Another reason why. . .

. . . I came to Denmark.

This is an extract from a Guardian report into overcrowding on Britain’s trains. The route described below includes the journey I made from St Albans to Blackfriars many times.

But hopefully never again.

Bedford to Sutton, via central London

Passengers on the former Thameslink route running into central London and southwards on to Wimbledon and Sutton had high hopes when the franchise changed hands in April last year. Surely the new company – First Capital Connect – had won the franchise because it was going to provide big improvements, more trains and better punctuality? Wrong, wrong and wrong.

The new company has put its stickers over the old Thameslink ones but they are the same, tired old trains, and there are fewer of them. The company says Thameslink had 86 of the special trains needed for the network but loaned out 12 to Southern Railways. Those are not due back until 2009, although First Capital Connect is hoping to get them earlier. “Capacity is our biggest single issue. It is completely unacceptable that people have to travel like this,” said a spokeswoman. Passengers agree. “The overcrowding has got worse. It is simply ghastly. It makes me so angry,” says Jeff Segal, who has just spent the journey to Herne Hill station squashed against a window.

Passengers often can’t get on trains northbound from south London in the mornings or southbound from Blackfriars station in the evening. They thump on the windows and yell at squashed up people inside to squash up more. Passengers say First Capital Connect has cut some of the peak-hour trains from eight carriages to four, making the trains even more packed. The company says the trains had already been shortened by Thameslink. So that’s that. “When they went for the franchise they specifically promised to increase the number of eight-carriage trains. And all I can see is that they have stuck FCC stickers over Thameslink ones,” complains Tim Musgrave, a regular commuter to Blackfriars.

First Capital Connect blames the Department for Transport for drawing up the franchise badly and claims it is not allowed, under the terms of the franchise, to buy more rolling stock. The DfT acknowledges it gave the franchise to FCC because it offered good value for money to taxpayers, not necessarily the best service for customers. It is clear that the system, by selling to the highest bidder, gives little incentive to a train operator to lease more rolling stock – quite the contrary, as it wants to maximise profit.

The DfT cannot answer why FCC runs shorter trains in the rush hour or why its timetable does not have more peak-hour services. For that you are directed to the Office of the Rail Regulator. It in turn refers questions to Porterbrook Leasing, which owns the rolling stock. Everyone passes responsibility.

Still, the DfT says, First Capital Connect is investing money in CCTV cameras and “revenue protection” at stations. “We don’t want bloody CCTV, we just want more seats,” says Desmond Kelly, as he boards another crowded service.


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