Train bosses First Capital Connect (FCC) have been criticised for ‘treating St Albans passengers like dirt’ after reduced services due to flooding have caused major delays and disruptions throughout the day.
Flooding and signalling damage to equipment at Patcham Tunnel in the South Downs between Preston Park and Hassocks in East Sussex on the Thameslink service completely closed the line, and the majority of Brighton based drivers, who would normally drive trains to and from the city, have been unavailable.
This also comes on the same day that FCC was named the third worst train operator for customer satisfaction levels. They scored 41 per cent, with 40 per cent being the worst in the Which? magazine survey of more than 7,000 regular travellers.
Liberal Democrat party leader Councillor Chris White said: "Yet again FCC have treated St Albans passengers like dirt.
"I went into the station and saw a completely vague notice about the services but no explanation as to why. I know First Capital Connect far too well - it was a complete lack of information. "It is difficult enough in the morning rush hour with 12 trains running, let alone only two running.
"It is insufficient. Other railway lines had advertised delays and services on local and national news, but First Capital Connect could not stir their lazy stomachs and inform people."
Councillor White was forced to drive to Rickmansworth station, where he caught the Metropolitan line to London Bridge and was half an hour late for work.
He added: "They have no contingency plan. When it goes wrong, it goes wrong.
"They would have known about the floods earlier on and with a bit of organisation and a bit of foresight planning they could have organised travel for drivers from Brighton to Blackfriars. It is not just the morning - the whole day has been completely wrecked.
"I had my own contingency plan, but for new residents living in St Albans who may not know the area or haven’t driven around yet, they rely on soley on FCC services."
Passengers have travelled on FCC reduced services during the day including:
- Two trains per hour northbound from Hassocks towards Bedford
- Two trains per hour southbound from Bedford towards Hassocks
- Two trains per hour from Blackfriars towards Sutton and Sutton towards Blackfriars
- Two trains per hour from Bedford to Blackfriars
- Two trains per hour from Blackfriars towards Sutton via Mitcham Junction and Sutton towards Blackfriars via Wimbledon
Passengers have been advised to seek alternative routes where possible and tickets are being accepted on FCC's Great Northern route services, on London Underground services and on services run by other train operators on all reasonable routes.
Car park season tickets covering FCC stations on the Thameslink route are also valid at FCC operated car parks on the Great Northern route.
St Albans councillor Sandy Walkington said: "Of course we understand that flooding has affected the southernmost part of the Thameslink route.
"But the question all weary St Albans commuters will ask when they went to a station, which had to be shut because of the congestion and no emergency buses till 9.15am, is whether this could have been anticipated and whether Brighton-based rolling stock should have been moved north by FCC to maintain the bulk of the service, with Brighton-based drivers if necessary being taxied or bussed to their trains.
"Why does there always seem a lack of initiative and anticipation from First Capital Connect? It looks like going the extra mile over the weekend could have paid huge dividends and not let down so many Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire commuters."
Chris Penn, spokesperson for FCC, said he was disappointed.
He said: "The far larger National Passenger Survey showed overall satisfaction scores of 79 per cent, but we listen to all feedback and are taking steps to deliver what passengers want.
"Since this survey was carried out we have frozen our 25 per cent plus weekend and bank holiday discounted tickets and launched a further 10 per cent off online sales in January to give passengers better value for money.
"We’ve unveiled a new train that will address overcrowding on our routes and completed a deep clean of the carriages we have now, with a £350,000 investment in extra staff and equipment.
"We have also worked hard to improve the reliability of our services with specific teams focused on time-keeping. However, their efforts have been derailed by repeated issues with the tracks, signalling and power equipment that, put simply, we do not maintain."