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Author Topic: FirstMinute problems when a train is cancelled  (Read 2999 times)
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« on: October 20, 2007, 08:56:38 am »

I wonder if any of the rail industry people would care to comment on what happened to me and my customer yesterday?   It's "just one journey" for sure, but it's a microcosm of the sort of thing that I've seen all too often!


* A customer of ours returning  from Melksham to London and onwards east from there was booked onto the 20:29 train from Swindon to London yesterday - a "this train ONLY" ticket - with a connection from Melksham off the 19:50 included.  Timing not ideal for her. It left things tight for last connections on to the east of London, and a very late arrival home. She would have liked something at about 5 p.m. but the operator withdrew the 17:11 last December in spite of strong protests and rapid traffic growth on it.

* Mid afternoon, I was alerted to the fact that the 18:27 Southampton to Cheltenham train - that's the one that calls at Melksham at 19:50 - was cancelled.  The web site said nothing about alternative arrangements having been made.

National Rail Enquiries

* I called First Great Western's customer service line on 08457 000 125 and selected the services option which transferred me to Rachael at National Rail enquiries. I tdescribed the problem to her.

* Rachael confirmed that the train was cancelled, and suggested the next train. When I asked her when that was, she looked and told me it was the last train of the day after all, and that "there is nothing shown to replace it". She also asked again if the journey was already ticketed.

* Rachael then told me that there was nothing she could do, and suggested that I call 08457 000 125 - the number I had called to reach her. I explained this and she said she would transfer me, but I got cut off in the process.

First Great Western

* I re-called the number and chose the "something else" option this time, and ending up speaking with John.

* John told me that the train was indeed cancelled, and that the ticket would be valid on the next available service. When I pointed out that wasn't until twenty past nine the next morning, he exclaimed "Oh God - I didn't see that".

* John told me that FGW (First Great Western) would compensate for the delay / allow travel on that next train, but would not cover the cost of a hotel for the night.

* Some phone calls were then made, and it was extablished that a bus would be running, to call at the front of Melksham station at or after 19:50. John assured me that it would reach Swindon in time for my customer to connect with the 20:29 train.

* I asked John how the bus could make the same timings as the train, and he was unable to provide an answer that re-assured me ... I got the impression that he is not aware of the geography of this area and the poor road system.

* John explained that they could not provide any earlier transport to ensure that the connection was made, as that would mean it had to leave Melksham before the scheduled time.

* I asked John if I could take the customer up to Chippemham to joing the train that leaves there at about 19:55 instead. He told me that I COULD, but she would have to pay a single fare of 41 pounds to use that train.

* John was unable to offer me any option that my customer could use to get from Melksham (or Chippenham) to London at the time she needed without making a substantial extra payment, even though earlier trains were available from Chippenham and the problems were caused the the cancellation of the booked FGW train.

* John wasn't able to offer any options / suggestions concerning the onward journey from Paddington at a later hour, as it wasn't included on the FGW ticket.


* I suggested to my customer that I take her to Chippenham and she catch the 19:55 up to Swindon, getting off there and awaiting the 20:29 even though the 19:55 was going where she wanted.

* My customer was rightfully nervous about this option, as it would have meant her travelling on a train that wasn't on her ticket.  She asked about penalty fares, and I had to admit that she might be charged for the Chippenham to Swindon leg again, and that she might (in theory) be stung with a penalty fare and even a summons if she was unlucky enough to run into an unsympathetic revenue protection officer.  "Very unlikely indeed" I explained, but she did not want to take the risk.

Concluding actions

* In the end, I drove my customer up to Swindon in time for the 20:29.  For the record, the road journey, direct, by car, most direct route, clear road took 47 minutes.

* I parked up there; as I expected, the barrier refused her Melksham to Paddington ticket, but the guy on the gate took a look at it and let her through on his passcard without the need for long explanations.


It really should NOT be that hard.  Leaving aside the need for an appropriate service, FGW are having trouble even running the 4 trains that call at Melkshm each day reliably.  And their customer service is ineffective at providing practical answers when the service provision fails.  Polite, yes. Listening, yes. But hamstrung by rules, lacking knowledge of the area they serve, and unable to come up with a practical solution to a problem that - I would argue - is of their own making.

Coffee Shop Admin, Vice Chair of Melksham Rail User Group, and on the board of TravelWatch SouthWest.
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« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2007, 09:23:35 am »

why not just buy a single from chippenham to swindon for the ^4 or so it costs. get off at swindon and await the 2029 at swindon in the coffee shop?

still an inconvience but not greatly so.


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« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2007, 09:51:54 am »

why not just buy a single from chippenham to swindon for the ^4 or so it costs. get off at swindon and await the 2029 at swindon in the coffee shop?

still an inconvience but not greatly so.


Yes - sensible option. I *had* wondered about that, but discounted the idea because I don't like asking my customers to pay again / more for things they had budgetted for and have to calim back from their employer, perhaps with long explanations, and I felt that the customer would be embarrasssed if I bought an extra ticket and handed it to her.   As I say - a very sensible option though / ruled out through the particular metrics / emotional issues.


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« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2007, 11:32:17 pm »

I would have taken my client to Chippenham, gone on the platform with her or seen a member of staff at Chippenham, explained the situation, preferably to the Train Manager and requested your client be allowed to remain on the train to Paddington instead of getting off at Swindon to travel on her booked train for the inconvenience of her booked service from Melksham having been cancelled.

I doubt that the road replacement service would have gone to Swindon as, from what I have seen, the road replacement service operates between Westbury and Chippenham only.

I always allow myself extra travelling time when having to cross London and if I arrive a Paddington ahead of the departure time for my train I always seek out the train manager of an earlier departure and show him or her my ticket, explain I have arrived early and would it be alright to travel on the earlier train and I have never been declined although the proviso was sometimes added that I may not be able to sit in the seat specified on my reservation as that seat may already be reserved, or sit in an unreserved seat. 
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« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2007, 07:55:59 am »

I doubt that the road replacement service would have gone to Swindon as, from what I have seen, the road replacement service operates between Westbury and Chippenham only.

I doubt that too.   Just as I doubted the assurance that the replacement bus leaving Melksham at or after 19:50 would get the passenger to Swindon in time for the 20:29.

Personally, I've got  a seniority in years which helps me get people to listen to what I say. I have a knowledge of the system that lets me talk with a degree of confidence, and act knowing the system and adjusting to changing cirsumstances. I'm male, caucasian, tall, and I speak English well as it's my mother tongue.  And I'm experienced at taking responsibility / dealing with issues as taught to me by bringing up children and looking out for them.

All of these characteristics / experiences help me make my way and deal with situations with far, far fewer problems and far less worry than would be encountered by someone who wasn't of the same experience and background.  If I had been travelling myself, I would have caught the 19:55 from Chippenham, and had a word with the train manager between there and Swindon if he had come around - staying on board if he was happy, or dropping back to my allotted train if not.

But.  We state that our customers can reach us by public transport, and so to some extent any failure of that public transport reflects on us.  As do any awkward situations and worries it causes.  So in order to look after our own reputation, we'll always look to find solutions that are 100% kosher, both in terms of the rules and the emotions, for customers who are inconvenienced.  Even if it puts us out a bit.
« Last Edit: October 21, 2007, 12:25:39 pm by grahame » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2007, 11:21:50 am »

One fall back option with any rail ticket is that the TOC (Train Operating Company) has to by law get you to your destination, IF your customer HAD caught the replacement bus from Melksham to Swindon and missed her connection then FGW (First Great Western) would have to honour the ticket on the next train from Swindon (if there was one!!)  or get her a taxi to London or in the worst case they would have to provide overnight accomodation! But the whole situation was a farce by the sounds of it and FGW excelled themselves!! again.....
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