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February 18, 2018, 03:17:24 AM *
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Author Topic: The importance of (working) connections. Total journey time v train delay time  (Read 207 times)
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« on: February 10, 2018, 10:01:43 PM »

We have been discussing the importance of connections between services in our GW consultation responses ... so it's fitting I report / describe this evening.

Due to travel on the 18:07 Bath Spa to Melksham at 18:48 - 18:29 to 18:38 change at Trowbridge.  The 18:07 shown as delayed to 18:14 on the departure board, so I walked into the supervisor's / information office and asked.  "It's at Keynsham - yes, it will be tight but it will connect" ... well, with the official from GWR being definite, and having looked it up on his staff system, I was suitably reassured.

Guess what ... station duties a little sluggish at Freshford and at Avoncliff. As we rolled into Trowbridge we passed a train departing and ... guess what, that turned out to be the Swindon train, departing near as damn it on time - and no more than 90 seconds before the incoming connection.

Never mind - there will be another one along ... of sh** - this is the TransWilts with a very thin service, and this is Saturday and the next train is - err - 08:36 tomorrow morning.  First don't run the 234 bus that would have been my fallback any longer, and Faresaver buses go back to bed when it gets dark - so not a chance of an x34!

The gentleman on the help point helpfully told me that my train to Melksham had left on time (I know, I saw it) and that it was the last train of the day (that may sound absurd, but it WAS Saturday night and the 19:38 only runs Sunday to Friday). I pointed out to him that I had missed in because a train that was supposed to connect hadn't connected ... and that I had been re-assured that it would connect.  And - he seemed reluctant - he said he would call the train operator to find out what they would do, and call me back.

I was aware I was not alone in having missed the connection - and indeed there were some (I estimate) 15 people around for Melksham.  My call was returned, numbers asked about, and an assurance given that taxis would be sent. In answer to my suggestion that there were already taxis waiting there, he said they didn't know their phone number, and he declined to let me read the contact numbers off the side of the taxis to help him ...

Sorry - this is turning into a long story isn't it?

Some of the other folks waiting said some very rude things about GWR and their future use of the train, and grabbed one of the taxis that was there.  Others wandered off into town, I suspect having called out a relative to pick them up.  Another group that has started at Bradford-on-Avon and were headed for Oxford disappeared - I think - onto the Bath train; probably a good call to connect via there.

Getting somewhat tired of waiting, one of my fellow passengers called up on the help point and was told not to wait for a taxi, but take the train to Bath Spa (change), Chippenham (change) and arrive in Melksham at 21:26.  For a ten minute ride that should have started at 18:38 and be six miles, that's a spectacularly slow way of doing it!   I suggested that we try to find out about the taxis promised ...

Well, it would appear that
   I spoke to the help point team
   Who spoke to their National Rail team
   Who spoke to GW control
   Who spoke to GW's taxi co-ordinator
   Who called a taxi firm he knew
   Who called one of their taxis
who got to us as quickly as he could.

The help point team had no feedback - "we have requested a taxi and it should be on its way". "When will it get here?" "I don't know". "Could you guess?" "It's not my position to estimate times" "Might it be an hour or two?" "I'm not able to say" ... and after an hour, standing beside a taxi rank brimming with taxis, this was a bit frustrating.  "Can I get a taxi from here?" "You'll have to pay" Yes - but what a poor show of customer service ...

There is a limit to how long people will wait ... and to how long I will keep people waiting, so after an hour and quarter, we looked for a bit taxi and started loading in - I planned to pay and take my chance with GWR ... and of course it was at that point that the ordered taxi rolled in.

People on the ground are sweet.  During one of my converations with the Help Point team, a lady had offered me a lift - she didn't live in Melksham but "right on that side of Trowbridge and happy to help". Thanked her profulesly - really touched - but she had three seats and six rides were needed.

And the taxi drive who we had just started to load with passed us across to his GWR commissioned colleague; relucatncly accepted a tip, and said "no - that's the GWR cab - go with it".  Again - thank you, sir - you are a gent.

And so our ride to Melksham, helping the taxi driver who didn't know his way as it turned out he had been called from WARMINSTER ... and that it had taken about 40 minutes from our initial request at the help point for the job to be given to him.

We arrived in Melksham just shy of 90 minutes after we should have - for a connecting train that missed by 90 seconds.  Looking at Real Time Trains, that connecting train arrived in Chippenham early - 4 minutes before it was due to leave. Not a surprise - a turbo can eat a 153 schedule with comfort, and he would still have been early even had he waited for us at Trowbridge.   Actually I believe he should have waited, based on the categoical assurance given to me that the connection would wait by the official in Bath - surely easy enough for him to add a note on the system to hold for a minute or two as there were connecting passengers?   Or perhaps easier for him to give a customer the answer he felt the customer wanted, then forget all about it?   He was probably home enjoyong his tea while half a dozen of us were shivering in Trowbridge.

So ... connections are important ... a delay of 11 minutes to a train lead to a 90 minute delay on a total journey for 6 people.  Well - not quite if truth be told.  My 25 minute walk from Melksham Station was reduced to a five minute car ride, lift courtesy of a new friend made this evening. So I was only 70 late, and every cloud has a silver lining.

TransWilts Rail - Linking North to West and South 9 times a day. [see here]
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« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2018, 07:30:46 AM »

Input overnight suggests this is a "classic" example of how things should not work, and suggests that I raise the matter with Customer Support who, however, after the event can do little other than send palliative replies.   What I could do, however, is take a systemic look and using RAIB style come up with some suggestions and learning points.

1. Where possible, trains should run on time, or within the five minutes of schedule which is allowed for connections.  I do appreciate that this isn't always possible, but the fewer delays, the fewer times there are the consequences to deal with.   

1a. I note that at Bath Spa, an apology for the delay but no reason was given, and that the departure board was giving clearly impossible information claiming the 18:07 at 18:13, and the 18:13 (Paddington) on time. And they kept switching around as to which would be arriving first (even after on line tracking and the staff panel on the platform showed them on their way from Bristol!)

2. Connections into the last service of the day, or where there is a substantial gap to the next service, should be held for a short while as a general rule.  I appreciate that there may be other connections for the held train to make / it may leave it late for the rest of its run (not applicable - train had easy schedule and would have regained) / it may block something else (not applicable - nothing behind it, and nothing came down the single line from Chippenham in the hour plus we were getting cold and miserable at Trowbridge.

3. Where a staff member promises that a connection will make, it should be flagged onto "the system" so that the staff at the connecting station (if any) and train crew o the ongoing train are all aware of incoming passengers for their connection.  I appreciate that a casual "ask" on the platform may mean the staff member making the promise has significant inputs to make (get to a system, etc) but in the case in point he was seated at the d**ned thing!

4. There should be a better system of getting hold of alternative transport that does not involve so many steps.  We may grumble about the system at Chippenham where a member of the GWR team will find a taxi and arrange it with the driver, but that two step process is far better than the six steps taken last night at Trowbridge.    It's not exactly as is Trowbridge is a remote spot in the middle of no-where ... it's the county town, there was always at least one taxi on the rank the whole time we were there, and up to 5 at times.

4a. The Help point team told us to wait "outside the main station entrance".   Err - right - not sure which of two entrances I would call that at Trowbridge, so I asked.  Off goes the guy and comes back "entrance on platform 1". Taxi when it *did* arrive came to Platform 2 ... Those of us waiting split the group as we (sorry) didn't trust this data - and thank goodness as  there's another learning point we did not have to learn the hard way.  Taxi driver talked as he drove and regailed us with stories of being called to stations, not finding people and leaving, the hearing back from his control to ask where the **** he was - so a significant risk here!

5. Customer Information feedback in this scenario sucks.   One of the things people like about trains is that they know when they're coming ... buses are a bit flakey though far better these days - especially in London.  "Don't know" and leaving people waiting with no estimate other than "it may take some time" is piss poor.  And "I don't know" from the help point operator is at least honest, but not helpful - "I will track though and find out" would be better.   Even better would be to pass on the phone number of whichever customer has taken the lead through all the various steps and have someone along the chain call back - perhaps the taxi dispatcher when the taxi has been instructed, with an estimated arrival time.

5a. Noting that the system as used relied on getting back via a mobile phone ... I guess everyone has one these days!

Edit to bold headlined suggestions

« Last Edit: February 11, 2018, 08:13:02 AM by grahame » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: Yesterday at 09:14:09 PM »

5a. Noting that the system as used relied on getting back via a mobile phone ... I guess everyone has one these days!
I wouldn't rely on that... I can think of two occasions when I've been trying to use public transport without one and run into trouble.

The first time I was travelling with a family member who wasn't going all the way home with me for some reason (I forget the details). Anyway, this family member would be coming home later by car and offered to take my luggage for me when they got off the train, leaving me on board. If I recall correctly, I was making a connection into the last bus of the day, not that later buses would have made any difference to me in this case. At some point, I realised that my phone was in the bag I had left to be brought home by car, and so I couldn't phone home to arrange the pick up from the bus stop. Fortunately I had some coins (I don't normally) and managed to find a phone box to arange a lift, but it wasn't at all fun.

The second time was more straightforward; my phone battery was flat when I tried to arange a lift home from the bus stop. In this case I was saved by the fact that I had a laptop, with charged battery, and the bus had WiFi (and it worked) so I arranged a lift by E-Mail.

So, availablity of a telephone cannot be guaranteed. So what happens when an road traffic accident leads to road closures that in turn cause a 40+ minute delay to the last bus of the day serving a remote village and that bus bypasses the village in a futile attempt to make up time? That happened the other day (although I don't know if the bus company sent a different bus to the village instead); what if somebody without a working phone was waiting for the bus in that village (there might not even be a mobile signal there) or had nobody they could call for help? Fortunately for me I was on the bus and not waiting in the village so didn't have to find out.

Don't DOO it, keep the guard (but it probably wouldn't be a bad idea if the driver unlocked the doors on arrival at calling points).
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« Reply #3 on: Yesterday at 10:14:42 PM »

The system is very disjointed for requesting road transport.
My friend owns a coach company, and he happens to be friends with some station staff. Hes been aware through messaging from his friends that they are about to call him, but has waited over 45mins for it he call due to the levels and departments it goes through for a booking. The call centre had told the station which coach firm theyd be calling first.
On another occasion the station manager came out to him whilst I was stood yapping and told him hed been stood down, but to wait for Swindon to formally stand him down. It took Swindon 90 mins to call him, so he got 90 mins extra paid time to sit doing nothing at no expense to him.
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