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Author Topic: First principle answers to a customer about a journey from Cornwall to London  (Read 584 times)
grahame
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« on: September 11, 2019, 03:22:04 pm »

First principles - answers to a customer about his journey from Cornwall to London

Answering a letter widely circulated for comment.    Will be interested if members agree with me

Overview - "State of the Nation"

Many thanks for your letter to ***. I am  writing as a volunteer director of that organisation to address some of the points you've raised with Great Western, with the Peninsular Rail Task Force, and with your MP as well as with us.  As a rail passenger about 15 years ago, I started asking all sorts of questions with a view to having services improved, with an especial concentration on my home town of Melksham, where I questioned the level of provision and whether it was appropriate for the town.  In those 15 years, I have learned a very great deal, and drifted across from protest to partnership - for the rail industry is staffed by predominantly excellent people at all levels who wish to provide an excellent service, just as you wish to receive. However, it needs to be safe, reliable, reasonably priced, and there has to be mutual economic and social support between the railway and the communities it serves.  And there are tradeoffs between some of those elements.

Each rail passenger has personal opinions of what suit him or her, and each person who chooses an alternative to rail when rail would work for him or her will clearly know why he/she makes that choice, or perhaps does not know about the rail option at all.  Such information is very valuable when accumulated scientifically over a large group of people; sampling needs to be statistically sound for such quantitative analysis, though individual qualitative inputs are also valuable.  In other words, it's dangerous just to change things for the "squeaky wheel", yet listening to the squeak can be so valuable.

I've worked in a customer support role, and 98 questions out of 100 are predictable.  At the customer support line, after a journey, most relate these days to requests for recompense for a journey that was significantly late, overcrowded, or failed in some other way.  The only practical thing the train operating company (GWR in your case) can do is to offer you some sort of refund, which these days has been mostly codified into their "Delay Repay" scheme - which is why it's a pretty standard response to point you at the mechanism through which to enter your details.

Somewhat unusually, you are asking further questions and providing feedback. The lifeblood of informing for the future. Be aware that in rail terms, the "future" is a long way ahead, many inputs are needed in the same direction to effect a change, and the risk of the change and the consequences on others need to be taken suitably into account. Also be aware that the responsibility for items you report may fall on GWR, on Network Rail, on other train operators, on Hitachi, on the Department for Transport.  And the inputs are of advisory use in addition to other bodies such as local authorities, Passenger Focus, the new Sub National Transport Bodies, Local Enterprise Partnerships and probably other bodies I have overlooked.

We are in a period of great change on the railways out from Paddington to the Cotswolds, South Wales, Bristol, and the South West.  Underinvestment over many decades and infrastructure dating back to Victorian times, a doubling of passenger journey numbers over the last 20 years on a network that had been thinned out to a skeleton of lines (and very limited platforms and passing places on lines that remained) in the previous 40 years. Trains which (until recently) gave GWR the oldest fleet on the Network.  And you're not just looking at long distance journeys from Paddington as I described the area; I don't have a figure to hand for GWR, but in the UK the average train journey is a shade under 30 miles.

There is excellent news in the upgrade and electrification work going on on the GWR network at present, and the new trains introduced in the last couple of years.  Further trains are coming to the GWR (Thames Valley) area too in the planned future, releasing more for use in the South West which should help relieve overcrowding.

Sadly, the electrification was not correctly costed before it was started.  Someone said to me it was like telling Network Rail to run the world championships, without telling them if it was the tiddlywinks championships or the rugby ones!  With many embankments broadly untouched for 150 years, with signalling cabling perhaps 50 years out of date, it was always going to be a gamble as to what would be found while work was underway.  Modern planning laws and consultations add further uncertainty - I can pick out a number of locations where significant local issues have held things back and / or changed plans - and both have had an effect on cost.

New trains also have teething problems (and some have been delivered / upgraded later than planned) and again that's added further waves on the waters of a robust, reliable service.  And let me warn you that although timetables and running times are to be improved in December, that's a far from straightforward exercise and there will be further teething issues to sort out then.  A huge amount of preparation has been going into this, but I will be amazed if trains run perfectly in January.  Modern information technology systems allow us all to hear about the problems, and news and social media feeds concentrate on the problems and gloss over things that are working, so I expect you'll hear a lot of bad news... mixed in early January with news of fare rises.

I'll address below each of your points.   And I'll invite you to the TravelWatch SouthWest meeting in Taunton on 18th October to help you get a further flavour; the meeting is really a coming together of transport groups all across the South West, but a few independents come along too and (if you've got this far through my letter ;-) ) you'll find it interesting.

I'm also "webmaster" for the passenger forum for GWR passengers (it's an independent volunteer run passenger forum and not a GWR run thing!) ... see http://gwr.passenger.chat if you've not come across it already.  You are very welcome to read / ask questions / follow up there - indeed, I would encourage you to do so, as you'll be able to get many good answers from fellow passengers, as well as from industry experts.  And you'll find lots of answers already in our archives. 

Now – some answers

Q: I am beginning to wonder whether actual cases of failure to serve the fare paying passengers are welcomed by organisations such as PRTF.

A: As I understand it, the Peninsular Rail Task Force if looking to develop medium and long term plans and looking at issues with current services is a bit off to the side for them.  I suspect they don't have the number of people on their team to handle these extra issues, nor really have anything to do with them but refer them on to and through GWR.

Q: Although our experience might seem trivial within the grand scheme of the arrangements for rail travel to the West, we feel that it is symptomatic of a casual attitude of Government, TOCs and Network Rail to the public.

A: Indeed it's a drop in the Ocean – but every drop is important.  There are indeed times that I see what appears to be a casual attitude, though often in an operational situation that's brought on by there being no easy immediate solution to a problem that has arisen, and what I'm seeing is a routine response.  Government, TOCs and Network Rail are far from casual most of the time – they are frustratingly risk averse and happy to carry on, at as low a cost as they can to themselves; that's doubly the case with revenue rather than capital costs - afraid of recurring costs and precedents.  Very, very occasionally you will see "casual" from operation staff but I see no such reports in your email; more likely "following procedure".

Q: For instance where I mention that the mainline "Express" train was diverted slowly through Warminster Station was that to enable a following train to overtake ours by using the Warminster avoiding line?

A: I suspect you mean Westbury. There could be a number of reasons.  Trains get diverted because of blockages on lines, be they some sort of infrastructure issue or a broken down train. It can also be because an additional stop is to be made;  better an extra 5 or 10 minutes on the running of an express than leaving a significant junction such as Westbury with no service – there are already 4 hour gaps in calls there by Taunton to Reading trains. Or perhaps the driver didn't have the route knowledge via the avoider or needed a refresher?  I also suspect this happened more than a week ago - that means that data of daily trains running from which I could make an educated guess isn't available to me any longer.

Q: We had purchased tickets with our Senior Railcards earlier in July so had reserved seats. The process of obtaining tickets at [Cornwall] station has, during the 24 years that we have lived in [Location], been reasonably straightforward but we notice now that a reduction in Staff there results in queues and grumbles; could the second member of staff be employed for longer hours to reduce the delay for travellers?

A: There is a strong move towards electronic and online ticketing, and towards ticket machines, all of which help reduce the call for face to face purchase of 'classic' card tickets, and reduce the need for staff to be on hand.  Providing staff in what many would argue are well paid jobs at the very large number of stations (GWR look after 210, I recall) is an expensive business and - though it's simplistic - as a general rule more staff will push you to higher fares.  The train operators do all carefully look at staffing hours, station by station - and indeed TWSW has been involved in publicising change proposals. There is potential improvement to be made by making ticket purchase (and the right ticket) quicker and easier, relieving pressure on staff and allowing them more time for looking after passengers - not just selling tickets, but providing information, helping those with reduced mobility, etc.  There is also a commercial decision to be made as the load on a "ticket clerk" reduces whether to save money by eliminating the post, or to invest in customer service.  Please also consider that a busy few minutes around the time a train calls is balanced at many stations by long periods of inactivity ... with an expensive drip, drip of salaries that the passenger never sees; he just sees the busy short period not the quiet longer one.


Q: The overcrowding was embarrassing; the Train Manager repeated an apology for the fact that the train only had five coaches instead of ten. On a significant service from Cornwall to London why was such a failure permitted to arise?

A: I don't know what had happened on your journey ... but hindsight is marvellous. And as I mentioned earlier, you are almost bound to get unexpected teething issues with new trains. A reduction from 10 cars to 5 could be caused by anything from the extra maintenance that's been found to be necessary on these new trains ("wrong type of pollen") which is an especial UK problem to a train being taken out of service after it has hit animals or - worse - a person on the line.  Trains are far from tin cans on wheels these days, and there are few if any spares around, and they're formed into fixed "units" of 5 or 9 carriages so there's no opportunity to add or subtract the odd carriage.  You may have seen a further 5 carriage train at Plymouth and wondered why it was not attached - better a five car "Riviera" than cancelling something else and providing no train at all for another service.

Q: Between [Cornwall location] and [another Cornwall location] the catering service person announced that there was a problem with the trolley but customers could come down to train to purchase from her location. However from Truro onwards so many passengers had boarded that a catering service was absent; in fact later a recorded announcement that ‘food and drink sales were not available on this service’ repeated itself automatically until someone remembered to switch it off.

A: Automated announcements that go wrong (and seat reservations that don't work as they should) have been something of an irritant on the new trains.  The balance between too few and too many announcements is a difficult ones and there will be a tendency towards "too many" from the long distance passenger's view, as the announcement really needs to be repeated after each station call to inform joiners.

Q: During that gross overcrowding one of the toilets was inoperative so accessing another facility further along the train was a struggle.

A: Again, I have no way of knowing what was wrong to make the toilet inoperative.  Perhaps the train had been turned around quickly and the water tank had run out?  Perhaps a passenger had put something they shouldn't down the toilet (sadly very common)?  Perhaps something had broken?  On 5 car IETs there are multiple toilets, and the inconvenience of having to make your way though a carriage or two should, perhaps, be pragmatically accepted on occasions; for sure, frequency and reason for these events is logged back at base, analysed, and common repeating issues dealt with where they can be.

Q: That was our first experience of the new rolling stock and I would like to provide some comment, which I hope will be regarded as constructive.

A: Thank you for grouping all those comments into a section as it makes it much more practical for people to address them.  As a general answer, the arrangement of the interiors and door access of the new trains were fixed during the design and build phase of the trains, and it's impractical to make (m)any changes at the present time.  When they come due for a mid-life refurbishment, some changes may be practical, learning from the detail of experience. However, please bear in mind that the old HST trains were designed around long distance journeys and balanced for them, but passenger metrics have changed enormously since those days with so many additional shorter journeys and the trains need to cope with all scenarios.  For example, there is an argument for more luggage space, but then that would mean more people standing on busier trains - which should it be??

I will pick up just SOME of your rolling stock comments

Q: The electric sockets for passenger use are sited in a strange position, requiring fumbling under and between the seats, which could lead to misunderstandings between male and female passengers.

A: Indeed - but where would be better?  On the wall as on some trains leads exactly to fumbling across people if you're in the aisle seat, and on the back of the seat in front (or under it) leads to a potential trip hazard. Higher up in an armrest leads to then need for a flexing cable and weakness, or a fixed arm rest making seats awkward to use, still higher makes for cables running down and perhaps an extra width needed in the seats. With so many rather chubby people around these days, cables from sockets at shoulder height could get caught between people and yanked as they move around ...

Q: The seat backs are too high reducing the outlook from the train and adding to a claustrophobic experience.

A: They also meet modern neck support standards and provide better privacy.  Just saying, giving you the rationale I've been given.

Q: There is a rumbling noise under the coach, presumably an engine and a continuous intrusive noise of an electric motor in the ceiling. Those combined to reduce the effectiveness of the public address system.

A: On a 5 car train from Cornwall to London, 3 of the 5 carriages have diesel engines underneath which some people find intrusive.  When the trains switch to electric traction at Newbury (if you were routed that way after Westbury) or Chippenham (if your diversion took you via Melksham) those engines should be switched off.  As a teething issue, the engines may have been back on for a couple of miles to the west of Didcot too.  PA systems on trains are... always have been ... a difficult balance. But I do note that you were hearing all the catering announcements, so would suggest they were effective on your train.

Q: We would be interested to know whether our letter is helpful or otherwise.

A: Personally, you have triggered me to put thought to the interaction of a number of well know issues and take another look at them from the passenger viewpoint, and (with personal data removed) my text will make a useful Q&A to inform other passengers.  For the industry, feedback in this way is of interest, but could be so much more useful when joined up from individual to mass responses.  Earlier on I mentioned the "Coffee Shop" forum, TWSW and Passenger Focus.  May I also mention the GWR customer panel, and (perhaps) your local Community Rail folks and RailFuture – but there's such a mess of these organisations it's hard to know as 'just a passenger' where to start.  For Customer Service at GWR, who are looking at sorting out immediate questions, your inputs are probably too systemic.  For planners (such as PRTF) they are too short term, frankly. I would, strongly, encourage you to engage with some of the routes I've suggested where your contribution will be very effectively valued.

I hope these answers - quickly penned from standard stuff - help provide you with some direction. I do look forward to following up, preferably via the routes outlined as they're likely to be very much more effective that way.  But please do ask me directly if any of the points I have made need clarification.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2019, 04:10:30 pm by grahame » Logged

Coffee Shop Admin, Vice Chair of Melksham Rail User Group, on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest and of RailFuture
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2019, 05:56:51 pm »

First principles - answers to a customer about his journey from Cornwall to London

Answering a letter widely circulated for comment.    Will be interested if members agree with me

Overview - "State of the Nation"

Many thanks for your letter to ***. I am  writing as a volunteer director of that organisation to address some of the points you've raised with Great Western, with the Peninsular Rail Task Force, and with your MP as well as with us.  As a rail passenger about 15 years ago, I started asking all sorts of questions with a view to having services improved, with an especial concentration on my home town of Melksham, where I questioned the level of provision and whether it was appropriate for the town.  In those 15 years, I have learned a very great deal, and drifted across from protest to partnership - for the rail industry is staffed by predominantly excellent people at all levels who wish to provide an excellent service, just as you wish to receive. However, it needs to be safe, reliable, reasonably priced, and there has to be mutual economic and social support between the railway and the communities it serves.  And there are tradeoffs between some of those elements.

Each rail passenger has personal opinions of what suit him or her, and each person who chooses an alternative to rail when rail would work for him or her will clearly know why he/she makes that choice, or perhaps does not know about the rail option at all.  Such information is very valuable when accumulated scientifically over a large group of people; sampling needs to be statistically sound for such quantitative analysis, though individual qualitative inputs are also valuable.  In other words, it's dangerous just to change things for the "squeaky wheel", yet listening to the squeak can be so valuable.

I've worked in a customer support role, and 98 questions out of 100 are predictable.  At the customer support line, after a journey, most relate these days to requests for recompense for a journey that was significantly late, overcrowded, or failed in some other way.  The only practical thing the train operating company (GWR in your case) can do is to offer you some sort of refund, which these days has been mostly codified into their "Delay Repay" scheme - which is why it's a pretty standard response to point you at the mechanism through which to enter your details.

Somewhat unusually, you are asking further questions and providing feedback. The lifeblood of informing for the future. Be aware that in rail terms, the "future" is a long way ahead, many inputs are needed in the same direction to effect a change, and the risk of the change and the consequences on others need to be taken suitably into account. Also be aware that the responsibility for items you report may fall on GWR, on Network Rail, on other train operators, on Hitachi, on the Department for Transport.  And the inputs are of advisory use in addition to other bodies such as local authorities, Passenger Focus, the new Sub National Transport Bodies, Local Enterprise Partnerships and probably other bodies I have overlooked.

We are in a period of great change on the railways out from Paddington to the Cotswolds, South Wales, Bristol, and the South West.  Underinvestment over many decades and infrastructure dating back to Victorian times, a doubling of passenger journey numbers over the last 20 years on a network that had been thinned out to a skeleton of lines (and very limited platforms and passing places on lines that remained) in the previous 40 years. Trains which (until recently) gave GWR the oldest fleet on the Network.  And you're not just looking at long distance journeys from Paddington as I described the area; I don't have a figure to hand for GWR, but in the UK the average train journey is a shade under 30 miles.

There is excellent news in the upgrade and electrification work going on on the GWR network at present, and the new trains introduced in the last couple of years.  Further trains are coming to the GWR (Thames Valley) area too in the planned future, releasing more for use in the South West which should help relieve overcrowding.

Sadly, the electrification was not correctly costed before it was started.  Someone said to me it was like telling Network Rail to run the world championships, without telling them if it was the tiddlywinks championships or the rugby ones!  With many embankments broadly untouched for 150 years, with signalling cabling perhaps 50 years out of date, it was always going to be a gamble as to what would be found while work was underway.  Modern planning laws and consultations add further uncertainty - I can pick out a number of locations where significant local issues have held things back and / or changed plans - and both have had an effect on cost.

New trains also have teething problems (and some have been delivered / upgraded later than planned) and again that's added further waves on the waters of a robust, reliable service.  And let me warn you that although timetables and running times are to be improved in December, that's a far from straightforward exercise and there will be further teething issues to sort out then.  A huge amount of preparation has been going into this, but I will be amazed if trains run perfectly in January.  Modern information technology systems allow us all to hear about the problems, and news and social media feeds concentrate on the problems and gloss over things that are working, so I expect you'll hear a lot of bad news... mixed in early January with news of fare rises.

I'll address below each of your points.   And I'll invite you to the TravelWatch SouthWest meeting in Taunton on 18th October to help you get a further flavour; the meeting is really a coming together of transport groups all across the South West, but a few independents come along too and (if you've got this far through my letter ;-) ) you'll find it interesting.

I'm also "webmaster" for the passenger forum for GWR passengers (it's an independent volunteer run passenger forum and not a GWR run thing!) ... see http://gwr.passenger.chat if you've not come across it already.  You are very welcome to read / ask questions / follow up there - indeed, I would encourage you to do so, as you'll be able to get many good answers from fellow passengers, as well as from industry experts.  And you'll find lots of answers already in our archives. 

Now – some answers

Q: I am beginning to wonder whether actual cases of failure to serve the fare paying passengers are welcomed by organisations such as PRTF.

A: As I understand it, the Peninsular Rail Task Force if looking to develop medium and long term plans and looking at issues with current services is a bit off to the side for them.  I suspect they don't have the number of people on their team to handle these extra issues, nor really have anything to do with them but refer them on to and through GWR.

Q: Although our experience might seem trivial within the grand scheme of the arrangements for rail travel to the West, we feel that it is symptomatic of a casual attitude of Government, TOCs and Network Rail to the public.

A: Indeed it's a drop in the Ocean – but every drop is important.  There are indeed times that I see what appears to be a casual attitude, though often in an operational situation that's brought on by there being no easy immediate solution to a problem that has arisen, and what I'm seeing is a routine response.  Government, TOCs and Network Rail are far from casual most of the time – they are frustratingly risk averse and happy to carry on, at as low a cost as they can to themselves; that's doubly the case with revenue rather than capital costs - afraid of recurring costs and precedents.  Very, very occasionally you will see "casual" from operation staff but I see no such reports in your email; more likely "following procedure".

Q: For instance where I mention that the mainline "Express" train was diverted slowly through Warminster Station was that to enable a following train to overtake ours by using the Warminster avoiding line?

A: I suspect you mean Westbury. There could be a number of reasons.  Trains get diverted because of blockages on lines, be they some sort of infrastructure issue or a broken down train. It can also be because an additional stop is to be made;  better an extra 5 or 10 minutes on the running of an express than leaving a significant junction such as Westbury with no service – there are already 4 hour gaps in calls there by Taunton to Reading trains. Or perhaps the driver didn't have the route knowledge via the avoider or needed a refresher?  I also suspect this happened more than a week ago - that means that data of daily trains running from which I could make an educated guess isn't available to me any longer.

Q: We had purchased tickets with our Senior Railcards earlier in July so had reserved seats. The process of obtaining tickets at [Cornwall] station has, during the 24 years that we have lived in [Location], been reasonably straightforward but we notice now that a reduction in Staff there results in queues and grumbles; could the second member of staff be employed for longer hours to reduce the delay for travellers?

A: There is a strong move towards electronic and online ticketing, and towards ticket machines, all of which help reduce the call for face to face purchase of 'classic' card tickets, and reduce the need for staff to be on hand.  Providing staff in what many would argue are well paid jobs at the very large number of stations (GWR look after 210, I recall) is an expensive business and - though it's simplistic - as a general rule more staff will push you to higher fares.  The train operators do all carefully look at staffing hours, station by station - and indeed TWSW has been involved in publicising change proposals. There is potential improvement to be made by making ticket purchase (and the right ticket) quicker and easier, relieving pressure on staff and allowing them more time for looking after passengers - not just selling tickets, but providing information, helping those with reduced mobility, etc.  There is also a commercial decision to be made as the load on a "ticket clerk" reduces whether to save money by eliminating the post, or to invest in customer service.  Please also consider that a busy few minutes around the time a train calls is balanced at many stations by long periods of inactivity ... with an expensive drip, drip of salaries that the passenger never sees; he just sees the busy short period not the quiet longer one.


Q: The overcrowding was embarrassing; the Train Manager repeated an apology for the fact that the train only had five coaches instead of ten. On a significant service from Cornwall to London why was such a failure permitted to arise?

A: I don't know what had happened on your journey ... but hindsight is marvellous. And as I mentioned earlier, you are almost bound to get unexpected teething issues with new trains. A reduction from 10 cars to 5 could be caused by anything from the extra maintenance that's been found to be necessary on these new trains ("wrong type of pollen") which is an especial UK problem to a train being taken out of service after it has hit animals or - worse - a person on the line.  Trains are far from tin cans on wheels these days, and there are few if any spares around, and they're formed into fixed "units" of 5 or 9 carriages so there's no opportunity to add or subtract the odd carriage.  You may have seen a further 5 carriage train at Plymouth and wondered why it was not attached - better a five car "Riviera" than cancelling something else and providing no train at all for another service.

Q: Between [Cornwall location] and [another Cornwall location] the catering service person announced that there was a problem with the trolley but customers could come down to train to purchase from her location. However from Truro onwards so many passengers had boarded that a catering service was absent; in fact later a recorded announcement that ‘food and drink sales were not available on this service’ repeated itself automatically until someone remembered to switch it off.

A: Automated announcements that go wrong (and seat reservations that don't work as they should) have been something of an irritant on the new trains.  The balance between too few and too many announcements is a difficult ones and there will be a tendency towards "too many" from the long distance passenger's view, as the announcement really needs to be repeated after each station call to inform joiners.

Q: During that gross overcrowding one of the toilets was inoperative so accessing another facility further along the train was a struggle.

A: Again, I have no way of knowing what was wrong to make the toilet inoperative.  Perhaps the train had been turned around quickly and the water tank had run out?  Perhaps a passenger had put something they shouldn't down the toilet (sadly very common)?  Perhaps something had broken?  On 5 car IETs there are multiple toilets, and the inconvenience of having to make your way though a carriage or two should, perhaps, be pragmatically accepted on occasions; for sure, frequency and reason for these events is logged back at base, analysed, and common repeating issues dealt with where they can be.

Q: That was our first experience of the new rolling stock and I would like to provide some comment, which I hope will be regarded as constructive.

A: Thank you for grouping all those comments into a section as it makes it much more practical for people to address them.  As a general answer, the arrangement of the interiors and door access of the new trains were fixed during the design and build phase of the trains, and it's impractical to make (m)any changes at the present time.  When they come due for a mid-life refurbishment, some changes may be practical, learning from the detail of experience. However, please bear in mind that the old HST trains were designed around long distance journeys and balanced for them, but passenger metrics have changed enormously since those days with so many additional shorter journeys and the trains need to cope with all scenarios.  For example, there is an argument for more luggage space, but then that would mean more people standing on busier trains - which should it be??

I will pick up just SOME of your rolling stock comments

Q: The electric sockets for passenger use are sited in a strange position, requiring fumbling under and between the seats, which could lead to misunderstandings between male and female passengers.

A: Indeed - but where would be better?  On the wall as on some trains leads exactly to fumbling across people if you're in the aisle seat, and on the back of the seat in front (or under it) leads to a potential trip hazard. Higher up in an armrest leads to then need for a flexing cable and weakness, or a fixed arm rest making seats awkward to use, still higher makes for cables running down and perhaps an extra width needed in the seats. With so many rather chubby people around these days, cables from sockets at shoulder height could get caught between people and yanked as they move around ...

Q: The seat backs are too high reducing the outlook from the train and adding to a claustrophobic experience.

A: They also meet modern neck support standards and provide better privacy.  Just saying, giving you the rationale I've been given.

Q: There is a rumbling noise under the coach, presumably an engine and a continuous intrusive noise of an electric motor in the ceiling. Those combined to reduce the effectiveness of the public address system.

A: On a 5 car train from Cornwall to London, 3 of the 5 carriages have diesel engines underneath which some people find intrusive.  When the trains switch to electric traction at Newbury (if you were routed that way after Westbury) or Chippenham (if your diversion took you via Melksham) those engines should be switched off.  As a teething issue, the engines may have been back on for a couple of miles to the west of Didcot too.  PA systems on trains are... always have been ... a difficult balance. But I do note that you were hearing all the catering announcements, so would suggest they were effective on your train.

Q: We would be interested to know whether our letter is helpful or otherwise.

A: Personally, you have triggered me to put thought to the interaction of a number of well know issues and take another look at them from the passenger viewpoint, and (with personal data removed) my text will make a useful Q&A to inform other passengers.  For the industry, feedback in this way is of interest, but could be so much more useful when joined up from individual to mass responses.  Earlier on I mentioned the "Coffee Shop" forum, TWSW and Passenger Focus.  May I also mention the GWR customer panel, and (perhaps) your local Community Rail folks and RailFuture – but there's such a mess of these organisations it's hard to know as 'just a passenger' where to start.  For Customer Service at GWR, who are looking at sorting out immediate questions, your inputs are probably too systemic.  For planners (such as PRTF) they are too short term, frankly. I would, strongly, encourage you to engage with some of the routes I've suggested where your contribution will be very effectively valued.

I hope these answers - quickly penned from standard stuff - help provide you with some direction. I do look forward to following up, preferably via the routes outlined as they're likely to be very much more effective that way.  But please do ask me directly if any of the points I have made need clarification.

Clearly well intentioned but to be brutally honest, massively overlong, far too much rhetoric and too informal/familiar (unless you know the individual concerned personally of course?).

Please don't take offence!  Smiley
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grahame
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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2019, 08:06:24 pm »


Clearly well intentioned but to be brutally honest, massively overlong, far too much rhetoric and too informal/familiar (unless you know the individual concerned personally of course?).

Please don't take offence!  Smiley


Offence not taken.  I have the advantage of answering the full original whereas members here only have clues / snippets to put the style in context.,  However, you are probably right that it was a bit over the top.  Sea day ... waiting for the next meal!
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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2019, 10:10:12 pm »

I thought the question about the stationary trolly was ignored and the answer concentrated on the automated announcements.

These stationary trollies seem to standard on the four trips I took to London, on a Saturday,  with the staff creating their own buffet in the gangways.

And a separate issue re retired staff and ticket purchase with priv cards or those with free travel who want to book a seat. How will it be done in the brave new world of automation. My wife has a London priv oyster card that takes 60p a journey up to a maximum of about £2.40 a day. The Oyster card was issued by a machine but validated as a priv by station staff.
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grahame
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« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2019, 10:52:07 pm »

I thought the question about the stationary trolly was ignored and the answer concentrated on the automated announcements.

These stationary trollies seem to standard on the four trips I took to London, on a Saturday,  with the staff creating their own buffet in the gangways.

Ironic isn't it (the staff-made buffet).   

Agreed, no answer on stationary trolley not on a number of other points where I didn't even quote the points raised / questions - I think my answer was quite long enough anyway (some have suggested too long  Grin ) and I encouraged the originator to read here / get back on other matters.    Overall, it's a good illustration of the value of customer input, yet at the same time of the time taken in answering it.  I'm waiting to see what response (if any) I get from the questioner ...
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« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2019, 02:14:12 pm »

Interesting to see that several of the points raised mirror my own dissatisfaction with the new DMUs.

Noise and vibration from underfloor engines, present for most of the journey.
The unsuitability of a 5 car DMU on a route previously served by full length inter city trains.
The unreliable toilets.
The routine failure of the trolley service. Remember all the promises made about this ? And what has been achieved ?
Often no trolley (if on board it may be hidden, or be closed for stocktaking, or for other reasons)
Usually static if provided at all, does not hunting down the static trolley negate the alleged advantage thereof in providing at an at seat service.

I appreciate that some members feel either that 5 car DMUs are fine, OR that they are NOT fine, but that criticism is pointless as they are a "done deal" and that we are stuck with the wretched things for another 25 years.
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A proper intercity train has a minimum of 8 coaches, gangwayed throughout, with first at one end, and a full sized buffet car between first and standard.
It has space for cycles, surfboards,luggage etc.
A 5 car DMU is not a proper inter-city train. The 5+5 and 9 car DMUs are almost as bad.
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« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2019, 08:43:38 pm »

I'd agree with Taplow Green that it feels a bit long and informal although it may be appropriate for the original letter.

As someone who comes here as customer rather than train enthusiast or with knowledge of the railways it felt like a lot of excuses. While I've come to understand a lot more about why things happen (or don't) having an explanation for every complaint probably wouldn't win me over in this instance. Or has this moved beyond the complaint phase and it really is a request to know everything?

I assume you;re speaking in a semi-official capacity so its difficult to be too critical but perhaps just a bit of background and an offer to explain more on individual queries if they want to know more?

First offered a very poor service for whatever reason and I'm not entirely sure why First aren't answering the detailed questions and what they're doing to prevent a occurrence (even if I now know the answer to that).

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