In general the train service is a good one. Well, as good as things get in this country given the chronic lack of investment in our transport infrastructure. Yes it can be tiring and frustrating and when things go wrong they really go wrong. But given the level of usage that this service gets it works pretty well.
I was a little surprised when the franchise to operate the line was changed from Thameslink to First Capital Connect. I didn't think that Thameslink were doing a particularly bad job and I didn't see how, given that the line operates near capacity as it is, First Capital Connect would be able to make significant improvements. I'm sure there are statistics out there that prove things have got better or worse for this aspect or the other. But as a customer I haven't seen much difference.
One change I have noticed, and not one for the better, is a change in the provision of information to passengers. Not that long after the new franchise had started I noticed various groups of workmen replacing the existing platform displays with new ones. The TV monitor style displays we had under Thameslink have been replaced with flatter ones. While the Thameslink displays were never perfect they seem to have been much more reliable than the First Capital Connect ones.
My observations over the last few months have noticed the following failings:
- A far greater mismatch between the information on the boards and what is actually happening on the tracks. This includes information about a particular scheduled train disappearing (and sometimes then reappearing) for no apparent reason.
- Displays going wrong more frequently and seemingly taking a long while to be fixed. There is a display on Blackfrairs Station that seems to have been out of action for most of this week.
- Messages, such as those about cancellations or notice of engineering works, that don't display properly on the boards because they are too long. A message that probably looks OK when typed into the master computer only half appears on the screens on the platform, and thus is rendered meaningless, because the system appears not to take account of the actual design of the displays.
- The way platform changes do not show up very clearly on the displays and the tendency for tannoy announcements of platform changes to come only about a minute or so before the train pulls into the station. This results in a mad dash to the stairs by passengers and is a real pain for those with pushchairs or heavy cases.
- Finally, there is niggly little grammatical issue that I find slightly annoying. I have seen displays scrolling the message “Do not call at Harpenden....” instead of “Does not call at...”.
Come on First Capital Connect, please pay more attention to the details.