Senior management from First Capital Connect and Network Rail have been questioned about the performance of the Thameslink service by St Albans City and District Council’s Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee at its last meeting.
This was a follow-up meeting from an earlier one in June last year to monitor the progress of the rail companies implementation of their action plans to improve rail services.
The Committee was particularly concerned about clear communications with the public when there are rail delays and the compensation policy as well as other issues that they raised at the previous meeting.
At this latest meeting, the Committee heard a presentation from Neal Lawson, Managing Director, and Larry Heyman, Integration and Partnership manager, at First Capital Connect and Martin Frobisher, Route Managing Director, East Midlands from Network Rail, outlining a number of improvements the companies have made since last June. These include improvements to customer information; a change in approach to managing disruption, and upgrades to the electrification plant, track and signalling. At St Albans and Harpenden stations more ticket vending machines and new information screens have also been installed, platform lengths extended ahead of the 12-car trains that were introduced in December 2011 and there are also plans to introduce free cash point machines by the end of March. Planned future changes include an extra 20 parking spaces at Harpenden station, mobile phone texts to update customers on the service and a new style of customer service training for all staff.
However, while the Committee noted the progress that had been made, including improvements to First Capital Connect’s communications with passengers during times of disruption, members expressed concerns about other issues such as parking charges and the clarity of the compensation policy for commuters when delays occur.
The Committee agreed to ask First Capital Connect to reconsider the parking charges at St Albans City and Harpenden Stations and to consider the terms of its compensation policy for passengers affected by severe disruption lasting over 60 minutes.
First Capital Connect and Network Rail will be invited to return to give a further update to the Committee in September.
Written questions and comments received recently by the Council from the public about the service have been collated, with all the personal details removed, and passed to First Capital Connect for consideration. In due course, responses to these will be included with the Minutes of the meeting on the Council’s website having now been received from First Capital Connect.
Councillor Robert Donald, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee at the Council, said: “The Committee agreed that progress appeared to have been made from what was said by the companies at the meeting. The proof of the pudding will now be in commuters’ continued satisfaction with the services provided in the future.
“However, we thought that there was still a need for further improvements in relation to customer communications, in particular around the communication of the compensation policy during times of exceptional disruption of over 60 minutes delay. At the moment commuters do not know what they are entitled to receive in such circumstances and this can be more transparent and consistent. We have asked the companies to return with a new customer policy to cover these circumstances. They have also been asked to report back on car parking charges at Harpenden and St Albans stations. It is reassuring that there is evidence of improvements being made after a number of similar issues were raised by this Committee last year. We look forward to these improvements now continuing.”
A webcast of the meeting on Thursday, 26 January can be viewed on the Council’s website. People with access to an appropriate computer with broadband internet access and Microsoft Windows media player will be able to view the meeting.
Cllr Robert Donald, Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee
Tel: 01727 841647
Contact for the press:
Media and Internal Communications Officer
St Albans City and District Council
Tel: 01727 819317
1. More information about the role of the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee is available on the Council’s website.
2. At the meeting on 26 January, the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee agreed the following:
(i) That the representatives of FCC and Network Rail be thanked for attending this meeting, giving their joint presentation and answering questions from Members.
(ii) That the progress made by FCC regarding its communications with passengers at times of severe disruption to train services and in relation to its ongoing work with local bus companies since the last meeting with them be noted.
(iii) That FCC be asked:
(a) to reconsider the current car park charges at St Albans City and Harpenden stations, particularly in light of the charges levied by the District Council;
(b) to consider further their compensation scheme in respect of those passengers who are affected during severe disruption to train services lasting more than 60 minutes, and in particular what information should be provided to customers about the criteria used in times of exceptional disruption.
(iv) That the representatives of FCC and Network Rail be invited to attend a future meeting of this Committee in September 2012.