West Norfolk rail contract extended despite passenger criticism

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The company that runs most passenger train services in West Norfolk has had its franchise extended, despite being named among the worst firms for passenger satisfaction.

The move will see First Capital Connect (FCC) continue to run services between Lynn and London Kings Cross until the autumn, when a new franchise is set to come into force.

But managers have defended the service after a report suggested that less than half of its passengers were satisfied.

FCC’s current contract to run services on routes including the line between Lynn and the capital had been due to expire at the end of next month.

But it was announced on Tuesday that the firm will continue to run the service until September 14, when the new contract will start, following an agreement between the company and the government.

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The new contract with FCC represents the best deal for passengers and taxpayers.

“It ensures the continuity of the existing service and guarantees the completion of the ongoing Thameslink programme.

FCC’s managing director, David Stalham, also welcomed the agreement and said work to upgrade the company’s fleet of trains was continuing.

He added: “This gives passengers the assurance we will continue our investment to improve customers’ experience and work to deliver a train overhaul and ongoing station and service information improvements.”

But the announcement was made after the company was named in the bottom three for passenger satisfaction in a survey published by the consumer rights group Which?

The report claimed that just 41 per cent of FCC passengers were satisfied with the service they received, the third worst figure of all 19 rail operators across the country.

Only Greater Anglia, which runs the line linking Norwich with the capital, and Southeastern had lower figures.

But FCC managers said they were “disappointed” with the report, which they claim does not reflect much higher levels of passenger satisfaction recorded in surveys by Passenger Focus.

They also point out weekend and bank holiday ticket prices have been frozen, while efforts to improve reliability were being hampered by problems with tracks, signalling and power supplies that the company is not responsible for maintaining.

A spokesman said: “We listen to all feedback and are taking steps to deliver what passengers want.”