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Social power strikes again: Rail firm feels wrath of customers

25th Jan 2010
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Disaffected commuters on the Bedford to Brighton train line have started employing social media to apply pressure on government transport chiefs to strip the operator of its franchise.

First Capital Connect (FCC) has come under criticism since last year, but anger has mounted over the last two months following severe timetable disruption, cancelled and delayed trains and customer misinformation on the Thameslink line. The problems have been blamed on drivers working to rule and the cold snap.

But increasing levels of frustration among commuters have led them to set up a grassroots campaign that appears to be gaining political weight. An ‘I hate FCC’ group has been set up on Facebook, which now numbers 2,000 members.

An online Downing Street petition has also been signed by 4,218 people, while a spoof website has been created - First Crapital Connect - "We've Got You Over A Barrel" - leading thousands of commuters to register their fury at the company. Local newspapers along the route have also been inundated with letters of complaint.

As a result, Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat MP for Sutton and Cheam, lodged an early day motion last week calling for FCC’s franchise to be withdrawn. If the move were to come to pass, it would be the second route to be taken back into public ownership, following the nationalisation of National Express’ East Coast route in November last year.

A spokesman at the Department of Transport told the Guardian newspaper that: "The secretary of state [Lord Adonis] has been clear that First Capital Connect needs to improve their service very significantly, and he is looking at all options open to him if they fail to do so."

An FCC spokesman said, meanwhile, that it understood customers’ frustration and was working closely with the Department on its service improvement plans. He added that the company would offer compensation schemes for season ticket holders, some of whom pay up to £4,000 per year for the service.


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