First Capital Connect have officially taken over from Thameslink Trains, which ran through Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire to London and beyond until 31 March 2006.
The Thameslink commuter service had been running since 1997, but had had its fair share of critics, and just in the last fortnight the service was criticised as being one of the most overcrowded in the country.
|"We're looking to give customers what they want which is comfortable, reliable, clean and safe trains."|
|Elaine Holt, Managing Director, First Capital Connect|
Last year, Thameslink's owners Govia were told they'd failed in their bid to renew the franchise.
Now, the company say that they will spend £52m over the next three years, improving the reliability and appearance of trains, upgrading stations with ticket barriers and CCTV, and providing extra parking.
As well as running the service from Brighton to Bedford, First Capital Connect will be in charge of the WAGN line from Kings Cross to Peterborough.
Managing Director Elaine Holt told us how First Capital Connect plan to improve what was a troubled commuter service.
How are you planning to improve the service?
Elaine: I think there's a lot we can do. We're looking to give customers what they want which is comfortable, reliable, clean and safe trains, so we're investing in the trains themselves and the stations and in the service we provide. We're spending £52m over the next three years.
In the last fortnight the Thameslink service was criticised as being one of the most overcrowded in the country - how are you planning to turn that around?
Elaine: What we need is more of the existing trains. They are actually on another franchise within the UK and we are currently working with the Department of Transport to see how those trains can be brought onto our network. And that would mean that every train in the peak hours would be eight carriages which would really help with the crowding issue which is such an issue today. That's being worked on at the moment and I hope in due course I'll be able to tell you when it will be able to take place.
Apart from a bit of livery and new letterheads, what has actually changed?
Elaine: This morning I hope very little has changed, because we only took over at 2.00am on Saturday. We're going to run the same timetable, but what you will see over the coming months and years is investment in the trains themselves. We going to refurbish the interior of the Thameslink trains. We're going to be investing in the stations, the staff and in the service we provide. So you should start to see differences in the coming weeks.
We started on Saturday deep cleaning the trains and the stations as some of them were in a really filthy state. So some customers will see a difference this
morning. But it takes time, we've only been running the service for just about two days!
How long is your contract for?
Elaine: It's anything from four to nine years, depending on how we perform, so if we do a good job it will be extended and if we don't we'll be out after four years.
But is it a sensible way to run a railway? In that four year or nine year business plan can you make enough money to turn it around?
Elaine: I think there's an awful lot we can do with this service. Thameslink has had some really low customer feedback ratings so yes we can [turn it around]. We can run the trains more punctually and we can give customers what they want. And what they say they want is clean, reliable trains and that's what we're going to do.
But can you do that with a fixed term contract? It could be extended at one end but if it doesn't work you will have it taken off you?
Elaine: Absolutely. But we knew that when we were bidding and that's how rail franchises are run in the UK. So we've bid on that basis and we've run it on that basis. We're very comfortable. We are investing in this service and we're going to make a difference.
Will ticket prices increase?
Elaine: Of course ticket prices will increase as our costs will go up over time, but rail fares are regulated, so for things like season tickets for people travelling in and out of London, there's only so much we can put them up by. So yes, ticket prices will go up but you're not going to see anything outrageous.
What about the staff? Have they all transferred over from Thameslink?
Elaine: They have indeed and we've been out and about this weekend meeting many of them. So yes, we have 2,000 staff in the new franchise.