The Fat Controller – his halo and his booty

Its not wise to write blogs when your angry but forgive me this one off moment of rule breaking.

I have (once again) just experienced the mystifying stupidity of the privatised railway system. But the galling thing – really galling thing – is that just a little bit of common sense, customer care or even management investing authority in staff could have resolved the situation in a matter of minutes. A quick decision would have seen me arrive at my destination (wivenhoe) at the original planned time via a different route. Instead I’m late and an additional £60 out of pocket (over and above my original ticket of £34.30).

Instead it became a right old fuss and palava with the customer stuck in the middle being passed from pillar to post and back again.

The stupidity of it all brings a smile to my face! The whole escapade – and many more like it – raises genuinely serious questions:-

Lets start with the obvious one – how exactly does privatisation benefit the customer – has anyone answered that one effectively yet?

And if privatisation is the best way forward how is that franchise deals allow individual railway companies to hide behind the ‘not our responsibility’ card.

Why does the franchise agreement not require companies to work together for the benefit of customers where problems occur on the network?

How have we let a culture occur which appears to be anti traveller – and where customer facing staff have no discretion to apply common sense and instead come across as a series of ‘more than my jobs worth’

So what kicked all this off? For the record – here is how this one went:-

I arrive at Peterborough station bound for Wivenhoe on a cross country ticket to Wivenhoe (well cross country to Ipswich and season from Ipswich to Wivenhoe). The 1745 has been cancelled due to a fatality – a situation that every railway company must dread.

The horror of the situation aside the only information available is ‘train cancelled’. So I queue. Theres only two members of staff in the booking and enquiry office so many minutes later I’m told that the next available service is in 2 hours time . I ask if I can go via London (having already heard one fast train leave) but thats more than his jobs worth and I’m sent to customer services ‘who might be able to help’.

Customer Services spend five minutes staring at my season ticket (until I realise that he’s wondering if a Wivenhoe-Ipswich ticket is via London). Having mastered the geography of the situation he confirms my ticket is not valid and that he has no authority to pass me on his own companies train. He suggests I go to the booking office!

By this time I’m fuming. Its a different company you see sir – we have no responsibility to carry you. We can’t authorise your travel via London without National Express East Anglia say so. I ask for their number. The man doesn’t know it – he only has internal ones and he couldn’t possibly give me that (or ring on my behalf). Eventually he finds a timetable and hands me a number.

Meanwhile two further fast trains to London leave.

I phone National Express East Anglia and listen to a long list of options. Needless to say I’m option 7 and I’m on hold for what seems like ages. I explain whats happened and the girl who answers the phone (who is at least polite) says no authorisation to travel via London has been received. For one moment I have a fleeting image of a God Like Fat Controller seated on top of a chest of govt subsidy counting his lolly and turning a blind eye to all requests to pass. She suggests I should buy a single ticket and National Express will refund me my expense – I ask her to confirm that they will refund me the full cost and she assures me they will but confirms I have to take it on trust.

So I go to the ticket machines (cos theres an even longer queue now at the ticket office) – and guess what – the first one is not working and the second would be delighted to sell me a ticket to Colchester via Ipswich but there is no option anywhere for via London.

Seeing the queue I ask for help from station staff but they can’t find the right ticket on the machine either so – as another London train leaves – I join the queue at the booking office again twenty minutes after I’d first been there. A man in uniform is waiting politely – not in the queue but to one side. He jumps in in front of me. ‘I’m here to fix the ticket machine’ he says ‘can you let me in to sign in’. Needless to say the man behind the ticket desk doesn’t have the authority to let him in. Thankfully he has the authority to sell me a £58.60 single to Colchester but in the meantime another London train has left.

Clutching my ticket I pass the machine man on the phone to presumably his office saying he can’t find anyone on the station to authorise him to fix the ticket machines to sell the tickets to enable people to travel.

You couldn’t make it up!

And just in case your wondering I missed the Clacton service by a matter of minutes from Liverpool Street and have an hour to wait and write this. Had I caught anyone of those London trains that passed whilst all and sundry failed to deal effectively with my queries I’d have made the train and arrived at Wivenhoe at the original time!

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