Rail companies – including but not limited to Southeastern – seem to have problems giving passenger accurate and up to date information when things go wrong.
We’ve been looking at the information Southeastern supplied on Twitter during the disruption to services through London Bridge on the evening of Tuesday 18 November.
Accurate and up to date information to passengers, particularly during times of disruption, is crucial – and the lack of it is a major cause of passenger dissatisfaction. Good timely information can help passengers delay their journeys or use alternative routes. It also gives some reassurance that the problem is known and that something is being done about it.
Southeastern say that they have invested in technology and organisation to improve the flow of information to passengers. This has included:
- setting up a “Joint Control Room” with Network Rail so that the people responsible for the track and for the trains are in the same room and can talk to one another.
- installing a multi-million pound computer system called “DARWIN” so that everyone has “a single version of the truth”.
- issuing Blackberrys to station staff and drivers in 2011 to ensure they can get up-to-date information immediately. (They are soon to get tablets.)
- a “Twitter team” now on a 24/7 basis and co-located in the Control Room.
On Tuesday 18 November there were emergency speed restrictions between London Bridge and New Cross after a driver reported a “rough ride”. There were also two broken down trains at London Bridge and a fallen tree on the line between Paddock Wood and Headcorn. Throughout this time the Southeastern website said that there was “minor disruption”, and had no further information; it did not switch to the ‘major incident’ mode with key information on the home page.
We have looked at Twitter from the start of the incident (probably shortly before 1700) to when Southeastern declared it closed at 2353. We have analysed 661 “tweets”, including 100 from Southeastern. This shows:
- Passengers knew that there were 15 minute delays – and that they were due to speed restrictions – before Southeastern said anything. Since the imposition of the speed restriction must have been known to the Network Rail personnel in the control room at the moment it was introduced, if not before, it is hard to explain why it took at least 30 minutes for Southeastern to say anything on Twitter.
- Southeastern kept saying that there were “safety checks” and did not give any further explanation until over 4 hours from the start of the incident. Even then they did not explain what the problem was and why immediate action had been necessary.
- Southeastern failed to give any estimate of how long it would take to restore services. The message was simply to await further information. That does not help passengers.
- Staff performance at the London stations varied. Passengers reported unhelpful staff and missing or confusing announcements at Waterloo East and some problems at Cannon Street. On the other hand announcements at Charing Cross were praised several times.
- London Bridge was in chaos – and passengers were worried about the level of overcrowding on the platforms. The lack of information and effective crowd management when there were 6 platforms open does not bode well for incidents after 11 January when there will only be 2 Southeastern platforms in operation.
- Several trains missed stops, presumably to catch up time. Passengers reported poor information on trains and having to leave trains onto already crowded platforms at London Bridge. There was suspicion that stops were being missed in order to “massage” Southeastern’s already poor performance statistics.
- It took 2½ hours to announce that rail tickets would be accepted on London Underground and DLR services (but not buses). Even then some staff told passengers that tickets would not be accepted.
- There were a number of comments about the Southeastern social media team.
In short Southeastern yet again fell short of giving passengers accurate, up to date and actionable information.
However in the best British tradition there was a bit of black humour
In the following pages we set out the relevant evidence with a commentary.