Driver shortage disrupts rail services

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Rail services on busy routes north and south of London were badly affected again today by a continuing train driver shortage.

First Capital Connect (FCC) was only able to run about half its normal services on its Thameslink route which runs as far north of London as Bedford to as far south as Brighton in Sussex.

The problem has been caused by the refusal of drivers to work voluntary overtime in a row that has also hit services to such destinations as Luton, St Albans, Gatwick airport and Haywards Heath.

An FCC spokesman said today that the company feared the disruption could extend into next week although it was hopeful the matter could be resolved.

The disruption led to Transport Minister Chris Mole making an emergency statement in the House of Commons yesterday.

He said the drivers' action was "highly regrettable", adding that passengers were being "seriously inconvenienced" and urged all parties to resolve the "unacceptable situation" as soon as possible.

Tory Anne Main, who demanded the statement and whose St Albans constituency lies on the Thameslink route, said an emergency timetable cutting services by 50% had brought "chaos" and given constituents a "miserable" journey to the capital.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers also branded the drivers' action "irresponsible" and said it was not credible to believe the unions were not giving "tacit" encouragement.