Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Reader Mail Vol II

Well, my post about ticketless travel seems to have stirred up a hornets nest. In view of that, I will devote the majority of this post to respoding to points raised in comments.

Firstly, however, Lee, the rest of your questions. The latest Severn Beach usage figures have not yet been obtained, nor has the Severn Beach Line Development Plan been updated. This is work in progress.

There is no immediate prospect of a Clifton Down turnback service due to lack of funding from Bristol City Council as they are focusing on Avonmouth. The problem from our end lies in the fact that the services they have elected to focus on will be at a lesser frequency than if we could run some services only as far as Clifton. Therefore, at present, the proposal for a Clifton Down turnback signal has been dropped and can only proceed if Bristol City Council wish to fund it.

Finally, the new fare structure was discussed with the Severn Beach Line Working Group at two seperate LWG mettings several months apart and both times received universal support.

I hope that this is of use.

Now, responses to the Fare's Fair issue. Tim made several points and so I will number them as he did. (Please see the comments to Fare's Fair if you're interested in the questions).

1) Agreed, and I'm not entirely sure why it is done this way apart from ATOC regulations and I have no idea why they chose to set it up like this.

2) The barriers retain the tickets to prevent fraudulent re-use if, for example, the tickets were not checked on the train and therefore not stamped. Talk to the staff and if you tell them you need to keep the tickets, they'll let you through the manual barrier. Your suggestion is interesting but not cost effective.

3) The reason this is doone is because ticketsless travel on a long distnace HST costs more money than on a short run commuter service, as long distnace tickets are more expensive, even taking into account the larger number of passengers (generally) on a commuter train. When the oyster scheme comes in in 2009, the whole thing will be gated.

4) I'm not sure when and if we have ever claimed that, but if so, it's a dumb thing to say. The barriers are left open because there may be no staff around to help people who get stuck. o say that they prevent antsocial behaviour is silly.

5) It is annoying that you now have to get a ticket in advance and I appreciate that it adds time to your journey. It may well discourage people. It has become necessary though and I am sure that if I can guess the answer if I asked you if you were prefer and extra 10% on your journey time or an extra 10% on your fare.

6) Good point. I would add that FGW cary a lot more people on an intercity train than Heathrow Express do on theirs. However, I feel that the barriers add that extra bit of security for the times when the Train Manager is not able to get round the whole train. I also think that FGW is focusing on the wrong area. On a short trip, with only 2 or 3 minutes between each station, the TM is spending most of his time preparing to deboarding at the next station. That is when barriers become most needed and most effective. However, as I mentioned, FGW are concerned with the more expensie journeys and want to make sure that nobody trravels without a ticket.

7) I've been quite involved at various times with injuries incurred on trains and at stations and truthfully, I can say that I never come across an injury caused by rushes at barriers. I do agree, however, that the short notice given when announcing departure platforms is a problem, especially at Paddington, where platform changes are frequent and short notice often unavoidable. There is no easy solution to this one as it is a product of the rail network as a whole but there are plans in the works to increase the notice provided to passengers.

Finally, we get to the anonymous poster, who felt that my statement: "It does seem officious at times and we would not need to do it so much if we could guarentee that a TM would be able to check tickets but we can't at the present time," was an admission that we couldn't control our staff.

I disagree, as you might expect. I'm not going to go into the ins and outs here of all the things that the TM has to do on a train, maybe later, but it is not as simple as 'tickets aren't checked because the Train Manager is lazy.' Far too black and white. Sometimes it's true and sometimes the TM is hiding because he does not want to face the collective righteous indignation of a delayed commter train, but equally, sometimes, he's just busy. There might be a problem he is called to sort out, and incident on the line, a problem passenger and many other things. I doubt I can convince you with this short commentary so youmay have to trust me for a while, but you are somewhat wide of the mark.

That's all for now. Back later to pre-answer your complaints about the signal failure.


Lee Fletcher said...

Many thanks for the rest of those.

I also have a message from Graham to post a "thank you" (he is having trouble with his system.)

He has a follow - up comment :

"The Sunday (Melksham) service is something that seems to correct a crazyness in the specification, though I am puzzled as to why it would have needed extra finance from last December but does not require extra finance from this December."

I also have a couple of points on which clarification would be very much appreciated :

I heard that FGW were looking to get a derogation that removed their requirement to run 3 "stoppers" south of Salisbury (which will be generously served by SWT from December 2007.) The rolling stock released would then be used to provide extra services on the Melksham / Trans Wilts corridor , without requiring extra financial support. I take it that this suggestion was wide of the mark?

Regarding bidding for the December trains paths , does this mean the longer you leave it , the less likely you are to get them?

I heard that First had purchased outright a number of Pacer DMUs for use on FGW. This would appear to be false?

Your comments on the Bristol City Council frequency focus are interesting. Do FGW think that the suggested 40 min frequency service to Avonmouth can be provided resource - wise , and are the paths available to accomodate it on the main line into Bristol Temple Meads?

Many thanks again for your help.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my questions. It is good to see that the notice of platforms at paddington issue is something that FGW is aware of. When I am a commuter it doesn't bother me too much but a fortnight ago I as travelling by train from Stansted Airport to Bath with my Wife, holiday luggage and baby in a pushchair. It was Sunday and I had deliberately booked tickets giving myself plenty of time to get through baggage reclaim at the airport and strugle with the steps on the tube and to give some allowance for possible delays at the airport or with the trains. As a consequence we arrived at Paddington almost 3 hours before the train on which we had valid tickets was due to leave. Not a problem - I brought some milk at Sainsburyes and settled down at the Mad Bear and Bishop with a pint. It was all very relaxing until our train was due to leave. We only got 6 minutes warning of the paltform number and we were further delayed at the gates because of the size of our tickets and the fact that we had a pushchair (and because of lots of rude passengers pushing a shoving). We only just made it on the train in time and I ended up having to sit appart from my wife and son until we got to Reading (we couldn't use our reserved seats because we wanted to travel in the family carraiage because it has more room for pushchairs and baby was asleep (when you book your tickets you ought to be able to specify seats in the family carriage - you can on Eurostar)

I appreciate your comment that Train Managers may not always get a chance to check tickets on a train and that there may be various reasons for this. I suspect that one further reason that you don't mention for having gates at stations is that FGW prefers to deal with stroppy pasengers and fare dodgers at a station where there is back up from colleagues (and, when violence is involved, from the Police and Ambulance service) than on a train where the TM is very much alone. Also it must be easier to stop someone from boarding a train than it is to throw someone off a train or to force someone to pay a fine or penalty fare.

I do however think that station barriers could be used more intelligently than at present to retain the deterent to fare dodgers and reduce the inconvience to passengers. On the Bath to London morning commuter trains for example, it you have exit barriers at Paddington, Reading, Chippenham and Swindon and good on board checks the chances are that everyone's ticket will get checked anyway so entry barriers at Bath, Bristol and Chippenham would appear to be unnecessary.

You should be aiming to get everyone's ticket checked about once. At the moment you get checked at least three times if you travel in the peaks but can get away without being checked if you travel in the evening (when trains are less busy and checks would be easier)

On the retention of tickets being carried out to prevent reuse on a second journey I assume you are refering to open returns where both portions are valid for a month. This kind of fradulent use would be elimitated if you made the outward leg valid for one day only (or if you did what the French do and made it compulsary to stamp the date on your ticket before boarding the train). I realise that FGW doen't have the power to make that kind of change but I am sure that it would be acceptable to customers and cost-neutral to FGW if it was accompanied by a 5% cut in the tciket price (which would be paid for by the drop in fraud)

Since my first comment I have been told that the large format tickets where introduced by BR in connection with the channel tunnel. They are the same size as the tickets used in Europe and were meant to facilitate through ticketing to European desinations that never happened. Automatic gates were less common under BR and are fairly rare in Europe for intercity journeys so noone thought that they would be a problem at the time. Large tickets are less likely to work in automatic gartes because they are more likely to get bent (although they are used at airports as baording passes without too much problem) so when the privitised TOCS started gating stations they installed machines similar to those used on the tube and by network southeast becaus ethey were relatively reliable and cheap and tried and tested. The problem may disappear if we are to move to smart card (oyster card like) ticketing


Insider said...

Not a problem. The Sunday service does require investment but it is now somehting that First are in a position to deal with internally, rather than last year, when they weren't. It hs also been projected that in the current environment, returns will outweigh the initial expenditure. This was not the case last year.

I believe that FGW were looking to free up the stock from the three stoppers as South West Trains have projected a 10 service per hour stopping pattern at most stations according to their last figures. I am not aware of the status of this but, based on the lack of a promised enhancement for Melksham, I would also assume that this hs fallen through.

With the December train paths, you are quite correct. We have to get in there early to get any guarentees.

I did hear word about the purchasing of the pacers but this went quiet a while ago so I'mnot sure of the latest on that. I'll try and find out.

I personally think that the Avonmouth service is do-able, although not the best use of resources. Pathing may be an issue later but for now, sufficient afre available to make it worthwhile.


As you point out it is a tricky situation and you are quite right that it is often easier to prevent ticketless travel at stations than it is to get someone off the train if they refuse to go. To have to summon police assistance to remove someone only results in further delays and unhappy passengers.

There are beter ways of using the barriers for certain and I feel that FGW has taken the option of overkill to make sure that they get everyone.

I think the overall aim is to reduce the amount of fraud and this will lead to a drop in ticket prices. I think it's somehting that we have to suffer at the moment until things get a little more under control.

What you say about the large tickets does make sense and I was aware that through ticketing was a grand plan that never came to fruition, largely because no-one could agree on the best way of making sure that everyone got paid the right amount.

Oyster is planned in 2009 so I think we will see a reduction in problems with the larger tickets. Fingers crossed

Lee Fletcher said...

Many thanks again.

FGW seem quite confident of implementing the 40 min frequency service from December 2007 , so I would be right to assume that will be the case? Also , if pathing could become an issue later , does that point to the need for the 4 - tracking of the Bristol Temple Meads - Filton Abbey Wood section proposal contained in the Network Rail Business Plan 2007 to be implemented?

Insider said...


I would think that the 40 minute frequency service will indeed be the case from December. I also think that it may well call for the line enhancement you mention. Personally, I would like to see every section of mainline with 4 tracks. True branch lines maybe not so much but I don't see a case for not enhancing the line, especially if more services all along Severn Beach are implemented as well as the enhanced Avonmouth service.

Lee Fletcher said...

I totally agree , and its a refreshing view to hear.

The proposals I am working on are likely to call for capacity enhancement on the Yate - Bristol - Weston corridor , plus upgrading of the Henbury & Portishead lines to passenger staus , and when I asked FGW for their opinion , they said "Wider aspirations are fine - and certainly could be included if there is any sign of someone stepping up to the plate to fund them. For this reason only passing mention is made of the Henbury loop (in the Severn Beach LDP), or other schemes which in the first instance require political lobbying."

Partly with this in mind (but mostly because I consider it vital) I recently urged a meeting of campaigners to get their MPs and councillors to lobby harder for these schemes to be implemented. It would be nice to have FGW's backing in our efforts , although I appreciate that you were expressing a personal view.

To be fair to FGW , a surprisingly high number of schemes listed in the Network Rail Business Plan 2007 "Route enhancement aspirations" sections are First Great Western proposals.

On a general Bristol service improvement note , you must be pleased that some of the 1300 new carriages pledged by the DfT will be heading for the Bristol area , although (predictably) no info was given on when they will be delivered / how many there will be and on what services they will be deployed. FGW didnt seem to know anything about it when I asked them , and they said that they await the details with "considerable interest."

On a related note , thanks for looking into whether Pacers could be heading our way. Perhaps these are intended to form a short - term Bristol solution while we wait for the new rolling stock to arrive?

Anonymous said...

I am not sure how you can conclude that getting the automatic barriers to print the date on tickets to show that they have been used and then returning the tickets to the customer can be ruled out as not cost effective. Every (First) bus in Bath has a machine that reads the magnetic strip on train ticket sized bus tickets and prints the date on it to show that it has been used. If such a device is affordable on a bus where most of the fares are only a few quid I can't see that it would be ruinously expensive to use on a railway.

Lee Fletcher said...

A follow - up on the pacers (thanks to one of our regular forum contributors) :

"September's Modern Railways confirms that FGW is to take on 12 142s on a short term lease (how short is short one asks?) to provide additional capacity and to cover units away on refurbishment. They will mainly be allocated to the Cornish branches."

Personally , I hope not.

Pacers were occasionally used on the Cornish branch lines in the 80's but this was generally avoided where possible due to problems with wheel wear and the noise on sharp corners. I have also been reminded that with their rigid wheelbase they also got stuck on tight bends.

Insider , do you know any more on this?