Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Letter to East Midlands Trains

Dear Sir/Madam 

I usually make the weekend return journey from Liverpool to Alfreton a couple of times a month when I go home to see my family.  My preferred time of travel is usually dictated to by how many carriages are on the train.  I’ve found that a 2 carriage train doesn’t allow for much personal space, whereas a 4 carriage one is normally always fine unless there is something to do with football on, and then there isn’t a train exists that is long enough.  As is usual I check National Rail enquiries before I set off to avail myself of what new excuse for incompetence they’ve come up with, which informed me that the 16.07 from Alfreton to Liverpool on Sunday 3rd February was stopping at Manchester to be replaced by a bus.   Poor train.  

I wouldn’t say that I don’t mind bus replacements – I ‘bear’ them.  It’s the principle of the thing that offends me – I travel by train because I want to travel by train, I don’t want to travel by bus.  If I wanted to travel by bus then I would travel by bus, not train.  It’s a fairly simple process in my head: want bus, book bus, want train, book train.  I use this process for pretty much everything else in my life; tea, or coffee, or salt & vinegar or cheese & onion, or even women, or men, or anything really that involves a choice. 

But bus replacements are an occupational hazard of travelling by train though, and I consider myself fairly fortunate to have managed to avoid them mainly for the duration of my train travelling life.  I’d clearly prefer not to have to get off a train and onto a bus but this isn’t the issue here, the issue is that when I am forced to get on a bus all I ask is that the information that you give me to enable me to make my decisions is accurate, if it is then I’ve only got myself to blame when it goes wrong – but when the information that you provide is wrong and not even intended to be right, then I don’t even have a chance. 

As an aside, if you do personally know the mouth breather at Network Rail who planned engineering works on the line between Liverpool and Manchester on the day that thousands of Liverpool supporters converged on Manchester for the Manchester City v’s Liverpool fixture can you please tell them, on the assumption that they aren’t an amoeba, that they are an amoeba. 

I digress – so I checked the rail enquiries site again, which told me that my train would disintegrate before my very eyes at 17.40 and that the options from Manchester Piccadilly were:  

1)      17.46: Bus to Newton-le-Willows arriving at 18.21, then 18.28: Train to Liverpool, arriving at 18.55 

2)      17.48: Bus to Warrington, then a train to Liverpool arriving at around 19.30.    

Here is a test of your ability to function like a normal person.  Which one would you choose? 

Full marks if you chose Option 1.  If you chose Option 2 then you are clearly destined for a career as a network rail engineering works planner.   

Obviously, as a fully functioning member of the sane parallel universe not tarnished by train management operatives, I opted for the first option.  Unfortunately, this left me totally at the whim of their incompetency’s, and as a result I made my choice blissfully unaware that the bus replacement timetable was actually put together by someone travelling the routes in a helicopter, or more likely, believes that a bus goes as fast as a train. 

It very quickly became obvious, as the bus exited Manchester City Centre, that there was no chance of the bus timetable manifesting itself as reality.  And when the bus steward started looking nervously looking at his watch as the bus driver hammered the accelerator pedal to within an inch of its existence on the M62, I knew that I’d put too much trust in people that make decisions in the full knowledge that they will never have to come into contact with anyone who suffers the consequences of them. 

Even if you put ‘Manchester Piccadilly to Newton-le-Willows’ into google maps it tells you that the route takes 34 minutes to travel in a car, in no traffic.  To publish that it would only take 1 minute longer on a bus, that also has to stop at another station, is the action of someone who is a little bit too familiar with their pet, has at least 2 restraining orders and is permanently 5 seconds away from stabbing themselves in the face with a spoon. 

If you’d have been honest in your timescales then I would have caught the other bus and been home for 7.30, it wouldn’t have been great but it would have been better than catching a bus that wouldn’t have got to where it was going, at the time that you said it would, if it had wings, and as a consequence missing the connecting train that your information said I would catch. 

It’s very clear that your train delay strategy is simply not to mass communicate anything, I assume that it’s because if you don’t pro-actively communicate to a group of people then they can’t all get annoyed at the same time, and if you don’t communicate then you cant be held accountable for the information contained within the communication. It’s genius really, and totally within character. 

I entered Alfreton train station at 3.45pm and was vomited out of your system at Liverpool Lime Street at 8pm (90 minutes later than I should have been), at no point during the 4 hours I spent at your behest was I pro-actively communicated to - why would you not communicate one single word on a train when you have on it everyone that is going to be affected by the fact that it is going to be stopping an hour before it should, in another City?  It’s a good job that I happened to check the timetable on line, otherwise I’d have been waiting on a train at Manchester that had stopped and wasn’t going any further.

If you don’t mass communicate then people have to work it out for themselves individually; the 30 or so people waiting 33 patient minutes in the freezing cold on Platform 2 at Newton le Willows station at 7pm on a Sunday night didn’t know that they should be annoyed that the bus timetable was unrealistic, because they weren’t told it – all they did was follow each other like sheep on a bus to a train station and wait for the next train.  They’re all probably relieved that they got home at all, totally oblivious to the fact that it should have been an hour before they actually did. 

There is another, far more serious element to this story than simply providing inspiration for my ire, in that the bus going back to Manchester laden with its passengers was already 20 minutes late leaving the station, which means it was going to be at least 20, and more likely 40 minutes late getting back to Manchester, and as the timetable slows during the end of the evening then people could end up being trapped in stations with no trains, all because your bus replacements timetables are deliberately unrealistic.  I was lucky that there were still trains leaving Newton le Willows for Liverpool, but if I’d left Alfreton later, as I sometimes do, then I could have been struggling.  

So anyway, feel free to ignore, discard, laugh, point at, and more importantly totally disregard this customer feedback.  I’m past telling idiots that they’re idiots.