Strike! Lessons learned?

22 May 2015

Following the collective sigh of relief that followed the suspension of the planned rail strike and work to rule, it is a good time to consider any lessons learned. The effects of the strike were clearly going to be widespread. The combination of a 24-hour strike and a work to rule would have made running trains difficult for the Monday and Tuesday of the strike week. Even some Transport for London services rely on Network Rail signals and power.

These types of one-off events provide a real testing ground for information quality. Our research shows that passengers want predictability in these situations – tell us what will run and tell us early.

Commendably some train companies got this information out early, and our review of train operator websites showed lots of activity. There were some good, clear maps on websites from companies like Cross Country and Chiltern, and PDFs of revised timetables on others, which looked helpful.

Some train companies had planned to pretty much withdraw all services on Monday and Tuesday. This was mixed news for passengers. It did mean that people were clear in advance about what services definitely would run on the strike days. However it was a drastic course of action.

It was especially interesting to see that Virgin was planning to deliver a reduced timetable for the East Coast but to completely shut down the West Coast – the reason for this could have been explained better to passengers.

We did also feel the operators could have explained more about why services were cancelled outside of ‘official’ strike hours – presumably to have any hope of recovering on Wednesday everything, crew and trains, must in the right place ready to go. Trying to run a partial service during industrial action would result in an erratic service.

One issue that merits more in-depth examination is when the timetables for Monday and Tuesday were going to be loaded up. Train companies, the Trainline and other websites carried warnings but late on Thursday you could still buy a ticket for trains that weren’t going to run. Difficult call but also not entirely clear whose decision this was.

Compensation? Some very clear information about passengers’ rights.

It was also good to see a joined-up approach in some cases – National Rail Enquiries had signposted Highways England information on its website.

Some roadworks were going to be suspended on major roads, National Express and other coach operators were planning to run many more services and Transport for London was preparing to run extra buses. National Rail tickets were to be accepted on TfL services. You could have used your rail ticket on the trams in Manchester – good co-operation in evidence across the rail network. Lots of good social media efforts from Scotrail and others.

This sort of event shows how much passengers build their lives around the railway. When it is not there the whole country feels the pain. Never waste a good crisis though – the information lessons are interesting.

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