Snow may melt, but Southeastern still doesn’t learn

I was out of town for most of Saturday, but got home in the wee small hours of Sunday morning to see much of the snow that’d bedeviled or delighted us over the past few days had gone from my corner of SE London. Not all of it, but enough to get points unfrozen, third rails buzzing, and trains to start moving again.

So, how are the trains running on Sunday, Southeastern? When’s the next train coming?

AAAAAARRRRRGGGHHHHH!

I think this proves, once and for all, that nobody in a senior decision-making capacity at Southeastern ever travels on their network. After all the grief they’ve had this year, surely by now they must realise is what people want is timely, accurate information; not some generic message that probably doesn’t answer the question they’re asking?

Because the best way to show people a normal Sunday service is in operation is, surely, to prove that it’s running by showing their next train is coming on time. But instead, someone’s decided to override this useful information – remember, most lines only run half-hourly services on Sundays – by slapping up a generic message instead. Why?

It’s not as if those boards are incapable of showing the details of the first train coming, with more generic service information on the bottom line – this happens a lot at Charlton during engineering works. That might be a more sensible solution. But to switch off the next train information altogether is baffling. Especially when the boards were working fine on Saturday morning during tougher conditions.

The theme of this, and the other posts on Southeastern this week, has less been about the service itself, more that despite the fact that communication has never been easier, the company seems absolutely incapable of it when times are tough.

From providing basic information for customers, to appearances on radio and television, they’ve been found utterly wanting. Southeastern is very, very lucky London’s media is so easily distracted away from the south-east of the capital – a spokeswoman’s hapless appearance on BBC South East Today should have been seen by those making decisions which also affect a great slice of London.

Incredibly, Southeastern is promoting this interview on its website“We explain that we’re sorry we’ve not been able to run a full service for passengers in the past week and realise many customers would not have been able to travel to work at all.” Well, no shit, Sherlock!

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way – passengers and train operators could work together to share information at times of disruption. A brilliant post at Noisy Decent Graphics outlines how train companies could have “a genuinely helpful use for hyper local, citizen journalism style reporting”.

Finally, I’m grateful to the reader who sent me this:

I was at their London entrance (London Bridge) at about 35 to 4 hoping to leave at a quarter to 5… it soon filled… 5 o’clock came – a quarter after passed – still we were kept at London. On asking the cause, no satisfactory reason was given. At half past five we moved and having procedeed 20 or 30 yards the whole train returned to hook on to the half past five train and we got to Deptford at a few minutes before six.

No intimation was given to those who might be in a hurry, no explanations, no apology… the concern has got your money, and they laugh at you.

That was from The Times on 17 February 1838. Perhaps nothing ever changes.

UPDATE: 01:00AM MONDAY – it looks like Southeastern was dishing out crap info well into Sunday evening, even at Lewisham where the service is a little complicated…

(Thanks to @tajasel for the tip-off about Charlton station’s boards, which aren’t showing well for cameras in the sunshine…)

6 comments

  1. Fortunatley I didn’t have to travel today but I did take a look at journey check and saw lots of ‘This train has been cancelled due to no train crew being available’ messages. Yup, it’s back to the normal Southeastern service we all know and hate.

  2. There’s only one thing for it. SET needs to be forced to open up their current train position information to anyone who wants it via an open-source API. Then we can produce our own current train service apps for ourselves, instead of being made to eat the garbage that SET serves up for us.

    What SET gives us isn’t worth the time of day.

    It’s the lack of information that’s the killer, not the fact that they can’t run the trains in the snow.

  3. Thanks for the shoutout and you’ve summed up exactly why I tweeted that. After the previous week of not knowing when a train would turn up, if it would at all, it was incredibly frustrating to rock up to a station and have no information on when the next train would arrive.

    Instead of listening to passenger’s reasonable requests to be informed of the situation, they instead decided to spin at us about how they’d resumed a “normal service”.

    A check of the timetable on a nearby notice board suggested that 2 trains should have gone past in the time I was standing there (20 mins). No trains came through from the other direction either.

    If I could have fit the hashtag #propaganda into the tweet I would have. I really dislike being taken fro granted.

  4. I had a similar issue on Saturday – thanks to a blackberry I saw National Rail live departures had trains running fairly normally from Herne Hill to Victoria. On arrival at the station all the screens showed a similar message to one shown in your blog with nothing about the actual times of trains. The booking office was shut – people came up on to the platform saw no trains shown on the screen and went away. A member of staff eventually appeared and shouted down the platform that next train would arrive in 5 mins. What happened to the PA system who knows.

    So on a day when trains seemed to be running reasonably well the railways still lost money because it cant get the basics right.

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