By Marcus Dysch
January 14, 2010
I know many of our readers travel to work in central London using First Capital Connect’s Thameslink service.
It runs through stations including Borehamwood and Elstree, Mill Hill, Hendon, Cricklewood and West Hampstead, handily transporting passengers from the suburbs to the city in a speedier, more comfortable fashion than the Tube.
At least that’s what FCC claim. Instead, for the past two months, the company has ‘run’ one of the surely most shambolic, inept, insulting services ever seen in this country.
For six weeks from mid-November trains were delayed and cancelled due to ‘driver shortages’, later revealed to be wildcat strikes that FCC managed to keep quiet for at least the first three weeks.
While their staff sat at home with their feet up, moaning that they are not paid enough, the customers were left to shell out vast amounts of cash every month for the pleasure of being crammed into fewer trains with fewer carriages.
After the strike came the snow. For a fortnight at the end of December delays to trains were so severe that the timetable, having become utterly pointless, was scrapped and replaced by a ‘revised service’, with fewer trains. Naturally these were also late, cancelled, packed to the rafters.
Into January. New year new FCC? Of course not. The revised services continued, until the snow came back. With the snow came further cancellations and delays. On the days with the worst weather some commuters faced the prospect of not arriving at work until 11am and then needing to set off for home again some four hours later to avoid a night spent on the office floor.
FCC’s text and email service, supposedly giving passengers prior warning of minor problems, descended into utter farce. More than once last week I received messages from the company advising me to not travel home or, if I did, not to bother coming back tomorrow.
Their website’s live departure boards, completely unable to cope with the tsunami of alterations, gave up. At its worst it was listing new times for departures with the key note “this train will be cancelled” handily added alongside. Thanks. For. That.
And then, this morning, further chaos. An “electrical supply problem between Farringdon and City Thameslink”, apparently. But why leave passengers sitting on trains stopped at stations along the line for up to half an hour before telling them they would be moving no further?
A compensation package offered by FCC within the last fortnight is now apparently to be reviewed. I take it this means scrapped. If FCC were to compensate all their customers for the past two months I can only assume it would put them out of business. Not necessarily a bad thing.
Finally the customers have had enough. The revolt has begun and, naturally, it is gathering a head of steam online.
A petition on the Downing Street website had been signed by nearly 2,000 people by this morning, calling on the government to end FCC’s franchise on the route.
A Facebook group, I Hate First Capital Connect, has reached 1,000 members in its first 48 hours.
For years growing up in some of the north of England’s most affable cities I was told by friends about a mystic metropolis in the south – London. The 24/7 city where streets are paved in gold, people flock from around the planet to see its wonderful sights, and a bustling, thriving transport network ferries people to and fro like a system befitting the 21st Century.
What utter drivel.
How on earth anyone thinks the 2012 Olympics will be a success I don’t know. I have visions of Usain Bolt turning up late for the 100m final, waving his hands, puffing and panting, shouting, “wait, wait, I’ve been stuck on Thameslink for an hour”.
How long can the FCC shambles be allowed to go on? The company’s hierarchy is nowhere to be seen. There is an occasional statement on the website, but nothing more. I pity the poor guards at the stations, faced with a barrage of anger from furious commuters. It’s not their fault they work for the train equivalent of RBS combined with Northern Rock.
Perhaps they should stick the chief executive or managing director on the platform at Farringdon at 6pm one evening and let them see the chaos for themselves?
Who is going to take responsibility for this? Where is Transport Secretary Lord Adonis? Where is Transport Minister Sadiq Khan? Nowhere to be seen.
The bottom line is this: No one at any senior level of management, be it in FCC or the government, could care less. They have a captive customer base – those living beyond the Tube network have no alternative (other than quitting their jobs) but to use FCC.
And so this disgraceful business goes on and on and on.