Commuter column - My Platform

London to Brighton line just north of the Balcombe viaduct
London to Brighton line just north of the Balcombe viaduct

‘Leaves on the line -again’

“Oh dear” – I hear a collective groan from Mid Sussex commuters bracing themselves for the increased delays and difficulties which autumn and winter seem to inflict on our hapless railways.

The special ‘leaf fall’ timetable is in full swing allowing trains extra to break and accelerate on what’s termed poor rail conditions.

While we all suffer from late-running services due to the weather, a recent trend by train operators to attempt to make-up time by ignoring some stations has exasperated the problem for many.

Just the other day, a peak-hour service appeared on the indicator screens, was even announced as the train approached, only for the driver to sound his horn twice and accelerate past the dozens of passengers at Burgess Hill waiting in the cold, morning rain.

With FCC re-bidding for its franchise and, whichever company wins also taking-over the current Southern franchise when it’s due for renewal, the stakes are high.

FCC appears to be doing its utmost to ensure trains arrive at their final destination as close to the advertised time as possible because this is the key indicator – never mind the scores of disgruntled (and soaking wet) customers it leaves behind along the way, or those trapped inside wishing to alight.

While we are on the subject of the much maligned First Capital Connect, has anyone else noticed that its trains are designed for midget passengers? On its older carriages, which seem to grace the Brighton service, the seats appear tiny in comparison to the newer, Electrostar coaches on loan from Southern.

This is borne out by the measurements: while a generous 23 inches is allowed between facing seats on the newer fleet, to accommodate two pairs of legs, this is reduced to a mere 17, yes 17 inches on the old FCC stock. No wonder there are so many knee knocking competitions taking place.

FCC said: “We apologise to our customer for any inconvenience caused, however we would need the date and time of travel to provide a specific response about the disruption.

“When disruptions take place, we may have to change a train’s stopping pattern to prevent the knock-on effect of delays impacting on a larger number of customers. This only ever takes place as a last resort, and when a train misses a station we measure it as a delayed service which is reflected in our performance figures.

“We always do our best to provide up-to-date travel information, but there can be a small time lag between a decision being made to change a train’s stopping pattern and the system being updated, and an instruction communicated to our driver and station staff.

“Regarding the different onboard features of trains on the line to Brighton: We run a mix of class 319 trains, which have smaller gap between facing seats compared to the newest class 377 trains, which are more comfortable. We have inherited the class 319 trains as part of our franchise, and have invested to refurbish them including the provision of new seat covers. However, altering the seating plan of this train by adding extra space would mean removing some seats. This is a sensitive matter requiring to balance the needs of customers who perform short journeys with the majority who travel longer distances and prefer to have a seat to their destination.”