Britain’s worst-performing train company tried to silence the official passenger watchdog by threatening to sue it for libel for making a complaint about its poor performance.
London TravelWatch had written to Tom Harris, the railways minister, to ask whether First Great Western (FGW) was in breach of its franchise agreement because almost a third of its commuter trains in the Thames Valley were late.
FGW has a target in its contract of 92 per cent of trains on time but managed only 68.3 per cent on its peak services. Its long-distance services are also the least punctual in the industry, with only 75.6 per cent on time compared with a national average of 85.2 per cent.
The letter stated that the number of complaints from passengers received by the watchdog had more than doubled and that overcrowding was more than twice as bad as for the average operator in London and the South East.
Brian Cooke, chairman of London TravelWatch, held a series of meetings over several months with FGW to discuss its performance and had repeatedly urged it to take action to improve its service.
When the situation failed to improve, Mr Cooke wrote to the minister setting out the problems and telling him that the watchdog’s board had unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Department for Transport (DfT) to “consider terminating the franchise”.
Some train routes in England and Wales are running at almost double capacity, according to new research.
The 0759 Durham to Newcastle service tops the list, sometimes operating at 88% above capacity, according to environmental group Transport 2000.
Also highlighted were the 0718 Cambridge to London and 0753 Eccleston Park to Liverpool Lime Street, both often at 85% over capacity.