Sunday 8 December 2013

Customer Service or Dis-service [the sequel]

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring

So wrote Alexander Pope in 1709, subsequently universally misquoted as "A little knowledge ...", in his "Essay on Criticism". The Muses (in ancient Greek culture) were considered the source of all poetic lyrics and myths. The spring in the Pierian mountains (in Greece) ...
... was one of their sacred wells of inspiration. The Muses were said to have frolicked about the Pierian springs soon after their birth. And we all enjoy a good frolick, oooh missis!

Roughly translated into everyday terms, Pope is saying, "make sure you have ALL the information before opening your big mouth.

Yesterday fbb didn't!

Mrs fbb attends a monthly prayer and bible study day at Wimbledon; easily accessed via the 0629 from Axminster (change at Woking) and returning by connecting into the 1620 from Waterloo; 1903 back at Axminster. £35 oap day return. This trip has been dogged by problems on the return journey. In July there was a signal failure at Waterloo; in October a suicide. So fbb was conscious that he needed to get it right for his beloved spouse THIS time.

From previously obtained info, your ever-prepared blogger knew that there was disruption in the evenings with trains diverted via Southampton. The high-level outout rain would be at work:-
So all looks OK for Saturday 7th. There was a short drive from home to the station and a successful manipulation of the ticket machine; something of a major challenge to an elderly intellect on a damp, dark Saturday at 0615!
Thence on to the platform. No 0629 on the indicators

Yes, there was a timetable poster showing the 0629; yes there was a poster advertising a disrupted Sunday service; yes there was no sign of the 0629; yes the booking office was closed.

All other departures were shown on the electronic indicators but the first up train was 0724. Nothing for it but to wait for the 0724. At 0650 the ticket office man arrived to open up for 0700. "Hello," he said cheerfully, "you're early!"

"We were rather hoping to catch a train," replied fbb with an unsuccessful attempt at sneering cynicism, "the 0629 to Waterloo." 

"Ah, no, there isn't one today; it's  a special service because of engineering works."

"And how would be expected to know that?"

"It's on our web site and I've got a poster in the waiting room."

Of course, the waiting room is locked and barred until the man arrives! And fbb had been really stupid for not checking beforehand. Or was he so stupid? After a coffee and a bacon sarney back at base, fbb went to the the SouthWest Trains web site.
Yes, the West of England line was offering a "Good Service". So next, click on the engineering icon ...
... which confirms fbb's pre-obtained "learning". Clicky on the piccy ...

Between Monday 28 October and Thursday 19 December 2013 and Monday 6 January and Thursday 30 January 2014 we will be undertaking major track reliability improvement work on the lines between Basingstoke and Salisbury. These works will take place on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Work will not be taking place on Friday evenings or over the weekends.

Hmmm? In his rapidly approaching decrepitude, fbb has learned one thing about large corporate web sites. They are invariably managed by people who don't know what they are doing and who never (for example) travel by train. If the man at Axminster said it was on the web site, one of the myriads of folk playing with their confusers at SWT Towers ...

... will have told him. So try ...
... and select from another list ...
... entitled "December Summary"; scroll through acres of text and, eventually, there it is:-

The lines between Salisbury and Yeovil Junction will be closed all day Saturday and Sunday for track renewal work. Some train services will be diverted between Salisbury and Yeovil Junction with longer journey times. Remaining trains will only run between London Waterloo and Salisbury, so there will be a reduced train service between Yeovil Junction and Exeter. Replacement bus services will run between Salisbury and Yeovil Junction.

So it is because of this disruption between Salisbury and Yeovil Junction that there will be no engineering work between Basingstoke and Salisbury. Two different bits of engineering, managed by different bits of SWT, publicised on different bits of the web-site and adding up to disruption every evening Monday to Friday and all weekends. BRILLIANT!

To summarise:-

On the platform at Axminster Station : poster for normal service.
In the (locked) waiting room : poster for abnormal service.
On line summary headline : Good Service
On line engineering icon : no disruption at weekends
On line very well hidden : massive disruption at the weekend.

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring

In fact, as the man revealed, trains between Exeter and Yeovil would be running every TWO hours (instead of hourly) and then diverted via Westbury with buses between Yeovil and Salisbury.
So trains from Axminster at 0551 and 0725 (NO 0629!); more depressingly, trains from Waterloo at 1520 and 1720 (NO 1620). This would mean that Mrs fbb would arrive (via 0724) late for her "do" and late back (via 1720) into the arms of here ever loving husband. This was a bridge train too far! But she had already bought her ticket.

"No problem," said the very, very nice SWT man, "I will refund your ticket."

And he did. No messing, no debate; a simple, sensible full refund.

And all fbb wanted from East Coast was to be able to use the tickets he had bought! See yesterday's blog (read again). But East Coast don't tolerate mistakes, however minor, thy make you pay again.
 fbb's Advent Calendar for 2013 
Sunday 8th December

Smooth skinned Jacob and hairy twin Esau;
Father goes blind, not sure what he saw.
Jacob cheating with mum's connivance
Using a sheepskin as a contrivance,
Conned his dad to get at his wealth
Despite old Isaac's increasing bad health.
Jaqob-El (Jacob) is the first s Bible character to appear in literature dating from ancient times but from other non-biblical sources. Opinion is, as usual, divided as to whether it is the same man but it looks very likely Having survived his old man's assassination attempt, Isaac went on to marry Rebecca and produce twins. They did not get on!

As Isaac went blind, Rebecca encourged Jacob to cheat his father into thinking that he, Jacob (and smooth) was actually Esau (and hairy). The sheepskin con worked and Jacob inherited the loot in place of Esau. Naughty Jake!

In fact the life of Jacob was mostly an immoral and irresponsible mess; yet he became the third great hero of Judaism. The Bible is full of unlikely characters used by God to fulfil His divine plans.

The Christmas shepherds were about the lowest and most reviled members of  society imaginable. The "wise men" were probably Zoroastrian astrologers (Magi) but certainly were not worshippers of God. The Christmas story, however, is about changing wrong lives into good.
 Next Bus Blog : Monday 9th December 


  1. I see what happened - you read the information in the 'special' box for works over a wider period but forgot (or assumed you didn't need) to check the weekly 'engineering works' info. An unfortunate coincidence is that this weekend both hold relevant info and the 'special' box's reassurance about no weekend works is, while strictly correct, absent of a helpful cross-reference to other work affecting the same line.

    Incidentally, the December Summary holds the useful full timetable for the line for Saturday and Sunday with replacement buses (linked in your blog) but in the date-specific entry (using the calendar) these timetables are absent and you are directed to the National Rail journey planner. I much prefer the timetable as it gives a clearer picture of the service across the day / weekend, and what bits are 'different from normal', both of which are unclear from a date-and-time-specific journey planner query.

  2. Fbb - a fairly straightforward procedure here would have avoided your problem. By booking the ticket in advance on the SWT website it would have told you that there was no 0629. Because the online rail booking systems require you to nominate a train, even for a fare type that is non-reservable or flexible, it would have shown you that the train was not running. Once a booking has been made the ticket can be printed out from any machine in the country that has a suitable printer (which is most staffed stations) at any time.
    Whilst it is true that this won't guard against last minute operational cancellations you would at least be able to make travel arrangements around planned ones for engineering.
    I would also recommend looking at one of the open source timetables, such as
    where you can see the whole picture of a service.

  3. Agreed folks. But how do people cope if (a) thy are not "on-line" or (b) can't (time factor) or (c) forget! A one-stop page on he web-site would help a bit?

  4. Today, the summary on the SWT home page is showing the West of England Line as "Part Closure", rather than "Good Service". I guess it should have been showing that yesterday as well. But even if it's correct, the summary is really only useful for seeing if there's a last-minute problem (same with JourneyCheck). For checking times before the day, I use the SWT online journey planner, but without actually buying a ticket in advance. It's certainly more difficult for those without access to the website - if only we could phone our local station to check times and fares....

  5. Yes, calling your local station was a possibility I think until probably around the 1980s. Then I think there were a large number of more centralised locations, then Telephone Enquiry Bureaux (in BR Southern Region South West they were at least Salisbury (?), Bournemouth, Basingstoke, Portsmouth, Southampton (where I joined in about 1991), then all those merged into Southampton over a period of years, then National Rail Enquiries was introduced which SWT at Southampton had the contract for for a while, then (after I left) I think they lost that and it went to India. Not sure where the calls are answered now!