Tuesday, 04 November 2008 21:42

More 'Leaves on the Line', a railway complaint to Northern Rail regarding timetable changes, poor conditions and overcrowding

Here's the complaint . . . .

To: Customer Relations [Nothern Rail]
Subject: Services Between Shaw & Crompton and Manchester Victoria

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to complain about the service on the line known as the ‘Oldham Loop’.

Throughout 2008, the service seems to have declined dramatically while prices steadily increase. Obviously, this is just part and parcel of using public transport in Britain. Paying extortionate prices for transport (I currently pay £85.00 per month for a county card) for transport which is dirty, smelly, horrendously over crowded, frequently late, and sometimes cancelled appears to be something Northern Rail is quite happy to let it’s customer’s endure, and something which we do endure day in day out with gritted teeth. Because when you live in Shaw, the only alternative for getting into Manchester (if you do not drive) is to get the bus, which takes at least four times the amount of time that the train does. Therefore, Northern Rail with it’s shoddy, unreliable service has us ‘held to ransom’.

Specifically though, my complaint in this email centres on the timetable alterations. Every year at autumn time, a leaflet is issued to us unfortunate commuters. This details the timetable alterations, which basically consist of taking away the express services in the mornings, making the trains to and from Manchester less frequent, and making the journeys take longer. In this leaflet, Northern Rail try to ‘blind us with science’ with a simplistic theory of ‘in autumn leaves fall on the track. They compact and make the track slippery. Therefore the trains need more time to make the journey.’

I have never seen this coating of crushed down leaves on the tracks. I look at the tracks and see very few leaves. However, this is not what makes me doubt the integrity of Northern Rail’s explanation. What really makes me doubt this is the fact that although the train journeys now take longer, this is not because the driver proceeds at a slower speed, carefully navigating the perilous track of fallen leaves and other dangers. In fact the train proceeds at a very fast rate to Oldham Mumps – where it then stops not just to let people on, but then idles for 5+ minutes. Then again it proceeds quickly down to Manchester, giving the already weary morning commuters hope that the crushed journey will soon be done – then it stops. Anywhere in between Dean Lane and Manchester Victoria.

It stops for quite a long time. Long enough for us passengers to form the theory that the timetable change with a longer journey time ISN’T because the drivers need to go slow because of leaves on the tracks. It is because the drivers in the middle of the journey maybe feel the need to stop for a tea break/read of the newspaper/quick cat nap?

Another consequence of reducing the services is the overcrowding. Passengers are herded into the train like cattle. Especially in the evening rush hour. If you are in any doubt of this, please try and catch the 6pm train from Manchester Victoria back to Shaw & Crompton. The crushed conditions are the perfect way to finish a hard day at work. What I don’t understand is why when it is rush hour Northern Rail do not put more carriages onto this service? The funny thing is that a few weeks ago I had to leave work early for a dental appointment. I got the 4pm train, and on this train which maybe had around 10 passengers for the whole duration of the journey, the train was a plush, sparkling 4 carriage train! Yet every other day, in rush hour, whether I get a train at 5.36pm, 6pm or 6.30pm, all the rush hour services are smaller, shabby trains. Is this some kind of a vindictive social experiment or joke by Northern Rail.

Please understand that my harsh tone is this email is the result of much frustration with the train service. I would appreciate any kind of response to this email. I would especially appreciate whoever’s job it is to respond to this email (especially if you drive to and from your job every day) to make my journey in rush hour on the Oldham Loop, to experience the experience firsthand.

Here's how Northern Rail responded to the complaint . . .

Our reference NR/000000
02 November 2008

Customer Relations
PO Box 208

Telephone  0845 00 00 125
Fax  0113 24 79 059
Email  customer.relations@northernrail.org

Dear Miss nnnnnn                                             

Thank you for your correspondence, which we received on the 20th  October .

I was sorry to read about the numerous delays you have experienced recently because of the autumn leaf fall. I realise this must be very frustrating and please accept my apologies for this downturn in performance

At this time of year all train operators are at the mercy of the elements and we have had severe problems caused by leaves on the line.

While dead leaves on their own pose little problems, if they become wet, when trains pass over them, they form a hard Teflon-like coating which causes train wheels to slip. This can be as slippery as black ice, and increases the stopping distance of trains. Our drivers are instructed to proceed cautiously to make sure the train can stop safely at signals and stations.

We must always put safety above punctuality. We are trying to combat the problem. Network Rail uses a fleet of special trains, as well as dedicated teams who can be called out to treat specific black spots.

With respect to your comments regarding the resulting overcrowding, I can also appreciate why you have expressed concern about the safety of running a train with a large number of standing passengers. Within the rail industry, safety is of paramount importance and a train will not run unless it is safe for it to do so. The rail industry is very heavily regulated and our compliance with safety regulations is very strictly and independently monitored.

With respect to the regulations regarding maximum capacities on trains, I can confirm that there are no limits imposed. Our trains are designed to safely carry standing passengers throughout each carriage.

Thank you for taking the time to contact Northern.

Yours sincerely

[Northern Rail]
Customer Relations Officer

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