Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Track Problems

As I am sure many of you know, there was a massive signal failure near Didcot today. There was no interesting explanation for this one. Is it just me, or does it feel better somehow ehen the reason for a delay is interesting? Maybe I've just worked here for too long and I'm bored of mundane delays.

Anywho, this one was certainly mundane. Something just wore out. As with all signal faults, when somehting wasn;t right, the signla automatically defaulted to caution and everything was brought to a standstill.

To their credit, Network Rail go their Mobile Operations Manager and engineers on the scene fairly sharpish and they were able to fix the problem fairly quickly. Not before, however, we had 3 trains over 2 hours late and a load more over 60 minutes late through knock-on delays. As I looked at the TV above my desk, it was not pleasant to see that much red on a 42" screen.

I'm not sure how much infomation was provided on the scene. We were relying on Network Rail for updates and we certainly didn't get them where I was. My apologies for those of you who were not kept in the know but, if it's any consolation, neither were we. We only knew the status when we were told, (by one of our own staff who was at Didcot station no less) that the signal was green again. The lack of info is the factor that narks me off most, as it is something that we get the blame for when we are not in control of it. Rant on this coming soo, I feel.

I was hoping that the explanation for the signal failure would be a little more interesting but it comes down to the age of the infrastucture yet again, something that Network Rail needs to address urgently and something that the DfT plans to make you guys pay to address. As much as everybody remembers the 'good old days' under British Rail. They are largely to blame for the current state of the track as they never did any maintenance (part of the reason why fares were cheap). Railtrack only did 'cure' maintenance, fixing stuff when it broke and now, Network Rail are trying to do 'prevention' maintenance but because no-one before them did, they are stuck most of the time doing 'cure'. It's an uphill struggle to fix problems as they occur as well as renew track, especially down in this part of the country where we have some of the oldest and most fragile track. More on this problem later.

Sleep well folks. Tomorrow should be a better day.


Lee Fletcher said...

I hear that you also had to contend with a fire near the track in Newport , and , as a result , all lines between Bristol and Newport were closed.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that things would be better if FGW were in charge of maintaining the track?

Would that be something that First would be willing to do if they were given the chance?

On a short term franchise I can't see First investing any serious money in maintainance, but as they are more customer focused than NR I suspect that they would do a better job of keeping the passengers informed.

Insider said...

Indeed, there was a lineside fire just outside Newport that caused a good deal of disruption. All lines were closed as a precaution on the advice of the fire brigade and even the trains out of London were affected as stock was stuck on the wrong side of the fire so couldn't get to London in time to work back down.

I think that it would be better if First Great Western were in charge of maintaining their own track. Tis would give a greater sense of ownership, allow maintenance to be tailored around customer needs (rather than, say, closing Paddington over the August Bank Holiday)and would also improve response time.

I think that it would be necessary for an external body to assist indetermining trains paths, otherwise vested interest creeps in but it's definitely a better way togo in my opinion.

If given the opportunity, I thin First would be willing to do it. Infrastructure issues are still the biggest factor in delays on the FGW network and I think that First would relish the chnace to be directly involved.

The big problem with a franchise life of 10 years is that it is hard to make long term investments as there is no guarentee that a company will be around to see the benefits. This leads to shirt-sighted thinking. a 20 or 20 year franchise, with the option of removal for poor performance a la Connex would provide greater opportunity for long term investment that would allow real growth and improvements.

Anonymous said...

Mr Insider, Do you know anything about what has happened to the "forward" customer programme? I (and other members I have spoken to) have not recived the newsletter and voucher book for sometime. If the scheme has been discontinued, it would have been better for FGW to have sent us a letter informing us of this fact.

Has it been discontinued? Is it being replaced with anything new? Is the upgrade deal offered to season ticket holders what it has been replaced with?

Richard said...

I believe everyone was informed in the last paper edition of the Forward leaflet that gets mailed out.

There was some comment on there about it being the last Forward leaflet, but if you wanted to be kept up to date about offers etc, you had to email your interest to a mail address.

If you opted out of receiving FGW post, I'm not sure how else you would have heard about the discontinuation of Forward.

Billyo said...

The trackside fire at Newport caused total and utter chaos, which the staff at Newport delt with very very badly.

Is it just Arriva staff at Newport or are there First staff there too?

There were 400-500 people (at a guess) in the car park outside the station waiting for buses. I was waiting for an hour (others had been there 2-3 hours), in that time one bus to Gloucster and one to Bristol turned up. Finally a rumour went around (for there were no staff) that the trains were running again. We all went back inside the station where every platform had a train on it, but there were no announcemnts as to which train was for London/Bristol.

Finally a couple of staff came out of hiding to advise people which train to board. There was at no stage, a special announcement over the tannoy over the 80 minutes I was at Newport.

There were some automated announcements. One old lady asked me if I'd caught that announcement. Yes I said, it says don't smoke at until you have left the station.

We could all understand that the line closure was not the fault of either ToC, but the lack of buses and the appalling customer care were a total disgrace.

Insider said...

I'm afraid that forward has been discontinued as of the end of May. In it's place, there will be regular mailings to customers who are interested in receiving them. They will contain various offers in the same vein as the first class upgrade currently offered on the website.

If you're not getting these mailings and would like to, drop an e-mail to forward@firstgroup.com and ask to be added.

I'm sorry to hear that you had such a rough time at Newport Billyo. It's all an Arriva station I'm afraid. The only presence we have there are the staff who are on the trains.

I don't know what problems Arriva had so I can't comment intelligently butit does sound a familiar story

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. It is entirely possible that I didn't read the last letter I got from teh Forward people and just grabbed the vouchers out of the envelope