Friday, June 10, 2011

Dear Andy Pitt


You're the Managing Director of South West Trains. You just issued an apology for ruining this week for thousands of commuters:
On Thursday evening, further major signalling problems in the Waterloo and Woking areas resulted in a significant amount of delays. We are aware that many of you will have spent several hours on trains last night while Network Rail engineers worked hard to rectify these major signalling faults.
As you may already be aware, the cause of the major signalling problems last night have now been confirmed by Network Rail as a deliberate act of attempted cable theft. We are extremely angry and frustrated that mindless and irresponsible vandalism meant that many of our passengers had a terrible journey last night.
But you missed the point, didn't you? Most people would accept that the theft of cable from the railway system is out of your control - it's Network Rail's job to provide track and signals. The point is that your company displayed a staggeringly poor incident response:
  • People who use Twitter were more informed than your staff. For about two hours the guard on my train had no information for us. What ancient technology do you use to communicate with the on-train staff?
  • People left trains because they were afraid of spending the night on a train. People needed food (and in some cases, insulin). Do you have a contingency plan in place to distribute food and water to people stranded on trains? What if people had been stuck overnight? We were lucky enough to have a canteen on our train, but that emptied fast.
  • The response of your staff to the threat of people leaving the train was to threaten them with arrest by the British Transport Police. Nice one. They left the train because they were concerned about spending the night on a crammed train (like the pregnant lady). Do you have contingency plans to evacuate vulnerable passengers? Do you expect people to remain on a train when you can't keep them informed of the situation?
  • At the end of a four-and-a-half hour train journey that should have taken thirty minutes, your station staff were outnumbered by police - and there weren't many police. Your people should be handing out refund forms and making sure that there was medical attention for those who needed it, like the guy who needed insulin, or the pregnant women who had to endure this journey.
You have a duty of care to ensure that we travel to and from work safely. You failed. I don't think your bland apology cuts it, do you?