The worst passenger experience is surely when there is a complete lack of information and they have no idea what is happening. This is a frequent complaint that Railfuture hears from passengers and passes on to train operator management. It is pleasing when operators such as Eurostar, which has faced lots of criticism in the past (including from Railfuture), seems to be rectifying its failings - and it is not alone. The graphic above shows how Eurostar made good use of Twitter to inform passengers of severe delays to a service and the options available but was it at the expense of face-to-face communications?
When out and about campaigning for a bigger and better railway, Railfuture hears a lot of stories from rail passengers. Some of these are justified criticism, even though the person saying it may be a strong supporter of railways. Most of the time there are lessons to be learned and Railfuture raises its concerns at regular meetings with railway management around Britain and also in its meetings with the organisations that control the railway (e.g. Department for Transport and the Office of Rail and Road). It also looks at how railways in other countries deal with passengers.
On 6 June 2016 Railfuture appeared before the UK’s Transport Select Committee to give evidence about Improving the Passenger Experience (see Railfuture Gives Evidence article). Several questions focused on how passengers obtained information - increasingly through Twitter - often being better informed than the railway staff!
Eurostar makes headlines for the wrong reasons
On 8 June 2016 the 18:40 Eurostar train from London to Paris suffered a technical fault and was held at Calais. It was not good news for passengers or for Eurostar as an article in the Standard newspaper explained (although perhaps focusing on negative Tweets a little too much). When problems occur it seems that Eurostar doesn’t have a prepared plan for that scenario and seems to dither for hours before a decision is finally made. Railfuture has made this point to Eurostar management on several occasions, including in the reports from its occasional Eurostar passenger surveys.
A lack of information provided directly to passengers has been a recurring complaint over many years in particular a lack of face-to-face contact with staff who know what is happening. On this occasion Eurostar says that its staff met passengers on arrival at St Pancras and ensured they were all booked on to the very first departures in the morning. They also helped with taxi and hotel bookings where possible.
The main difference this time is that Eurostar made significant use of Twitter to keep people informed - not just passengers on the train but their friends and family who may have been expecting them.
Eurostar increased compensation beyond the regular policy for all passengers affected, who were entitled to claim back 200% of the cost of their affected journey via its website. This is a positive improvement compared to the past when Eurostar was reluctant to offer compensation.
Eurostar gets it right
On 25 May 2016 a Railfuture director was on the 15:04 Eurostar train from London to Brussels. It halted at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel and passengers were informed that a shuttle train ahead had broken down and that single line working was in operation through the tunnel.
The initial message said the train would be delayed by approximately 35 minutes. This was optimistic as it emerged into France 70 minutes late. The on-train staff made announcements in English, French and Dutch, giving the website address on which passengers could, 24 hours later, claim compensation. They then walked through the carriages, endorsing tickets where appropriate and advising about connections at Lille for those passengers heading to destinations in France.
The staff radioed Brussels control and advised when onward connections to Amsterdam and Cologne would depart, including one that was being held for the passengers to Germany.
This was all as it should be. The following day an email confirmed that compensation could be claimed and gave a link. On this occasion it was full marks to Eurostar for their help to customers in a situation where the fault was caused by another operator.
Unexpected change of plan for Belgium to Germany trip
As the above shows, positive staff attitudes lead to good customer service, and quick decision making is vital to minimising train delays and stress to passengers. The following story emphasises these points.
In May 2016 a Railfuture member planned a week’s holiday in Germany going out and back by train. His Eurostar train arrived at Brussels on time. He had a connection for a Deutsche Bahn (DB) ICE train to Köln but was told by a DB employee at the Thalys reception desk that it was cancelled as it had broken down at Aachen and that everyone had a choice of a) taking a Belgian Inter-City to Verbier and pick up rail replacement buses from there to Aachen, or b) wait four hours for the next ICE.
He caught the Belgian train and could not fault the Belgian rail employees. There were announcements on the platform and the guard announced at each stop that DB passengers should not get off here until the train reached Verbier when he made several announcements in three languages that DB passengers should get off here. The Belgian Rail staff then helped everyone to the replacement buses which then took us them Aachen. The information screens showed a regional train to Koln. As a result of the helpful rail staff they arrived at the destination only two hours late.
Read previous articles by this writer: Railfuture Gives Evidence, Prague Compared, Hopping to Catch a Train, Delay Repay Losers, 20 Years Going in Circles, Mountain of Ideas, Sent to Coventry, Fare Rises - RPI vs CPI, New Year, Better Railway, Nine-Days-Rail-Surge, Tube Usage Hits Record, Passenger Growth Future?, Felixstowe Cut-Off, Passenger Priorities , Passenger Frustration, Accessible Travel, Eurostar Snapshot Survey, Stansted Experience, Widening the NET, Lacklustre Busway, Expand Eurocity network, Government backs Wi-Fi, Cheapest fares by law?, Bring Back BR?, Public Sector Franchises, Fare Increase Viewpoint and Tube Staffing.