I normally write about important geo-political issues. But today I also write about a train breakdown outside Maidstone. The miscreants this time? – South Eastern Rail.
It seemed to be the First Day of British Summer – fantastic weather. Many passengers had cast aside their winter and even spring clothing. The mood was buoyant. The smart ones had brought supplies of beer. The destination – London Victoria for some, any one of about 8 local destinations for others. There were a few business travellers. Most people were having a day out.
5 minutes after departing from Maidstone, we came to a halt. The ticket collector seemed competent at the start. Plenty of informative messages over the tannoy and face-to-face, lots of apologies and even apologies about the quality of apology. But – 3 hours later – we were still within 2 kilometres of our original breakdown spot.
I engaged the 5-man team in conversation through a semi-open window: What is going on? How long will it take? Who is in charge of the operation to fix the train and to get us passengers taken care of? I want to speak to the Head of South Eastern Rail! and so on. I find out 4 minutes later from the smokers at the sole open door in the whole train that they had been laughing at me while I was talking to them.
There were people on board starting to suffer from de-hydration. One kid at least was crying. Other passengers were getting angry. There was no bottled water – even emergency stock precisely for such events – on board. There was no effective trouble-shooting SER person on the phone, there in person, or anywhere in between. Quite early on, the Ticket Collector complained that he ‘had no communications’ – but he did have a mobile phone about his person.
I told the people in my area of the carriage that they should each get a full refund of their single or return journey – whatever they had paid, in addition of course to getting the journey itself. The Ticket Collector agreed reluctantly in public, but said that he could not announce that over the tannoy, since ‘I do not have that authority’.
I had left Maidstone at 0955. At 1300 hrs we were still stuck there with no effective Crisis Management in place, and no signs of any effective Crisis Management appearing, and with no indication when – if ever – we would get to London or even back to Maidstone.
I did my own thing and got to Kensington in central London about 1610 hrs. It involved hitch-hiking…
The other poor guys I don’t know what happened to them. I hope they got decent treatment and a rapid resolution to their situation, but I doubt it very much… If I had been using my brains I would have taken some phone numbers and checked back with them…..
What does this tell us?
We are fed hogwash that privatization makes organisations more efficient and more effective.
Staff are taught how to do PR but not how actually to resolve problems
Management in most companies are (reasonably) good at handling normal events. Their mettle is tested when problems and/or crises arise. It is the mark of a good company that it handles crises well. South Eastern Rail most certainly did not handle this crisis at all well.
The public are still treated like minions to be used and abused.
The public are not educated in school how to stand up for themselves and demand their rights (in a reasonable fashion). It is still the preserve of people who went to private schools and to universities to know how to get what they want. In this respect, Britain is very much still a class-ridden society.