Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Minister considers nationalising Thameslink franchise

Michelle Smart of First Capital Connect said the service had improved

A minister has refused to rule out nationalising an "appalling" London commuter railway line that suffered almost three months of disruption.

First Capital Connect's Thameslink route between Bedford and Brighton was disrupted by staff shortages and snow.

Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins asked Transport Minister Sadiq Khan to consider nationalising the franchise.

Mr Khan said: "All options are on the table." First Capital Connect (FCC) said: "We are working to improve."

Disruption began in November last year when members of train drivers' union Aslef chose not to work overtime.

FCC and Thameslink relied upon staff working overtime, rest days and weekends to cover services.

Transport Minister Sadiq Khan
There are literally hundreds of thousands of commuters who have received an appalling service
Sadiq Khan, Transport Minister

The dispute was resolved earlier this month but many trains subsequently went out of service when snow and ice caused power problems.

Almost 5,000 people have signed a petition on the Downing Street website calling for FCC to be stripped of its franchise due to a "gross lack of competence".

Mr Khan told the House of Commons that the Department for Transport was having daily conversations with FCC to ensure a "radical improvement" of the service.

He said: "There are literally hundreds of thousands of commuters who have received an appalling service - not for one week or one month but over a period of three months.

"Each day the service has not improved is another day of suffering for passengers, and there is a cost to London as well."

He added: "This service continues to be unacceptable in terms of cancellations, punctuality and passenger service information."

'Making money'

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes called for a solution to be found "not on the basis of defending the ideology of sustaining franchises which have been given, but in the interests of the commuters and the users of the service".

Mr Hopkins said FCC "has shown itself totally incompetent and interested only in making money, not providing a service".

He added: "Can I urge you to give serious consideration to taking the franchise away and bringing it back into the public sector?"

Mr Khan replied: "All options are on the table."

We are committed to the Thameslink franchise, and committed to the long-term development of the franchise
First Capital Connect

Shadow transport minister Stephen Hammond said FCC should be "rightly condemned" for the service it had provided.

But he said punctuality on the East Coast Main Line had dropped from 89% to 67% since it was taken back into public ownership from National Express in November last year.

An FCC spokesman said: "We are committed to the Thameslink franchise, and committed to the long-term development of the franchise."

He said the Thameslink service had "significantly improved" since 18 January.

"Last week we ran almost 4,000 services - almost double the amount of the previous week," the spokesman said.

"By early February we expect to have a full fleet of trains."

He added: "We are working with the Department for Transport to continue to improve the service."

FCC will be the subject of a further Parliamentary debate on 3 February.

Earlier this week FCC announced it would give regular travellers a discount or up to two weeks' free travel in compensation for the disruption.

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London Evening Standard Bosses of 'incompetent' rail firm First Capital Connect meet the public - 4 hrs ago
MSN UK Warning over rail firm's franchise - 15 hrs ago
St Albans and Harpenden Review Passengers steam into FCC bosses but walk away dissatisfied - 21 hrs ago
Horncastle News Minister in warning over rail firm's franchise - 23 hrs ago
Yahoo! UK and Ireland Rail firm warned over 'unacceptable' service - 25 hrs ago

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