More train trouble on the way
Bristol Evening Post: 13 December 2007
The managing director of First Great Western has refused to rule out further rush-hour chaos on the trains this week.
Andrew Haines told the Evening Post that teething problems with this week's new timetable could take some time to iron out.
But he said that issues of overcrowding, delays and cancellations of services had stemmed from problems beyond the operator's control. Mr Haines, who took over from his predecessor Alison Forster just 11 weeks ago, apologised to customers who, in some cases, have been unable to get on to trains this week.
Bristol Temple Meads and stations on the North Somerset line have witnessed chaotic scenes in rush hour for the past three days, as passengers have fought to get on to cramped carriages.
The scenes have echoed similar problems suffered a year ago when the previous timetable was introduced with a series of controversial changes. That led to protests including a fare strike by commuters.
This time around, campaigners have pointed the finger at a shortage of carriages on some services. They also say a new system which is seeing long trains stopping at small stations, only opening a limited number of doors, is causing delays as passengers fight their way on and off.
Many services have also been delayed and several have been cancelled due to signal failures and unforeseen track repairs.
Mr Haines promised that First Great Western, which is starting the second year of a 10-year franchise to operate the region's rail services, was doing all it could to solve the problems and asked customers to remain patient.
Although he said he was "very disappointed" with the level of disruption, he also pointed out that most of the new timetable had been introduced without serious problems.
Mr Haines said: "I have to put my hand up and offer a big, unequivocal and unreserved apology to the public because people shouldn't be inconvenienced like this.
"I have been very disappointed with the level of disruption but there is no substitute for experience and the new arrangements will take some getting used to.
"What's really encouraging is that we're progressing with improving matters - we're meeting twice a day, reviewing the issues at the very top level.
"I think the timetable has got a lot of strength and while I'm not going to promise the problems will be solved overnight, things should improve soon."
Mr Haines explained the reasons behind delays at stations where passengers have been fighting to get on trains through only two doors.
He said: "The selective door operation is a safety device which reduces the risk of people getting off the train and landing on the tracks. In some places it has gone quite smoothly but in others we've had delays at every station, which have made some services run very late.
"Things should be better in the next few days but it's been disappointing to see the level of disruption this has caused."
He also claimed the rest of the timetable had generated some positive feedback.
He said: "It's much better than this time last year and it's also much better than the harbingers of doom were predicting but unfortunately we've been the victim of occasional technical failures.
"The feedback that we're getting from stakeholders is that there's a lot of good stuff out there and that we've been prepared better than ever before. In the lifetime of a timetable three days is not a long time but I realise to some passengers this week must have been very difficult.
"It needs some time to bed down but I am confident that it will get better."
Mr Haines said the reasons for the cramped trains were because of cancellations resulting from infrastructure problems with the track and signals.
But he said more rolling stock would help First Great Western - part of a transport group which also runs most of Bristol's buses and made £195.8 million profit last year - improve services in the region.
He urged local authorities to work together to secure new engines and carriages from the Government's Department for Transport.
He said: "We'd love more rolling stock and I've been talking with Bristol City Council as well as the other interested parties on this issue. We lost out to the North last time because there has been significant passenger growth in areas like Manchester and Leeds.
"But the Government has made 1,300 new trains available over the next seven years and we've got to make a concerted case for getting our hands on some of that.
"We want to assure the public that we are working really hard to put things right."
CASE STUDY: ON THE WESTON LINE
Bristol Evening Post: 13 December 2007
Fed up commuters from North Somerset say the new timetable introduced to help ease chaos on the trains has not "made a jot of difference".
People picking up the train from Nailsea and Backwell station said First Great Western was still packing people into carriages like sardines and running late trains despite its recent changes to timetables, which were intended to improve services.
Some passengers complained that they were left waiting on the platform for more than an hour this week because of delayed services.
James Steckle, who lives in Nailsea and runs a catering company, travels regularly to Weston-super-Mare.
He said the changes had not improved his journey.
Mr Steckle, 32, of Spindleberry Grove, said: "The train is always packed and the train operators do not put enough carriages on.
"There was only one carriage on the train I went on yesterday morning and that was very busy - just jam packed."
On the 4.40pm train from Weston to Bristol last night, both carriages were packed as it pulled into Nailsea and Backwell station.
Lois Bowman, 20, of Nailsea, who was on board, said: "The services are no better, they are just the same as before.
"There were a lot of people stood up on the train and each seat was taken."
One traveller, however, did say the new services had been of benefit to her.
Student Rosie Tillotson, 15, uses the train to travel from Nailsea to Bedminster each day.
Miss Tillotson said: "I think the new service is much better. Before I had to go to Temple Meads from Nailsea and then get another train back to Bedminster as it didn't stop there. The new timetables make life much easier."
Commuter Lee Lloyd, pictured, took the photo of a packed First Great Western train used on our front page today.
It was taken as he travelled to work yesterday on the 7.27am Nailsea to Bristol Temple Meads service. Mr Lloyd said that anger and frustration among passengers threatened to boil over as the cancellation of an earlier service led to an ever-growing crowd waiting to board what, unsurprisingly, was a very crowded train. He said: "This is what I am paying £60 a month to use?
"No seat, late and severely and probably dangerously overcrowded."
The previous day, said Mr Lloyd, as a badly delayed service to Nailsea arrived at the platform at Temple Meads there was a scuffle between two men.
He said both were pushing to get on the train and each was shouting that they did not get on the train the previous night and were not missing it again.
Mr Lloyd said: "The train ended up leaving many people behind and was severely overcrowded.
"I have a four-month-old son and had I been with him I simply would have had to find another means of travel home.
"The train simply would not have been safe for any child to travel on!"
CASE STUDY: ON THE KEYNSHAM LINE
Bristol Evening Post: 13 December 2007
On a cold night, after a hard day, the last thing anyone needs is a prolonged and uncomfortable journey home.
So when last night's 17.49 to Weymouth rolled into Temple Meads a full 12 minutes early, who could blame the early arrivals at the station for getting on and bagging a seat?
After all, operator First Great Western had been warning of potential crushes on some local services even after launching its new, improved timetable earlier this week.
We waited on the platform and watched a steady stream of travellers board the two-car train. Some carried briefcases or laptops, others - not surprisingly - bore the spoils of Christmas shopping trips. More than one commuter had a folding bike.
With five minutes until departure, we got on the train. It was standing room only by this time, but was not unpleasantly crowded. The doors shut at 17.48 and we were off, right on time.
But commuters on the short journey to Keynsham said that since the new timetable was introduced this week, they had found the trains just as unreliable and unpunctual as they had been for the past year.
One showed a notebook detailing the problems he had encountered in recent days - cancelled, didn't stop, 12 minutes late, three minutes late, 13 minutes late, and so on.
Another said he believed the rail operators were distorting the figures to make the services seem more reliable by building more slack into journey times.
Sue Smith, 50, from Bitton, who works in an opticians, said she had heard about the overcrowding and was glad she and her daughter Pip, a trainee hairdresser, had managed to get a seat.
They were returning from a day's shopping in Cheltenham to mark Pip's 17th birthday. Pip takes the train from Keynsham to Bath for work and said those at busy times were often full.
It was not until about 20 minutes later, at Keynsham station, that we discovered why our train had not been such a "sardine can" as we had been led to expect.
Commuter Edmund Cannon, from Keynsham, said: "The 17.49 left at least a dozen people at Temple Meads. They were not allowed to get on the train."
Mr Cannon, 39, a lecturer at Bristol University, said only one train of the six he had caught between the city and his home town in the first three days of this week had been on time. But, he said, it had departed in spite of the carriage filling up with acrid smoke, causing some passengers to get off.
"I'd rather have seen some safety checks carried out and left a few minutes later," Mr Cannon said. The smoke disappeared after the guard opened the window, he added.
Mr Cannon conceded that First Great Western had increased the number of carriages into Bristol in the mornings, reducing the problems of a year ago when full trains regularly failed to pick up commuters in Keynsham.
"The trouble is that they've not increased capacity in the evenings, he added.