First Capital Connect - A

First Capital Connect - A

First Capital Connect (FCC) was a British train operating company, owned by FirstGroup, that operated the Thameslink and Great Northern sectors from April 2006 to September 2014 which later became the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise.

First Capital Connect was a major provider of commuter and regional services in London and the south east of England. It operated passenger rail services from Luton and Bedford via the Thameslink to Sutton, Wimbledon and Brighton via Central London.

It also operated commuter, suburban and regional services out of London King's Cross and London Moorgate to Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. Major destinations served included Cambridge, King's Lynn and Peterborough.

First Capital Connect ceased operations at 02:00 on 14 September 2014, when the franchise was taken over by Govia Thameslink Railway, and became part of the larger Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise.

First Capital Connect History

On 8 April 2005, the Strategic Rail Authority announced that Danish State Railways/EWS, FirstGroup, John Laing/MTR, National Express and Stagecoach had been shortlisted for the Thameslink Great Northern franchise. On 13 December 2005, the Department for Transport awarded the new franchise to FirstGroup, with the services operated by Thameslink and West Anglia Great Northern transferring to First Capital Connect on 1 April 2006.

The term of the franchise was originally for nine years, finishing in 2015. This was dependent on performance targets being met at the end of the fourth year, which would trigger an automatic two-year extension, and an extension for up to three years after the sixth year at the discretion of the DfT.

It was announced on 5 August 2011 that the franchise would end on 14 September 2013. "This will help to facilitate the continued project delivery of the Thameslink Programme, in particular the introduction of new rolling stock, which will be completed after the expiry date of the existing franchise."

The Thameslink franchise and the Great Northern part of the West Anglia Great Northern franchise were amalgamated in preparation for the Thameslink Programme (formerly Thameslink 2000), designed to increase capacity on the Thameslink route, with trains from King's Lynn, Cambridge and Peterborough. On 24 July 2007 the government announced that it was fully committed to funding the Thameslink Programme, and the project is now largely complete.

In the early part of 2007, First Capital Connect conducted a study and undertook consultation on options for increasing the capacity of services to Peterborough and Cambridge. The final recommendations involved lengthening four peak services from eight to 12 carriages from May 2009, and adding or removing a small number of stops to balance loads between trains.

1,779 more seats have been provided during the morning peak and 2,490 during the evening peak, significantly reducing the number of rush-hour commuters unable to find a seat.

First Capital Connect Demise

  • In December 2011, the DfT announced that all services operated by First Capital Connect would be included within the new Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise.
  • On 29 March 2012, the Department for Transport announced that Abellio, FirstGroup, Govia, MTR and Stagecoach had been shortlisted for the new franchise.
  • The Invitation to Tender was to have been issued in October 2012 and the successful bidder announced in early 2013. But in the wake of the InterCity West Coast re-franchising process collapsing, the government announced in October 2012 that the process would be put on hold pending the results of a review.
  • In January 2013 the government announced it would be exercising an option to extend the franchise until 31 March 2014.
  • In March 2013, the Secretary of State for Transport announced plans for a direct award franchise to run until 13 September 2014. On 18 February 2014 the Department for Transport announced it had agreed a new short-term franchise with First Capital Connect, running for six months to September 2014.
  • On 23 May 2014 the new TSGN franchise was awarded to Govia with services operated by First Capital Connect transferring to Govia Thameslink Railway on 14 September 2014.

First Capital Connect Routes

The routes operated by First Capital Connect off-peak Monday to Friday were, with frequencies in trains per hour:

Great Northern

  • From London King's Cross
  • to Peterborough – 2 tph (1 semi-fast, 1 tph stopping)
  • to Cambridge (non-stop) – 2 tph (1 tph extended to King's Lynn)
  • to Cambridge – 2 tph (1 tph semi-fast, 1 tph stopping)
  • From Moorgate
  • to Hertford North via Gordon Hill – 3 tph (1 tph extended to Letchworth Garden City)
  • to Welwyn Garden City – 3 tph

Unlike the Thameslink route, there was only one control centre for FCC services on the Great Northern route, at King's Cross, within the power signal box.

  • Thameslink
  • Sevenoaks via Catford to Kentish Town (off-peak) or Bedford (peak trains)– 2 tph (jointly operated with Southeastern)
  • Bedford to Brighton– 4 tph (2 tph semi-fast, 2 tph stopping)
  • Luton to Sutton (London) via Wimbledon– 2 tph
  • St Albans to Sutton (London) via Mitcham Junction– 2 tph

This gave a frequency of 10 trains between London Blackfriars and St Pancras which increased during peak hours.

FCC had two control centres (or 'Service Delivery Centres', SDC) for the Thameslink route. North of Blackfriars was controlled from West Hampstead, within the power signal box; south of Blackfriars from Three Bridges, which was also home to other southern TOC controls.

First Capital Connect Major Service Disruptions

The disruptions were triggered by FCC drivers declining to work overtime or during their allotted rest days, following their rejection of a proposed pay increase of 0% (rising to 3% in 2010). Without access to overtime and rest day work, FCC was unable to provide enough drivers to maintain its standard Thameslink service.

Disruption continued into January 2010 as a result of heavy snow in south-east England; although snow was not the only problem, and although significant snowfall ended on 6 January, FCC continued to run emergency timetables through to 11 January.

Trains returned to the normal timetables from 18 January, but delays and cancellations continued as a result of signalling problems. It was revealed that First Capital Connect achieved 60% in its punctuality during the first half of January 2010 on the Thameslink route. First Capital Connect has since offered improved discount and refund packages for customers affected by the disruption.

On 23 December 2010 FCC introduced an emergency timetable on the Great Northern route, reducing the number of rush-hour trains by 75%. This was due to snow which had damaged some of the trains, making them unable to run.

First Capital Connect Customer Satisfaction

Angry commuters started a petition on the Prime Minister's website to end First Capital Connect's franchise during 2009. Other people have asked for a full enquiry into the service, while Lord Adonis, the former Secretary of State for Transport, described the service offered by FCC on its Thameslink route as "shoddy" and "very substandard", and said that if improvements were not made the company could be stripped of its franchise.

In its Autumn 2009 National Passenger Survey, Passenger Focus said FCC had the lowest overall satisfaction rating of any UK train operator, at 75%.

In early 2013, consumer group Which? carried out a survey which rated First Capital Connect as the worst train operator in the UK.

First Capital Connect Overcrowding

First Capital Connect was criticised for running some of the country's most overcrowded trains; the 07.15 from Cambridge to London King's Cross frequently was reported to have had 76 people standing for every 100 seated.

This situation was recognised by FCC itself: "We recognise that overcrowding is the biggest issue affecting our customers. This is at an unacceptable level on some of our services". From 27 May 2009 FCC introduced extra carriages, which meant that this service became a 12-car train rather than an 8-car.

First Capital Connect Pricing

First Capital Connect Fares

In mid-2006, First Capital Connect introduced evening peak-time fares for northbound travel out of London as a franchise commitment with the Department for Transport.

Previously passengers with an off-peak travelcard could travel on any train after the morning peak had finished at 09:30 however, passengers would no longer be able to use an off-peak ticket for trains leaving London stations between 16:30 and 19:00.

Passengers using these peak-hour trains would pay an additional charge to travel. The evening peak restriction does not affect southbound travel. This was introduced due to severe peak-time overcrowding.

Students at some sixth-form colleges were hit by price increases of over £300 per annum when FCC replaced a discount scheme introduced by previous franchise holders WAGN and Thameslink, with its own 'Student Connect' scheme. The level of discount was greatly reduced, and although in theory the scheme is fairer, in practice many students and parents were left out of pocket.

First Capital Connect Overview

First Capital Connect Franchise(s): Thameslink and Great Northern
1 Apr 2006 – 13 Sep 2014
First Capital Connect Main Region(s): East of England, London, South East England
First Capital Connect Stations Operated: 77
First Capital Connect Parent Company: FirstGroup
First Capital Connect Reporting Mark: FC
First Capital Connect Predecessor:
Thameslink, 2 Mar 1997 – 31 Mar 2006

First Capital Connect Successor:
Govia Thameslink Railway, 14th Sep 2014 – present

First Capital Connect Technical Length: 778.9 km (484.0 mi)


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