MPs demand urgent improvement from train operator

West Sussex MPs Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs) and Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) have demanded an urgent improvement to the service provided by train operator First Capital Connect (FCC).

After a catalogue of problems with the Thameslink service, which operates trains between Bedford and Brighton via London, the MPs convened a meeting at the Commons today (1 February) with Managing Director Neal Lawson and Customer Services Director Michelle Smart.

Dubbed the "misery line" by passengers, the Thameslink service has been dogged with problems since November when a reduced timetable was introduced after FCC failed to resolve a dispute with drivers who refused to work on their rest days.

The chaos for passengers continued into December and January as the severe weather caused major disruption to services.  Despite an announcement from FCC on 18 January that "normal service" had been resumed, the cancellations, diversions and delays continued.

At today's meeting with FCC, the MPs said that the service had been "completely unacceptable" and demanded an immediate and timetabled plan of improvement.

Neal Lawson and Michelle Smart acknowledged the problem and told the MPs that commuters should expect an immediate and noticeable improvement following the delivery of new trains on 15 January.

The managers said that they would continue to work with the trade unions to improve the service for passengers and provide improved software and staff training.

They conceded that communication needed to improve and agreed to a request from both MPs that they attend public meetings in their constituencies to hear the concerns of local rail groups and passengers.

Nick Herbert commented: "I am well aware of the strong feeling amongst Hassocks residents that the Thameslink is simply not good enough.  It's not just about the snow and ice.  People who use the service tell me that the trains are grubby, inadequately heated and unreliable, and that communication with passengers is poor.  And when trains are running late, scheduled stops at the intermediate stations between Haywards Heath and Brighton are cancelled, leaving passengers stranded.

"This is simply unacceptable.  We made it very clear to First Capital Connect that they must sort these problems out as a matter of urgency.  I'm pleased that the company has agreed to meet with passengers in my constituency to hear about their concerns, but they have to do more.  This has been the ‘misery line' for far too long."

Nicholas Soames commented: "This was a useful meeting at which we were able to stress the critical importance to commuters travelling from Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath of a fundamental improvement in the service, greatly improved punctuality and information flow.  If the customer service is not dramatically improved an incoming administration would certainly want to improve this franchise.

I look to the management to deliver sustained and urgent improvements."

More than 5,000 people have signed a Downing Street petition calling on the Government to end the franchise agreement with FCC and more than 2,000 people have joined a Facebook campaign.


Christopher N Howarth