Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chuggety chug

I've always had my suspicions that Passenger Focus was a bit closer to the industry than its stated aims might suggest. Its annual statements of the state of the travelling nation's railway experiences have never really chimed with my own, nor with those of anyone I know.

Up until recently the only time I'd ever been surveyed by Passenger Focus was about ten years ago. Mid-afternoon on a nice sunny day travelling on the slow train between Carlisle and Barrow.Which was a pleasant thing to do if you got the chance. I couldn't complain about the journey: it was very agreeable and it was on time. I can't help noticing that these days they've halved the number of journeys on this route and replaced the double-carriaged sprinter with a single carriage so that it doesn't matter what time of day you travel it's going to be standing room only and there's no space for bikes, buggies or wheelchairs. Such is progress.

They did a survey of passengers in Manchester the other week. A lady stood at Victoria Station, a rail terminus, handing out the forms. As hordes of passengers came in on late, badly over-crowded old and rackety trains, or arrived late because the previous train hadn't bothered to stop at their stations so that it could arrive at Victoria in that state of "On Time" that only exists in the minds of Railway Performance Managers, they were handed forms asking them for their opinions on their outward journey. These people had arrived. And Passenger Focus didn't want to know about their inward journey.

I asked the organisation if there was any way that passengers could flag up repeat failures of services. After all, there's a world of difference between a one-off cancellation due to exceptional calamity and a service that's routinely twenty minutes late or cancelled three or four times a week. The answer is no: they "want the train operator to have the opportunity to resolve the complaint first." "Resolve the complaint" in this context is "send a stock reply within a week or two of the complaint." So long as you get your fob off in the alloted time all is well with the world.

As you stand, crushed nose-to-armpit, hurtling through Suburbia at a steady two miles an hour in a rusty old egg crate that should have been mothballed permanently a decade ago, it's good to know that somebody, somewhere doesn't give a flying fuck.

5 comments:

Gadjo Dilo said...

Richard Trevithick would be turning in his grave, and saying (in a Cornish accent) "come on, get a move on!"

Gaw said...

Do you have lots of presumably expensive advertising telling people to use the bus...when the buses are so crowded you can't get on them during rush hour? Nut-drivingly stupid.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Gadjo: Northern Rail's rolling stock does have its own take on "atmospheric."

Gareth: oh God yes. But even worse are the hordes of "clever" pastiches of cinema posters advertising tickets that aren't valid on any of the services in question...

martpol said...

I think privatisation has led to rail companies being more interested in not being sued than actually providing good service. I once had a situation where a train was replaced by a bus, the bus arrived late and full, and the company scrabbled around to find another bus. I got a taxi and wrote to complain, only to be told that they weren't responsible for my decision to do so. All I wanted was a sorry.

Kevin Musgrove said...

That chimes all too well, Martin!