Monday, 3 September 2007

Reader Mail IV, Part 2

Previously, we covered trains and tracks, the two major reasons for the problems, not just in the Thames Valley region, but across the whole FGW network. Now we move to some of the other problems that impact your commuting lives.

I'm going to start with an issue that is wholly within FGW's control and for which there is no excuse. Strangely, the more bad press that FGW received, the more this issue seems to become aparent. The issue is, of course, staff shortages.

There are may delays that are caused by staff sickness, by them not turning up for work or by them being diaplaced because of earlier disruption. These delays are one of the biggest pains of all because they are largely avoidable. Unfortunately, FGW is not top of most people's list as a company to work for these days because you know that you're going to have a bad day. This ceates a lot of the problems. A lot of staff sickness is, I'm fairly sure, the result of people who realy don't want to get up, rolling over and thinking 'sod it' because they cant be bothered to deal with the grief. I have days like that and I'm not on the front line dealing with people every minute that I'm at work.

Owing to the fact that FGW is not a popular company to work for, they are having trouble with both staff recruitment and staff retention. Even the most saintly of people gets tired of having people yell at them all day sooner or later and they move on to a more fulfilling career. This problem on the part of FGW is not one that should be passed to the customer, but sadly it largely is. If there is sickness and there are crew in the facility, they can take the train onwards, provided they are not on a mandated rest break. Often, however, there are no crew who could be got to the station in time to make the train worth running and so it is cancelled.

FGW is currently understaffed. In fact I believe that I am correct in stating that there is a nationwide shortage of rail staff. FGW offers good renumeration to its staff by and large. A fully qualified train driver (the bigest shortage) can earn £40,000. A trainee driver can walk off the street on £20,000. The problem is that most people are looking for a certain level of job satisfaction and they don't tend to get it in the current environment of FGW. Morale is low, but I think you guys alreay guessed that.

FGW obviously has ownership of this and it's my opinion that this problem is a symptom of other problems and, were things to get better on the railway, the staf would come back and there would be less of these types of problems. I know that FGW is currenbtly undergoing a recruitment drive to get people to come and work for them and you can't really ask them to do more in terms of providing numbers. However, I do thk that they could put more thought into the deployment of standby crew, based on trends of where the majority of delays of this type come in, (which, incidentally, seem to be the ex-Wessex line from Cardiff to Portsmouth). That also provides a neat segue into my next point, fuzzy thinking.

FGW has some very bright people working for it. It'sjust a shame that most of those poeple are not in positions of power. In my previos post on the nonsense surrounding claims ofr the disruption caused by the July floods, I went into some detail about the fuzy thinking mployed by FGW at times, but it is not just limited to customer service. Some of the decisions that have been made in the past, particularly regarding the management of disruption have been ludicrous. Some delays are unavoidable, this is true, but if there was a consistent, clear plan in place for the basic management of disruption, then delays would decrease. It seem sometimes as though FGW forget everyhing they learned the last time there as a big problem and just start fom scratch as to the best way to get out of whatever mess they are in. I'm sure you can all think of plenty of examples of this yourselves.

To be fair this is not all FGW's issue. We come back to our old friends NR for part of this. When there is a problem such as aisgnal failure and trains cannot get thourhg the blacked area, there is congestion and queues. When (if) the problem is repaired, it is not FGW that gets the final say on which train move first. We have an input certainly, but NR, as the owner of the track and controller of the signals, decides on movement priorities and which trains go first. I think FGW should take more of a stand on what they want to se move, but semtimes I do not feel that that would do much good, as neither organisation seems to be able to think clearly about what would be the best way to get the trains moving again and they seem to change their minds form train to train about what to do.

To give credit where it is due, I have at times, been so impressed with FGW's response to problems. I would cite Ufton Nervet as an example. The last major train crash a couple of years ago. I'm sure some of you remember it. I was in the office until mdnight on the day that happened and the following day from 7am to 8pm. I saw the whole handlingof the incident unfold and I spoke to many of the families of peope who had been on that train. Then I went and got very drunk, but it staggers me that if FGW can do it right then, why do they have such a problem doing it right at other times?

I'm afraid that I can't answer that, nor can I really provide any real insight on what it would take to fix this nagging difficulty. The idea that most immediately springs to mind is get rid of NR and give the train companies back their infrastructure. Then put some semblance of operational control back with the staff in the scene. Let the drivers clip points in the case of failures rather than have to call out an NR manager from God-knows-where. Let FGW decide on their own train priorities after disruption. That would make things better. Of course, it would also help if their were people in direct, operational control who learned from past insnaces, knew the pitfals of doing certain thigs and were able to get things running smothly, quickly. That, however, may be wishful thinking.

The final category of problem realy, are miscellaneous delays. Those are delays that are largely unavoidable, within no-one's control and the only thing that can really be done about them is to try and mitigate the effects (see above).

These are things like bad weather, fallen trees and other blockages, vehicles striking rail bridges, leaves on the line, lineside fires, vandalism, earthslips and, of course, fatalities. Before I get to these, I'm taking the opportunit to rant for a bit about two of the biggest railway jokes in existance, leaves on the line and the wrong type of snow. Everybody has a good chortle at these, but they are actually genuine problems.

Snow first. Whoever came out with that wrong snow line needs to be shot. I bet he feels bad now. However, I will now explain this and it may help fo those of you who haven't heard it before. There are, in fact, many types of snow. The one that causes the problem for the railways is the snow that is formed of large ice crystals. When this type of snow hits the rails, instead of just melting like snow formed of smaller crystals, it tends to form a layer of frost on the rails which makes them slippery and causes delays because all trains have to proceed under EROS (Emergency Restriction of Speed). So, although it was worded very badly, there is actually a wrong type of snow, so maybe we can all get over the joke now.

Leaves are another one that everybody likes to scoff at. Well, allow me to retort. When leaves land on the line, and this usually happens in wet weather, they tend to stick. When many tons of train goes over the leaves, it crushes them and the break down and forma slippery, resin-like coating on the rails. It's been described, more or less accurately, as the rail equivalent of black ice. Again, this means speed restricions. So, we can put that joke to bed now as well. Rant over.

Fatalities are the main problem as far as external delays go. Not so much because of their number, although it is depessingly high, but because of the amount of disruption they cause when they do happen. The police have to come to the scene and it has to be investigated to make sure that it was a suicide and then the coroner has to be called for the body. As unsavouray as it siunds, in mnay cses they have to make sure they have all the pieces. Then NR have to come out and inspect the track and make sure there is no structural damage. Then they have to clean the track. More often than not, we have to get a replacement driver to take the train onwards, as the old driver, understandably, usually does not feel up to it. This can take many, many hours, depending on how far everybody has to come.

Bridge strikes are another common one. They can take many hours to resolve, as wherever a road vehicle hits a rail bridge, the full bridge inspection team have to come out and go over every inch of the bridge to make sure that is is still structurally sound before they let the trains move again.

When there are lineside fires, depending on where the fire is, there may be an exclusion zone surrounding the track that trains cannot go through, earthslips and line obstructions have to be cleared.

These are all delays that no-one can really take ownership of as there are no real preventative measures than can be taken to stop them ocurring. However, what we can do, is make the impact of these delays less hard felt and that does require getting the house in order.

It's a depressing picture I know and I hope that I have been able to give some idea of the sher scale of the task that faces, not just FGW, but the UK rail network as a whole. I'm gonna leave this a couple of days to give people a chance to add their thoughts and then we'll have a big follow up and address the issues that arise out of this. Also, pardon my spelling in this post, I know it's crap.

See y'all soon.



Tara said...

hey its tara, here is the website i was talking about where i made the extra summer cash.......... the website is here

Anonymous said...

Lineside fires and bridge strikes are two causes of delays that must be hightly frustrating because they are not really the fault of the railway and they seem to be on the increase.

Just two thoughts on things that that railway might be able to do to reduce the occurance of these incidents.

Bridge strikes - the resultant delays cost the railway loads in terms not just of repairs but in compensation for delays and loss of reputation. Is any effort made to recover these costs from the road vehicle driver (or his insurer)? If the insurance costs of HGVs rose by a few percent as a result of bridge strikes you can bet that the road haulage industry would start to take the problem more seriously. Also at high-risk bridges why can't girders at the height of the bridge be errected before the bridge to catch any overheight vehicles. Such a system would surely only cost a few tens of thousand pounds per bridge which would pay for itself after only a couple of bridge strikes had been avioded.

lineside fires - I understand that the most disruptive fires are those involving acteylene cylinders because even once the fire is out the gas cylinder needs to be cooled for upto 24 hours because of a risk of explosion. Would it not be sensible to reduce the number of gas cylinders stored close to the railway. I understand that some of the cylinders are stored on NR land leased out by NR to welding workshops etc. At the very least NR as landlord could specify that acetylene cylinders are not used. Also is there not en engineering solution to this problem. Would it not be possible to store acetylene cylinders in exposion proof bunkers (perhaps subsidised by NR, the TOCs or from the fire brigades fire prevention budget) so that even if one of the cylinders exploded the railway would remain safe.

I have heard that some TOCs have installed freephones to teh Samaratens on platforms where suicides are common. As well as being a compassionate thing to do it must make business sense if it reduces train delays. A similarly imaginative approach needs to be taken to other delays caused my external factors. They are may not be your fault but when your trains are delayed they become your problem.


Billyo said...

I have been on a train effected by a fatality, and I have also been delayed by lineside fires and bridge strikes. In all cases the vast majority of customers accept that they will be delayed.

What is not acceptable however the total lack of a contingency plan. A recent lineside fire at Newport saw hundreds of passengers stranded at Newport station, there were no announcements other than to go the car park and wait for a bus. In 2 hours just two buses arrived, and there was a mad scramble to board. Now I know that this is an Arriva-manned station, but I have experienced similar problems at FGW manned stations. Given these are fairly regular occurances wouldn't it be sensible to have some temporary barrier facilities to erect in the carpark to assist queing, also some megaphones to enable announcements to be made outside. Also the lack of coaches was disgraceful, there needs to be a quicker system of booking coaches in an emergency.

A similar situation happened around Christmas when a bridge strike just outside Cardiff left many passenger stranded at Cardiff. I noticed that Arriva had organised buses to replace their trains very quickly (within an hour they were leaving the station). I asked an Arriva member of staff why there were no coaches for FGW sevices, who explained to me that Arriva book coaches when no trains have left Cardiff for 30 minutes, whilst FGW would not even book coaches until the delay was 1 hour (by which time I'm sure Arriva had snapped up most of Cardiff's available coaches).

Passengers can take being delayed by unforeseen circumstances, but given their frequency FGW needs to have much better contingency plans.

Oh, and when coach journey's are necessary and known about in advance, shouldn't tickets be reduced?

JP said...

In response to Billyo, when it comes to reducing the price of travel if it's an advertised coach replacement, I couldn't agree more.

This has frustrated me so often in the past; the Passenger's Charter promises compensation for delays, but if a lengthy 'delay' is known about in advance, FGW have informed me that it's my choice whether or not I choose to travel. Surely I can't be the only one who often has no alternative to the train?!

Furthermore, why should I pay the same price I would to be on a train, where I can read, walk about, buy a coffee etc and instead get squashed on a bus? The argument that tickets only guarantee us passage from A to B is flawed because sometimes National Express alternatives are available, and if I wanted to spend hours on a bus I would - and save myself some money in the process. I pay the extra to go by train, so when no train is available, logic says that 'extra' should be refunded.

I know I've said it before, but I was particularly incensed when travelling with my disabled friend and we were offered a bus via Didcot (at the same prices as a normal fare) or a train via Reading (at extra cost). FGW gave me a spiel about Network Rail planning necessary engineering works, and choosing to travel being my choice etc etc. Believe me, if it was my choice I wouldn't travel with them again after that response.

Back to the post, and the subject of staff shortages. I learned from a guard recently that the new centralised control room is not as good as it claims to be. Apparently under the old system, the depot knew their staff, knew when someone hadn't turned up, and could organise a replacement PDQ. This, evidently, is not the case with a centralised system. What's the truth in that, Insider?

Anonymous said...

There's one good thing I want to say about FGW when they're recovering from disruption and that's that they're much better at doing that than Thames Trains were. On several occasions in the past when major problems had just been cleared on the line from Paddington, myself and other local commuters would stand on the concourse for about an HOUR whilst absolutely NO Thames Trains services were announced, nothing, nada, rien, zilch (apart from maybe the Greenford shuttle!). Then suddenly a 3-car turbo would be announced for all stations to Reading! (Sardine time for everyone.) In contrast, FGW seemed to get their finger out much faster and get long-distance trains moving much sooner.

Since FGW have taken over from Thames Trains things have been noticably better after disruption at Paddington. Local services (including semi-fasts) are always back up and running as quickly as long-distance high speed services. I hope that continues for the future!


Neil said...

Hello folks,

I have recently been accepted onto the FGW trainee driver programme based at Paddington, and my training starts in October.

As Insider says, FGW certainly are on a recruitment drive for trainee drivers at Paddington, Reading and Bristol. They are also recruiting qualified drivers.

Hopefully, by the time I pass out in October 2008 the situation will be better than it appears to be now.

Even I've been frustrated by FGW cancellations and delays but I try to stay calm as I understand how railways work and am not a typical complaining commuter. :-)

Hopefully I'll be able to offer some insights into how FGW are progressing with their task of improving things as time goes by.

Anonymous said...

Good luck Neil. I hope you stick around after qualifying and don't run off to join a TOC with better morale.

Good to hear that FGW have reaalised that they need to invest in new drivers (they have had almost 10 years to realise this)

Anonymous said...

Just to add a quick note concerning Train driver recruitment.
On the whole wherever a driver is based in the country the wages are pretty similar.
Depots at Paddington, Reading and Oxford have trouble recruiting simply because the cost of living is so high. We have had 5 drivers leave Oxford within the last 3 years to move "oop north" just so they can buy a house.
These drivers have not been replaced (not to mention 3 retirements).There are also several drivers "signed off sick" by the railway doctor,so, although they are ready and willing to go back out on the main line they are prevented from doing so.
The cost of training new drivers is astronomical and any new driver starting now will not be "productive" for at least 6 months. The "link" system also adds to the chaos ie. Some drivers "sign" Adelantes, some do not.Some drivers "sign" the route to Worcester/Hereford, some do not. You can have 6 drivers sat "spare" but not one has the route knowledge or traction knowledge to help out in emergencies etc... I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of Airport Junction - what is it we are waiting for to start sorting it ?

Do you have a statistical breakdown of these delays in peak hours Slough - Paddington over the last year so we can see the relative weightings ?

Thanks Brian.

Neil said...

Anonymous said:

"Some drivers "sign" Adelantes, some do not."

None of them will be signing Adelantes soon because FGW have decided to scrap them and go back to the more reliable HSTs!

Anonymous said...

The problem with drivers only being able to "sign" certain traction also exists in the airline industry. pilots need "type ratings" for each diffrent model of aircraft. Airbus addressed this problem by making whole families of aircraft with very similar controls and characterists so that a pilot authorised to fly one was also able to fly the other members of the family. Wouldn't it be sensible to introduce a similar system for trains?

Insider said...

OK, I'll answer the one about driver signing outside of a post. Train controls by and large are similar as far as the actual making the train move forward and stop goes.

Certain models of train have advanced safety systems that requires the driver to undertake a lost of action while in the cab just to stop the train from thinking he is asleep and slamming on the brakes.

This includes a pedal which must be depressed whenevr the train is in motion. The driver must take his foot off it and replace it within 3 sedconds every 60 seconds. There is an in-cab siren that sounds whenever a yellow or red signal is apporached and the driver must push a button to acknowledge it.

The Driver Reminder Appliance is a plunger that must be pushed when the train is stopped and isenegaged before the train can move again.

Good luck Neil, this is all in your future.

However, the major issue with signing is the routes. Driving a train is all about memory. When you've got several tons of metal under your control that takes just about a mile to stop, you have to know what's ahead of you. You have to know where the signals are, whether they're likely to be red, where you have to start slowing down for stations and where speed restrictions are. This is mostly down to training and memory as there is only so much having instructions written down for you can help.

Drivers have to sign on for each route that they know and it is true that one major problem is having drivers sitting around and not able to help because they are not confident on the route and are not certified as being able to drive it. Hence my point about better strategic deployment of staff.

Anonymous said...


Would it be too much to ask for all FGW drivers to know all (or most ) of FGW's routes? Would that just be too much for one person to remember? Or is it just too expensive (in money or time) to invest in that sort of training?

If we installed a more advanced signalling system presumably the driver's wouldn't have to know where the next signal was - in fact you could do away with lineside signals. A display in the cab could just tell the driver what his safe speed was at any one time in order to stop in time where required.


Insider said...

Good points Tim. There have been advances in helping drivers to recognise signals such as the device which warns when there is a yellow or red signal ahead. If the driver does not acknowledge this, then the brakes will slam on. However, this is acomplete stop rather than slowing down as requires so is of limited us.

If a system could be put in place that would automatically slow trains down to the appropriate speed if the driver did not react in time, this would be very useful, as it would work not just for signals but for other areas where reduced speed is required. It would also elimnate the need for every driver to know the whole route backwards. I think, though, that it would cost a great deal of money to develop as it would have to be capable of being individually calibtated to a particular route.

With regards to expecting drivers to know al of FGW's routes, this is quite a tall task. As Neil said, his training starts in October and he will not pass out until October 2008. In that time, a driver will not learn all the routes that FGW runs. It's hard enough just learning how to operate a train in a safe manner. I'm sure there are some old hand drivers out there who can drive just about any route out there but these are few and far between.

For anyone who is interested in the difficulties associated with a driver's job, check out this document,

Driver's have substantial pressures on them on any train and their training must primarily focus on this. They can pick up routes later, but many drivers do not last long enough to do so.

Lee Fletcher said...

Sorry to go off - topic and invoke "Reader Mail privilege" again , but a couple of things have come up :

Regarding "Reader Mail Vol II" , a Bristol City Council Press Release claims that the 40 min frequency Severn Beach Line service will not now take effect until May 2008.

Regarding "Reader Mail III" , there are fresh claims (apparently backed up by Alison Forster) that the Pacers being hired will be used on the branch lines.

Also , there is a rumour that HSTs are to be replaced by Class 47 locos and carriages.

Personally , I am sceptical on the final issue mentioned , but can you shed any light on these matters , Insider?

Anonymous said...


The BBC website is reporting a May 2008 start to the Severn Beach improvments and this fortnight's Rail magazine (not always authorative, I know) has a FGW spokesman denying that class 57's (which are reengineered 47's) and coaches will be used on daytime trains because "they can't keep up with HST timings" (which sounds fair enough)


Anonymous said...

I travelled to from Bath to Brighton and back last Saturday with my wife any baby and have to say that FGW came off very badly in comparison with both Southern and SWT whose trains we also travelled on. Next time I would be very tempted to drive to Salisbury in order to be clear of FGW territory.

Firstly, your class 158 sprinters are filthy inside. They just do not compare with the Southern and SWT units that we travelled on.

Secondly, your class 158 sprinters are too short. The journey out was severely overcrowded. Two coaches are simply not enough. In this respect the FGW product is inferior to both that offered by Wessex (where the 158s were re-coupled as 3 car trains) or Southern or SWT (where the shortest trains were 4 cars long)

The real problems happened on the return journey. We left Southampton on the 2110 to Bath Spa. At Salisbury we were told that the train would terminate at Westbury and road transport would be provided. Sure enough the train terminated, but road transport was not available until much much later. I got the impression that your staff on the ground were trying there best but that they were suffering from inexperience and lack of support from management. I don’t know what prevented our train from making it to Bath (I spoke to the guard of one of the terminated trains who said that control were blaming faulty sets which in his opinion was a lie) and in a way this doesn’t matter, the key is how the situation was dealt with.

Let me tell you what happened and then I will tell you what should have happened.

What happened was we all got off the train on to a cold platform at Westbury. The only members of staff (apart from the folk cleaning trains on platform 3) was a young chap in the “customer service” window and a guard off one of the terminated trains who had stayed on duty to help out (thanks whoever you were). The 30 or so passengers turfed off the train went to the window and the FGW chap noted our destination and when he had spoken to everyone he ordered taxis. He was unable to tell me if we would be transferred to taxis or a bus and he was unconcerned with the fact that my 10 month old son didn’t have a child seat with which to safely and legally travel by taxi (he had obviously never faced this problem before or recived any training on this – what is FGW’s policy?). The taxis took ages to arrive and we got in the second one without a child seat with my wife holding our son under her seat belt. We got to Bath about 2 hours late. Other people must have been later still. There was one woman who shared our taxi to Bath who was hoping to get to Oxford that night. Not once was an apology given or an explanation for the termination of our train.

What should of happened was that the managers who told our guard of the termination before Salisbury ought to have started to make arrangements for alternative transport so that at least a few taxis would have been waiting for us at Westbury. We should have been given an apology and explanation and a form to claim compensation. Contingency plans for safely transporting infants (and anyone else who might not be able to use a car) should have been in place and activated. Taxis should have been booked to people’s final destination so that the lady travelling to Oxford would not have had to join a second queue at Bath. As much as possible should have been done whilst the train was moving so that the chap at Westbury didn’t have to start solving the problem from scratch when angry people arrived at his window. Instead he could confidently and truthfully tell people that their problem was being solved. The chap at Westbury gave the impression of trying his best but being inexperienced, beleaguered and unsupported. I would not be suprized if he was already looking for another job.

Why do we not get better communication?
Why do your staff not hand out claim forms for compensation?
Why did we not get an apology?
What is your policy on transporting infants in taxis without suitable seats? Do you have a policy? We didn’t want to get in the cab but no alternative was given to us.

(a very angry) Tim

Neil said...

I notice how this website is slowly becoming another place for the commuters to moan about FGW's service.

Unless Insider is a glutten for punishment. :-)

Insider said...

I will admit to having been somewhat absent of late. This has to do with my internet connection deciding to up and die a quiet death. Hence I have to take what opportunities I can to post. Sadly, there is not enough time for lengthy posts and replies to you fine people.

On the subject of Neil's comments, it is true that there are more complaints popping up on this blog. This is not exactly what I intended when I started this blog, my philiosophy being outlined in my first post, but it is understandable that a site defending an organisation that a lot of people hate should become the subject of those people's wrath.

What I will say in response that that is that I can give you a decent, non-bullshit response to your complaint, but no-one that can do anything about it will see it if you restrict yourselves to complaining here.

Whatever you may think about FGW's standard of customer service, your complaints are listened to and not just when you decide to stage a fare strike. I know a lot about commuters problems and specific complaints and complainers because information does filter through.

If you really want somethign done about your complaint, complain through Customer Service. If you are happy to just have me tell you what happened, then post here. As I said originally though, I'm not engaging in extended flame wars or mud-slinging.

I will continue to highlight issues that I think you deserve to know about and to answer questions as best I can, for those of you who want to know a bit more about what you're dealing with.

Anonymous said...

I was interested in insiders comments on the state of morale of staff in FGW.

However, when you consider what FGW is it is not surprising. It doesn't own the stations the trains stop at, it doesn't own the tracks these train run on, it doesn't signal these trains and thus its controllers cannot control the service as they can only request Network rail to make changes to train service e.g. alter sequence of trains. Finanally they don't even own the trains.

So what have the staff to be proud of/ FGW is just company that employs not enough staff to run trains to timetable that they did devise and collect the revenue of those of us who are foolish enough to travel on a train driven by an FGW driver, which in my case is because FGW is the only train operator at my local station.

Take Slough you can see what this means there are usually at least 6 revenue protection staff whereas there are usually only 3/4 platform staff, often less.

Also consider how long will staff be employed by FGW the conmapny only has the franchise to 2012? So in 5 years time staff could be working for another company, just as the West country drivers ceased working for Wessex trains in 2006 and started working for FGW, presumably on the same trains and routes as before.

Also staion staff including booking clerks know there is constant pressure because of the need to generate a premium to pay for franchise that staff numbers will be reduced staions will become unmanned for longer and longer periods, so why should their morale be high.

Managers of course fare even worse as their carrers are dependant on whoever they are working for getting the next franchise as the new company will bring in its own senior staff.

As we have seen with Alison Forster who seems to been shunted out of the way after being given the poisoned chaliss in Deceber 2006. Strangely enough I've recently met two railway people who had a great deal of respect for Alison as a railway manager, but as I said she was given an immpossible job with the new franchise and it has done for her.

I think I'm going to Ladbokes to see what odds I can get on FGW handing in the keys to the franchise before its end, as per GNER.

Given these facts why would anyone want to work for FGW given that they don't even manage to run either the number of trains they are suppose to or the ones they do run, to time.

Re route learning a Hither Green driver (EWS) I met knows the road from Leicester to Stewarts Lane!


Anonymous said...

Probably no-one will read this, but here goes anyway...

The panicked recruitment and training of staff of all front-line grades in FGW is down to a macho approach taken after the franchise to all administrative posts.

The priority to the company seemed to be a total re-organization of ALL management and administrative grades. This resulted in a HUGE cluster f*ck, with nobody in effect running the company, as most managers were either 1, new to their jobs, 2. desperately worried about keeping their jobs or 3. in jobs that they knew were not going to be around much longer, so why bother.

This attitude came across very loud and clear to staff, which accompanied with a very macho approach to link negotiation, destroyed a lot of goodwill. Which was a pity, because as a newcomer to the railways just before the franchise, I think that it's a great job, and compares very favorably with the real world!

Anyway, getting back on track, as a result of middle-management basically disappearing for all intents and purposes from the front line, staff who were good were not praised, staff who were crap were not "encouraged", and those who needed either a carrot or a stick to do their job effectively got neither.

The other result from this experiment in "management without action" was that it was nobody's problem to mention staff shortages creeping up, so for all intents and purposes, there was no recruitment as no middle manager wanted to be the one seen to complain that their depot was not waving but drowning. (I know this, I spent two years looking at the job sheets - or lack of them). When these jobs did eventually appear, they were put forward in panic mode, with fast-tracked (i.e. shortened) training for the unfortunates selected.

I don't know how many of the upper echelon that are now gone were responsible for this, but the layer of middle management are now getting a prod to get out there and be seen again - and not before time. (I went for one period of 8 months during which I saw my manager twice - and one of those they were in civvies on a night out).

The only down-side of this is they are interfering in jobs that they don't understand, and making twats of themselves "correcting" staff for things that are not issues (i.e. not restocking 1st class trollies on a Friday night for Monday morning - there is a reason nobody does this, it's because there is no bloody point - the trolley gets stripped over the weekend, and anyway, go away and read the catering control manual, it says to strip the trolley on a Friday night) and ignoring major problems, like the lazy buggers on buffets that do not report broken fridges or do proper temperatures, or the 1st class hosts that won't take a trolly out or think the train ends at the end of the buffet and never go into standard, even when told to.

There are some staff that can be left alone, and some staff that need a manager sitting on their train 24/7. I know who they are, the managers MUST know who they are, but there is a certain element of picking easy targets - and it's not because the union will whine either.

And if the front-line staff see their managers avoid confrontation with the sick, lame and lazy of the depot or station, they are going to avoid confrontation also, be that with the so-called colleague who is not doing their job, or the passenger that is making their fellow-passengers journey a misery.

It's a pity, as it is a great job, and believe me, for what you are asked to do, good money!