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.
If GTR are anything like the TOCs I know best (which had best remain nameless), the ability for staff to locally disable the auto-announcer at their station has been disabled, meaning it has to be done centrally – by the very same controllers who are running round trying to get the service running again and have no time to be distracted by things like auto-announcers!
Unfortunately it’s yet another example of people coming into the industry as middle managers and deciding that the way things are being done is automatically wrong so must be changed to be done the way they want, without considering (and if it’s not already being done, introducing) what is best for the passengers, the people paying good money for their tickets.
Based on watching the TOCs I know best, this almost always results in the staff who were responsible for such things being “reorganised” into redundancy, with some of their less taxing responsibilities being converted into a new 9-5 management position with a title such as “Customer Experience Manager” and the rest of their responsibilities being entirely forgotten about or pushed onto an already pressured department such as Control.
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Very interesting observations; many thanks.
I was affected yesterday, towards London from Carshalton at around 1700, so opted for bus and tube. On return after a pint or two in Wetherspoons on Victoria Station around 2230 I returned home by tube and bus. I fully agree with you about the recorded announcements, When there is severe disruption these should be turned off and just live human messages when an actual train is available for departure. Sitting in Wetherspo0ons I could hear the constant ” the xx train is delayed – please listen for further announcements, which were of course a repeat. Also some trains which should have left well over an hour earlier were delayed, etc. I also share views on “see it say it” and I don’t like these “let’s travel well together” messages.
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Given that the major TOC is 65% owned by a bus operator you’d have thought that getting an express bus from Victoria Coach station fast to Gatwick would have been a good idea? Yet again it seem that communications between the station facility owner and the TOC’s is lacking along with more local control by staff on the ground. Opening the barriers to let let people on to the platforms has always been a risk and used to avoid major overcrowding on station concourse – the problem occurs after this has been allowed when a change of platforms is announced and further chaos ensues. My policy in such circumstances has always been to keep a lookout for where the drivers are heading to and ask them which service they are working.
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Crowd management is difficult, especially in a wide open concourse with multiple entry/exit points. For anyone with even partial disabilities (eyesight, hearing, balance…) it’s confusing enough to negotiate this space when everything’s working to plan. What protocols do staff follow to help vulnerable passengers when things go wrong? Tannoy announcements can be hard to follow at the best of times. Not everyone can see signboards at a distance. Not everyone is following the best source of information on twitter.
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Crowd management is difficult, especially in a wide open concourse with multiple entry/exit points. For anyone with even partial disabilities (eyesight, hearing, balance…) it’s confusing enough to negotiate this space when everything’s working to plan. What protocols do staff follow to help vulnerable passengers when things go wrong? Tannoy announcements can be hard to follow at the best of times. Not everyone can see signboards at a distance. Not everyone is following the best source of information (who?) on twitter.