FCC Rail Agony Continues

The rail service just does not get any better.  I think we are rapidly moving to the stage of asking whether First Capital Connect should be stripped of its franchise if it cannot run its advertised service. Equally the drivers should be ashamed of wreaking disruption on a scale which far outweighs any strength of grievance they csan have - they run the risk of a tightening in union legislation particularly where it is a monopoly public service being delivered - see the wise words of Lord Tom McNally lower down this blog entry. I have been e-mailed again this morning by travellers crammed into overcrowded, over hot and horribly delayed trains.

Here is a selection of what people have sent to me over recent days, the first one live by blackberry from the battlefront of Mill Hill Broadway: On mill hill broadway.  Train was so packed - could not get on.  Someone actually fell out of the train as the doors opened And a long and detailed description by two other St Albans residents of the complete collapse of any semblance of the advertised service: Hello again, Just to keep you updated on what is actually going on. Exactly as you said ' Commuters pay for an advertised service '. Well 1. We aren't getting the proper advertised service (as per their franchise) and now 2. We aren't even getting the 'revised timetable' service either! Friday 13th Nov: J went into work late and got the 1034 which was formed of 4 coaches even though they claim that all services in the revised timetable will be 8. It was overcrowded with people standing in the aisles. In the evening J went to Farringdon get the 1811 (from the revised timetable) and waited on the platform near two of FCC's Customer Service staff.

A slow train that was not on the revised timetable turned up to make an '1808 additional service'. The customer service staff were advising that the 1811 train would be fast to St Albans and passengers wanting St Albans and stations north of, should wait for that.

The slow train departed and J, along with plenty of others, waited for the fast train. As the 1811 was pulling into the station, it was announced that this train was revised and would call at all stations to St Albans. At this point there was an announcement that the 1815 WOULD be (as timetabled) fast to St Albans and passengers wanting St Albans and stations north of, should wait for that. This was also confirmed by the Customer Service staff who double checked on their radio that this would be a fast service. The 1815 arrived and J boarded the train and sat down, as more people were still boarding, the driver then announced that this service would also be calling all stations to St Albans!! J had no real chance of getting off the train and in any case, there would a good chance with this appallingly reduced timetable that she would not get on the next fast service whenever that might be and/or would be even later home and suffer yet more severe overcrowding. Having expected to arrive in St Albans around just after 1830, it was 1900 when she arrived. So about 28 minutes late on a 24 minute journey and still can't claim compensation.

Monday 16th Nov Whilst waiting for the delayed 1911 from Farringdon, we heard an announcement that the 1930 (fast) service would be revised and be calling at all stations to St Albans. Wednesday 18th Nov M went to get the 1930 from Farringdon and when it arrived it was announced that this was now all stations to St Albans and so he was 15 mins late (or 25mins from the proper timetable as he could have got the 1917). We think this is happening to the 1930 because there is no slow all stations service between 1905 and 1952 (times from Farringdon) in the revised timetable. If it is going to be like this all the time, why don't they publicise this? The above are not the only alterations to the 'revised timetable' that are occurring, they are the ones that we have witnessed and can remember.

We have both seen numerous other alterations, short formations and revised stopping patterns. We are mostly 20/25mins late on every journey we attempt to make unless we have drastically altered our desired plans and travelled much later. There has been no further news from FCC about when they plan to revert back to running the normal timetable and we are becoming most concerned as this cannot continue much longer. We haven't had any response from FCC regarding our compensation requests (the five working days response time is up tomorrow) but are expecting the requests to be rejected, if/when they are, we will be going straight to Passenger Focus.

M & J And here is what St Albans resident and regular commuter Lord (Tom) McNally said to the Secretary of State Lord Adonis in the House of Lords: My Lords, I declare an interest in that just after 7 am this morning I was on St Albans station waiting to catch a train into London, as I do regularly, with several hundred other commuters who have either found those trains cancelled or found themselves packed like cattle into such trains as did arrive. I experienced the same earlier in the week trying to catch a train home. I remind the Minister that these are people who have paid £3,280 for a season ticket for that right to travel. If I may use a phrase that may be familiar on the Benches opposite, these are not City fat cats; these are workers by hand and by brain, trying to get to work and get home from work.

I hope that what I say conveys some of the anger and frustration of those commuters at the treatment that has been meted out to them. As the Minister may know, I can show him a few scars from another period of industrial irresponsibility.

My then mentor, Jim Callaghan, said in 1978, "This is not trade unionism as I knew it". It certainly was not, but we did think that capricious and spiteful trade unionism which hurt the many out of all proportion to any dispute was a thing of the past. Such actions hurt fellow workers, the vulnerable, working mothers and children trying to get home from school. Certain trade unions seem to have learnt nothing from the experience of the 1970s. They have forgotten that their industrial militancy brought in a Conservative Government who trebled unemployment and brought in legislation that curbed trade union powers—some victory.

As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, indicated, does this clever way of seeming to cause damage without offending the Trade Union Act need to be looked at? Is there a need to tighten that Act as regards action taken by workers that is not proportionate in terms of the damage they do either to other workers or to the running of life in general? I have to put it on record that there is in St Albans and elsewhere a lack of confidence in First Capital Connect. Is the Minister aware that we are now saying goodbye to the third managing director of First Capital Connect on this line in the past year? We have said goodbye to Elaine Holt and Karen Boswell, and Mr Jim Morgan will, apparently, leave his post on Friday. Does that indicate management continuity and a management steady hand? Does it explain why things have got so out of control? I put to the Minister an old hobby-horse of mine: why do a Labour Government not end first-class travel on commuter trains until standard-class passengers are guaranteed a reasonable journey?

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