Wednesday 18th December 2019
There’s never a good time to have a complete signal failure at East Croydon but for the power to go down just as the evening peak is kicking in around 16:45 is probably one of the worst of times.
I’m sure everyone at Network Rail did their very best to get this afternoon’s problem fixed as soon as they could and staff at GTR worked hard to minimise the disruption and communicate what was happening (or more to the point, not happening) but here are ten observations and suggestions based on my experience of this evening’s disruption which I pondered while stranded at Victoria for two hours.
1. Sensibly staff closed the ticket barriers to platforms 13/14 and 15-19 to prevent overcrowding on the platforms and in any event no one would know which one to try their luck at waiting on.
2. The man on the PA did a great job explaining the situation but it was initially confusing to be told the problem was between Balham and East Croydon and passengers being advised to travel to London Bridge or Blackfriars. If they did they’d have been annoyed to find all trains towards East Croydon were at a standstill from there too. The announcement was updated after about ten minutes to advise passengers NOT to go to London Bridge or Blackfriars as the problem was indeed at East Croydon.
3. Passengers for Gatwick Airport (with flights to catch) are naturally the most agitated in such circumstances but the staff dealt with queries well; bearing in mind there’s not much comfort they can give in the absence of news of when things will get going again.
4. The option for East Croydon bound passengers to take a Southeastern train to Beckenham Junction and change on to Tramlink was regularly given out over the PA including which train and platform number. That was good.
5. What was not so good were the auto announcements which continually advised us of delays to individual journeys to a whole host of destinations including ridiculous precision such as ‘Southern regret to announce the 17:11 service to Epsom is delayed by approximately 29 minutes’. All these announcements do is bring derision from frustrated passengers. Surely they can be disabled?
6. The man on the PA kept saying passengers should ‘listen carefully to all announcements’ but this was then undermined by the auto announcements which simply became irrelevant noise to ignore. All the more so as we had a ‘See It Say It Sorted’ one every so often and even more ridiculous the new Southern one that goes ‘room to move along the platform? Please use all available doors and let’s travel well together’ – which was met by hoots of derision and incredulity from the throng of waiting passengers on the concourse.
7. The good news at around 18:00 was the announcement a train will leave from Platform 17 stopping at Clapham Junction, East Croydon and Gatwick Airport only. The bad news was the stampede!
And that meant the barriers were now all open and frustrated passengers decided to try their luck at waiting forlornly at closed doors on the trains in platforms 13/14 and 15-19.
8. The man on the PA kept announcing passengers should stay on the concourse and not go on to the platforms but it was a lost cause by then as everyone took their chance of what train would be going where, lottery style. Things were not helped by Victoria’s main departure board failing during this time too. He also announced the official advice (as on Twitter and websites/apps) that disruption is expected until the end of service and ”passengers are advised not to travel unless you really have to”. At 18:00 in Victoria the chances are that over 95% of passengers are travelling because they have to!
9. Over the next half hour, two or three more train departures were announced to be met with passengers rushing to get to the platform and cram aboard.
I stood my ground from 18:00 to 18:40 alongside the only Gatwick Express liveried train in Victoria at platform 13 and my dedication payed off as this turned out to be the first train to Hassocks and Brighton for over two hours.
10. The train was naturally rammed but the On Board Supervisor was fulsome in his apologies for the disruption and I did notice he gave it on behalf of both ”Gatwick Express and Network Rail who look after the infrastructure” – which seemed more than appropriate as well as advising everyone to claim Delay Repay which was good.
It must have been a nightmare in ‘operational control’ to sort out service recovery with so many displaced staff across the evening peak and my thanks go to all the staff who worked so hard behind the scenes as well as those who performed well ‘front of house’.
But please, please turn off those annoying auto-announcements at times of disruption. They just make you all look silly, which you’re not.