke and a disaster – all these words are regularly used to describe the Thameslink train service by its hapless, and unhappy, commuters.

And they vented their rage against GTR one recent Friday on Twitter, when an attempt to start the day on a positive note backfired after passengers were encouraged to “give us a tweet”.

In light of a pending 2.58 per cent fare rise from January 2, SparkyInTheUK snapped: “@TLRailUK Since you took over, 75 of 95 journeys with you have run late. My reward? A fare rise. Welcome to rip off Britain.”

Another asked: “How does skipping stations solve your ‘driver unavailability’ problem?”

Perry Martin said that running late on Thameslink trains was now “the norm,” adding, “I have now set my watch to be five minutes slow for this reason.”

And one passenger pondered whether she should move home to access a better train service.

MrsSiobhanS said: “It is just frustrating that some of us have no alternative but this one line and pay an absolute fortune for it and the delays!”

Lynda Young tweeted simply: “I am sick sick sick of this service.”