St Albans councillors told: Thameslink service means choosing between ‘losing our jobs or our sanity’

St Albans mum Laura-Jane Bortone speaking about the Thameslink service at a recent committee meeting

St Albans mum Laura-Jane Bortone speaking about the Thameslink service at a recent committee meeting. - Credit: Photo supplied

Families are being forced to move from St Albans because the faltering Thameslink service meant choosing between ‘losing jobs or our sanity,’ rail bosses have been told.

Thameslink train

Thameslink train - Credit: Archant

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) representatives spoke with residents and district councillors at a resources scrutiny committee meeting last Thursday, February 2, where various grievances were aired in public.

Disruption to train services between London and this district has recently been among the worst endured by commuters, with statistics showing that only 75.1 per cent of trains arrived within five minutes of their scheduled time between December 11, 2016, and January 7 this year.

Laura-Jane Bortone, who founded the Train Suffererjettes six months ago and recently held a protest at St Albans City Station, told GTR officials that at one stage she was working at a loss in the capital, as she had to pay additional childcare costs – up to £20 a day – when there were delays on the line.

The St Albans woman said her children enjoyed bedtime stories, “which you wouldn’t have thought was a big ask” but her ability to read to them at night had become the exception rather than the rule.

Laura-Jane told the meeting she had been in contact with fellow parents who were “equally as distressed, so I started the awareness campaign for parents. Five hundred local commuters are involved in the [Train Suffererjettes] campaign, to get a reliable service”.

While she had not wanted to start a ‘grumbling forum’ through the group, approaches to local MPs ‘were not getting anywhere’.

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Laura-Jane said that some parents had admitted to her that they were on sick leave as a result of the stress, or had moved from St Albans, were looking for local jobs, or were taking children with them to crèches in London – “there has been a massive impact”.

She added: “We don’t feel like we should choose between losing our career or losing our sanity over this and we feel a lot can be done to improve the situation for local commuters.”

Councillor Robert Donald said: “You might think there isn’t much of a problem, however I believe the level of anger and frustration and stress among commuters is unparalleled in my time in this council, and that includes when First Capital Connect was running the service, and not receiving plaudits.”

Larry Heyman, GTR’s local development manger, said there was “no dispute that things have been very difficult over the past year or so.”

He went on: “It’s important to emphasis what the enormous impact the closure of the cross-London route through London Bridge, in December 2014, has had. Before the closure, which runs until May 2018, an assessment was carried out on the likely impact, and it’s true to say the impact was greatly under-estimated.

“Essentially there is only one route now, from the Brighton mainline after east Croydon, to Blackfriars, through Herne Hill and Tulse Hill. If any issues arise on that route, it magnifies the impact on our services. Since December 2014, it is a bottleneck on that route – there are no viable alternative routes that can be used.”

He said the ‘good news’ was that GTR was working closely with Siemens to ensure problems with the new Siemens Class 700 trains were eliminated as quickly as possible.

Residents had been invited to submit questions to the committee, for consideration by GTR. Among the concerns raised were repeated delays and cancellations, overcrowding on trains and at St Albans station, lack of compensation and limited car parking at Harpenden.

Improvements promised by Mr Heyman included a new footbridge at St Albans – however this plan was at an early stage. There is also to be a £5 million renovation of the station, due to be completed by the end of March 2019, including a larger Ridgmont Road exit.

Phil Hutchinson, GTR’s head of strategic planning, said a new timetable would be introduced in 2018 following a second public consultation.

The Department for Transport recently made £300 million available to make major upgrades to the Thameslink and adjacent lines over the next two years, including removing old or poor quality tracks.