Linda McCord from Passenger Focus comments on disruption on the East Coast rail line over the Bank Holiday weekend

east_coast17:18 Tuesday 26th August 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: A difficult twenty four hours for rail users across Cambridgeshire; that’s probably an understatement for many. Overhead wire problems between Peterborough and Stevenage caused huge problems on the East Coast MainLine overnight on Monday and into this morning, some delays two hours long. .. Linda McCord is from the campaign group Passenger Focus. She gave me her reaction a little earlier.
LINDA MCCORD: Well it’s really disappointing to hear that there are delays, and particularly that there were delays yesterday during the Bank Holiday, when lots of passengers have been trying to get home, and of course today back in work. The main thing that we say around all of this disruption and delay is that as passengers we do understand that delays happen. What we do not forgive and have no tolerance of is not being kept informed. And it has been reported to us that some passengers for instance were on trains, and for over an hour did not get any information from the operator. That’s really not acceptable. As I said, we understand disruption, but we do not want to be caught up in confusion, particularly now as all of us have all of these gadgets that we can (use to) get in touch with people and let them know what is going on. So while yes, delays happen, what is not acceptable is for passengers not to be kept informed.
CHRIS MANN: And if you look on the social network sites, particularly Twitter, you’ll see an utter storm of disgust, frustration from people, because this isn’t the first time, is it?
LINDA MCCORD: Yes. And there are issues on some of the networks. So for instance there have been some overrun of engineering works today on different lines. That is something that both Network Rail and the train operators should work very much together (on) to limit the disruption. Then there are times when there is unplanned disruption, as is the case yesterday and early this morning. And where possible the operators should in plenty of time let passengers know what is going on, so that they can make alternative arrangements. But when information is given out, then operators should be letting passengers know again of what the options are, if there are things that they can do to get to where they need to get to by another means for instance.
CHRIS MANN: So problems continue yet again. There are issues here. We’ve had promises. They’ve been rapped on the knuckles. They’ve been told off by the Government. They’ve been set targets, and yet these problems go on. So how can we somehow get these rail networks to do what we want Linda?
LINDA MCCORD: Well we continue putting pressure on them. We carry out a national rail passenger survey twice a year. That gives us very good intelligence on what passengers are saying. So for instance passengers are telling us nationally that only 38% of passengers are satisfied with how rail operators deal with delays for instance. So again it really comes back to that critical issue around keeping passengers informed. But also passengers are entitled to compensation in events like this. So where somebody has been delayed for over thirty minutes, for instance, they’re entitled to half of the rail fare back, whereas over an hour, they’re entitled to a full refund. A lot of passengers don’t know that that is the case. We ask operators that in a situation like yesterday, that as part of their announcements they actually say to passengers, do you know, because we have disrupted you so much, that actually you are entitled to a refund. So sometimes money talks.
CHRIS MANN: Who should carry the can in all this Linda? is it the Government? Is it Network Rail? Is it the individual companies?
LINDA MCCORD: I think it is certainly a mixture of the individual rail companies and Network Rail. Our experience is that they do work hard to ensure that there is as little disruption as possible. But there are times when that is not .. things do happen. It is their responsibility to really ensure that we’re kept informed, but it’s their responsibility too to ensure that this sort of disruption is kept to a minimum.
CHRIS MANN: I noticed at the weekend that one of the recently appointed rail Ministers, the last year or so, travels in by car from the West Country in her constituency, and said as far as she was concerned everything was well on the rail networks. Are the Government just pretending this problem doesn’t exist?
LINDA MCCORD: Well I wouldn’t want to comment on that particular person’s experience, or what they’ve said. What we do as the body that represents passengers, we collect evidence and passenger comments, and we feed that back to the industry. So we don’t just carry out research and let it sit on the shelf. We actually take it out in the field, and we continually go to operators and say, this is what your passengers are saying on things like punctuality, reliability. What are you going to do to ensure that they’re getting a better service?
CHRIS MANN: And that there was response from Passenger Focus, Linda McCord there on the chaos that was on many lines over the Bank Holiday weekend.