Passengers protest about delays 13 weeks into flagship rail deal


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The Independent Online

One of the Government’s biggest franchises under its flagship rail contracting  scheme, the Thameslink line into St Pancras, ran just over half of its trains on time in the past month – triggering commuters to petition for change.

Govia, a joint venture between the listed Go-Ahead Group and French state-owned Keolis, has only been running the Bedford-to-Brighton line since 14 September, when it took over from FirstGroup.

But the latest figures show that on some weeks, barely half (53.5 per cent) of trains arrived at their destination on time between 9 November and 6 December. The Office of Rail Regulation’s target for on-time arrivals is 89.8 per cent.

Govia is set to pocket £1.2bn in annual revenues when it merges the Thameslink line with the Southern franchise next summer under the name Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern.

But commuters on the route – which is one of Britain’s biggest and one of the first to be handed over by the Government since the franchising collapse over the West Coast line fiasco – are petitioning the Department for Transport to “force Thameslink to improve their service”.

The petition to ministers reads: “Govia Thameslink won the bid to run our trains by vowing to cut costs; it appears they have done this by reducing staff and foregoing essential maintenance work.

“Every day trains are delayed because of ‘staff shortages’, ‘broken down trains’ and ‘signal failure’. This company should not be allowed to continue providing such terrible service.”

When then rail minister Stephen Hammond picked Govia for the Thameslink line, he promised that “new, state-of-the-art trains, more seats, better connections and improved stations will transform travel across London and the South-east”.

A Govia spokesman said: “We would like to apologise for service levels on Thameslink. We appreciate recent weeks have been a difficult time for many of our passengers because of delays, many of which are caused by issues outside our control, but also cancellations from driver shortages, which is an issue we have inherited.

“We only took over the franchise in September and, on routes where there have been several years of declining service levels, it will take us time to turn this around.”