Tuesday, 23 October 2007

I'm back

Well, it appears that, after a month or so, my internet connection is finally stable again and there will be no more random flashing lights on my modem. I won't bore you with the myriad bits of fiddling that I had to do before actually giving in and calling tech support to confirm that it was actually their problem. Now back, yay.

There have been a great deal of goings on lately. Hope you've all been well. I will now endeavour to update you on the interesting bits. Firstly, a quick shout-out to Tara from the last post. I don't want to take your survey. No-one does. Stop using my blog for free advertising and acting like I agreed to it.

It's old news but Alison Forster is gone as MD and is now 'Fleet Safety and Operations Manager.' Some call it a demotion but she has gone from responsbility for one TOC to responsbility across First Rail so make of it what you will.

Now Andrew Haines is in charge. I've met him and he's a good guy. One of th things that impressed me about him is his desire to get FGW back to being more customer-centric and less about pandering to the DfT and the Franchise commitments. This can only be a good thing so look for some customer service improvements. One little thing I have to commend him for is that now, whenever a customer writes in with praise for a staf member, they get a personal letter from Andrew with a bonus. It's a little incentive to do your best and help people, a shot in the arm that the staff really need.

Second on the out is Glenda Lamont. Again, probably old news to most of you. She's off to the US of A to do something or other. I've never been Glenda's greatest fan so I'm shedding no tears but I'm sure she'll do well for herself.

We're only about a month away from the December timetable. Boy has this been a big project. I know that many of you are holding your hands in despair and thinking bck to this time last year, but take it from me that things will be much different.

I know some of you are mad because you didn't get a say this year, but tinkthat this is a good thing. I'll tell you why. Last year, FGW got thousanda of suggestions and they did attempt to fit many of them in on top of the shite SLC imposed by the DfT. Too many. So many that we were trying to please everyone and it ended in a godawful mess. Not so this year. There has ben some condultation, but the rfocus has ben on building a robust timetable that works. I think that this has been achieved.

Not everyone is going to be happy. Some people have lost out. Apologies to those of you who live, or used to live, in Pangbourne.

However, we've been addressing many of the stuff that you guys weren't happy with. For example, in the morning peak, there are now an additional 4000 odd seats rushing through Reading towards Paddington. Thisis mostly courtesy of the new HSTs. I'm not going to get into a debate about whether this capacity is worth the loss of tables and igh seat backs etc. I think, when you really look at it, especially those of you who stand up every day, you know if it was worth it.

Severn Beach, long a source of contention gets it's service upgrade, with the full upgrade coming in May 2008 when Bristol City Council ponies up the cash they promised.

Portsmoth Harbour to Cardiff. Tricky subject. That line had it's first Working Group meeting on Thursday and plans were thrashed out to improve capacity as, at the moment, stock provision sucks. This is not gonna happen in December, sorry to dissapoint, but it will be happening.

The first of the West fleet was unveiled in its new refurbished state. New engines, no more scruffy interiors, it looks and performs like a solid, modern, train. This fleet will be done up and back in serice in March 2008. In the meantime, those of you in the West will have to put up with some 142 pacers while the stock is on the rolling refresh, but content yoursefl with the knowedge that it's in a good cause.

50 new drivers recruited so far, along with more guards and catering staff. Drivers learning more routes. All of these things will reduce problems caused by crew availability. New station facilities. Oxford is being done as we speak, Ealing starts before Christmas. Many more in early 2008. Reading gets done up in a 6 year project from 2009-2015 that's costing £524m.

Network Rail is spending about £6m to renew the points at Airport Junction over Christmas. The single biggest source of delays in the Thames Valley will be sorted at long, bloody, last.

The trains fit together more smoothly now. Connections are easier. There is increased service level on the majority of routes. For the first time in a long time, I'm slightly optimistic that things are going to get better.

Now I leave it to you to bring my world crashing around me by pointing out all the reasons you don't like the new timetable and all the problems you see with the changes. Or, if you want to pat me on the back and letme pass it vicariously to FGW, that would be cool too.

Speak to you all soon.



Anonymous said...

you mention all those extra seats that you are providig but you dont mention the 17 seats you will loss in first class when you remove the buffet car , not to mention the extra standing space available on the already overcrowded train .

Insider said...


1) Not all HSTs will run without the buffet car, only those on routes where there are less passengers so there is no need for a buffet car and therefore, less crowding.

2)First Class is not the overcrowded part of the train, they can afford to lose 17 seats.

3) standing space will be lost but see 1) above

CresceNet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Insider said...

In English please. Or German, but nothing else

Adam said...

Delete his comment. He posts it with the links to boost his search engine rankings.

Anonymous said...

Lucky me with the pacers. Can't wait, looks like they've improved Bristol though. Im curious as to why the 0710 Bristol - Pad was removed. Understatement!

Anonymous said...

Good to see that you are back online.

I am looking forward to seeing some improvements and note that FGW have appointed a few new top managers including Mike Carrol who was the boss of FGW at one time and who I regard as a no-nonsense chap with some good experience.

I suspect that things will improve a bit and although we won't see any radical changes relability and capacity will gradually creep up (as will ticket prices).

I know that this is not the fault of First but the whole franchise system seems to mitigate against good solid progress in customer service. No sooner have improvements been made then the franchise comes up for renewal and standards slip, reputation suffers and the fight back then begins.

A franchise lasts 7 years but in the final year of the previous franchise there are problems as mainenance is defered, management takes their eye of the ball with the bid for the new franchise and staff moral suffers because of the uncertainty. The Governemnt complicates the start of the new franchise by changing franchise boundaries and interfering with the timetable so that it takes another couple of years for the problems to be ironed out, the right managers to be put in place, the refurbishments to be made and the depots to be built. It seems to me that it is only the middle part of the franchise where the franchisee actually is able to be 100% forcussed on actually running the railway.

i don't think that it is any conincence that the most solid steady progress has been Chiltern who have an annomolous 15 year contact.

Does this make sense?


Insider said...

Tim, I couldn't agree with you more. I too believe that the entire system is geared against long term improvements.

The nature of the franchise system means that there will never be any scope for such strategy hecause no train company wants to spend millions of pounds only to find out at the end of a relatively short farnchise that all that investment will be reaped by whatever company takes over from them.

Andrew Haines does have solid control over one thing however. And that is the way that FGW interacts with the customer base. Something that, I'm sure you'll all agree has been lacking in many areas throughout that last few years.

We are already feeling the effects of his view on this and, to be honest, I don't think it is such a bad idea. A lot of people accept hat tings are going to go wrong, but the problem is when no-one apologises for it or offers any scope for resolving the problem. I think we can all agree that, were that the case, commuters and other passengers would be a lot less annoyed by the delays and the inevitable problems tha arise from running a rail franchise in this day and age.

Tomorrow, it is my intention to post a bit on the new top men in FGW and how that is likely to impact the company as we move forward with the December 2007 timetable and the new direction. I hope that you' all find that informative and maybe have slightly raised hopes for the future.

Lee Fletcher said...

Many thanks for that.

A couple of things :

1) Regarding the Class 142 units , firstly there is a rumour that up to 6 of these could be deployed in Bristol. I am obviously sceptical on this , as all along the mantra has been "Devon only." Could you possibly clarify this? Secondly , I am told that a Class 142 unit worked from Exeter - Plymouth yesterday (31/10/2007.) I thought they weren't meant to be coming west of Newton Abbot?

2) There are reports that FGW has carried out a flawed passenger survey today at Sea Mills on the Severn Beach Line (01/11/2007.) Source quote :

"Doubt if he was able to interview everyone, so cannot be statistically valid, particularly in view of the last minute rush.

When I said 'very safe' he actually marked the 'good'.

Numbers (25) were lower than usual. (Half term week.)

I noticed that the sheet on which he wrote my answers was preprinted "Lawrence Hill".

Difficult to see what they get that could not be got from ticket information, or that the man would not have been better employed selling tickets."

Its exactly this sort of thing that is likely to cause contention in that part of the world.

3) You will probably be aware of plans for a new park & ride station on the Looe line. FGW is said to be very interested in this , and I wondered what preparatory work has already been conducted on this?

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I missed it in your comments, but how are the ex Thames trains passengers (particularly Twyford/Maidenhead/Slough) gonna win with the new timetable, particulary the evening one?

Insider said...


With regards to Class 142s, I've also heard this Bristol rumour. Not quite sure where it came from. It's unlikely that the 142s will make it to Bristol. The 158s they are replacing came from Devon stock and there are no plans, that I now of, to divert 15X stock down to Devon tha would necessitate the pacrs going to Bristol. Time will tell I guess.

A CLass 142 unit did work Plymouth to Exeter. This was not the plan as they wee not supposed to be going that far west but there were some stock problems and needs must when the Devil farts in your teapot as they say.

I don't know about this passenger survey on Severn Beach. It's possible that one was carried out, they are from time to time, although my oersonal belief is that they do not achieve much and that more is learned from consultation from the line working group.

Sometimes the surveys do not achieve very much, as appears to be the case here and I agree that they are likely to cause contention when they are carried out in this manner. I'll look into it.

I've been trying to get a word with Julian Crow about this park and ride idea, although I haven't been able to get hold of him lately.

I do know, however, that it is something that people have been asking for and it is likely to be very useful as we are trying to promote usage on the Looe line. I'll try and bring you more details when I have them.

Mr Anon, you asked about the ex-Thames passengers, particularly Twyford, Maidenhead and Slough. It just so happens that I've done some work on this particular part, capacity comparisons etc and so I can help you here.

Twyford, 2 extra services to Paddington in the morning with 790 extra seats. 4 extra services from Padington in the evening with 1816 extra seats.

Maidenhead, 5 extra services to Paddington in the morning with 2320 extra seats. 1 extra service in the evening with 512 extra seats.

Slough, 2 extra services to Paddington in the morning with 1179 extra seats. No extra services from Paddington in the evening, but more HSTs instead of Turbos so 452 extra seats.

Sorry if I'm missing your point, but that seems like winning to me.

Lee Fletcher said...

Many thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Regarding that 142 at Plymouth. It was not in service. It was in fact conveying Mr. Haines so he could sample the beasts for himself.
Staff training was also being undertaken on this run

ABP said...

Is there any truth in the rumour that First are swapping the Adelantes with Scot Rail for 170's?

Anonymous said...

let's get this straight - 142s have rubbish suspension, so people with back problems are snookered, as the previously only form of transport that wasn't agony, will soon be excrutiating. FGW have sold us devon folk down the river, and don't you forget it.

Insider said...

Listen pal, if you want someone to blame, you're barking up the wrong tree here. I am Devon folk so I know better than just an FGW employee what's going on.

The DfT took those trains away. Yes, the trains from Devon have gone to cover Bristol, but that is matching demand with supply and it was the only feasible option.

Do you think we're happy about this? We begged the DfT to let us keep the trains that went back up north but they said no. Place your blame elsewhere with this one.

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