Transport User Voice – August 2019 – Chief executive’s editorial

30 July 2019

The great heat – a torrid time for rail passengers and staff

Last week’s intensely hot weather proved a particularly torrid time for rail passengers and staff. Sensible ‘do not travel’ warnings from some train companies were derided in advance, but look sage now. The combined effect of speed restrictions, to avoid problems on potentially buckled rails, and damaged overhead electric wires was calamitous.

Passengers and staff sweltered and suffered. Dangerous situations were created as passengers were evacuated, forced open doors and windows and air conditioning failed.

There were some great examples of passengers and staff helping each other. Water and ice creams eased tempers, but the rail industry collectively failed passengers. Information was generally poor. This is more fodder for the Williams Rail Review – this rail network has to add up to more than the sum of its parts.

The inevitable industry review will follow and we are already preparing our input. We have gathered comments from 1,500 passengers with four key issues emerging:

  • track and overhead power lines must stand up better to this sort of thing
  • air-conditioning must work properly on trains without opening windows
  • information is still the Achilles heel – patchy, contradictory, sometimes plain wrong
  • praise for staff distributing water, putting up with not being told anything.

As with last year’s timetable review, it must lead to change, it must count. We will be speaking up loud and clear for passengers in this review.

It was great that Govia Thameslink Railway, that runs Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express, heeded our call to pay compensation to season ticket holders who were told not to travel. Southeastern did this too. Anyone who bought a ticket they could not use could get their money back anyway. People who couldn’t travel, but lost out as they had to get taxis, coaches or planes, should also claim. Do tell us of your experiences last week through our questionnaire.

The launch of our Make Delay Pay campaign was timely. We are encouraging rail passengers to claim for compensation. They are missing out on up to £100 million each year.

Meanwhile, the road network kept going, buses ran and trucks reached their destinations with few problems. Interestingly, sometimes salt is spread on steeper roads to stabilise tarmac. Concrete is, apparently, the most resilient road surface, but as we know from our research drivers don’t like it!

The Transport Focus Annual Report for 2018-19 is now published which highlights the organisation’s achievements and successes for transport users during the year.

We worked with the Government and the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) to set up the new Rail Ombudsman. While it is still settling down (see ‘Rail Ombudsman – Signposting for passengers’) it provides a free independent way of resolving disputes between passengers and rail companies. We also worked with RDG to make fundamental rail fare reform a step towards reality.

On bus, our research on the views of young people has resulted in bus companies focusing on fares reform that benefits them. Bus satisfaction in that group increased by three percentage points in 2018. Highways England has improved the way it deals with incidents and work on its road network, and the Motorway Services Users Survey is demonstrating it is driving change at service stations in England. I am looking forward to publishing the third survey in August which will have yet more data that can be used to benchmark over time and by operator.

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