TrainI have been meaning to write this blog since Friday, in fact it has bothered me constantly that I have not yet written it, esp when I see the volume of pieces that Graeme churns out, so I am making the assumption that he does not ascribe to the belief that we need sleep to function normally. Perhaps that is a paradigm shift I need to make.
A number of things caught my attention on Friday. It started with a brainstorming session in the office on new business. Then I rushed off to catch a train to London to meet someone. I was hot and bothered and so were half of Woking as we queued behind the only ticket office that was open on one of the busiest routes in England. Standing around were ticket inspectors – 3 to be exact, waiting to check our tickets, but with only one very slow counter and no machines working, they were really just standing around.

I strolled over to them – no that would not be entirely true – I marched over to them – my body language at its least charming and asked them to get someone to open another counter. They told me that was not their job, they shoved a complaints form into my hand and turned back to continue chatting amongst themselves. By this time the queue had grown to 24 people and with one train already missed and another one imminent it appeared that they were not the least inclined to assist at all. On the complaints form I noticed a phone number, so I called it. After 5 minutes of waiting for someone to pick up the call I finally got through to an office where a pleasant enough, although ineffective man answered my call. He was apologetic and said he would contact the station manager and see what he could do. I told him I would hold as I wanted an explanation on what was going on and what we were all going to do as we watched our second train come and go while we were stuck without tickets. After another 10 minutes of holding on a national call rate, he came back to tell me that they were doing a staff change over and so it was a little slow. By this stage the queue had grown even further and out the station doors.
Finally the public address system announced that passenger for the London trains could head straight to the platform through the barriers and buy their tickets on the platform from someone who would be there with a portable ticket machine, so the rude ticket inspectors that had ignored my first request opened the gates to allow passengers through and themselves were the ticket officers that were instructed to pick up their ticket machines and sell the tickets.
It did not end there. We finally boarded our train – three trains later than most of us had planned. It was scheduled to make one stop only on the route to London – at Clapham Junction. The train approached Wimbledon sometime later and stopped on the platform. The doors did not open and we waited for a few minutes before an announcement was made that we would have to wait there for a while and progress would be slow going into Clapham Junction as there was only one track open. Eventually, crawling along we approached Clapham Junction which is a major hub for all the trains and the main station to get connections to Southern England. As we approached the platform, the train started to accelerate and kept going – straight through without stopping. We watched as passengers on the platform stood staring in disbelief and I watched and listened to all my fellow passengers in the carriage cursing as they missed their stopped. Immediately they started chatting amongst themselves and speculating that this was an attempt to make up the time lost and reduce the penalty that they would receive for being late. An announcement came over the PA system apologizing to passengers for Clapham Junction saying that there had been an incident on the platform and we were unable to stop and passengers would have to go into London and turn around on the next train back to Clapham Junction. As it turned out, in the carriage was a passenger with a partner who works on the station at Clapham Junction so he gave her call and asked what the incidence was – “what incident, there has not been an incident�.
When we got to Waterloo my curiosity got the better of me and I strolled (by this stage I had calmed down and was actually a little bemused by all this) across to the information desk to ask what had happened to the 14:46 from Woking and why had we skipped the platform. “Signal failure at Clapham Junction� she told me.
There are a few things that are wrong with this story.
1. The inspectors at the ticket barriers are mostly qualified to sell tickets and have portable ticket machines and yet they lacked the initiative to use them when they saw the queues building up as they were on “inspection� duty and not on “selling� duty. As I mentioned to the poor man on the phone, no good having inspectors to check tickets if you have none to check.
2. The passengers (read customers) were left suffering the effect of SWT’s poor hand-over process and staff shortages – ie poor management
3. SWT seemed to believe that staff shortages and hand-over periods are good excuses. Perhaps I missed that lesson, but as a customer, I don’t believe there is ever an excuse for bad service, good management makes sure I don’t see it, good management of operational processes and people (and that includes recognizing that staff have bad days and need to be managed in a way that the customer does not know it).
4. And finally. Londoners understand “signal failure� – we deal with it everyday. It is the legacy of an old railway system with a crumbling infrastructure, we don’t like it, but we know it and it is a handy excuse for being late to work and late home after a few drinks at the pub. We like that we have someone to hold accountable and someone that we know will feel the pain of our complaints, what we don’t like is not knowing who to complain about or being treated like idiots. On Friday afternoon we were treated like idiots.
And so as I mulled over how I could present myself to South West Trains and give them a little helping hand, I heard a mother point out a train to a small child – “Look at the train, it goes “chook-a-chook�� and I thought to myself – no, not anymore, the trains here in England go “whoosh�, and leave a wash of air behind – that is when they go. Seems a bit sad.

TomorrowToday Global