St Albans and Harpenden commuters being kept in the dark over rail chaos

PUBLISHED: 07:01 06 November 2009 | UPDATED: 14:39 06 May 2010

Commuters at St Albans rail station

Commuters at St Albans rail station

UNOFFICIAL industrial action is causing havoc for rail commuters in the district who say they are being kept in the dark over the true reason for the chaos. They are angry at being fobbed off with excuses about driver shortages when the problems have be

UNOFFICIAL industrial action is causing havoc for rail commuters in the district who say they are being kept in the dark over the true reason for the chaos.

They are angry at being fobbed off with excuses about "driver shortages" when the problems have been caused by a dispute over pay between operators First Capital Connect (FCC) and train drivers which has resulted in an overtime ban.

Dozens of trains have been delayed or cancelled and although FCC is due to meet with ASLEF today (Friday) there are predictions of further disruption which could go on into the New Year.

The overtime ban means FCC has had to cancel services and lay on buses and alternative modes of transport for people travelling in and out of London

Problems started when an intensive programme of training began in March to familiarise drivers with new trains coming on stream.

Rather than employ more drivers, FCC relied on its staff to cover with the drivers filling in by working on their rest days and offering to do overtime.

But since the workforce found out last week that there were not going to get pay rises, some have refused to work.

Passengers have been left in the dark about the real situation which has led one of them, art director Matt Norwood, 39, from Ox Lane, Harpenden, to write to FCC demanding an explanation.

He said: "No-one is telling us what is going on. I think their staff have been instructed to keep quiet. But this is one of the biggest commuter services in the world.

"You can't hold people to ransom like this, cancelling trains at the last minute and letting people down."

Fellow commuter Vivienne Windle of Coopers Meadow, Redbourn, also questioned what was going on with daily cancellations flagged up as due to non-availability of staff but with no further explanation.

Donna Johnston from St Albans said four times in the last week she had suffered "nightmare journeys" back home from London with several cancellations and heavily-overcrowded trains.

Sandy Walkington, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for St Albans, warned that the dispute could escalate this week.

He said: "Clearly there is a dispute over pay and the drivers are leveraging the fact that FCC don't employ enough of them and so depend on their working on their rest days - which of course is voluntary.

"But it's the poor bloody infantry of the St Albans rail commuter who is left picking up the pieces."

Mick Whelan, a spokesman for ASLEF, said union members had been very flexible about helping out in the last year but when they heard just over a week ago that there was no money on the table, they were unhappy.

He explained that they could not be made to work overtime and added: "The annual pay rise should have been settled in April so FCC is already six months late coming up with an offer anyway."

An FCC spokesperson said the situation was changing daily and they were doing their best to react quickly to ensure their passengers were informed of alternative services.

He added: "It is a delicate situation and we don't want to pre-empt the outcome of pay talks."

He maintained that FCC had put up station posters and sent out text alerts to warn its customers of the changes but earlier this week there were no posters at St Albans City Station only a short message at the bottom of the electronic timetable board saying cancellations were due to lack of available staff.

The spokesperson advised passengers to check the website for the latest information.

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