Wednesday 11 September 2019

When Is Naming Not Blaming?

If you follow me on Twitter you will have seen that recently I have had some lively discussions with a well respected member of the railway media regarding information given to the travelling public by train operating companies. I believe the public should be well aware of who is responsible for what on the railway, whereas my combateur believes the railway is one unit, and no one should be blamed for anything - the operating company dealing with all issues as though they are responsible, because they are the ones taking our money.

Except they're not are they. Let's look a little more closely at who pays for what. When I go to the station and buy a ticket who exactly am I paying? Well yes, I'm paying the operating company, who then pay the Government for the privilege of running trains. The operating company also pays Network Rail line rental - literally in this case. If a train is delayed due to the fault of the operating company they get fined by Network Rail. If the delay is the fault of infrastructure then they claim back compensation from Network Rail. There are armies of people whose sole job is to extract as many minutes delay as they can from an incident, and then make claims to the opposite party. I have seen a 3 minute delay to one train at Lewisham in Southeast London develop into over 5,000 minutes claimed due to snowball effects on other services.

So, if a train is delayed due to a signal failure it is the responsibility of Network Rail. If it's because of disruptive passengers, a train fault, or staff problems then it's down to the operating company. Seems all clear and crystal like. Except it's not. I've had passengers have a right go at me because they've been delayed by issues neither I, nor my employer had any control over, and that is simply not fair. It has always been something I've wondered - why there is not more education of the travelling public of exactly who is responsible for what on the railway, and I've reached the conclusion that the people who run the railway, and indeed some who make a living out of reporting on the railway, just don't want the people who pay to travel knowing.

I have been badgering the Association of British Commuters for well over a year now to produce a publication to lay to rest some of the myths about the railway. To educate the public so when things go wrong they know who is responsible, and don't take it out on the wrong people such as barrier staff, Conductors or Twitter teams. Despite several hints at "an announcement I'd like" there has been nothing, which surprises me as you'd think a passenger lead pressure group would want the truth out there. But it's all gone very quiet.

And then of course there is Network Rail. Owned by the State - us to be precise. So when you buy your ticket not only is some of your money going to Network Rail in line rental, it's also going to Network Rail through the taxation system, because it's your taxes that fund Network Rail! So in effect we are paying for all parts of the railway - the operator and the infrastructure maintainer. So you'd have thought that letting the public realise that if a signal continuously fails outside Norwich it has nothing to do with Greater Anglia but is down to Network Rail would be natural. It makes the railway transparent, and informs the public, which as fare AND taxpayers they surely have a right to know. In any other industry, if Government money is concerned, when something goes belly up there are inquiries galore. But not the railway, and I think I know why.

The operators run trains on behalf of the Government. Sub contracted. The Department of Transport dictate timetables, train length, most fares, specification of new rolling stock (mostly), how many staff on the train and more. Not many people know that, so if a train is frequently rammed they take it out on the operating company, who have to clear it with the D of T before they can lengthen it. So the it's the name on the train who gets the blame.

Yet think on this. Network Rail is owned and run by the Department of Transport. Of course they don't want the public knowing what it is responsible for because so much of the time it is infrastructure that goes wrong. Much better for the name on the train to get blamed - after all if a Government Department was seen to be badly running things that could cost votes. The operating companies are scapegoats so the public, who fund Network Rail are kept ignorant and so don't blame the Government! Sir Humphrey would be proud - "if you tell the public what they want to know - then they'll know and that could be disastrous". This must be why whenever Network Rail are mentioned by an operating company as being responsible for a delayed train there are shrieks of horror from parts of the industry, and the operating company instantly slapped down. Never let it be said customers got told the truth.

But it gets worse. The other day The Norwich - London mainline was disrupted because a freight train broke down. It happens. Trains/locos break down - just surprising some pedant didn't point out the train didn't break down but the locomotive did! Now if I'm in a traffic jam on the motorway and it comes over the radio "tailbacks on the A12 due to a broken down lorry" I don't immediately want all trucks banned from the roads, or the truck owner put in stocks on a roundabout. It is just letting me know why I am sitting there twiddling my thumbs. If I'm on a train and hear of a delay due to a broken down freight train I'm not going to want the driver sacked, or the freight operating company dissolved! It's just one of those things, and the more the public know the easier they will take things. I DO know that from experience. The public get far more agitated when information is withheld, than they do when they're given the facts. If it's a shared line with other operators, and one of their trains is causing the delay then the public have a right to know, as their money pays for the railway. Fact isn't slander. Fact isn't libellous. Information is vital in this day and age. And believe me - if I'm on a train stuck in the middle of nowhere, as I was a couple of years ago, and by looking at the live diagrams I see a freight train has broken down in front I'm going to let those round me know, to protect the poor sods on board from getting extra grief. Of course there are some who'll have a go at the person in uniform anyway, but even if one person doesn't as a result of the information it's worth it.

So, as we, the travelling public pay for all aspects of the railway either through fares or taxes don't we have a right to transparency, information and fact, or are the railways so badly managed that everything has to be hushed up so the truth doesn't out? Makes you wonder, but my opinion, or stance is not going to change. The ONLY way our railway is one railway, as I'm frequently told it is, is that the public pay for it, in many, many ways. They have a right to be told, regardless of which sensitive soul in an office miles from the front line it upsets.

It used to be let the train take the strain. Now it's let the train take the blame.


  1. The law is quite clear on this the responsibility lies with the Train Operating company as that is who the passengers have a contract with. It is up to the TOC to take up the issues that are not their responsibility

  2. Dear whoever you are: please direct me to the Law concerned and where it states operating companies cannot relay the source of the delay to their customers. Thank you.

    1. Consumer Rights Act 2015. The TOC's can rely information on who is responsible but the passengers redress is with the TOC

      It is the same with say a TV. The redress is with the shop you bought it from and not the manufacturer

    2. Right, so the shop would be well within their rights to inform the customer that the fault, and responsibility lies with the manufacturer, and liase with the customer, as in delay/repay to deal with the situation. Then the customer knows it's not the shop's fault, will appreciate their openness and not hold it against them. Exactly my point, in fact!

  3. I think one of the issues is The Public want more information, and more quickly, than is available. If the driver puts out a message saying, "There's a broken-down freight train ahead" there are many folk who will want to know AT ONCE what is being done about it, how long the delay will last, etc. For the driver or conductor to say, "We have absolutely no idea. but we'll let you know when we do" doesn't seem to be sufficient these days: folk want detailed and accurate updates every five minutes. Now it is frustrating when "nothing seems to be happening" and so it is important to keep the flow of information going. It also does seem that "fixing things" sometimes seems to take far longer than it should. Nevertheless many folk seem to have an unrealistic idea of what's possible and will say, "We were told nothing". Indeed, the spent time finding and giving out information could, I imagine, sometimes be better used for sorting out the problem!

    By the way, it's possible to have too much information. I remember being on an Ipswich-London train a few years ago that was obviously closely following another. This meant a number of brief signal stops; every time the conductor announced - within about 20 seconds - that we were "being held at a red signal but should be on our way shortly". This repetition was not only annoying buyt a good example of "non-information" because what we were really being told was, "We've stopped, we should soon be going again". The best example of this I ever heard was on a WCML train: the conductor informed us that "We are now approaching Carnforth station. We are running approximately ten minutes behind time. This is entirely due to delays incurred before reaching Carnforth". Or was he taking the mickey?

  4. Obviously you tell the customers you are stuck behind a late running stopping service and progress will be stunted. You don't make a 'red signal' announcement at every signal as that really would piss everyone off!!

    Someone once had a go at me for not telling them I hadn't got any information when I was on the phone trying to get information....

  5. Ballymena-based bus manufacturer Wrightbus is in takeover talks

    Reports have emerged bus maker Wrightbus is one week away from collapse.
    However, bosses at the Ballymena factory are understood to be involved in talks with a potential buyer and confident of getting a deal to save the company.
    Sky News reports Darren Donnelly is in talks with the company’s advisers which have accelerated in recent days amid fading hopes of a £50m takeover by Weichai, a subsidiary of the Chinese company Shandong Heavy Industry.
    Sources told the broadcaster that without a rescue deal being concluded by next week, the company could be forced to appoint administrators.

    1. Unless they return to the build quality of the Gemini 1 they are doomed. The standard of the Street deck and Streetlite is truly abysmal. Until Wright us go back to building quality buses and not trying to beat ADL in the cheap and nasty market then I see no future for them, and that's a shame

  6. Say a final goodbye to the Anglianbus livery in Norwich (2 years late...) as the Versas will all be withdrawn by November and replaced with 3 x ADL 200MMCs. Date of delivery TBC.

  7. Latest Round of Bus Cuts . Most are as a result of the Withdrawal of SCC funding

    Timetable & Route Changes Autumn 2019
    30th September 2019
    Category: General News
    Route Changes: 4th November 2019
    We are making changes to our network this Autumn which may affect your route or bus times. Electronic copies of each timetable will be available below and printed hard copies will be available from our Travel Shop in Tower Ramparts Bus Station 2-3 weeks before the changes take effect.
    Services 115, 116 Ipswich – Coddenham – Debenham – Mendlesham
    We are pleased to confirm that Ipswich Buses will be taking over this service from Saturday 19th October 2019 and will continue to operate the current timetable as the current provider which can be downloaded here.
    Adult single, return & 10 trip tickets will continue to be available on board your bus from the driver along with weekly and monthly tickets.
    Young person fares are available for all under 20’s however those aged over 16 will need to either hold an Ipswich Buses ID card or a Suffolk County Council Endeavor Card.
    We would like to advise passengers that Galloway Travel staff or spouse passes will no longer be valid on this service and are not valid on any service operated by Ipswich Buses Ltd.
    South Suffolk Network Changes
    Due to the withdrawal of funding by Suffolk County Council there will be major changes to our South Suffolk network from Monday 4th November 2019.
    Service 91 Ipswich – Hintlesham – Hadleigh Business Park – Hadleigh
    Ipswich Buses will continue to operate the 06:35 journey from Ipswich Old Cattle Market Bus Station on a commercial basis. We are currently working with local businesses in Hadleigh and the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to find ways to enhance transport links between Ipswich and Hadleigh to support employment and education opportunities so please look out for questionnaires at your place of work or education.
    Service 92 Ipswich – Holbrook – Stutton – Brantham – Manningtree
    Will continue to be operated on a commercial basis by Ipswich Buses to a revised timetable which can be downloaded here. There will be an additional early morning journey to Ipswich and an additional early evening return trip to/from Manningtree.
    Service 93, 93C, X93 Ipswich – Capel St Mary – East Bergholt – Colchester
    Will continue to be operated on a commercial basis by Ipswich Buses to a revised timetable which can be downloaded here. The 93C journey is withdrawn and the pm X93 at 18:40 from Colchester will now operate as a 93 and continue into Ipswich.
    Services 94, 94A, 94C Ipswich – Capel St Mary – East Bergholt – Colchester / Hadleigh
    Unfortunately, due to withdrawal of funding by Suffolk County Council and unsustainable patronage levels all 94, 94A, 94C journeys will be withdrawn from Monday 4th November 2019.
    Service 97 Ipswich – Chelmondiston – Shotley
    Will continue to be operated on a commercial basis by Ipswich Buses to a revised timetable which can be downloaded here.
    Service 98 Ipswich – Holbrook – Shotley
    Will continue to be operated on a commercial basis by Ipswich Buses to a revised timetable which can be downloaded here however due to the withdrawal of funding by Suffolk County Council service 98 will only operate on Schooldays. Passengers traveling between Shotley and Ipswich should use service 97 and passengers traveling between Holbrook and Ipswich can use service 92.

  8. Ipswich to Diss route new timetable has been released on Suffolk Onboard. Of course it's very depressing reading.