On 2nd April 2013, a newly-upgraded Reading station was unveiled and handed over to the public. 40 minutes late by Network Rail, due to overrunning engineering works.
Whether it was Network Rail or First Great Western at fault, we may never find out. By the end of the week, it looks like Network Rail has held its hands up and admitted blame. There is a constant game of compensate-me-compensate-you that goes on between these multi-million pound contractually-obliged equivalents of school children. Each pays the other for disruptions they have caused.
First Great Western (FGW) has cancelled 25 trains a day through Reading because of an “over-optimistic” timetable during a station upgrade, it said.
However, this is what passengers experienced:
— Trevor Diamond (@trevorid) April 2, 2013
New station same fucked up service. Thanks #fgw
— Steve Costello (@CostelloSteve) April 2, 2013
— Frank Morris (@MorrisFrank) April 2, 2013
Not only do @FGW charge a small fortune to commute, they then provide such a poor service that a 30 min journey has taken nearly 4 hours
— Shannen Jones (@ShannenLJ) April 2, 2013
— Hayley Bowen (@NurseHayleyB) April 2, 2013
Remember, the engineering works on 2nd April overran by 40 minutes. You must ask questions as to why disruptions carried on for so long, and why no contingency was in place. Many Twitter-abusing passengers cheekily predicted this would happen.
All this on the day the First Group share price shot up.
Network Rail themselves took responsibility for the late handover, so several days after the event, why was everything still broken? 4 days of disruptions over the Easter period, followed by normal running. That is what was promised.
However, as things started to go rapidly wrong on 2nd April, First Great Western had a golden opportunity to show passenger focus, compensate if necessary, and pull out all the stops to avoid compounding the problem. We do believe everyone worked hard to get things ready for 2nd April, but when it became obvious that The Fat Lady had appeared on Stars In Their Eyes, FGW Management needed to do more than cancel services and shorten trains. It may have required some overtime for staff (within reason!), or complaining to Dodgy Norman to ensure trains were made up of as many carriages as possible. It may have required a charm offensive – free coffee and tea. Perhaps a 4-finger Kit Kat, just to ensure passengers did not think FGW was showing them 2 fingers.
There are all manner of things that could have been done, within reason. It seems the only option on the table was to decide on how many fare-paying passengers to disrupt. It shows a terrible lack of contingency planning, and an unfounded hope that everything would be OK. We don`t know a lot about these things, but imagine that optimism is probably not the bread and butter of running a railway.
Compensation arrived in the form of a free return journey, and services were disrupted further still. 4 days became a week. The week became almost 11 days. Who knows if FGW will ever see another opportunity like this to sway public opinion towards FGW and away from Network Rail. We can be sure they missed this peach. But when season ticket fares are already in the bank, and there is the prospect of a bundle of compensation cash from Network Rail, who knows. Will passengers be overjoyed when they receive a 5% discount on their next season ticket renewal of several hundred – or thousand – pounds?
Here is the result of Network Rail seriously messing up, and First Great Western taking the easy option, to revise, revise again, and revise (a third time) services. To be clear, passengers pay FGW for the service and should not care who causes the issues, even if these events started as a 100% Network Rail screw up.
— David Bishop (@davidjbishop) April 4, 2013
@FGW Thanks for the sympathy. Will we get help to pack people into the carriages? Having air gaps between us is inefficient & unprofitable
— Tiro (@TiroFur) April 4, 2013
Passengers appreciating the reduced delays and congestion at the new Reading station pic.twitter.com/SidnOiYNzM
— Worst Late Western (@worstlatewstrn) April 4, 2013
@FGW where are your staff? You have reduced your service thus should have a ton of spare drivers! And long trains! These were PLANNED works!
— Pipsqueak (@lil_pippa) April 4, 2013
Read on, dear readers!