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Could Brighton to Bedford line be re-nationalised?
11:59am Thursday 28th January 2010 in Commuter News
Ministers today refused to rule out nationalising the Brighton to Bedford line, which has enraged passengers with three months of delays and cancellations.
Challenged directly to take First Capital Connect's (FCC) London commuter franchise back into public ownership, Transport Minister Sadiq Khan said "all options are on the table".
Daily conversations between FCC and the Department for Transport were taking place to ensure a "radical improvement" of the service, Mr Khan said.
Almost 5,000 people have signed a petition on the Downing Street website calling for FCC to be stripped of its franchise due to a "gross lack of competence".
Around 80,000 commuters a day use the rail operator's Thameslink line between Brighton and Bedford, and have suffered severe disruption after technical breakdowns and an industrial dispute which led to driver shortages in a row about overtime.
Snowy weather caused further misery for passengers on the route and, according to FCC's own figures, only 62.8% of trains were less than five minutes late between December 13 and January 9.
At the worst point, only a little over half of the total 3,900 trains were running.
During Commons question time, Mr Khan said hundreds of thousands of people had suffered "severe problems" during months of disruption.
"This service continues to be unacceptable in terms of cancellations, punctuality and passenger service information," he said.
Senior Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) called for a solution to be found "not on the basis of defending the ideology of sustaining franchises which have been given, but in the interests of the commuters and the users of the service".
And Labour backbencher Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), who uses the service and has been hit by the problems, said FCC "has shown itself totally incompetent and interested only in making money, not providing a service".
He added: "Can I urge you to give serious consideration to taking the franchise away and bringing it back into the public sector."
Mr Khan replied: "All options are on the table."
He went on: "What we mustn't do is allow dogma to dictate what is a quality of service, or lack of, that passengers receive.
"And the important job that my department has is to ensure that there is a radical improvement in the quality of service provided by First Capital Connect."
Shadow transport minister Stephen Hammond said FCC should be "rightly condemned" for the service it had provided but said punctuality on the nationalised East Coast line had dropped from 89% to 67% since being taken into public ownership.
FCC has said it will give regular travellers a discount up to the equivalent of two weeks' free travel in compensation for the disruption.
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