Last night, I found myself at in Leeds Railway Station with a little unplanned free time on my hands, seeing as Northern Rail had cancelled my train. For the second time in three days I was going to have to catch a later train home, be late for dinner, and not get so long with the kids. I was, shall we say, rather annoyed…
I decided to have a look at Twitter to see how my fellow passengers were getting on with their journeys, and came across a lady who said both her journey to work and home again had been on overcrowded trains, pointed out the potential for people to be injured, and asked Northern Rail’s Twitter bod to at least acknowledge that the service was indeed overcrowded based on a photograph she took.
They failed to do this, and why that should be is not exactly a mystery – we only have to look at what the Twitter Bod is there for. From what I have seen over recent months, they have the following functions:
- When asked, they will try to assist passengers with information about timetables, connecting services etc.
- If people complain, they will say that it “has been passed to the relevant department” and then try and end the discussion.
Option 2 is a bit sneaky though, isn’t it. I appreciate they would rather not discuss “difficult” or “awkward” topics over Twitter where there response is there for all the public to see. I understand they want to protect their reputation. But deflecting questions on safety? Is that really on?
I jumped into the conversation about overcrowding, and pointed out that their response did not address the lady’s very direct question. They invited me to contact them using the “Contact Us” facility on their website. This would limit me to a mere 2500 key presses (for no good reason), but that’s not my main reason for not playing ball. My real gripe is their motivation for asking me to take the conversation to the Contact Us page – and it can be summarised thus:
“Get this the hell away from our social media account! We don’t want other people reading this!”
That’s a problem.
The truth is, a lot (though not all) of the problems with Northern Rail’s service are actually beyond their control… They’d like to run more trains, but can’t get hold of the rolling stock (which has to be released from the DoT) and even then they have to sort out pathing on the timetable. With the best will in the world, they are not able to address everyone’s concern / complaint effectively… They should simply bloody say so – rather than pretending that some manager will review the passenger’s concerns in the morning…
Sticking feedback in the suggestions chute (because I suspect it effectively leads straight to the skip outside) does not fix the problem. Denying the problem exists does not fix the problem. But recognising that you have a problem is the first step toward a solution. Then passengers can direct their fury where it really needs to be (MoT), and we can all work together for a better service in the future.
Northern Rail have lost the franchise, so business as usual shouldn’t be an option for Arriva when they come on board – Northern have proved it doesn’t work. We need an operator more concerned about service delivery than their image on social media. We need an effective champion for genuine improvement. We need someone who accepts the current situation is poor, but is prepared to work with passengers to improve it.