“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I thought that I would start with that quote, it’s a nice positive thought, something to remember at times like these. It’s the start of the new year and we’re meant to be all shiny and new and positive right?
I felt pretty happy this morning, striding out of the house unexpectedly early and noting a man carrying a toolbox in one hand and a sombrero in the other. It’s going to be a jolly quirky day I thought. Then reality hit and I once again found myself on an overcrowded National Express East Anglia train attempting to minimise the bruising to my leg as I jauntily crashed against a table whilst wildly grabbing at anything that might enable me to remain upright on the 0839 service to Liverpool Street.
I wasn’t the only one struggling. There were no handrails within reach, the luggage rack was set far back above the tables and the seat tops blocked by several other
sardines passengers attempting to breathe/to get to work. Yesterday ticket prices went up by an average of almost 6%, and what do I get for this increase? A decrease in the number of rush hour trains, and a sorry looking hand-me-down train from the Stansted Express route. That’s why there are no hand-holds, this train is not designed to be as overcrowded as it finds itself of this new route, the runt of the litter, left with a random assortment of trains that other routes have seemingly grown out of.
The old timetable had two trains, the 0837 and the 0842 express service from Walthamstow to Liverpool St. Now we all have to settle for the 0839, and pay more to boot. I felt somewhat indignant about it this morning, especially since National Express East Anglia are happy to shell out money employing “revenue protection” officers, but not handrails! I asked the revenue protection guy (politely) what could be done. He replied “pick up a pile of complaint forms from over there and get people to fill them in. They’ll have to listen to you then”. Would they ignore my lone complaint if I wrote in?, I enquired. “Well, no” he said, “they do read them all, but there’s a new operator coming in in February and they’ll be looking at what works and what doesn’t and hopefully they will make some changes”.
After some haggling*, I came away from the Information point at Liverpool Street with a pile of forms and an ambition to do something.
This evening, after another delayed service out of Liverpool Street and some (corrected when prompted) misinformation from the National Express East Anglia Twitter account (@NXEastAnglia) I decided to strike. I caught the eye of another weary passenger without a seat and explained what happened this morning, and how we could perhaps do something about it. Other ears pricked up, I handed out some more forms, I even offered to post one (to the Freepost address) for a chap who somewhat reluctantly filled the form in too. When we finally arrived at Walthamstow, I asked for a bunch more to replenish my stock. I feel energised. I am actually going to do something. I’m not just going to moan about things, I’m going to do my little bit to try to make them better. I’m going to encourage as many people to fill in these forms and send them in as possible. I am going to do my best to get someone, somewhere, to sit up and take notice of the people who use the services, pay for the services and frequently get let down by the services. Are you with me? Come on.. it’ll only take a moment or two and think how good you’ll feel being one of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who are changing the world. Let’s go!
How to make a difference
Okay – if you’d like your voice heard, it’s as simple as asking for a National Express East Anglia complaint form from the ticket office or information point at your station, filling it in, and posting it off.
You could also share this blog via Twitter or Facebook or write one of your own, or perhaps you’d be brave enough to carry a stash of complaint forms to give people on trains too!
Not sure what you’d write?
How about commenting on how the new timetable has affected your journeys – do you miss the additional express service like I do?
Have you been delayed? Were you given enough information about what was happening – or just left sitting there while the Stansted Express route took line priority again?
Perhaps you’ve struggled on a busy train? Or want to comment on the state of the trains themselves?
Or maybe you’re just fed up that despite your journey taking over twice as long as it should, you still can’t claim even half a refund since you’d have to have been delayed a whole 30 minutes (on a just a 17 minute journey remember) to even be in with the chance of any sort of refund.
Come up people – speak up. Let’s do something, let’s make something happen.
* “Can I have a pile of NXEA complaint forms please?
He hands me one.
“Sorry, no, the chap over there said I should ask for a pile”
Blank look. “How many do you want?”
“A pile?” I gesture with my fingers the thickness of the sort of pile I was thinking…
“More than one.”
He slides over another.
“Oh, er, more than two? You know, a bunch, a pile, a lot”
Finally gives me some more…
I raised this issue with our local MP Stella Creasy and she kindly got in touch with Abellio who are taking the franchise. They replied to some of my questions and agreed that I could share that with you on the blog (apologies for the delay in updating, I’ve been very busy). Here’s what their Director of Public Affairs had to say:
1) Express trains in the rush hour: As you may be aware, the new franchise is a short term (2.5 year) contract under which the Department for Transport specified that bidders could not propose changes in the timetable. We will, however, be running maximum length services during the peak and taking steps to encourage passengers to make use of the full length of every train. We will also be introducing a colour coded timetable to help passengers identify easily which services will be the most crowded. Often trains just outside, or on the shoulder of the peak are lightly loaded and these can be a good option for some passengers. The only opportunity, however, to make major changes to the timetable and the capacity of the trains will be under the next franchise, which will be a 15 year contract running from summer 2014.
2) Improve the trains: We are aware of the condition of the rolling stock not only on the West Anglia line but across the network. We’ll be implementing a deep clean programme from Day One of the franchise (5th February) and will roll this out across the whole network. As with the timetable, however, the only opportunity to make a step change in the condition of the Anglia fleet will come under the next (15 year) franchise.
3) Making the service itself more reliable: We will be working very closely with Network Rail over the next 2.5 years to improve overall reliability and where possible alleviate the impact of the major engineering works which will continue through the lifetime of this short franchise. We have already held excellent and constructive talks with the new Network Rail Route Director, Dave Ward, and the development of a strong working relationship with Network Rail will be crucial if we are to convince the DfT and passengers that Abellio is the best company to manage the long term franchise. I hope the benefits of this strong working relationship will be reflected in improved reliability for passengers.
I hope this is helpful. The short term nature of the franchise makes it impossible to invest in the major programmes which would deliver the upgrades the network needs, but I hope that over the coming years we will demonstrate to passengers and stakeholders that Abellio is the company to deliver that programme when the long term franchise gets underway.
I had a couple of follow-up questions for him asking whether they would be following NXEA’s summer timetable too (which includes the express service) since they can’t change the timetable and one other about checking carriages for suitability for carrying lots of passengers/adding handrails to those that aren’t.
I was told that the December 11th timetable will be the operating timetable until the next change in December this year, so there will be changes in the summer and invited to contact him again when they take over the franchise in mid February regarding the carriages. It was nice that they took the time to respond to these concerns and is much appreciated.
National Express East Anglia responded to my comment form with the following:
Thank you for your Comments Form received 11th January.
I’m sorry to hear that our service has failed to meet your expectation. A review of the new timetable will take place in May, but it is unlikely that any changes will be made before the end of our franchise.
As we near the end of this rail franchise on 4th Feb 2012, I would like to assure you that your feedback will be logged and shared with our management team enabling them to, where possible, avoid a similar situation in the future.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us.
Once again, thank you for contacting us.
This does leave me wondering about the review of the timetable in May. Who is doing that and why? I mean, if, as Abellio state, they are not allowed to change the timetable for the next 2.5 years, what is the point? Also, surely but not adopting the summer timetable they are making changes? Or am I missing something here? I shall endeavour to find out, and of course let you know.