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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Connex's colourful years
Seeing red on the rails
As Connex South Central becomes the first train company to lose its franchise, BBC News Online looks at some of the more bizarre incidents to befall its beleaguered passengers.

Connex South Central, the first rail company to be stripped of its franchise, has an unenviable reputation for long delays and trains that come adrift.

The French-owned company runs trains between the home counties and London, which is one of the busiest parts of the UK's network.

Delayed.net
The complaints desk is open
But what made it the company that commuters love to hate?

It enjoys the dubious distinction of accounting for more than a quarter of the grumbles logged on the independent complaints website, delayed.net.

Of the 883 complaints concerning 23 companies, 261 are about Connex services.

"Yet again another cancelled train," wrote one disgruntled commuter last summer.

"No explanation and no announcement. The following two trains were then too overcrowded to get on. Third train lucky and 35 minutes late for work.

"Will Connex pay my employer for lost work time? They should do."

Last year, the company was fined 1.2m for running trains with too few carriages on its South Central and South Eastern services.

Lost carriages

Thanks to faults with its 35-year-old rolling stock, the company's carriages sometimes break apart because the couplings fail in service.

Leaf sign
Leaves on the line: Black ice for trains
During one such incident on the South Eastern network, a Waterloo-bound Eurostar from Brussels was ordered to slow down and help find carriages that a Connex driver had "lost".

The driver had failed to notice that the four rear carriages, out of service at the time, had come adrift.

Bizarre excuses for delayed trains are nothing new to long-suffering commuters, be it leaves on the line or the "wrong type of snow", the excuse trotted out in 1991 by British Rail.

But in September 1998, passengers were left scratching their heads when Connex blamed an infestation of fleas for the cancellation of an Eastbourne to Ashford train.

Forced to break their journey for more than an hour in Hastings, the passengers were eventually told that the driver, covered in bites, could not complete the run.

School run

A year earlier, a Connex driver left 40 passengers on a siding because he was late to pick his children up from school.

train queue
Waiting...waiting: Connex has a poor punctuality record
Passengers heading from London to Portsmouth made it as far as Three Bridges in Sussex, about halfway along the route, before the driver left his train.

He had been rostered to take the train to Horsham, where another driver was waiting to take over, but the train he had intended to catch home had been cancelled.

His manager had refused to pay for a taxi, so the driver decided to take matters into his own hands in order to make it to the school gates on time. He got out of the train.

It was reported that irate commuters, who had engaged in a shouting match with the driver, had to wait in the cold for an hour for the next train.

The previous week, another driver refused to take the controls on a Brighton to London run because it was too cold in his cab.

With no replacement driver available to take over, the service was cancelled.

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | UK
Connex loses rail franchise
24 Oct 00 | UK
Connex travellers' woes
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