West Midlands Railway chief answers complaints of overcrowding and train chaos

Written by on December 7, 2019

The bosses of West Midlands Railway have issued an unequivocal “sorry” to BirminghamLive readers for the train chaos that’s blighted the region – and announced a series of moves to make things better.

The train company has faced a deluge of complaints from regular commuters in and out of Birmingham for overcrowded trains and delayed services.

The frustration comes on top of the recent strikes by RMT members on Saturdays which was called off this week.

Today the company has told BirminghamLive it will implement the following:

  • 16 extra carriages by next week to ease desperate overcrowding on the busiest routes, with 24 more carriages by February 2020.
  • A one-off compensation payment for season ticket holders for enduring an ‘unacceptable’ level of service since May 2019.
  • Better support for vulnerable passengers
  • A new shuttle service between Rugeley and Birmingham International in a bid to end the frustration of commuters being ‘offloaded’ a station early when trains are running late

  • A simplified timetable, from December 15, designed to reduce delays and cancellations 

  • In the longer term, a new timetable in May 2020 would aim to undo the mistakes of the current services, while a new fleet of trains would be delivered in 2020-2021 bringing ‘thousands’ of extra seats to services

‘We see the pain and tears’

The pledges came from West Midlands Railway commercial director Andy Camp, who took the hot seat to answer readers’ questions in an interview recorded live. You can watch the full interview with BirminghamLive politics and people editor Jane Haynes at the top of this story.

Mr Camp said he has witnessed the pain and frustration of passengers first hand.

He said: “I know the pain our customers are going through because I stand on the concourse with my fellow directors and our senior managers facing up to this. We know the pain they are going through.”

A West Midlands Railway train at Moor Street Station

A West Midlands Railway train at Moor Street Station (Image: Graham Young / BirminghamLive)
“I have faced up to passengers in Birmingham and Euston, heard some really awful stories of journeys, people in tears, and so we know the pain people are going through. We see it for ourselves.”

‘We are sorry – and this is what’s gone wrong’

Mr Camp opened our half-hour recorded interview with an apology and explained the causes of the rail chaos experienced by commuters and shoppers this year.

“First of all I want to apologise to all our passengers on behalf of the board of West Midlands Trains. Obviously the service is not good enough.

“There has not been a day gone by this year when we have not looked at this in detail and put action plans together to try to resolve this. Everything was perfectly okay before the May timetable came in earlier this year.

Andy Camp, commercial director, West Midlands Trains

Andy Camp, commercial director, West Midlands Trains
“This timetable was overly ambitious and we have spent the last few months unpicking it to make it more simple and customer friendly. Our December timetable – starting on December 15 – will unpick some of that and we get out next chance in May, when the big changes will happen.”

He confirmed his firm was responsible for the timetable introduced in May. He said it was meant to provide more journeys and quicker journeys, bringing 150,000 extra passengers onto the trains, to meet demands from the Department for Transport – but it had quickly become clear the new ambitious regime was not sufficiently robust or flexible to cope when problems arose.

It ended up making things worse, not better, said Mr Camp – and now the lessons learned were being fed back to the Department for Transport and to the Government’s Williams Review, which has been scrutinising the way rail services are managed across the country and the future of rail. “We are not the only ones (to experience problems) and this will I think be one of the focuses for the Williams Review,” said Mr Camp.

Question 1: Overcrowding on the rush hour services between Wilnecote and Birmingham New Street

We had a flurry of complaints about the rush hour 8:07 service from Wilnecote. Chrissie, a social media manager, said: “Always rammed; some days you don’t know if you will get on, and never get a seat. Some days I can barely breathe, it’s so overcrowded.” Her concerns were repeated by fellow passengers on the same service.

Answer:

An easy one for West Midlands Railway to answer – as it’s not their service. Andy Camp said the best he could offer was an alternative service from Sutton Coldfield – “it’s less packed and cheaper”. However, he promised to pass the query on to his counterpart at Cross Country Trains, who swiftly provided this response:

“We know this train can get extremely busy. It’s the peak time service from Nottingham calling at all stations to Birmingham and very popular with commuters. We’d love to be able to offer more than an apology for anyone having to stand, but regrettably we have no spare trains to be able to offer more seats. However, we are working with the Department for Transport on an extension to our contract that hopefully will see more trains available to us, and with Transport for the West Midlands on longer-term opportunities for these services.


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Question 2: Standing room only on the Snow Hill to Worcester line at peak times 

Lots of readers expressed anger and frustration over on-going issues about services between Birmingham Snow Hill/Moor Street and Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Worcester and beyond. Overcrowding, short trains, delays, cancellations – passengers are enduring a lot of misery at rush hour. What hope of improvement?

Answer:

From next week a fleet of 16 carriages would be added to the busiest train services – with another 24 to follow by February – in a bid to alleviate the worst of the overcrowding. The line into Worcestershire and Herefordshire would be the first to benefit.

Said Mr Camp: “We have 16 carriages coming across from Trans Pennine Express which we are putting into service for the December timetable (from December 15th.) That will be followed, by the end of February, with another 24 carriages coming in.

“We have managed to procure these carriages from another train operating company to alleviate (the overcrowding). We did want this earlier, but it’s taken longer than we’d hoped – we obviously don’t want our passengers to have to endure a busy, crowded or difficult service but we have finally got hold of these carriages.

“They will be put into service over the next two weeks and then the balance, another 24, will come in January and February,  so there is some good news on the way.”

Question 3: Trains from London to Rugeley stopping early and offloading passengers

Asked Ben: “My biggest bugbear isn’t things going wrong as they can do – but that when the network is in meltdown they insist on stopping services early and leaving in some cases hundreds stranded – often with no trains running behind them. This happens on the Cross City line (stopping at Blake St before Lichfield) and the Chase line (stopping Hednesford before Rugeley). What’s going on?

Answer:

“The Chase Line was timetabled into a long distance service to and from Euston, so passengers from Rugeley could get down to Euston. It’s a stopping service, which means any problems on that line have a knock on impact – losing a minute or two here or there, and then it gets into the Coventry corridor which is a very narrow part of the track into New Street, can lose more time,” said Mr Camp.

“By the time it gets into Hednesford they are having to turn the train around (so it can catch up lost time and head back towards London) – which is crazy. We have to offload passengers at Hednesford and put them onto buses.

“From December 15 we will resolve about half of that – we are going to have a new stopping service from Rugeley going down to Birmingham International, the old style shuttle service, which will go once an hour. Then from May it will go about twice an hour.”

Question 4: Misery for travellers with autism, anxiety, claustraphobia and other ‘hidden’ disabilities and conditions

We were contacted by Mary, who says she can no longer risk travelling by train into Birmingham because her autistic child finds delay and overcrowding too difficult to cope with. People with anxiety and panic disorders, stressed out commuters, and those with ‘hidden’ disabilities say travelling by train can be exceptionally challenging – and when platforms are crowded and seats taken it’s difficult to have the courage to make a case for why you are more in need of a seat than anyone else. What does the service offer for Mary and other challenged travellers?

Answer:

“I have spoken about new carriages coming in and new trains on way, but we also have an accessibility team and schemes in place where vulnerable customers can apply for special cards for help on the platform and can pre book assistance on line.

“It’s something we are really focussed on. Passenger assistance will help, along with train carriages and new trains, and there are times of day that are better for travel.

“We are trying our best and have a dedicated team looking at this issue.”

There is also a team working on how best to supply information ahead of travelling,” he said. This would particularly help more vulnerable passengers see if there are any delays or cancellations before they start their journey.

“We have an accessibility panel and would be very happy to hear from anyone who can contribute to that,” said Mr Camp. Contact West Midlands Railway’s customer service team for more information.

Question 5: Overcrowding on the peak time Birmingham to Lichfield service, along with inaccurate on-platform information

Paul asked: “I board at platform 8 from Birmingham New Street to Lichfield…the information board regularly shows the incoming train will be six carriages, only for a three train carriage to arrive. This is frustrating if you have lined up at either end expecting a bigger train – and it is also so packed they can’t get everyone on board. This is very, very, very frustrating and has been going on for months. What can you do about it?

Answer:

“I can understand why people are annoyed. The platform information announcements are operated by Network Rail, so we are talking to our colleagues there to ensure to make sure these announcements are fit for purpose to resolve this issue. We are looking at that right away.

Passengers wait at Snow Hill for news after train cancellations
The other issue is about getting capacity right on the Cross City line, which is currently affected by a refit programme to ensure all toilets are accessible – with carriages being taken out of service on a rolling basis, he said.

“From 2020-21 we do have new trains coming in, bringing tens of thousands of new seats to the Cross City line.”

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Christmas 2019

Question 5: Why is compensation so ‘paltry’?

Season ticket holder Scott has made three claims for delays over 15 mins and received 10p, 13p and 24p in compensation. He asks: ‘what’s the point?’

Answer:

“We would obviously rather have a service that was right in the first place. Our Delay Repay scheme is now improved so pays out on 15 minute delays. Compensation is a reflection of local fares, which are fairly good value for money, so it is a proportion of a relatively low fare. But we know for those with season tickets it can be difficult.

We want to get to a position where compensation is automatically delivered via the Swift card, he said.

But in the meantime – “we are trying to put in a compensation package for season ticket customers in the new year. We are going through the process of agreeing that this week – and that will be over and above the Delay Repay scheme. We hope we can get that out before Christmas.”

Question 6: What hope for better services over the Christmas period?

<

p dir=”ltr”>Answer:

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p dir=”ltr”>The new timetable comes into force on December 15 – “it will not be a silver bullet. It will alleviate some of the problems, along with new carriages and the compensation package.

The company is also working closely with Network Rail, who are responsible for the tracks and signals. Around 70% or more of delays and cancellations are due to signal failures or incidents on the tracks, which are outside the control of West Midlands Railway, said Mr Camp.

“There is a lot of work going on to resolve issues and working with Network Rail. The Network Rail team has changed in the region recently and is much more customer focussed.”

Question 7: Looking into the distance, will HS2 make any difference to local services?

Answer:

“We feel HS2 will be a complementary service, will resolve pressure on the West Coast Line and offer more capacity. We think it’s a good thing and will relieve pressures.”

You can find out how your services are affected by checking out the timetable here.

Updates from the Cannock Chase Radio News Desk via Birmingham Mail - Rugeley News

From: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/west-midlands-railway-chief-speaks-17360839


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