Seen around

Saturday 27th May 2023

Good customer service from First and Southern

Firstly a couple of follow ups from last month’s round up and bouquets and praise for both First Bus and Southern Rail’s customer service teams.

On that long wait at Crewe rail station on a route 3 due to what looked like an error in the timetable I told you about, blog reader and senior First Bus manager Simon Mathieson got straight on the case that weekend regarding the timetable and following my email to customer services I initially got a bit of a brush off type reply and an offer of a day ticket but sticking to my guns and responding again especially when consulting my credit card statement I found I’d been charged twice for the ticket I ended up not using as it was quicker to walk to the bus station – and it was £1.70 not £1.50 as I initially thought – a further reply was received confirming I’d be reimbursed the £3.40 into my credit card account. And then to make doubly sure everything was duplicated, I received another reply from another member of the team confirming the same. And my credit card balance duly improved by £3.40.

And then Southern’s customer service again initially gave me a rebuff for my request to waive the £10 admin fee and reimburse my £5.80 ticket from Gatwick Airport to Hassocks I’d purchased for a following day’s travel home expecting to be returning from Guernsey but that plan went awry due to fog preventing the flight but by following it up in another email I got a very positive reply in which it was confirmed I’d be sent a Rail Travel Voucher for £10 in respect of the waived admin fee normally applicable for refunds. Which was rather a nice surprise as I hadn’t paid £10 and was only requesting £5.80.

So it just shows if you’re a little persistent you can get a good response from these teams. Oh, and the mention of including an update in this blog in the follow up email helps too, I suspect.

Praise for McGills’ Eastern Scottish/Midland Bluebird responsiveness

And while I’m doling out praise a shout out also to Colin Smith the Fleet Engineer for McGills owned Eastern Scottish and Midland Bluebird fleets formerly part of First Bus as well as Livingston Depot Engineering Manager Grant Wilson. Colin picked up a tweet I posted on Tuesday of last week while I was in Edinburgh highlighting a Streetlite with a very severe case of the rattles. And this wasn’t the usual rattle experience with a Wright Streetlite, this was a headache inducing unpleasant loud rattle for the whole journey. Quite unprompted Colin email me the following morning asking for the fleet number so he could ensure it was investigated and action taken. That same morning Grant got the bus off the road, examined it and found problems with the emergency door fitting and two hand poles which were all adjusted and the bus re-entered service. Now that’s impressive when a company responds to feedback and shows it cares and wants to get things right. As Colin explained “we are slowly but surely changing previous cultures trying to bring back quality which had sadly demised”. This is excellent and makes providing feedback all the more worthwhile when you know it’s going to be actioned. It bodes well for this part of McGills.

.… and to Traws Cymru too

Yet more praises … this time for Mark Jacobs, Contracts and Performance Manager at Traws Cymru, who contacted me within a few hours of Tuesday’s blog uploading, thanking me for the feedback and confirming he was on the case with partners to resolve the issues I highlighted including an error “in the TXC file” impacting the incorrect 460 online timetable display as well as Carmarthenshire Council re the notice about the service not operating on Saturdays, the woeful display in Cardigan and the out of date display in Carmarthen Lomas Street. So that’s all good, and nice to see feedback is welcomed and acted upon.

Mark also explains “I am pleased to say that we have a revised network map on the website and individual route maps, together with a separate integrated rail and Traws Cymru map. We are working on producing further literature for customers, but this is in the early stages of planning. The website continues to evolve and our focus is on making it easier for the customer and this feedback is important. Traws Cymru is going through a transition phase and we are working to get the customer experience to a consistent standard across the network and there is a considerable amount of work to be done to achieve this. Much has been achieved with the T1 and we hope you will see further improvements across the network as new contracts are implemented over the next two years. We hope you visit the network again in the future and look forward to future feedback.” Thanks Mark, I will.

Arriva’s positive responsiveness

And while I’m doing shout outs for responsiveness a well deserved thanks goes to Toby France and Matt King in Arriva’s commercial team for responding so diligently and informatively to every comment on the blog about the new network in Leighton Buzzard a couple of weeks ago. It was great to see such engagement and I’m sure everyone appreciated the explanations and replies given. I certainly did. Thanks guys.

Network Rail’s midweek engineering trial

A shout out also to Network Rail and the affected train operating companies for giving mid week engineering work a try out on the East Coast Main Line on Tuesday 16th and Wednesday 17th May. I’m really pleased to see the rail industry responding to the growth in weekend leisure travel and being prepared to have a go at something different. The line was closed between Peterborough and Doncaster with, for example the 15:00 from Kings Cross to Leeds diverted via Spalding, Lincoln and Gainsborough and the 15:06 departure only going as far as Peterborough from where coaches were laid on for Doncaster (see above display). I hope the new arrangement was a success – although we don’t want too many mid week closures.

Barriers to use at STP

I regret to say I find the East Midlands Railway ticket gate staff at St Pancras International to be among the least friendly on the railway (only rivalled for sternness by the Gatwick Express staff manning Platforms 13 and 14 at Victoria).

Now I see EMR have gone one step further by introducing queueing lanes for the departures to Sheffield, Nottingham and Corby each half hour and woe betied you if you get in the wrong queue – even though they all end up in the same place by the ticket gates.

One problem is it’s now difficult to access the retail outlets on the left hand side …

… and furthermore, passengers taking advantage of the seats on the right hand side by the arrival gates have to walk all the way around to reach the start of the queues and avoid the rather unsightly metal barriers. When I was there a couple of weeks ago there were at least half a dozen Network Rail staff in high-viz marshalling everyone. It didn’t come across as very friendly.

Missing departure boards

Meanwhile the departure boards at St Pancras International that were taken down a couple of months ago….

…. have still not been replaced by the promised “shiny new ones”.

Jubilee seat backs

I’d only noticed on a recent journey on the Jubilee line that the seats for those who “may need it more” (does that make sense?) have different wording on them.

Presumably someone thought it was a good idea to use different words and phrases that don’t quite finish…

TfL’s bus change posters

It made a change to see posters on display at many bus stops in the central area where bus routes changed at the end of lasyt month.

… but some of them really did take a bit of working out what was being explained. However, once I got it, I got it.

And it was really good to see updated spider maps had been produced for many bus stops too. Things are looking up.

0871 or 0800?

Whenever I see a prominent sign promoting the Traveline phone number I wince at the idea of passengers being charged high call charges just to find out a bus time. What other public service industry would charge its customers extortionate rates to use the service? These days, with the £2 fare it’s likely the phone call will cost more than the bus fare. However….

… it was good to see in Wales, Traveline Cymru uses a free 0800 number. That’s the way to do it. I’m wondering whether you can use the Traveline Cymru number to access Traveline England?

Gatwick Airport TVMs

When I returned home from the aborted Guernsey trip I dreaded the idea of joining the melee that is the TVM queue in the newly expanded ticket office/departure hall at the station…

… but as you can see the queue wasn’t too bad for a mid afternoon…

… and I was keen to use the two snazzy bright coloured fully accessible (the screens move up and down) machines, but sadly was told they’re out of action and “are always breaking down”. What a shame.

New seats on display at East Midlands Parkway

I was interested to have a look around East Midlands Parkway the other week when catching the Nottsbus on Demand DRT. It was the first time I’ve used the station and was amazed by the facilities including a lounge and upmarket café/deli type outlet. It didn’t seem very busy. But what caught my eye was the demonstration of the new seats EMR are having in their new ‘Aurora’ trains, currently on order. I gave them a try and would say they’re an improvement on the Azuma/GWR Class 800 seats in the shape and style (as well as the fabric colour) but they still came across as rather hard in the backside area. I wasn’t sure whether they were first or standard class either.

Berwick surprise

I was also impressed and surprised on finding a ticket office open at Berwick station when passing through on my FlexiBus jaunt.

And the waiting area had the most comfortable seats I’ve come across in a rail station – and the whole station was obviously well looked after.

Gatwick Express needs to be every 15 minutes

It really is time GTR reverted the Gatwick Express back to its original 15 minute frequency. The half hourly service just isn’t cutting it with many Southern trains badly over loaded between Gatwick and Victoria. It will also put an end to the anomalous situation of GatEx liveried trains on other lines.

Missing vinyl

This month’s award for the most glaring missing vinyl goes to Mi….vel …..

… and with sister company Mid Wales Travel as a joint winner.

Cambridge’s preference for ticket offices over TVMs

On a recent visit to Cambridge I noticed a distinct preference among passengers to queue for the ticket office and be served by a human being than use a Ticket Vending Machine as seen in the above photo.

A new barrier for Cambridge too

Also at Cambridge I see there’s been a risk assessment of the section of the long joint platforms 1 and 4 immediately outside the entrance from the ticket office where a large yellow barrier has now been erected.

Trains couldn’t previously stop on this section as the crossover points are there.

There’s no question of Cambridge being a contender for the station with the longest platform now, as it’s definitely two separated platforms – same as Colchester. (The longest is unquestionably Gloucester, of course.)

That’s it for May. More at the end of next month … if I see anything of note.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

20 thoughts on “Seen around

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  1. Feedback on Leighton Buzzard for Matt and Toby. I made my planned visit on 22nd and 24th May. On the 5 local buses I saw, all the leaflet racks were devoid of “L” timetable folders. All bus stops with shelters in the town displayed posters with departures but no network maps. ” Next departure” screens at the station and High Street seemed to be working well. I wonder if the High Street ones are able to direct passengers to West Street on Tuesday and Saturday when the High Street is closed for the market.


  2. Those new EMR seats do have signage saying that they’re new standard seats, but since it’s in all capitals it’s not clear whether they’re standard (i.e. the new norm) seats or Standard (class) seats, or even standard Standard or standard First seats….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And since there’s only one set of seats, there’s no way of knowing what the seat pitch is going to be, which is at least as important as the comfort of the individual seats.

      Doesn’t matter what people say, though, because EMR sent managers across to Italy on a definitely-not-a-jolly* last year to look at the seats in the factory. What you see is what you’re getting, however negative your feedback.

      * A colleague who works for EMR tells me that a staffer commented on the trip on their internal Facebook page, calling it a jolly and was roundly told off by umpteen senior EMR people – which suggests to me that maybe the truth hurts.


  3. I meant to post under your article early in the week that the TrawsCymru map situation was much improved. There is now both a rather nice Pindar one showing just the TrawsCymru network and a “tube style” one showing the buses and the trains. And they are very clearly visable on both the Routes and Maps page and the Our Network page.
    Next on the wish list:
    – sorting out the timetable PDFs where there are multiple routes with a combined timetable
    – plugging the obvious gaps in the maps (why the 460/X43 are on there and the X47/X75 aren’t completely defeats me).


  4. I’m afraid I beg to differ about the publicity for the central London bus changes. Routes 11 and 211 are supposed to share the same stop at Waterloo on the taxi road but they don’t. There are still timetables for route 11 at Aldwych and not all the area bus maps have been updated. This would warrant an entire article Roger and the problem doesn’t just apply to central London.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even if Gatwick Express goes back to 4tph, the Southern trains will still be overcrowded with passengers not wanting to pay the Gatwick Express premium to travel to Victoria.


  5. I don’t know what things are like now, but when Ipswich station was refurbished about 7 years ago similar comfy sofas to Berwick’s appeared in the Platform 3/4 waiting room.


  6. I travelled from Crewe recently where the train was cancelled due to no crew.
    My journey was then further delayed by a Euston area “wobble” such that the final delay was 99 minutes.
    My d-r was refused with a “your delay was less than 15 minutes” statement !!!
    Upon appeal, I was given my refund “after a member of the team reviewed the request”. Of course, this was a refund that couldn’t be reclaimed from Network Rail !!

    I wonder if this is just a trend that is developing, or if DfT are micro-managing refunds now ….. !!


  7. A TXC file is a TransXChange file, which is supposed to be a standard file format for bus information which all the scheduling software producers adhere to and which is tge format in which data has to be supplied to BODS – the governments bus open data system.


  8. After reading some of your recent blogs where travel information etc is poor, it is good to see action being taken by ‘owners’ of said problems.

    I guess you must have a large readership – are you able to indicate the number of readers?

    I had reason to contact my local council (Cumbria) to attend to some of my local bus stops and the contact was a recipient of your blog – it was a few days before you visited Cumbria for the new buses on the 555 and new of your visitor the launch. So the bus stop info was corrected quickly within a few weeks. The council’s all changed at the start of the new year so lots of logo changing and all the departure listings in the timetable cases at Carlisle bus station had been updated with new logos in about a week.
    I think we do well here as the Cumbria website has up-to-date timetables and Stagecoach have printed timetable in the racks at Carlisle bus station for all Carlisle services and the ‘The Lakes by bus’ timetable booklet.


    1. Had no response from Stagecoach or Cumbria Council after my balanced article about services in the Lakes in May’s Buses magazine. Still too many managers in this industry who simply don’t care!


  9. When I previously worked for Traveline Cymru we had a list of phone numbers for other call centres for out of area requests. I’m sure if you got through on the 0800 number you’d be able to get transferred to the correct call centre


    1. Wherever that 682m platform may have been, Bob (Manchester Victoria & Exchange?), it was nowhere near the longest in the world – see That list’s inclusion of Eurotunnel may be considered a bit dodgy, its not being a passenger platform like the rest (I’m presuming – State Street’s certainly is, and a good place for a stroll while waiting for the next Red Line L).


  10. I had an exceptional experience with First and Southern’s customer service! They went above and beyond to ensure my satisfaction. Kudos to their team for setting the bar high in delivering top-notch service.


  11. Good to read of some credit being handed out where its due and even more some action taken where it was needed.\

    On your note of a “wince at the idea of passengers being charged high call charges just to find out a bus time” this industry is far from alone! It seems a very significant number are hell-bent on dissuading us from calling with long references to what’s available on-line, telling you how busy they are and then giving endless options to work through. And all this instruction and waiting can be at a high cost. A recent 35 minute wait to talk to Whiz Air (made by my son!) which resulted in them not being able to answer the question anyway, cost me over £50!


    1. Very interesting, and makes me think of Grosmont-Whitby trains.

      One problem might be lack of infrastructure which would costs £££s to remedy – i.e. long single-tracks block sections with few passing loops.


  12. One reason they will find it hard to run a 15 minute Gatwick Express service is the fact that they do not have enough trains. Last year they go rid of 45 class 455 units and this year they got rid of 19 class 313 units. They have only managed to find a few extra class 377 units to replace these 64 four coach trains. They are having to spread their resources more thinly – hence the Gatwick Express units covering some of the East Coastway services.


  13. If you’d like a taste of what is was like to be a commuter on the London Underground 85 years ago, you’ll have to book your tickets fast, as the first journey kicks off next week. There will be four journeys on Saturday June 11 and another four on Sunday June 12.

    The experience will also offer a range of activities at Acton Town before passengers embark on their trip back in time. You can chat to costumed actors who will unveil key moments in the Underground’s history, take a selfie with a #LoveTheTube wall, make your own Oyster card holder, and browse all the transport collectibles at London Transport Museum’s Friends stall Refreshments will be available from local cafes in Acton Town, but no food or drink can be taken onto the train.


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