South West Trains and Network Rail have announced a package of measures to improve their joint response to disruption on the rail network.
It follows a review of the cable theft incident between Farnborough, Hampshire, and Woking, Surrey, in June this year, which resulted in severe disruption for around 80,000 rail passengers.
South West Trains announced an enhanced compensation package for customers immediately after the incident.
The new improvements come only days after South West Trains revealed a significant investment in Blackberry smartphones for more than 850 of its front line customer service staff, with the roll-out due to be completed by March 2012.
Stagecoach Group, the parent group of South West Trains, also called on the Government to introduce tough new measures to tackle the growing problem of cable theft on Britain’s rail network, including new rules to clamp down on unscrupulous scrap metal merchants.
New measures announced include investing in better information at stations and online, new technology, additional management resources, extra training, plus improved contingency and on-call arrangements.
A number of improvements are targeted at the Wessex integrated control centre at London Waterloo, which co-ordinates the operational response to incidents under the leadership of Network Rail.
The centre has a joint Network Rail-South West Trains operations team.
South West Trains managing director, Andy Pitt, said:
“The criminal cable theft incident near Woking resulted in a huge human cost to our passengers. Both South West Trains and Network Rail should have managed the subsequent disruption better. We are sorry we let people down.
“Most importantly, our customers want to be reassured that we have learned lessons and are jointly taking steps to improve our response to future incidents.
“We have carried out an open and honest review. This is a serious package of measures that involves significant investment in supporting our people, improving our contingency plans and using technology to communicate better with our customers.
“We run one of the busiest and most complex rail networks in Europe. A major incident can be the railway equivalent of part of the M25 being shut for several hours, with the same inevitable congestion and knock-on delays.
“The priority in these circumstances is to restore services as soon as is reasonably possible, keep passengers updated and give them useful information about their travel options. We believe the steps we are taking mean we are better placed to make that happen.”
Richard O’Brien, Network Rail’s route managing director for Wessex, said:
“Although it was the theft of a cable which controls the signalling which stopped us running trains at one of the busiest times of the day, we recognise that our response to the incident wasn’t good enough or quick enough. We apologise again to passengers affected.
“The review has identified areas we need to improve and we are committed to making changes to provide passengers with the travelling experience they expect and the level of information they need to make better decisions about their journeys.
“The actions of mindless thieves caused unacceptable delays and disruption for tens of thousands of passengers, many of who were relying on the railway to get home that evening.”
Measures put in place by South West Trains and Network Rail include:
- More robust contingency and on-call arrangements
- Process to ensure better mobilisation of managers to provide assistance on trains and at stations during disruption.
Strengthened arrangements in the joint Wessex integrated control centre at London Waterloo, including:
- Extra management resource to deal with customer service issues in the morning and evening peaks
- Dedicated manager focusing on real-time management of train crew at Waterloo
- Improved liaison with signallers.
- More sophisticated customer information system at London Waterloo to show trains running during disruption rather than clogging the system with details of those cancelled
- Better monitoring of and communication with heavily-delayed trains
- Re-briefing of incident control staff on the importance of providing better estimates on the length of delay expected to allow for clearer updates for passengers.
- Ensuring delayed trains are brought into stations where reasonably practicable so doors can be opened
- Steps to hold trains at stations where possible rather than send them into a blocked area
- Small emergency supply of bottled water now on the majority of trains
- Training programme for train crew on lessons learned from the review.
Further significant improvements to help passengers and rail staff will be introduced in the months ahead, including:
- Introduction of bespoke email travel alerts for passengers
- A mobile version of the South West Trains website
- Launch of a new web-based application to help ticket office, customer service centre and help point staff get up-to-date messages from the control centre
- Roll-out of a more comprehensive and reliable train cab communication system
- Extra resources to deliver information via social media channels, such as Twitter.