Thursday, 19 December 2019

Why are Thameslink so completely incompetent?

Last night I had arranged to meet friends for a Christmas get together at The Barcelona Tapas bar in Aldgate at 5.30. The Barcelona is a great little place to while away an evening. As they were showing the El Classico match, it was an even better excuse. As I always do, on such days, I checked the times of trains. It seemed that the 16.50 from Mill Hill was the best option. As I always do, when I travel I checked the Thameslink travel information site a couple of times before I left. This told me that the train was two minutes late, not a big issue. It takes me five minutes to walk from my house to the station, so this was at 16.44. I arrived at the station with a minute to spare only to see that the train had been cancelled. I am sure you could imagine my frustration. Even more frustrating was the fact that the following train, the 17.05 was showing simply as delayed. The information website was now giving no information at all for the individual services. A rather bland message stating that there were signalling issues in Croydon was all that we had to go on.

Now I completely understand that equipment fails, that things go wrong, that when signals fail, problems escalate. I worked in IT for a long time, supporting super resilient systems for banks and ATM's so I understand the technicalities of all this. I would expect that signalling systems should have redundancy, dual power supplies, back up power systems, but that sometimes it still goes wrong. These would be under the control of Network Rail. What is under the control of Thameslink is the relationship with the individual passenger. There are three ways that Thameslink can manage this. The first is through their IT systems, the station notice boards and the website. These completely failed to give any useful information. The second is through the station staff. At Mill Hill yesterday, there were no announcements. The PA system at Mill Hill is pretty useless. The station is next to the M1, there is a background ambient noise of 70-80 decibels most of the time. If you are not right by the speakers, you can't hear a thing. Yesterday that didn't really matter as there were no announcements. Had I been appraised of the situation, that I would end up being nearly an hour late, I would have taken the Northern Line.

The third way Thameslink can manage the relationship is via the train driver. Eventually a Brighton fast service stopped at Mill Hill. The driver took pity on us poor mugs and let us on the train. It wasn't busy. He told us that if it ever moved, it would most likely be 'fast' to St Pancras. This worked for me. He then told us that he'd spoken to the signal man and because of the signal failure, trains were backed up all the way to Hendon. He said the train wouldn't move until Hendon was clear, for the simple reason that if it had to be cancelled, it would be better to cancel it at Mill Hill so we could take buses to the tube station. He said he'd keep us informed. By this time it was around 17.15.  I now had a valued judgement to make. Do I stay on the train or do I get the bus to Burnt Oak. I decided to stay on the train. He then said that we'd proceed to Hendon. After a short wait at Hendon, he said we'd travel fast to St Pancras.

In the meantime, Robin Morel of Network Rail had spied my tweet and taken pity on me, explaining the sittuation. Robin is one of the good guys.

Eventually I reached Farringdon at around ten to six, and got to the Barcelona at about five past six, over half an hour late.  I'd exchanged messages with my friends, explaining my lateness.

I've no idea whether Thameslink read blogs or care what the passenger experience really is. They should. They failed miserably in communicating with passengers in two out of three of the methods at hand. I would say the driver did an excellent job. What is the point having a travel website if it tells you nothing when you most need it. What is the point having a speaker system on Mill Hill if you can't hear it because of the motorway and it isn't used to keep passengers informed. It is clear that when it comes to managing passenger expectations of making journeys and keeping them informed of problems, Thameslink are completely incompetent. People need to know how late they will be. If they are meeting friends of have appointments, then they need to make sure that the people they are seeing know what is going on. No one on a Thameslink train is simply riding for the fun of sitting on a train. They are trying to get from A to B in a timely fashion. If Thameslink can't deliver this, they should at least be able to tell people what is going on. As soon as it was clear that there was major disruption, Thameslink should have told everyone at Mill Hill that it would be quicker to get a bus to Burnt Oak and get the tube. Generally a bus and tube to Kings Cross is 20 mins longer than a Thameslink Train journey, so as soon as it is clear that this is the quicker option, or is likely to be, we should be told. I've been told that the signal staff would know this almost immediately, as they understand the knock on effects. They do not see it as their role to communicate this to passengers. Drivers, who have 800 passengers in the train behind them, generally know the implications. They do their best. What Thameslink should be doing is ensuring that passengers are informed as soon as possible.

As for the Thameslink Twitter feed. They tweeted a link to a page that wasn't working, Simply unbelieveable really.

If I was Boris Johnson (perish the thought), or our newly re-elected MP Matthew Offord, I would put getting these rail companies to do their job as a top priority. I have no doubt that a majority of Mill Hill Broadway commuters are Conservative voters in good jobs in central London. It was beyond my comprehension that Labour did not make the awful service a key issue in the local campaign. Offord has done nothing in almost a decade about the appalling service. Offord has made a big deal of the provision of step free access at Mill Hill,  a campaign which he only got involved with when it was clear that it was in the bag. It is beyond my comprehension that he doesn't care about the daily experience of his core voters. It also baffles me that so many are just fine with that.

Sadly, as he got an even bigger majority this time, I doubt he'll be doing anything any time soon. Sadly, we will be living with this completely inept service for a long time to come.

No comments: