Trains – going nowhere, slowly

It is the day of the 10th anniversary of the WOW! Awards gala at the Tower of London.  I thought it would salve my anger to write about the train “service” my local train operating company, Greater Anglia, “provides”.  As a  corporate entity it has about as much chance of winning an award as a chocolate remaining in a solid state in a furnace.

Today also saw the annual announcement of the increase in rail fares, 3.1% in January 2019.

Lions and donkeys

I admit there are some very courteous and civil members of staff at Greater Anglia.  However, these are lions striving against the belittling processes, rules and regulations set by the donkeys who allegedly lead them.  How much does this leadership cadre get paid and, somehow, given bonuses for delivering “performance” as evinced in this chart displayed at Ipswich station?

I always thought bonuses were paid for exceptional performance, for exceeding ALL your goals and targets, not some of them or, as in this case, any of them.

Four journeys, four delays, three refunds sought

In the course of ten days during November, I made two return journeys from where I live in rural Suffolk to London, so four journeys in all.  ALL WERE DELAYED, one by 25 minutes, one by 45 minutes and the other two were delayed sufficiently that I missed my connection at Ipswich to Lowestoft (yet a service leaving at the same time towards Cambridge was held).  This meant an hour’s delay.

Having faced these thefts of valuable time, you are forced to use the Delay / Repay on-line process. Details of your journey must be input more than once.  Surely, if I input my starting station as Woodbridge and the terminus is London, Liverpool Street, you know you do not operate a direct service.  So,  why not “offer” me the option of selecting the trains I travelled on rather than inputting details again via a second drop-down menu? The user experience is poor.

Most ridiculous of all is the need to provide copies of your “defaced” tickets.  The credit or debit card receipt or separate “ticket receipt”, all of which have the ticket number and reference number printed on them, which you have to input manually – why?  Evidently, all this is necessary to prevent me reusing my ticket. Clearly, Greater Anglia thinks I’m an untrustworthy individual who will steal a “freebie” journey.  I find that grossly offensive.

The greater malfeasance is perpetrated by Greater Anglia for charging the fares it does for the woeful service it provides and the bosses who line their pockets with vast salaries and undeserved bonuses.

I’m still not sure if my claims have been accepted and are being processed.  Through my log-in to the delay repay web-site I am being told one thing and via emails another.

Passengers vs. freight

In three instances, the reason for my delays was either a slow running or broken-down freight train; the other reason was damaged track.  The line from Ipswich to Stratford in east London accommodates quarter-mile long freight trains, the weight of which will impose immense stress on the tracks; hence, the probable root cause of the delay due to track damage.

From Ipswich to Shenfield, the line comprises two tracks.  Watching £50bn be spent on the “pork barrel” project of HS2 is irksome. The money would be far better spent “quadding” the line from Ipswich, as was done, perhaps, 10 years ago on the west-coast mainline between Stafford and Rugby.  Other HS2 money could be more sensibly spent on upgrading the Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Hull line.

Perhaps we should forgo “high-speed rail” and jump ahead to the next generation of trains such as “maglev”, which the Chinese and Japanese are already exploring.  Or the hyperloop idea of Elon Musk, which proposes London to Edinburgh in less than an hour.

With only two tracks, when a freight train runs slowly or breaks down, there are limited ways to get passenger services around them.  Quad tracks would alleviate this.

Quite how Greater Anglia expect to fulfil its new franchise commitments of “Norwich in less than 90 minutes” and “Ipswich in under an hour” with this huge operational risk posed by the unreliability of the freight train operators, I don’t know.

Nationalisation – a step too far; some easier to implement ideas

Will Greater Anglia get relieved of the franchise as has occurred on the East Coast mainline?  It may be preferable to profits being hived off to the Dutch National rail operator, Abellio, which holds the franchise.  Why do so many franchises now have overseas ownership by nationalised train operators?  Why are we, the British, who invented the railway, now unable to run them effectively ourselves?  Should we be “taking back control” of our railways… sorry, I am starting to mix my drinks with the bitter taste of the chaos of Brexit!

Solutions

What can be done in the short-term that will see an efficient, effective and affordable train service to be operated out of Liverpool Street up through Chelmsford, Colchester, Ipswich and on to Norwich?

  1. Limit freight traffic to night-time running only.
  2. Penalise the freight operators more severely for the disruption caused by their equipment failures and use this money to compensate passengers for the delays they endure.
  3. Recognise that “compensation” is different to “refunds” and isn’t paid currently.  Indeed, refunds are only paid after delays of 30 minutes and then only 50% until the delay exceeds an hour.  Make the “Delay Repay” process far easier to navigate and negotiate.  Stop imposing stupid rules that indicate you don’t trust your inconvenienced customers.
  4. Change the refund policy. Any delay over, say, 5 minutes warrants 50% refund.  Anything over 15 minutes, a full refund.  That may concentrate minds in the C-suite as to their accountabilities.
  5. Adopt practice from the airline industry so the cause of every failure is understood. Matthew Syed’s book, “Black Box Thinking” is highly instructional in this regard.  Alternatively, adopt the root cause analysis process of Ritz-Carlton Hotels, which is summed up succinctly as “Ask why five times”.  And then do something with that answer to prevent recurrence of the problem.
  6. Re-time connections on branch-lines to provide more tolerance for delays. On single-track branch lines, favour the outbound service.  In the case of the East Suffolk line, this runs hourly, whereas London or Norwich bound services on the mainline with which the inbound branch line connects run half-hourly.  Therefore, missing a connection, while undoubtedly annoying, incurs less inconvenience for the customer.
  7. Work more effectively with Network Rail to ensure their work on the infrastructure is done “right first time every time” (whatever happened to that maxim of “quality” and/or “excellence”? There have been many instances where work to replace overhead lines (some in connection with Crossrail) has failed within a matter of a day or two.  Are plans too aggressive and, consequently, corners are cut reducing the quality of work?  (What is the cumulative “price of non-conformance”?)
  8. Start relying on the knowledge and expertise of the employees more; they know how to run a decent service and, as I said at the outset, some are totally committed to doing so but are constrained by the policies and procedures.

As I have one final review before posting this blog, I think on to later this week when I have to travel to London; I can feel my anxiety rising already.  That is not a “Wow!” experience whatsoever.  This article has reached its destination, ALL CHANGE!

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