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Author Topic: The importance of (working) connections. Total journey time v train delay time  (Read 2586 times)
grahame
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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.
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grahame
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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: February 17, 2018, 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.
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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: February 17, 2018, 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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« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2018, 09:19:08 am »

Presumably, in hindsight, the best move might have been to get all 15 people to take whatever taxis are waiting there, get chits written by the taxi drivers for the amounts paid, and then send them in (or better go to Swindon with them and hand them over with a grin) and demand repayment.
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grahame
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« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2018, 09:38:05 am »

Presumably, in hindsight, the best move might have been to get all 15 people to take whatever taxis are waiting there, get chits written by the taxi drivers for the amounts paid, and then send them in (or better go to Swindon with them and hand them over with a grin) and demand repayment.

Oh - you can't believe how tempting that idea was at the time!.  I decided against it because:

a) The system needs to always work and not be luckily fixed because there happens to be a Community Rail person there. Better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.

b) Aware I was in a road replacement situation, I wanted to see how the system worked and, heck, give it the benefit of the doubt.   Foresight - I had no clue as to just how awfully long it would take, and rather hoped for a darned sight better than it was.

c) I didn't have enough cash on me to pay for all the taxis, even assuming they would have taken an up front payment

d) Community Rail's role (including community rail officers) is described as not getting involved in operational and day to day passenger support matters.   Now - I am not a jobs worth and do "fuzz" sometimes, but need to be careful and selective in what is done and how it's done.

e) The system is set up as it is to ensure that there's not a string of taxis with just one or two people in each running at rail's expense (and also clearing the supply of taxis and leaving others stranded).  Actions that could be seen to go against that direction on my part (setting up a 'get a taxi and claim' culture) would not help my ongoing role - as indeed would turning up in Swindon with a 100 bill and asking for payment, as per your suggestion!

Long answer because the question is very worthy of analysis - I'm comfortable with what I did ...

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« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2018, 12:49:14 pm »

Years ago I was supposed to be heading to London from Yorkshire towards last train territory on a Saturday. So I arrived at Barnsley Station where I had been dropped off and got the train to Sheffield for the train back to London. Annoyingly the train into Sheffield always arrived just before (1 minute as timetabled) the London one was due to depart if it had been a few minutes earlier you could have connected. There was then a lovely hour wait for the next one to turn up and go. I had been told by friends that if the London train was still on the platform with doors unlocked run and get on it.

On the train we sat outside Sheffield Station for a few minutes at a red signal. I arrived to see the lights of an HST in the distance which had just departed the London platform. Cursing my luck I knew I was going to be on the last train back to London that night. I asked if it was on time only to be told that it was cancelled, they didn't know why. So what were my options for getting back to London? At first I was told by one member of staff that it wasn't their problem which insensed me. Then I spoke to someone at the ticket office who was a bit more sympathetic.

There was a train heading to Birmingham New Street which was suggested as a good alternative. There would then be a train to London from there apparently. Other staff members joined in suggesting:
I could also go to Doncaster and get the last train from there to King's Cross.
Or was going to Nottingham possible and go to London that way?
However there was some debate as to whether I could get to Doncaster in time given there were delays. After consulting the timetables Nottingham was ruled out as the last train was leaving as we checked. Eventually the consensus was that I would be better off with the Birmingham New Street route because it wasn't the last train. My ticket was endorsed to allow me to go via Cross Country and then Virgin West Coast which meant I had a serious trek to get home. Whilst waiting for the train to Brum to arrive I bought some food because I figured I wasn't going to be able to get any when I got to London. I eventually made it home well after 1am because the tubes were shut and the first night bus didn't arrive.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2018, 01:40:24 pm by 1st fan » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2018, 09:37:04 am »

Bang my head against a brick wall time again. One of the things that really grated with me during the recent BHM > DIG journey, discussed elsewhere this forum, was the sight of the Exmouth train leaving EXD Platform 1 as SWTSMBO & I stepped down from the XC service onto P4.
I know, because it had already happened to me twice in 2018, that if our incoming service had been of the GWR flavour the connection would have been held for a few minutes. This sort of behaviour - which I know can be (sort of) justified by existing railway operational rules - doesn't actually make any sense because even a 5-10 minute late departure from EXD can be recovered during what is a 'closed' out & back journey with no other intermediate connections.
Cooperation between TOCs for the greater good? - it doesn't always look that way.
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« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2018, 04:29:42 pm »

As far as possible, Exmouth are held, especially at night when it is hourly, but a 5-10 minute delay is NOT recoverable during daytime operation; the trains are too tightly timed on the branch to cross at the right place and clear the mainline for SWR, to not cause problems escalating.
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« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2018, 08:51:28 am »

Clarification:
I should have stated clearly that I was only referring to that part of the day when the Exmouth branch is run as an hourly service; I wouldn't expect trains to be held if the maximum wait is c. 30 minutes.

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grahame
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« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2018, 07:09:31 am »

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.

Confirmation (!) back from GWR, to whom I wrote pointing out that the time taken by this isn't customer friendly, that I have it pretty well spot on.   And that those who work the system aren't thrilled with it either.  Alas, no-one's going to be jumping and making changes, but we've added weight to the case for it being streamlined when next updated, and learned about how it works so that we can make more fully informed decisions next time we or our passengers get stranded.

Real solution?  Have the trains connect like they are timetabled to do.  Make the need for last minute road replacement almost always unnecessary.
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« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2018, 09:58:16 am »

The main problem is between GWRs taxi coordinator & 'local' taxi firm. Rarely is it lical, unless a major city. Otherwise taxi called from nearest large town/city whose drivers don't know the local-to-you roads & are often without postcodes/satnavs so take ages to arrive. Often after the next train (if there is one), which is why 'wait for next train' is often quicker!

These coordinatorfirms need to widen the basket of firms they work with
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grahame
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« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2018, 10:10:23 am »

... so take ages to arrive. Often after the next train (if there is one), which is why 'wait for next train' is often quicker!

Indeed.  With road replacement, it often takes so long to source (general agreement that the system is <understatement>not perfect</understatement> ) and then the transit takes longer that it can arrive after the next train.   I am rather use to saying to people who have turned up for certain trains that best bet is to wait for next service.

In the case of the 18:38 (Saturday) Trowbridge to Melksham, next train would be at 08:34 Sunday ... help point suggestion (to one call) was to get train to Bath, train to Chippenham and train to Melksham for a 21:36 arrival ... as it was even with the 90 minute delay the people were home well before that!
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« Reply #13 on: February 27, 2018, 10:16:33 am »

These coordinatorfirms need to widen the basket of firms they work with

I understand some taxi firms are reluctant to take railway business as there can be a lot of paperwork before they get paid.  (As they usually get paid cash or card on the day even a week to settle a bill will seem like a long time to them)  Not specifically GWR but across the industry.
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« Reply #14 on: February 27, 2018, 10:18:07 am »

yep, and they don't even get paid the going meter rate either.....
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