Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Answering some questions

These questions come from I Hate First Great Western and can be found here so in the interest of continuing co-operation between staff and passengers I have taken it upon myself to answer them.

The NCC does indeed say that if Standard Class is full, you can ask the Tm for permission to sit in First Class for no extra charge. Condition 59 also says that rail staff and agents have no authority to waive or change these conditions. However, it is not First Great Western's policy to allow these free upgrades unless the train is declassified completely. So, while there is very little chance of you actually gettng the TM to say yes, FGW have no way to take away your right to ask.

Not allowing paid upgrades to First Class on the train is a silly rule. It goes back to the NCC again, which says that all tickets, including upgrades, must be bought before you get on the train if there is the facility to do so. Most TMs though, see the sense in not enforcing that in this situation.Since I'm all pally with Anrew Haines now (smug mode engaged) I'll ask him for a formal policy change on that one and see what we can get done.

Overcrowding is a pain in the backside, no question. Hopefully in December, that will be eased with the new HSTs and the refreshed sets with more seats each. As to where al the cariages went, that's a long and complicated story. Back at the start of the franchise, the DfT made the infamous SLC for December 2006. Part of this included removal of a lot of carriages so that they could be used elsewhere. I'll not blame the DfT completely on this one as FGW did make some cuts above an beyond what they had to do, partly thanks to all the money the DfT gets paid for the 'priviledge' of us running the franchise.

In February, it became clear that this was a big mistake. We leased some extra trains from TransPennine Express and made some short term deals but most of the trains from TPE are going back in December, hence the appearance of the 142s. I agree that maximum seats at peak time should be a priority. That is why I'm all for the refresh and the extra seats and have little time for the whining about the lack of tables. I'm also glad that the Adelantes are going. Most of the time, a couple of them were out of service, leaving us short and now that they are being replaced with HSTs, that's more seats and more reliable services.

I sympathise with the complaints department. Sometmes I think that customer service from a rain company should be made the new National Service, everybody has to put in a year or two. You get standard letters because most complaints can be pigeonholed. The team has targets to meet, a lot of letters to get through and a 5 day response target.

The sytem has it's disadvantages of course. A more involved letter deserves a more involved response but this is not always possible in the time allowed for each letter (15 minutes in case you're interested). Most people will be happy with the standard responses as most of them do explain the issues. Therefore, it's as well to try the standard response first and, if that does not work, then it gos to someone who has more relaxed targets and can do the proper response. It's annoying, yes, but you'll probably find it's the same with most companies.

I'm not impressed with the FGW website. I find it easy to get around, because I know what I'm looking for. The best advice I can give you is scroll to the bottom and click the 'site map' link. Navigate from there, it's much easier.

As for reserving seats as a season ticket holder, you can do this. E-mail with your journey and the dates you want and any seating preferences and they'll do it for you This is only for block bookings of 1 month or more though.

Finally, a shout out to Tim who has commented on the post.
1. Depends where you're going. Let me know and I'l tell you.
2. It finished in May. There is, as yet, no replacement. E-mail if you want to be kept up to date with any info.
3. Yes. Let me know eher you're going and I'll give you specifics.
4. 60 mins on an FGW or ex-Wessex service, 30 mins on ex-Thames services. Doesn't count if you're travelling on a season ticket.

Til the next time peeps.


Anonymous said...

I have never asked to be upgrade to First Class when standard class has been overcrowded but the TM has offered it too me twice and I have seen it happening a third time.

Insider said...

Discretion is a wonderful thing, even when the staff don't have any. You will find some TMs who are willing to do it, if they feel it's the best way to run the train, but as I said, it's not policy and it doesn't usually happen.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. Just one thought about complaints and compensation. I imagine that some people complain because they want to make sure FGW knows about their problems or because they want to make FGW's complaints statistics look bad, but that most people complain because they are after a refund of their ticket price. Why not print the conditions for getting compensation on the complaints form? It might discourage people who are not entitled to compensation from complaining which would relieve pressure on your complaints team and make your stats look better?

Just two more questions about FGW policy - 1)
if your train is cancelled and you catch the next train 30 minutes later does that count as a 30 minute delay (ie, 30 minutes delay to your journey) or an over 1 hour delay (ie, more than 60 minute delay to your train)?

2) when using a combination of tickets your train needs to call at the station where you change from one ticket to the other (I know that there are exceptions for seasons and zonal tickets etc and issuse of tcket validity etc). Are you still allowed to use the combination if your train normally calls at the re-booking station but doesn't because of engineering work or disruption? For example if you have a Bath-Swindon day return and a Swindon-London Open Retuen you can travel on all of the HSTs from London to Bath because they all call at Swindon. But would any of the following journeys be legal?
1) travel on a bath-London HST Which is diverted between Bath and Reading (not calling at Swindon)due to a bridgestrike/emergency engineering work
2) travel on a Bath-London HST which is diverted between Bath and Reading becaus of weekend or evening engineering work which was planned and notified in advance of when you perchased your ticket.

One thing that wasn't mentioned in earlier discussions about using ticket combinations is that I think that the NCC require customers travelling on ticket combinatiosn to show ALL tickets to the TM on demand (the NCC say you are required to show tickets for your journey which I take to mean your complete journey). Just showing the ticket for your current leg would appear to be illegal although I suspect that there would need to be some fradulent intent (for example wishing to reuse unstamped tickets) before you were prosecuted.



Anonymous said...

I have seen TM's take abuse because there were no seats in standard and someone wanted, no, demamded a seat in 1st. Obviously the TM said no.
I would like to bet that had those passengers approached the TM in a friendly, non demanding manner, the TM would have allowed them to travel in 1st.

Lee Fletcher said...

I hope Insider doesnt mind if I point out what I believe to be a slight inaccuracy in his post :

The SLC (Service Level Commitment) for December 2006 on which tenders were invited specified how many services ran between which stations , and where they called at in between (although the bidder was allowed to add extra stops "provided the other requirements of the SLC were met") but did not specify the size of the train fleet or how many carriages / units were to be deployed.

In fact , the size of the train fleet formed part of the franchise agreement reached between the DfT and FGW.

However , in the ITT (invitation to tender) the SRA did set out "the basis on which the Authority developed SLC2 in terms of the assumed class of vehicles, their journey time capability and the diagrammed requirements."

Rolling stock reduction , and the associated subsidy reduction benefits , had been the focus of several SRA - commisioned Jacobs Consultancy reports , on which the SLC was based.

I am also sure that FGW , and the other bidders , were left in no doubt that the size of the train fleet had to be reduced. After all , the "surplus" units had already been promised to other train operating companies.

Where I think that even FGW would admit they got it wrong , was when they underestimated demand in their bid. Having done so , the DfT effectively locked them in to their contractual obligations. It was very telling that when FGW appealed the decision to send the Class 158's north , the DfT turned a distinctly deaf ear to their protests.

I do , however , think that FGW's decision to ask for a change to the Westbury - Swindon section of the SLC (granted by the DfT) , in order to allow them to please Stroud Valley commuters (who already had an hourly service) at the expense of Melksham / TransWilts commuters (who had virtually no service) , while saving themselves having to use an extra unit , was not their finest hour and has earned them the mistrust of quite a few people on the ground.

Two further questions , if I may :

1) How many passengers in total did FGW carry in the first full year of the new franchise , and how many do you estimate FGW has carried in the second?

2) Why have some stops been removed at Malvern Link in the December 2007 timetable?

Anonymous said...

Why hasn't FGW got involved with Eurostar over the opening of St Pancras International? Other rail companies have and through booking and special combined fares are available to lots of UK destinations from Aberden to York. Those companies have benefited from lots of free publicity on teh papers, but FGW don't seem to have linked up with Eurostar at all. This strikes me as rather stupid. FGW serves an area with many tourist attractions. A through ticket from Paris to Stratford or Brusseld to Bath would appeal to the hords of American and japanese tourists we have in our area.


Insider said...

OK, some replies.

Tim, with regards to policy. If your train is cancelled and you get on a train 30 minutes later, and that train is on time, it counts as a 30 minutes delay. If the second train is delayed by a further 30 minutes, then it counts as an hour delay.

If engineering wok is declared after you've bought your ticket, you'll be fine, as in your first example.

In the second example, you should still try to obey the conditions of combination tickets. Depending on whether this is an option though, you may still be fine. That really depends on the situation.

Lee, you are quite correct, I did mean the ITT rather than the SLC. D'oh.

We did, however, underestimate demand on some of our routes, leading to Alison Forster's apology in the National press. The DfT were a bit bitchy to be so hard and fast about it, but we screwed up and that was their perogative.

We also made some bad decisions, such as the one you mention involving the Stroud Valley. Hopefully, we can put some of them right.

With regard to your questions, in the first year of the franchise, FGW undertook somewhere in the region of 75 million passenger journeys. It's not really possible to determine how mnay individual passengers that translates to, but it gives you some idea. We've been in the second year of the franchise for approx 7 months now and passenger journeys have grown. I would estimate that we are on track for around 80 million or so but I canm't really be more specific.

Stops have been removed at Malvern Link because of a chnage in the service pattern of Worcester to Taunton services (or so I'm told by someone very eager to give me the brush off). Doesn't make much sense to me, so I'll try and get a more reasoned explanation.

Finally to 'abp' who commented on my 'I'm Back' post, there are no plans at all for us to swap the Adelantes with Scotrail for 170 Turbostars. I'd be interetsted to know where you got that from.

You will see at least one Adelante appearing for Hull Trains in the near future, as a temporary substitute for the 222 that they dropped from a crane some time ago, but that's about it.

See y'll soon.

Lee Fletcher said...

Many thanks for that.

By the way , did you manage to find out about the Severn Beach Line survey?

On a related note , here are some quotes from Bristol City Council :

"The extra services for the Severn Beach Line do fall outside of the franchise specification. However it still needs DfT approval as all use of rolling stock needs to be agreed with DfT. FGW have confirmed that DfT have approved the additional rolling stock for the Severn Beach Line."

Andrew Griffiths (FGW Regional Manager , Severn & Solent area) says that the services themselves dont need approval from the DfT , but the lease of the train does.

"FGW have acquired 12 units to replace the 11 going off lease. As such they have in effect already procured an additional unit, which they intend to use on the Severn Beach Line. Although this extra unit will be available in December, it is required for route training and to substitute for units being refurbished."

"The 12 units FGW have acquired are class 142s; 11 of these are being deployed in Devon, which meets their franchise requirement for that area. Without City Council funding, only 11 units would have been acquired."

"The first draft May 2008 timetable showed that not all trains are able to call at all stations, due to pathing difficulties. The Council has asked FGW to review the timetables to ensure that all stations are served."

"The draft May 2008 timetable includes 1 train to Severn Beach every 2 hours throughout the day. In total the draft timetable has 11 trains running through to Severn Beach."

Can you confirm that the above Bristol City Council statements are correct?

RemiMoses said...

Can I clarify this 'first class counts as allthe space in a first class carriage' ruling, whers the FGW policy is to ban anyone standing in first class vestibules when there is no space at all anywhere on the train?

Is this right? Got my 'warning' this morning, did feel like asking a) why the rule, b) why - is this doorway much more luxurious than all the other ones and c) and if there is no room and we use 'all available doors' as requested, what is supposed to happen. If everyone stood in first class stood in second, the trains wouldn't ever leave.

Am I also right in thinking that from the timetable change all HSTs are going to 7 carriages?

Insider said...


That is correct. We hoped to be able to introduce an enhanced service fro avonmouth in december, but the funds were not there, so now we have a strengthened morning peak service. In May, however, we have a commitment for some money from BCC and we can introduce the more robust timetable for the line.

What they are saying about stiock is true. The DfT does have a big say in the stock we acquired and we were able to procure the extra 142 because of BCC. The 142's are going to Devon and the 150/8s currenbtly deployed there will come to Bristol with the spare 142 strengthening the service there.


I know, it sounds stupid, but the entirity of the First Class carriage, even the vestibuoes, is considered to be First Class and only First Class ticket holders can be there.

It's a petty rule, but you should hear the First Class passengers bitch that the 'riff-raff' are standing in their carriage.

If the train is full, he TM is much less likely to care.

It is not true that all HSTs will be 7 cariages in the new franchise. Some will run without the buffet car on routes where buffet penetration is low. This will imporve journey times and is expected to improve punctuality by up to 4.5%.

There will be both 7 cariage high density and 7 carriage low density train depending on the route (low density has more tables in standard class but none of these have entered service yet). A lot of trains will still run as 8 carriages, particularly on the long haul routes (Paddington to Penzance and South Wales etc.)

Lee Fletcher said...

Many thanks for that.

As you can imagine , there are many contradictory statements flying around. Could you possibly provide further clarification on the following :

1) Did BCC provide the money "up front" for the lease of the 12th unit , or did FGW pay for it?

2) When you say that you have a commitment for some money from BCC , does that mean you have seen the "colour of their money" , so to speak? In other words , does a legally binding contract between FGW & BCC for the enhanced service now exist , and if so , on what date was it signed?

3) Can you confirm that the draft May 2008 timetable contains a 40 minute frequency service between Bristol Temple Meads - Avonmouth with 1 train to Severn Beach every 2 hours throughout the day? Suggestion - why not put the draft timetable out to public consultation? The Severn Beach Line Development Plan contains a commitment to do this.

4) Is a Class 142 unit earmarked to be stationed in Bristol to run extra services on the Severn Beach Line?