Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Some carriage on the 18:05 express from Misery to Desperation. Runs daily.

Do you know what I hate? It’s a very specific thing so you probably won’t be able to guess and I’ll put you out of your blog reading misery by telling you straightaway that the thing I hate is when some journalist or other gets the opportunity to interview some TOC bigwig and then proceeds to waste the interview by only asking them the “big” questions that the journalist whose been given this golden ticket, thinks their readers want to know.

The fact of the matter is, as we see from the resulting flaccid interview, the TOC bigwig is usually well versed in fielding these sorts of questions and before you can say “caught in the slips”, they’ve managed to skilfully deflect the probing questions with a deft flick of the wrist and yet another opportunity has been wasted.

Topics like “why is electrification so behind schedule?” or “why do tickets cost so much?” or the classic “why are the trains so crowded?” can be swiftly dealt with by even the greenest of TOC employee and they no doubt get taught this during training, in between the lesson on not selling split tickets and the lesson about the Working Timetable not being shown to passengers.

Their preferred method of dealing with these questions is to deflect the blame onto one of the hundreds of other railway related operators as quickly as possible. Does anyone remember that documentary where former Apprentice Draco Malfoy impersonator Margaret Mountford and Nick Hewer supposedly “investigated” what was wrong with the railways? Well Nick wasted his opportunity to interview someone from Virgin by asking all these types of questions which the Virgin man responded to in pretty much the same way as I’ve just described…..

“Oh believe me Nick, we’d love to lay on more carriages but they’re simply not available from the Department for Transport” and “That’s a very good point Nick, there’s nothing we’d love to do more than change our timetable to run more services but again it’s out of our hands” and of course the classic “Those delays you’re referring to Nick were all down to signalling issues which is the responsibility of Network Rail and completely outside of our responsibility and influence.”

OK, I’m paraphrasing and indeed making all of this up from memory, but the get the point I’m trying to make.

The point here is, there is far far too many things “wrong” with the service the poor paying public have to put up with that are well within the TOC’s direct influence that they simply choose to do nothing about because one can only assume it would cost them money and therefore reduce profits.

Want an example, well say no more……

Today I received a reply to an email I logged with GWR’s Customer Service enquiry line on the 9th of October. That, for the mathematicians amongst you is 23 working days ago. GWR’s own self-inflicted target for a response from Customer Services is 5 days.

Now I’ve had responses in the past that have been quicker (never actually within the 5 days though) and ones that have been much much slower (I’ve had one that I actually had to admit defeat on after no response for over 6 months) but again the point here is that GWR could make this small element of their service much much better for the poor paying customers by simply employing more staff to work on the Customer Service lines.

But of course to do so would require investment by GWR and therefore would require money from GWR and therefore would reduce profits for GWR…… they don’t. They are much happier to make poor paying people wait 23 days for a response than to meet their own targets.

Still need another example? OK how about this for size?

Ever caught a train from Newbury Station? Yes? Then you’ll know the place is an absolute dump.
Firstly it’s a dark, dirty dangerous place any time after about 8 in the evening. I’m not sure exactly what time the GWR staff knock off but for a fairly sizable station serving a fairly sizable town is it too much to ask that there is someone on duty until at least after pub chucking out time?

If you’re waiting for a delayed train at the arse end of a cold November day, you try feeling comfortable on the ice cold steel benches on a platform where the only company is a discarded packet of chips and a half dozen pissed roudies who look like they want the contents of your pockets. And if you swap Newbury for one of the isolated stations (e.g. Thatcham, Aldermaston or Midgham) then things are certainly not going in the direction of Improvement Central.

Again, here is something that GWR could directly influence by investing in the stations that they run and are responsible for.

But they choose not to. Why? Because it would require investment by GWR and therefore would require money from GWR and therefore would reduce profits for GWR…… they don’t. They would much sooner the poor paying public had to sit on ice cold benches fearing for their lives…….yeah, yeah, yeah, you get the point.

Now as I wrote this I did wonder whether Newbury is owned and ran by GWR and not by Network Rail, but then I realised that even I’ve got this wrong, it doesn’t make the point any less valid.

Network Rail are forever letting down the poor paying public by not being capable in managing the signals that allow the trains to run. Now I’m not for a second suggesting that this isn’t a complex job, I’m not suggesting that this is an easy job, I’m not even suggesting that we should expect 100% up-time 24-7-365 etc etc.

But what I am suggesting is that if Network Rail invested in more engineers and better ways to get their engineers to the signal failures when they happen, then the signals would get repaired quicker and hence the trains would get back to running normally quicker.

But here’s where Network Rail has the upper hand on any TOC. They can quite legitimately claim that their investment in their staff or infrastructure etc is directly controlled by the money they get from government.

TOC’s don’t have this luxury. The amount they invest is directly controlled by themselves. If they want to keep more profits, they simply don’t invest. And as Aleksandr might claim, that my friends is just…..”simples”.

So here’s where we come to what started this rant off in the first place.

If when you’re next stood up on a train with your nosed pressed against a toilet door and your backside being interfered with by some idiot’s Brompton and you choose to complain to your TOC, don’t accept their brush off answers that this isn’t their fault because “there simply is a national shortage of carriages”.

The TOCs have direct influence on the number of carriages that are in service on the network by the simple fact that they are responsible for their own maintenance and refurbishment. Also we know that they have been given sufficient stock to fulfil their franchise obligations each and every day, which also includes spares.

So even Duns Scotus (read the article) has worked out by now that it’s simple maths which says if GWR chose to invest in more fitters it’s much more likely that more carriages would be kept in service for more periods of time. That has to make sense surely?

In fact, I’ll go even further. One of the heroes of #TeamHipFlask whose name shamefully escapes me once found out from the Department for Transport themselves that GWR (or FGW as they were before they decided to violate the memory of Brunel) have never actually requested additional carriages from Patrick McLoughlin himself. So who knows, loveable roly-poly frontbench comedian Paddy might only be too willing to stump up for ½ a dozen spare coaches……we, the poor paying public simply don’t know.

So whilst your broken nose and your tyre imprinted anus might directly be the fault of failed signals, cancelled services or even a very secretly publicised global sports event, please please never forget that each and every TOC has a direct influence on your nose and anus it’s just that they choose to do nothing about it, whilst blaming everyone else.

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