The recent performance of First Capital Connect was reviewed by a St Albans City and District Council Scrutiny Committee at its meeting on 27 September.
Senior management from FCC and Network Rail were questioned about progress made in improving the train service since they last met the Committee in January 2012.
Various issues raised at the meeting in January were revisited, including insufficient information during times of disruption, clarity of the compensation process, car parking provision and charges.
The Local Services Scrutiny Committee heard how Network Rail and FCC responded to recent service disruption caused by various incidents including cable theft in the Bedford area. Network Rail has set up a new response team to deal with the problem hotspot of Kentish Town where signal failure and overhead power problems also caused delays.
FCC apologised for the removal of a ticket machine at St Albans Station without giving notice earlier in the year. This incident had caused delays and frustration for passengers.
FCC also informed the Committee about improvements to passenger communication, including use of Twitter, new electronic screens, email alerts and real-time service information online. FCC is planning to introduce a free text service to update passengers and staff training on communication during the first 60 minutes of a disruption.
The train company also gave information about planned improvements at St Albans station, including new disabled parking bays, additional cycle parking and refurbishment of the footbridge flooring. Improvements are also scheduled for Harpenden Station, including a new single-decked car park offering an additional 200 spaces, resurfacing work and new 20 minute waiting bays. Lifts and a new footbridge are also being installed and additional cycle parking spaces are being made available.
Other issues were raised on behalf of passengers who had emailed the Council. These included an increase in graffiti on the sides of the trains and the number of four carriage trains rather than 12 carriages. The lack of pro-active customer care when passengers seek refunds and compensation after rail disruption was also raised.
Councillor Robert Donald, Chair of Local Services Scrutiny Committee, said: “Many of our residents are commuters who rely on the Thameslink Service to get them to and from work as efficiently and comfortably as possible. Disruption and delays to our rail service can cause understandable frustration and anger for travellers. On behalf of local passengers our Committee has been meeting regularly with First Capital Connect and Network Rail to scrutinise their performance, pass on rail users’ complaints and seek improvements to the train service.
“When we last met with FCC and Network Rail in January, the companies agreed to report back to us this month on several matters of concern. These included delays, communication with passengers during periods of disruption and parking issues. They informed us of the improvements they are making to the way that communications with passengers are handled when there are delays and to parking provision at stations. We expressed continuing concern about the lack of transparency, customer care and flexibility over FCC’s current ‘Delay Repay’ policy and we are expecting they will review this before our next meeting in 2013 and suggest improvements. The Committee thanked both companies for their excellent performance during the summer London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and lack of travel disruption
“We have scheduled another meeting with both companies next spring as we need to monitor whether the customer experience is any better as a result of these improvements and will be sustained.”
Local residents were invited to give their views in writing to the Committee about the service. Any questions not addressed at the meeting will receive a written response.
It was agreed a further meeting would be held with FCC and Network Rail in 2013 in about six months’ time.
The meeting on 27 September was open to the public. A webcast
of the meeting can be seen on the Council’s website. The agenda
for the meeting is available on the Council’s website.
The draft Strategic Local Plan was also discussed at the meeting which was adjourned to allow for more time for full consideration of every part of the Plan. Further consideration will be given to the Plan next week when the meeting resumes on Thursday 4 October at 7.30pm.
Cllr Robert Donald, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee
Tel: 01727 841647
Contact for the media:
Communications Officer, St Albans City and District Council
Tel: 01727 819316
Information about the role of the Local Services Scrutiny Committee
, formerly the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee, is available on the Council’s website.