Next month will mark two years since I stepped through the doors of hall three at the NEC for my first Railtex. In fact, it wasn’t just my first taste of the UK’s biggest rail event, it was also my introduction to the rail industry – and I was thrown right in at the deep end too.
Weeks earlier I had made the move from a daily newspaper into the rail trade press. From only the occasional story covering train stations, National Rail and service delays, I was now being introduced to rolling stock, ‘Team Orange’ and a dictionary of acronyms.
At the time, online journalism was my bread and butter, so when I stumbled on PriestmanGoode’s radical seating design named ‘Horizon’, I couldn’t help but tweet a picture.
As you can see above, the raised seating requires riders to perch a little higher than they normally would, to encourage a more upright posture that frees up space for more seats. It was one of a number of innovations at the show, some of which are revisited in this issue’s Railtex preview.
Thinking nothing more of it, I put my phone away and returned to the show. An hour or so later, my phone was swamped with notifications.
“Battery hens get more space.”
“Boost capacity by alienating half the passengers or more?”
“Appalling design, showing the contempt for customers that has become typical of the rail industry.”
Within a few days the tweet had reached more than 30,000 people. Flicking through comments, the overwhelming reaction was dismay, people were (to say the least) disappointed that the idea of getting more paying customers into carriages was apparently being prioritised over their comfort.
It may be two years too late, but those angered rail users will be relieved to hear that efforts are being made to create an overall more customer-focussed and friendly industry.
Toilet charges are being scrapped at major stations, train punctuality will now be measured to the minute and the fares system is being reformed.
Leading the drive from atop, Network Rail’s Rail Partnership Awards, re-launched in 2018 to celebrate organisations that help to deliver a better railway, returns for 2019 with the slogan ‘putting passengers first’ at its heart.
Transport Focus, the independent transport watchdog, recently highlighted another example from some work it conducted for East Midlands Trains, CrossCountry and Network Rail ahead of the Derby engineering and resignalling project in October.
Prior to the works beginning, Transport Focus assessed passengers’ knowledge of the works and how this built up over time. The organisation then worked with the three companies to make sure passenger communications “hit the mark” in the run up to the planned disruption. During the resignalling work, discounted fares and compensation were proactively offered to passengers impacted by planned disruption, which Transport Focus said helped to “sugar the pill” and maintain trust between the railway and passengers.
It is now working with the industry to ensure these lessons are learnt and built into upcoming major works at King’s Cross.
When it comes to customer service, especially out of King’s Cross, we could all learn a thing or two from this month’s cover star, Osman Khatri, a humble train manager who bows out after 43 years on the railway.
Speaking to RailStaff, the 69-year-old had nothing but praise for the British public and said he will miss meeting passengers and bringing a smile to their face. A prime candidate for a trophy at the RailStaff Awards if ever there was one.
Good luck with whatever you choose to do Osman. I know you have plenty of plans to keep you busy but, if you do get the chance to put your feet up, do make sure you’re sitting down on something comfortable.