42289 & 40106
My excuses are pathetic but to make up for the delay please accept this slightly longer missive which discusses a very important subject and one that might provoke some debate amongst the waiting rooms of the Thames Valley.
So firstly let’s get the boring carriage stuff out the way with and report that I caught the 18:00 Bristol Service on Monday night and sat in 42289 which is a Carriage B. The journey was pretty mundane with no interesting commuting characters to provide any points of interest and it even was more or less on time, if you don’t count the odd couple of minutes here and there, which First Great Western doesn’t.
The final stage of my journey home was aboard a duplicate carriage although there was at least one point of interest……but more of that later.
Similarly on Wednesday I caught the same service but sat in 40106 which is a Carriage F and wrestled the arm rest with a bloke with a pony tail and a pocket watch.
So now you’ve all had the chance to note these numbers down in your little black books of carriage numbers, sit back in your seats (or stand leaning awkwardly against a seat trying not to disturb the snoring bloke in the actual seat) and let’s get on to the main topic!
The main thing I want to tell you is that I got a reply to a recent issue I brought to the attention of FGW’s Customer Service team. Those who follow the amazing, amusing and absolutely pointless @BGCollector Twitter Account may recall a tweet I sent at the end of last week where I commented on how funny (funny strange, not funny funny) it was that the Train Manager on the 18:05 to Frome Service apologised for the overcrowding, mentioned this was due to the train being short-formed but didn’t actually do anything about it, like declassifying First Class for example. This train stops at Twyford, where the masses of Twyfordonians all disembark, limping off up the platform like animals being released from Noah’s Arc, so the declassification would be minimal at most and therefore would be of minimal cost to the mounds of Marky “Smaug” Hopwood’s gold booty.
So after a quick exchange of emails with everyone’s favourite hairy badger, otherwise known as Leo on FGW’s Twitter (@FGW) I decided to log a comment with the FGW Customer Relations goblins who inhabit the Citadel of Desperation somewhere down near Plymouth. I must admit my enquiry was wordy, I mean why use ten words when you can use a hundred and ten, but if you could be bothered to wade your way through the drivel that I wrote you would see it all boiled down to two questions I was asking:
• Wouldn’t it be better if FGW HQ issued a directive to all Train Manager’s as to the circumstances when they should declassify first?
• If not, and they want to keep the power to declassify with the TMs, why did this particular TM feel it ok to apologise but not to declassify? I mean what’s the point of having the power if you’re never going to use it.
Well on Monday I got a lengthy reply back from a very prettily named goblin and less I be accused of putting words in her pretty little mouth I bring to you here, in full, the reply she sent to me.
Thank you for your email received 19 November 2014 regarding your journey from London Paddington to Frome on the same date.
I’m very sorry to learn of your uncomfortable journey and I understand your frustration at having to stand in crowded conditions when there may be seats available in First Class.
I understand the 18:05 service was short formed and can confirm this after checking our records. We hadn’t planned this change in advance and therefore had no opportunity to let passengers know and not enough time to arrange for replacement carriages. This sort of incident has greatly reduced in recent years due to all the work we’ve done to improve our rolling stock but we can’t prevent it completely and I do appreciate how frustrating it can be.
We trust our Train Managers to make the correct decision in these circumstances. Safety is our number one priority and we would never operate a train that we felt put our passengers and staff at risk. The role of our train crew is safety-critical. They know how to monitor and manage passenger loadings, and they will take action if they feel it is necessary. This is not however dependent on a set number of seated or standing passengers as the Health and Safety Executive guidelines do not restrict the number of passengers allowed on any one train.
Where possible we must always try to avoid declassifying our services, due to the fact that we advertise a First Class service and therefore endeavour to retain it. The option is available to the Train Manager as an absolute last resort but is only enforced in extreme circumstances where it is otherwise unavoidable.
Please be assured I have logged your comments regarding this and they may be used in our next monthly review.
Thank you once again for contacting me. I hope any future journeys with us are much more enjoyable.
Miss Pretty Goblin
Customer Services Advisor
Now firstly I want to make it clear that I greatly appreciate the answer and I make the comment that it took just 3 working days to actually receive the response, which measured against previous FGW performance in this area is pretty damn smoking, so credit where it’s begrudgingly due, well done FGW for this.
But that said (and of course there’s a “that said”) none of the explanation actually addresses the points I was after. Let’s leave aside her claims that short formed trains are a rarity due to “all the work we’ve done to improve our rolling stock” which I’m sorry to say just isn’t true and also not make any judgement on the exciting prospect that my comments “may be used in our next monthly review” but we have to address the fact that it seems FGW are simply unwilling to declassify First Class.
I’m also still puzzled over the weasel words with reference to over-crowding. Whenever any loyal paying passengers takes FGW to task over over-crowded conditions on the network the first response that seems to come back is one along the lines of “there are no limits to the number of people we’re allowed to cram into one of our delightful 1970s rolling stock so stop your yapping people!” yet here they seem to be saying that safety is the number one priority and that “The role of our train crew is safety-critical. They know how to monitor and manage passenger loadings, and they will take action if they feel it is necessary” yet they somehow feel a passenger is no safer sat down than if they are straddling the joints of two carriages with their buttocks being squeezed by that really horrible rubbery bit? I mean can this really be true? Has anyone any actual facts to back these claims up? I know the railway apologists will soon be out, if they bother to read this pap, saying how it’s just as safe to be slammed up against the toilet door with a Brompton pedal imprinting into your nose as it is to be sharing a table seat with Carol Decker from T’Pau (did you know she’s touring again soon?) and they’ll probably also remind me in the first place that I should just be grateful that FGW are good enough to allow me to move freely around the country without informing the land-owner of my manor……..but they can’t never seem to actually prove this point with any evidence when challenged.
But even then the safety point can also be left aside and it still leaves me unable to fathom out why FGW just won’t take positive action for the benefit of their passengers especially when it means a cost to their profits, because I can think of no other reason why they wouldn’t want to do this. “We must always try to avoid declassifying our services, due to the fact that we advertise a First Class service and therefore endeavour to retain it” says Miss Goblin, but nowhere in that statement does it address the “why” part of the original question.
And if you’ll allow me just one more final head-scratching moment, let’s leave the declassifying point behind because there is the element of compensation and cost here, why won’t they do the free stuff that would make such a difference to the journeys of so many passengers. The great refurbishment program, converting First Class Carriages to Standard Class ones, which they love to trumpet about, singing from the rooftops as part of their “Greater Western” promotion (just remember kids, it’s the Department of Transport who’s paying for this not lovely Marky Mark dipping his very short arms into his very long pockets) could be introduced overnight by slapping a couple of stickers on the coaches up for refurbishment. Introduce these First Class carriages with their lovely comfy seats as Standard ones and hey presto, more people sat down for the duration of their journeys. Sure this will mean that some lucky sods get a more comfortable journey than usual for a while as the carriages rotate through the actual refurbishment process, but is this such a bad thing? And if you’re worried that it will piss off the First Classers too much then stick the carriages at the other end of the train and don’t go within a country mile of it with the complimentary trolley.
This on-going question of declassifying First Class has even come to the attention of Reading MP Alok Sharma (@AlokSharma_RDG) but if this is the sort of answer FGW are going to come back with if and when he challenges them about it, he’s going to need all his very best politician direct answering skills (I’m very glad you asked me that question but of course the real point is <insert question you actually want to answer>) to get anything useful from them.
Unfortunately Alok isn’t my own MP so I can’t really badger him for progress on this point. My MP is the supposed richest one in parliament, a certain Richard Benyon (@RichardBenyonMP), so we’ve obviously got stacks in common and you can often catch us chatting on the Turbo back to Theale although strangely he never seems to want to travel as far as Thatcham…….
So there you have it, in short it seems to be a statement of “We could do something about it, but we won’t.” Just think of all the time you could have saved if you’d jumped to this line instead of reading all the piffle beforehand?
And finally, let’s wrap up with the exciting carriage news that happened on Monday!
Here’s a dachshund travelling on the 18:05 to Frome! Wasn’t that worth the wait Grant!
All complaints to the usual address where they will be promptly ignored.