Brighton commuters face more rail chaos

Posted On 12 Nov 2009 at 11:56 pm

Brighton commuters face further disruption to hundreds of train services as First Capital Connect drivers refuse to work overtime or on rest days.

About 200 services between Brighton and Bedford were cancelled today on top of 50 yesterday – and further disruption is expected tomorrow.

The unofficial action by drivers began on Sunday. It started after the company – part of First Group – began pay talks.

Aslef, the train drivers’ union, is to ballot the 550 or so members who work for First Capital Connect. The result is expected on Wednesday 9 December and strike action could start a week later.

Today the disruption was the subject of an emergency debate in the House of Commons.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesman and MP for Lewes, was the only politician from Sussex to speak in the debate.

He asked the Government if it would take the same “strong action” against First Capital Connect as it announced on Tuesday in relation to another train operator, London Midland.

The Govia subsidiary ran only one of its scheduled services on Sunday 6 September after drivers refused to work for reduced pay. It now faces spending more than £4 million under sanctions imposed by the Government.

Mr Baker said that it was worrying that First Capital Connect’s timetable only worked if train drivers turned up voluntarily.

He said yesterday: “This is the second time in a few days First Capital Connect has allowed this farcical situation to happen.

“The Department for Transport, train operators and unions have a duty to guarantee there are always enough staff to run full services.

“This disruption will cause misery for many commuters who are already hit by huge increases in fares and then have the pleasure of being crammed into overcrowded carriages.”

First Capital Connect said in a statement: “We are extremely sorry that a shortage of train drivers has forced us to cancel a large number of services on the Thameslink route.

“To allow us to operate as consistent a timetable as possible over the coming days we have introduced an amended timetable.”

The reduced timetable has been agreed by ministers.

The company said that it had made a fair offer to staff. In a two-year package there would be no increase in pay for the first year and a minimum rise of 3 per cent for the second year. Staff would though receive a £200 lump sum in April.

Keith Norman, the Aslef general secretary, criticised “the irresponsibility of a company that earns £100 million from its rail arm and then seeks to lower the real income of the people who made those profits”.

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