Apologies for my absence blog fans. I regret that I have been out of the country (well, in Bristol, but that might as well be another planet to me) with little time to do anything other than explain exactly what libel means and chip in a bit with the promise of this post.
Since my last post, you've been letting me know about how horrible things were last Saturday night and I do sympathise. Ollie has helped me out in my absence with a bit of info and he is right again but the core of the problem seems to be lack of and incorrect info.
This is not a new story. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is FGW's biggest failing among things that they have total control over. Well that's not really fair. They have total control over how they disseminate the information but not always total control over what information is available.
I'll give you an example of this. Remember back on 2 July when the lightnig hit the signals and everybody was stranded. There were a whole lot of complaints that customers were not being kept up to date and staff could not tell them what was best to do. Problem is, the staff weren't being kept up to date and they didn't know the best thing to do. As you all know, Network Rail fix the signals and they provide FGW with info on how it's going and timescales and all that jazz. Or, at least, they are supposed to. They very often don't.
Staff don't know what is happening. They can't tell customers when the problem is likely to be fixed. They don't want to tell customers to go to Waterloo and get a SW train to Reading if the problem is going to be fixed in 20 minutes so they say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing and get labeled (unfairly I feel) as unhelpful and uncommunicative. Your experience Tim, is an example of when staff have guessed and been wrong and subsequently looked bad.
Yes FGW should and do push Network Rail for updates but if they won't tell, we can't make 'em. I think maybe we should consider station announcements to say 'Sorry you're delayed. We'd like to tell you what's going on but Network Rail won't tell us. Sorry.'
Some of the time, you can substitute Network Rail for another TOC or an external organisation, like the Coroner in the case of fatality or the Fire Department in the case of, well, a fire. So next time, you're stuck at a station and the train is delayed, and you don't know what's happening, think about why you might not know.
Of course, that is not to say that FGW is totally faultless. When customers are not even told what is wrong, that is inexcusable because that is easy to find out. Control know what has happened and one quick phone call from a station and Control will tell them, it comes up on the tracking system. Sometimes, staff do know what is happening and don't tell people.
Sometimes, this is laziness on the part of the staff. Sometimes, it is fear. I know that I would not really want to face the whole of Paddington station, full of commuters and have to tell them that they aren't going anywhere for 3 hours. It's easy to say to the staff that customers will be less angry knowing than not knowing but it seems like a different story when you're the poor sod who has to do the telling. (I've done both parts of it, so I can sympathise). Ditto for Train Managers.
Sometimes TMs will deliberately keep passengers in the dark or lie to them. Not very ethical, I know, but long experience has shown us that if a TM announces a fatality or a fire or something like that, it sprks panic in some and a morbid curiosity in others. Either way, not something you want to have to deal with.
This applies to 'on the spot' information, but, of course, there are many other types. Like advance information on cancellations and changes to the timetable, as Tim and jp mentioned. There is no excuse for not providing this information. It's available, all stations get it, hard copies and pager messages.
I personally think that it should all be displayed on large posters so that there is absolutely no doubt about what is going on. I also think that we should go back to the paper copies of amended timetables that were in the station info racks. They were great and very useful.
I appreciate the fact that knowing what is going on and an approximate timescale can mitigate the frustration of a delay just a little and I think that FGW staff do appreciate it too and they get just as frustrated when they don't know and can't help, not least because they have a station full of people yeling at them.
To answer Tim, the staff on the Customer Service booth are not usually a different grade than the staff under the departure boards unless someone is filling in, but the staff at the booth tend to get a more varied line of questioning and the departure board staff get a little jaded, I think, at being asked the same thing all day.
That's my take on information. There's more but most of it is tangents and a bit rambling. So, to keep a bit more focused, I'll open this up to questions from the floor.