Sunday, 23 August 2015

Frustrating Failure at Fleet?

Where Was the Management?

 Thursday 20th August : SouthWest Trains 

At approximately 0900 last Thursday there was a "tresspass incident" near Fleet station.
Meanwhile, at 1006 and further back down the same line ...
... the fbbs were happily and unsuspectingly departing from Axminster station to meet up with family at Shoreham by Sea.
And in case you wondered; the fbbs choose this route rather than via Salisbury and Fratton because it is more reliable and takes much the same amount of time. Did fbb say "more reliable"?

Owing to a trespass incident between Basingstoke and Fleet all lines are blocked. ·  09:11  - 20 Aug 2015

A little more was later revealed by the local press.
Pity they couldn't find a piccy of a current SouthWest Trains train. The unit above went to Gatwick Express.

Emergency services had to perform first aid on a a trespasser after they were found on the railway line near Fleet on Thursday (August 20). The incident caused the line between Basingstoke and Fleet to be closed for several hours and commuters continue to face delays as a result. South West Trains said the trespasser was removed at around midday, but the knock-on effect was felt throughout the day.

We're on site with @BTP dealing with a trespass incident. ... NEW: Delays between Basingstoke and Woking until at least  11:15  #Fleet

Furious rail passengers vented their anger on social media as many were left stranded on trains.

Many passengers took to Twitter to express their anger. One said: “We’re melting in the train. Not fun with 4 very bored kids.”

Another warned: “I nearly cried when paying £14.50 to park. Over £100 on a show we may miss and train fare.”

One passenger asked South West Trains (SWT) if there was any chance of a refund on his Ashes test match ticket, while another said people were getting into groups for taxis and paying hundreds of pounds because they would otherwise be stranded with no estimated time of arrival.

The passenger added: “Sorry, a terribly handled incident. Lines were blocked for over 2 hours - plenty of time to get replacement bus services going."

It is unwise to speculate but you can't help wondering? In the good old days the principal was always to get the track clear straight away, removing the "problem" from the running lines. This principle seems to have been abandoned in favour of an over-reactive application of "crime scene restrictions" to he detriment of the majority of delayed passengers.

Where was the management?

Thus it was that, at about 1130, the fbbs came to a shuddering halt on the approaches to Andover station, due 1137. And there they sat.

Meanwhile, No 3 son was basking on the beach at Shoreham-by-Sea monitoring the old crusties' progress.
He was deeply mystified because he couldn't find the fbb's train from Axminster to Waterloo.

Because it wasn't there!

Because there was no such train. It had already been decided to terminate it at Basingstoke. (Hence 1006 from Axminster to "Basingstoke" on the screen above.) But note dear reader, this on-line revelation was at   1130 . Announcements on the train continued with many apologies but no mention of getting the heave-ho at beautiful Stoke of the Basing kind!

Where was the management?

Eventually, and nearly one hour late, the fbbs crawled towards their as yet unrevealed ejection point, all followed from the East Sussex beachside monitoring station.
As the fbbs approached the platforms, the guard finally revealed the hitherto secret truth that she had just received from her "control"; followed by,

"For onward travel, please refer to the staff on the platform."

And there was the staff on the platform; viz Kev the hi-viz vested train dispatcher ...
... who, of course, knew no more than was displayed on the departure screens ...

 1235 London Waterloo       Delayed 

... and we know how helpful they are in times of crisis.

Where was the management?

But the fbbs were OK. The next train into platform 3 was the delayed 1235, calling at Clapham Junction. RESULT! It was announced almost immediately. Fine for Clapham Junction and Waterloo passengers from the far west but definitely not fine for those due to change at Woking.

So arrange for the already late 1235 to make an additional stop?

You must be Woking joking. Tough cheese, you'll have to wait for a train that is scheduled to stop there.

Where was the management?

Gloom followed gloom. The train in front was stopped by a communication cord pull; more crawling. Then the guard gleefully announced all the other lines from London that had a "normal service" (Whilst trying hard not to snigger); then warning us with ponderous and apologetic tones that there were delays of 20 minutes on lines to and from Victoria. Guess where the fbb's train to Shoreham by Sea was coming from?

Arrival at Clapham Jct was a modest 90 minutes late and just in time to miss the 1422 south! fbb felt a strong compct to scream. His brain had ceased to fct. He was much in need of spiritual ct. But hold fast there Cap'n! The screens for platform 13 were showing a delayed 1422 expected at 1429. RESULT!

Only 99 minutes late at Shoreham by Sea. Only!
Happily, sons plus limmo were waiting and, on arrival at No 3's pad, flagons of tea and a huge Belgian Bun ...
... soon erased the horrors of the journey. (Actually 1½ Belgian buns and a Marmite sandwich; there being no time to stock up with comestibles at Clapham!)

Could SouthWest Trains have done better? The impression was that huge efforts were being applied to "recovering the service" as a technical exercise but very little effort was being applied to considering the passengers.

That wouldn't be because of stringent financial penalties incurred by SouthWest Trains for "delay minutes" would it?

And, surprise, surprise, there were no announcements explaining the compensation scheme.

Where was the Management? Administrating, yes; managing, not really.
Deep Sympathies ...
... for the families of those who lost their lives in the plane crash at the Shoreham Air Show yesterday. fbb was sitting in the sunshine outside No 3 son's pad on Shoreham Beach and saw it happen from a couple of miles away. A loop the loop, followed by a pall of black smoke and a plane that did not reappear. Very disturbing and very sad. There is plenty of unpleasant detail on-line.

Today's air show is, understandably, cancelled
 Third brummie map blog : Monday 24th August 


  1. "Over two hours . . . plenty of time to get replacement bus services going".
    Oh Good Grief! As usual, the bus and coach industry is expected to get the rail industry out of the mire at short notice. Let's look in a little more detail, shall we?

    1. Surprisingly, bus anc coach companies do not have drivers and vehicles sitting around doing nothing just in case "something" happens on the trains.
    2. There may well be vehicles sitting idle in school holidays in a yard somewhere, but chances are that they're awaiting maintenance ready for September and the schools return, so they won't be immediately available.
    3. Drivers like holidays in school holiday weeks as well, so they can go away with their families. So . . . . probably no drivers immediately available either. Part-time drivers often have second jobs, so can't just "drop everything" like part-time firemen or lifeboat crews.
    4. So . . . in summary . . . actually there are no buses/coaches or drivers to be obtained at short notice.

    This was a trespass incident, that reasonably could have been expected to be cleared in a couple of hours, and indeed was so cleared by around 1200. Sometimes, it is better to just stop the service for a period, and then to restart and tidy up. Salisbury line trains are often terminated at Basingstoke, as they are only 3 (or maybe 6) coaches, and it is better for an 8 (or 12) coach train to take up the path. This also means that the diesel can be sent down towards Exeter to return that service to timetable more quickly.
    I will comment that, as I've found in the past in similar situations on SWT, information is sometimes disseminated to train crew too late. I was on a train that was terminated at Basingstoke with (literally) one minute's notice, to the dismay of the guard, who made it very clear in her announcements that she simply hadn't been told in advance of the plan. It would be better to be told "it is likely that the train would be terminated early" and then the train extended to the original destination later; that's bad news followed by better news, which is always good news!

    And finally . . . . . if train companies would like to pay for half-a-dozen buses and drivers to be on "hot spare" status, then we, as bus companies, will gladly take the money!!
    Even in London, where the Underground train set breaks with alarming regularity, this was considered 15 years ago (10 buses and drivers on call 0600-2400), but the cost versus likely usage meant the plan never got going.

    Ultimately, the poo will hit the round bladed thingy every now and then, and we as human beings need to learn to chill out and accept an inconvenience to our travels. After all, the fbb's did get to Shoreham eventually, and I bet the mugga and bun tasted all the better for the wait!!

  2. The cost of having buses on "hot standby" is so trivial compared with train company finances that it should be standard practice and written into franchise contracts. Doesn't South West Trains have a rail replacement fleet?

    1. At least £500 per bus per day, probably more for London area TOCs like SWT given the last job advert from RR bus drivers had pay rates 25% higher than normal provincial bus drivers, for the drivers (as the delay tends to be finding the drivers then getting them to the buses before you can get the bus to the station) so not including the cost of the buses themselves which would be a decent sized bit on top. So we are talking somewhere between £750 & £1000 per day per bus in cost and since one double-decker would effectively equate to the load of one standard carriage in terms of capacity to have any affect at all at times like this even having 20 (approx £20k per day so somewhere around £7million per year just for 20 buses) on permanent standby would barely make a dent for an incident like this (it would basically shift the passengers of two fairly full trains).

      SWT don't have a rail replacement fleet as such, the local Stagecoach operators (Stagecoach South for SWT & Stagecoach Lincolnshiire for East Midlands Trains) retain a small fleet of older coaches/buses to assist with rail replacement and painted in a version of rail livery. They aren't truly dedicated and will assist with other work as needed (such as schools) and are crewed from the normal pool of Stagecoach bus drivers (i.e: there is no dedicated full-time drivers)

  3. Stagecoach South has half-a-dozen buses in SWT livery that are used for booked replacement work at weekends and on late evenings, and are staffed as such. I don't believe that they have any booked work at other times. However, the staffing issue still remains . . . . bus companies do have standby drivers in some cases, but generally only one/two per day at a larger depot. Any staff casualities will normally be covered by calling in a driver on a RDW, or overtime from drivers already at work.
    ((by the by - I don't believe that many TOC's have standby staff at all . . . witness the number of "cancelled due to lack of staff" trains!!)).

    In re standby buses - where would you suggest SWT stationed them? London - Exeter with branches to Portsmouth and Weymouth is a pretty big patch to cover! Also, in re costs . . . . one bus plus two drivers on daily standby (assuming a 10 year old bus) would cost something over £100K EACH per annum; so around £1m for 10 buses that might be used (say) 25 times per year. For the disruption at Fleet, assuming the line was closed Basingstoke (R) Woking, you'd need probably 10 buses per hour to ferry the passengers around the blockade in one direction, plus another 10 buses in the other direction. This all starts to get both complicated and expensive, and would mean SWT staff trying to organise an emergency bus service as well as dealing with everything else.

    A little story to end on . . . . whilst about my lawful occasions in July I travelled from London to Ipswich. For some reason, the line was closed between Colchester and Manningtree, and we were put onto a coach to Manningtree (for which we waited around 30 minutes). All well and good so far, but the coach took 30 minutes, and we ended up catching the first train through the block anyway!
    Some times just sitting tight is the best answer!!

  4. Of course, turning trains round at Basingstoke means that at times of disruption, the line west of there has a service which runs as normally as it can. I'm sure that had the FBBs been stranded at Exeter due to all trains being stuck at the other end of the line, an equally thunderous blog demanding that trains trun round at Basingstoke would have resulted.

  5. Thanks Ian. I have no problem with trains turning at Basingstoke (provided that they wait for an equivalent departure from Waterloo!) but I DO object to on-train staff not being provided with the full information and/or not giving it out. I also object to lack of knowledgeable staff on platforms. If No 3 son knew what was happening, why didn't the staff?
    I also object to delays being prolonged because of the need to "investigate" and "report".