World Cup absences floor services on First Capital Connect trains

LONG-suffering First Capital Connect (FCC) passengers were waiting with bated breath yesterday to find out if they could get home from London.

Last Friday night when England played out a goalless draw with Algeria, FCC cancelled a number of services on the Thameslink line citing the absence of train crew.

The problems appear to spill over to Monday and this week the train company admitted that they did not know what the situation would be yesterday when England played their crucial game against Slovenia.

Local Lib Dem campaigners and prospective candidate in the May election, Sandy Walkington, this week asked FCC managing director Neil Lawson for assurances that the company would run a “full and proper” service yesterday afternoon.

He said: “Last week a mass of trains were suddenly cancelled with the excuse being given in each case that it was, ‘due to a member of train crew being unavailable.’ The cancellations just happened to coincide with England’s game against Algeria.”

Sandy said that while everyone hoped that England performed, FCC had to perform too. “The company has a duty to run its advertised service on what will still be a normal working day for many people - just like Friday.”

Referring to the voluntary driver overtime dispute throughout Christmas and into the New Year which led to numerous services being cancelled, he added: “There is simply no excuse for them to go back to the feeble performance of the winter months.”

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Fellow Lib Dem and St Albans councillor Anthony Rowlands fell victim to the same problems when he tried to get home on Monday evening.

After working a 13-hour day, he tried to catch the 8.34pm from St Pancras only to find it was cancelled.

When he asked the platform supervisor why it had been cancelled, he produced a list of all the day’s cancellations which appeared to amount to 15 to 20 services.

Anthony said: “When I asked for the reason the supervisor, without apology or apparent concern, said that numerous drivers had opted to watch the football. So I caught the 8.48pm which then ground to a halt for a quarter of an hour somewhere in North London with brake problems!”

He added: “I arrived home at 9.45pm - rather too late for the football but at least the drivers didn’t miss the evening’s match.”

A spokesperson for FCC said that two drivers had phoned in sick last Thursday night and two more called in ill on Friday.

He went on: “To have four drivers sick was very difficult. It was very hard to get cover but we did the best we could.”

He explained that the sickness problems on Friday appeared to have run over to Monday but said on Tuesday that on the face of it, the Wednesday service appeared fine.

But he added: “It is looking okay at this stage but unfortunately like any business we experience a high level of sickness when England play.”