Thursday, 22 September 2011

Excuses, excuses.....

There's a story in today's media doing the rounds about how rail passengers are apparently getting increasingly irate about the "excuses" (or lack of) related to delays.
Passenger Focus are all too aware of the need for good communication when something goes wrong. They've carried out research on this.
My own experience of this varies quite tremendously. I've sat on trains in the middle of nowhere which have ground to a halt and heard nothing from anyone in authority about what is going on. Equally, I've received good information about any problems, both in stations and on board.
This week, we've heard about how London Midland have won an award for their use of Twitter to update real-time travel information. Equally, I have been able to follow the saga - quite late into the evening - of cows on the line affecting Chiltern Railways services; another supremely excellent service using Twitter.
But it's often easy to forget that, whilst a good few thousand of us follow Chiltern and London Midland on Twitter, we're still talking very much about a minority sport here.
Good, easy to understand information for travellers is essential. I actually agree about the "sincerity" associated with seemingly apologetic comments - in Birmingham New Street, for example, you can quite often hear a computerised voice "apologising" for "the delay to this service". OK, in the finest traditions of British manners, it may be - but it doesn't really mean anything - and when delivered by a hard-drive, it means less still.
But travelling on the rail network is a two-way experience. Yes, we all get frustrated about rail delays, but I'm still intrigued to see grown adults acting like spoilt children, spitting out their dummies because of delays. Do these people quite honestly believe that the rail industry sets out to cause misery and delays every day? What about the passengers who forced open a door recently and proceeded to walk along the track, because of delays? I don't know how good (or otherwise) the information was to these people, but what a mindless thing to do. Railways are a safety-critical environment - would we rather have (admittedly frustrating) delays, or suffer the nightmare of something far worse if the industry were more lax about safety?
SouthWest Trains are tackling the issue of information by looking at the whole issue again of how their staff keep travellers informed. Staff are receiving new training, having new procedures and are being issued with smartphones to keep them up to date first-hand with what is going on. Handy as tweets are, should the industry really be in such a position whereby I, as a passenger, might actually know more about a delay than the train manager? I can assure you that, on my travels, that's happened more than once!
So well done South West Trains for looking at this whole issue. Let's hope it's successful enough to be taken as a blueprint for other Train Operating Companies to improve the provision of information to passengers.

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