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Author Topic: OTD - 24th January (2007&8) - Unrest at First's franchise performance  (Read 235 times)
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« on: January 23, 2022, 10:06:51 pm »

Fifteen years ago! 24th January 2007 - From Hansard which I have mirrored ((here))

From Edward Vaizey, MP (Member of Parliament) for Wantage:

Talking about December 2005 on the award of the Franchise to First Group:

At the time, First Great Western wrote to me, in memorable words: “We have the experience, drive and proven track record to transform travel and we look forward to setting new standards for customer service, creating the benchmark by which all rail travel is judged”.  It has certainly done that, but not in the way it intended.

I understand that First Great Western is now also laying off some travelling chefs, and of course the trolley on commuter services is complete fiction because, as passengers are packed in like sardines, it would take a Houdini to get the trolley from one end of the train to the other.

First Great Western did carry out a consultation on the proposed new timetable that was to come into force in December 2006. The company heard from 9,500 separate correspondents, but one has to question whether it listened to a single one. One correspondent—me—wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport and to First Great Western on 5 September saying that

“one can see I think quite a big reduction in service during the peak commuting time around 0730. Between 0717 and 0748, there are currently 5 fast trains. In December there will effectively be only one. I can assure you this will lead to serious overcrowding, and would really urge you to try and insert an additional 2 fast services at this time”.

At the time, consulting only the timetable, I was blissfully unaware that shorter trains were also about to be brought into service. I met the head of First Great Western and the then Minister responsible for rail, who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg). We saved one train, the 05.46, but nothing else was changed.

January 2007 was the month that we had to extens the axis on the TransWilts cancellation graph too, as the service dropped from 5 trains each way to two (remember our soundbite - "[too/two] early and [too/two] late" 06:40 and 19:20 southbound, 07:20 and 19:50 northbound) and cancellations where up to 50% even of those four, week after week, and no Covid reason available.   

We have come a long way since - we have moved from a useless service to what is still a poor one (but we are working on that, and the need to have more and more reliable trains is understood).  And GWR (Great Western Railway) as they now are do listen much, much better (and respond) than they did in those days - much more "partnership" here than "protest". In fact, we have only to look at another TOC (Train Operating Company) we had recent dealings with to realise how much better GWR have become, and how much worse others still are!

And a year later - 24th January 2008, from "More Trains Less Strain" - web site moved on but still reported in our thread ((here)) and in the Daily Mail

We have a short message for Ruth Kelly at the Department of Transport. "It's time for First Great Western to go."

Figures from a national passenger survey released today by Passenger Focus indicate that FGW (First Great Western)  has the lowest satisfaction ratings of any train company in the UK (United Kingdom). Less than half those questioned where satisfied with the fares, reliability and cleanliness of the toilets. FGW can blame the fares on their need to pay the government for the franchise, and to return a profit to their shareholders. They can blame their reliability on National Rail and anybody but themselves. But the deplorable stae of the toilets confirms what everyone who uses their trains knows: they have given up. They no longer care. They are resigned to losing their franchise and they are now seeking an exit strategy.

First Great Western have made many public apologies over the past 18 months, each time promising to improve the service. But the news just gets worse and worse. On top of the Passenger Focus survey, FGW punctuallity dropped to an all time low on 64% of some of their routes in December.

And a recent survey by the Bristol Evening Post that compared fares into London from similar distances as Bristol found FGW fares to be between two and three times those of comparable companies.

More Trains, Less Strain ran a very effective profile-raising campaign and although they caused some discomfort in various quarters, history has me reflecting on them as performing a very useful role that was needed at the time.   The Coffee Shop / Save the Train / Transwilts differ, perhaps, in that we came "on board" for the long haul and are still here, very much with a "partner" rather than a "protest" flag, though we can be a critical partner if that's needed.

Coffee Shop Admin, Vice Chair of Melksham Rail User Group, and on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest.
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