By Ian Dipple Thursday 02 May 2013 Updated: 02/05 09:51
THE HEAD of London Midland has defended the decision to extend the train operator's contract and vowed never to allow a repeat of last year's chaotic disruption.
Patrick Verwer, managing director of the firm which runs services between Redditch and Birmingham, said they had invested £45million to rectify the situation.
The money is on top of the £10million in free and discounted tickets the Government forced them to offer as punishment for the driver shortage which resulted in over 1,000 trains being delayed or cancelled between last October and December.
Sickness and a lack of drivers volunteering to work their rest days caused further problems in January and February.
Despite that the Government recently announced the firm's franchise to run services was being extended until 2017, prompting anger from some passengers.
But speaking on a visit to Redditch last Friday (April 26) to meet MP Karen Lumley, Mr Verwer said the decision had given them the certainty they needed to continue to invest and improve the service and by the end of the year they would have trained almost 100 additional drivers.
"The Government did the right thing, we deserved it, and you will get a better outcome for passengers now than you would have had bringing in another operator which would have taken a year," he said.
"What happened was a totally unacceptable situation and I have apologised more than 100 times for that - I don't ever want to be in that situation again.
"We feel the pressure and there have been many questions asked by passengers, MPs, stakeholders and the media but we are keen to improve."
He added the poor quality of the infrastructure on the Cross City Line and congestion at Birmingham New Street meant it was unrealistic to expect 100 per cent reliability but added: "Our performance currently on the Cross City Line is 92 to 93 per cent. I don't think 95 per cent is unrealistic so we still aim for better but we have more to do."
Many people have been warned about their timekeeping at work because of the disruption and one young woman lost her place at college as a result.
Mr Verwer said when people had contacted them expressing similar concerns he had personally phoned schools, colleges or workplaces to explain and would continue to do so.
During the meeting Mr Verwer heard from a Redditch resident who regularly uses the train to commute to Birmingham for work. He raised a number of issues including lack of information from frontline staff and trains terminating at short notice at Barnt Green.
Mr Verwer said they had put measures in place to increase communication between control room and frontline staff and were considering upgrading the facilities at Barnt Green, while the doubling of the track between the village and Redditch would also help.
"Because there's nowhere we can overtake it means we have to take a service out of the schedule to get back on timetable. The only place we can turnaround is Barnt Green but what staff should do, if they know they are going to terminate early when they leave Birmingham, is give people the opportunity to do so at Longbridge where there are better facilities."
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