Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex A


  On 8 July 2000 I wrote to a number of people with a critique of the marketing and operation of the then-new Anglia service between Chelmsford and Basingstoke. I expressed my sense of shame that our industry should be doing things, as I saw it, so badly. I asked readers to consider whether a large sum of public money has been sensibly spent—and the consequences were a high-profile initiative to fail spectacularly. I suggested to the various players that action was more important than sending me a mollifying reply, and I proposed that certain things be achieved by the start of the Winter timetable on 24 September (and others over a longer period). This document reports what I found when I observed the service on 10 October. It calls again for urgent action.


  Despite the discouragement I did receive a number of letters which fell into this category.

  After seven weeks the Office of the Rail Regulator wrote an eight-paragraph letter of which only one did not comprise generalities about the structures and processes of the industry or about the background to the service[5]. It entirely missed my point that what is happening on the ground, including the loadings of the service, is so far adrift from expectations as to threaten the credibility, not just of this service but of rail-regeneration funding in general.

  The one germane paragraph referred to the Regulator's responsibility for overseeing the presentation of timetables. It was explained that a Code of Practice exists to ensure "consistency" (you could have fooled me) and that the ORR would check whether Anglia's leaflet complies. I have not received any further communication about this, and I return to the issue below.

  The shadow Strategic Rail Authority [sSRA] replied at the same time. The letter was shorter, but to be told that the points I had raised were "largely operational ones for the train company to answer" was unhelpful, (a) since a number are self-evidently strategic, and (b) since my theme was not that any one of the points was necessarily important in itself but that their accumulation raises a concern of public policy about the expenditure of no less than £2.8 million. A copy of the Press Release announcing the RPP funding was enclosed, and I comment on it later.

  The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions did not reply directly but asked the sSRA to do so on his behalf. The Minister for Transport never acknowledged my letter. Neither the Chairman nor the Chief Executive of Railtrack replied at all. Nor did the Managing Director of London Underground, to whom I copied the letter because, although I criticised certain details at Highbury & Islington, it was an LUL employee there who was one of the few people to come out of my experience with any credit.

  The Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport could have acknowledged the copy sent for information but regrettably did not, while the National Director of the Rail Passengers Council noted my comments and asked to be kept informed. The London Transport Users Committee unfortunately read the letter as a complaint and, in line with normal procedure, passed it to the operators. A member of its staff did, however, privately corroborate my evidence and expressed his own concern, as did Roger Ford of Modern Railways.

  I received a short letter from the Customer Relations Officer of Silverlink[6]. It stated that steps were being taken to attend to the condition of Highbury and Islington Station (but see below), the wording carefully concealing whether this had been in hand anyway or was in response to my letter. It then admitted that Silverlink and Railtrack are in dispute about the public-address system to the tune of £1.2 million, which I find depressing, but promised improvements in staffing and information-screens[7]. The final paragraph was boiler-plate text inappropriate to the nature of my critique.

  To his credit, Tim Clarke, Managing Director of Anglia Railways, wrote a lengthy and robust defence of the service. It dealt with most of my points, although I shall explain why I am barely persuaded to change my mind. In only one respect did it fail as a reply: that was the suggestion that I had not referred to "the high quality trains used and the high standards of on-board customer service", whereas I had mentioned "well-trained and well-turned-out crews" and "a good-looking train".


  On 10 October I travelled from Highbury and Islington to Stratford by a Silverlink train and from there to Feltham on the 13.25 Witham to Basingstoke. I returned to Stratford via South West Trains (SWT) and the Jubilee Line in order to compare the experience. My findings are presented as a commentary on the original report, (edited) extracts from which are italicised.

  In the street-level concourse at Highbury & Islington the only reference to the service is an Anglia poster. The advertising theme of a road-sign is too clever, since it is not clear that it refers to trains rather than to, say, a pop-concert or a mobile phone company. There is certainly no indication except in the small print that it has anything to do with this station. The times are placed low down and are too small to read easily in the tabular format. I think they make non-standard use of light and dark type.

  Nothing, literally, has changed, so the timetable is out of date. The typography is non-standard.

  There is no indication of which platform the trains run from (the Silverlink interval times, by the way, are scrawled with a felt-tip pen on a scruffy board).

  Nothing has changed. Directions from the Victoria Line to the North London platforms are badly handwritten on standard (and I think quite new) London Transport signs. Frank Pick would have been outraged.

  I found shabby buildings, weed-covered track, masses of cans and other litter on the ballast, which must have been there for months, and a dangerously-cracked timber sleeper. It was not much better than Luanda, Angola as I saw it after twenty years of civil war.

  My impression was exactly the same. Silverlink stated in its letter dated 9 August that "we have recently had representatives[8] from Railtrack plc weedkilling the railway track and removing litter and other debris. We have now engaged in a contract for this track work to take place every two months. In addition the station platforms . . . receive a regular clean by our own contractual cleaners." I seriously doubt whether Railtrack ever attended to the track and debris, and, if the platforms are being cleaned, then in terms of the image of the station that is just cosmetic since the buildings are in such a dreadful state. The air of neglect is not limited to Highbury.

  The cracked sleeper is still in place, bearing the weight of four passenger trains/hour and a stream of heavy freights. I would welcome an assurance from Railtrack that it has been inspected and declared safe by someone more competent than me in such matters. Even if it is safe it looks awful (the crack is below the chair supporting the outer rail of the eastbound line, about 15 metres from the foot of the steps).

  I commented in July that the Anglia train-crew's remark "its not our station"—legally accurate though said with regret—was a terrible indictment of the way in which our industry is now organised. I stand by that.

  The only reference to the Anglia trains is a nondescript note on Silverlink's North London timetable poster. It merely shows the times for Stratford, Highbury & Islington and West Hampstead and makes no mention whatever of the full route.

  This is still the case for the Winter edition. I do not accept that this complies with the Regulator's requirement that a station operator should "display comprehensive timetables". It certainly does not do so in spirit, nor is it in keeping with the rediscovery of the "National Network".

  There are no indicators. There was no announcement that the Chelmsford train was running out of order and none describing it when it did arrive. Had the platform not just been cleared of large numbers of North London Line customers the Anglia crew would have had a fine time separating those their train could help from those it could not.

  Although on this occasion I travelled on one of the services rather than visited a station the situation appears to have changed little, despite Silverlink's claim to have "recently appointed customer service staff . . ." to assist our customers with both information and with getting on and off the trains' and its plan to install information screens. A passenger for Richmond boarded at Highbury & Islington and only jumped off again at the last minute, while at West Hampstead someone for the Watford Line joined the train: on discovering his error he consulted the Conductor, who arranged a special stop at Willesden Junction High Level. This is hardly the way to run a customer-friendly or a capacity-efficient railway.

  The new bi-directional platform (7) is mysteriously and unhelpfully labelled "for special uses only".

  The signage has not been changed. In July I was misled by poor information about which platform to use. I was misled again, this time at Stratford. In the splendid new entrance hall there is no screen showing main-line departures, nor even a fixed sign showing which platforms each non-LT service normally runs from. The First Great Eastern route-timetables (which do not mention the Basingstoke trains) offer no help. In the subway there is no indication at the foot of the steps to the principal platforms as to which routes they serve. There is a guide at the further ones, from which I learned that the Basingstoke train would run from 10a. That number is confusing: I assumed it was reached via the steps to 10, but one has to go to the 11 and 12 steps.

  The scene that greets one could hardly be more bleak. Weeds, redundant land, derelict buildings. The only poster on the platform is a hilariously irrelevant invitation to explore the delights of the Southminster branch. There is no reference to the Anglia service, and no screen. At the due time a heavy Freightliner ran through the platform in the opposite direction to the expected 14.04. At about 14.06 it was announced that it would leave from platform 10, and I had to sprint to catch it.

  There were only about 10 people on the train, some of whom would have been making short-distance journeys around north London by rail anyway (and some others were probably gricers).

  There were 12 passengers leaving Stratford (excluding me). Three alighted at Highbury and nine travelled to Feltham or beyond. Apart from five otherwise-NLR passengers who travelled between the two, no one joined at Highbury or West Hampstead. However, of the nine arriving at Feltham one was, I believe, a Railtrack employee and three were clearly gricers. Over £1 million worth of train (including a wholly unused first class vehicle) and rather a lot of allegedly scarce track-capacity was therefore being deployed to convey five people. Three were able-bodied men who would probably otherwise have made the journey via central London (one transferred to the Airport bus, which was itself poorly loaded). The benefit was therefore essentially limited to providing a through service for two elderly women.

  A young LUL employee offered me a leaflet about the service. However, he told me that the staff at Highbury had had no advance notice of the service and that the leaflets had only arrived some weeks after it started. The first he had known about it was when unusual trains turned up.

  This time I acquired copies from three different sources. Two of them are the original edition, which is undated on the cover but carries details of a service that has now been changed. It would be interesting to know what sanctions the Regulator holds over operators who purvey out-of-date information. At Feltham, the poster informing people about the station states that it is served only by SWT. The A-Z list of departures shows the Anglia trains to Highbury & Islington and Stratford (but not to West Hampstead) but does not indicate that a range of faster and more frequent services is available by other routes[9]. When asked about services to Basingstoke an SWT employee was vague about routes and times and only acknowledged the Anglia trains when prompted.

  The leaflet is deeply flawed. The cover carries the road-sign theme with the slogan "New Central London Bypass". Although there is a small cut-out picture of a train and the tiny word "Railways" in the Anglia logo, it is not overwhelmingly obvious that this is about a new rail service (the idea would possibly have been more effective if the route symbol had been a railway track on an otherwise standard road-sign).

  Anglia's Managing Director defended the leaflet by arguing that "Interpretation of promotional leaflets and marketing is inherently a personal preference. Many people have commented favourably on it and the direct mailings using it have been successful. At stations its unusual design has proved eye-catching and caused high `pick-up' rates from passengers." I am not sure that marketeers would like to have their quantifications so briskly denied in favour of subjectivity, but on the other hand I do not have much faith in their measurement of "favourably", "successful" and "high" if the outcome is just five through passengers per train after five months of operation.

  Panels 2 and 3 comprise a description and a diagram of the links, but the first is wordy and the second sketchy: for example, it ignores Reading and Portsmouth while listing the marginally-relevant Exeter and Bristol, does not show Silverlink's North London service and has some strange ideas of London's travel geography. The key is wrongly drawn, and I fail to understand why Colchester and Stratford are designated as having "Mainline train services" while all other stations, including Basingstoke, only have "Local train services", whatever that means.

  In the revised edition the text of Panels 2 and 3 is unchanged. It retains the reference to Anglia's express-coach service between Colchester and Stansted Airport, even though, as I understand it, that was withdrawn several months ago after a short life. It also retains the peculiar ideas of geography (eg Highbury to Manchester via Basingstoke) and the amateurish diagram (this also appears as part of Anglia's network diagram in its general brochure, thereby giving highly misleading information to potential travellers).

  As to "Mainline", the Managing Director of Anglia wrote that "We are happy to look at whether other stations such as Basingstoke, Woking and Chelmsford are more suited to a Mainline designation. The term '`Mainline' usually implies positioned on a main line and served by mainline services (fast, long-distance, etc) so not all stations should carry this designation." Leaving aside the convolution and redundancy of the second sentence, I could just about accept a ruling that no station in the South East should be designated '`mainline' (by comparison with those on, say, the ECML), but I would have thought that even in the service structures we now have it is possible to discern a hierarchy comprising inner-suburban, outer-suburban and mainline. By that standard I could not fathom the original logic, not can I now fathom the new version in which every named station is designated '`Mainline', including Romford (which retains its one train a day on this service although it no longer appears in the timetable in the leaflet), Highbury and Islington (which is an important interchange but has no "fast, long-distance trains"), and Feltham (which is an ordinary outer-suburban station)[10].

  Below a peculiarly silly drawing, Panel 4 invites people to find out more about the "A" train, to which the only other reference is vague and is buried in the Managing Director's letter: this will baffle any reader from outside Anglia's area, as will references on the coupon below to Business and Commuter Clubs. People are invited to request information on Anglia Plus, bargain holidays in Norfolk, travel to Amsterdam and special offers from non-rail companies, none of which have the slightest relevance to presenting an everyday alternative to driving across north London. The Anglia website that one is invited to visit offers no information on the Basingstoke service.

  Mr Clarke made no comment on the drawing. He defended inclusion of the references to other products on the grounds that the leaflet also serves people in the company's core area and that it would therefore be "far more misleading and irresponsible" to omit it. I wish he were more concerned not to be "misleading and irresponsible" in other far more important respects (see above and below, passim), and I would have thought these offers are better and more appropriately made in the copious literature covering his main services or the offers themselves. The website does not cursorily mention the Basingstoke service.

  The next two panels (5 and 6, back-to-back) show the timetable. The title "Anglia Railways London Crosslink service from/to Basingstoke" is uninformative, and the design of the table is unsuitable for the information it needs to convey. A basic service of six trains/day in each direction takes up two whole panels because of a total lack of a pattern and the need to show no less than four variants: the Monday-Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday services all differ appreciably from each other. That is a huge marketing turn-off straightaway. At the foot of one page is the standard warning about weekend engineering, which is another turn-off, while the other page carries a disclaimer about accuracy and possible alterations that is of such brusque generality as to make one wonder if Anglia want anyone to take the leaflet seriously.

  The new edition has a broadly similar layout. The Bank Holiday service has however disappeared[11] to make room for two Sunday variants (one of which is incomplete and requires a phone call), and there is no explanation at all about what is planned for the Christmas, New Year, Easter and May Day Bank Holidays. The reference to engineering works has also disappeared, but the disclaimer stands: "Anglia Railways Train Services Limited accept no liability for any inaccuracy in the information contained in this guide, which may be altered at any time without notice". The Managing Director did not address my criticism of this, but presumably it will cover the company if a train or a stop is cut out on a Bank Holiday and a traveller does not know about it.

  It is not made clear that for some East Anglian towns one must sometimes change twice. In several cases the information is incorrect, as though an inexperienced compiler was fazed by the sheer complexity of the timetable and under instructions to favour Anglia trains over First Great Eastern trains. Clacton is not listed whereas Stowmarket, with occasional stops and a smaller demand, is, presumably because Clacton made the mistake of not being in Anglia territory. No connections at all are shown at Woking and Basingstoke.

  I am pleased that Southampton and Winchester have been included at my instigation, but it should not really have required me to point this out and, if Anglia is serious about this service as a Central London Bypass, it ought to be producing a guide with a comprehensive list of possibilities (not that the connectivity of the timetable is really good enough for that). The design is a little better with regard to the need to change, but tables that do not clearly show separate departure and arrival times have inherent weaknesses. For example, travellers might wish to know (without having to phone National Rail Enquiries [NRE] that they have to wait 12, 8, 8, 7, 14 or 31 minutes at Basingstoke eastbound (Mo-Fr)[12], or 17[13] (at Woking, as shown by a note), 6, 13, 24 or 41 min westbound (it would be interesting to know how reliable the six-minute connection is, since I do not imagine SWT would hold a Bournemouth express for a late-running Anglia train).

  In the original leaflet a traveller on the 10.32 from Basingstoke could see that, by changing at Witham and again (by correctly interpreting the italicised time) at Colchester, Ipswich could be reached at 13.39 and Norwich at 14.24. What was not shown was that arrival at Ipswich at 13.28 was possible, by the very First Great Eastern train whose time at Witham was italicised! In the Winter timetable a stop has been inserted at Ingatestone to provide a one-change connection for Norwich (why was this obvious step not taken from the beginning?), but the 13.28 possibility for Ipswich is still not shown. In the case of the 12.32 from Basingstoke the original version was similarly misleading (and simply wrong for Colchester), but insertion of a stop at Ingatestone in both the Basingstoke train and the 14.30 from Liverpool Street has yielded a (true) 13-minute acceleration for Ipswich and 16 minutes for Norwich.

  Extension of the 13.42 and 16.33 from Basingstoke to Highbury to run to Stratford has removed a nonsense and added a range of connections. However the outcome of this haphazard approach is that the first requires 19 and the second 21 minutes at Stratford for Colchester and both a second change there for Ipswich and Norwich[14], none of the waits being made explicit. A traveller by the second train would leave Southampton at 15.45 and arrive in Norwich at 20.35, by the 18.42 from London. Leaving Southampton at 16.15 would allow 71 minutes to cross from Waterloo to Liverpool Street, with a good chance of catching the 18.30 to Norwich, due at 20.18.

  In my test, the journey-time from Feltham to Stratford via Waterloo was almost identical to that outward with Anglia. The SWT rolling-stock is greatly inferior and the walk to the Jubilee Line platform is lengthy, but SWT effectively offers four trains/hour. Moreover, for any station-pair requiring a change, or two (and sometime three), into or out of the Anglia service, the trade-off is not the number of changes but their quality against time, and the London option is usually superior for all but the super-averse to that route.

  Westbound, the 08.04 from Stratford is shown to have a connection from Colchester at 07.06[15]: what the leaflet does not explain is that this allows the minimum seven minutes at Stratford, which, given the subway layout and the poor signing, is hardly enough for the sort of traveller Anglia say they are aiming to attract.

  The next train is shown to start from Colchester instead of Norwich on certain Mondays early in 2001, but neither the National Timetable nor the Railtrack on-line timetable refers to this. The former 09.24 from Norwich now starts at Chelmsford, where the connection is 31 minutes, but the fact that Ipswich passengers could leave 18 minutes later by an FGE train is suppressed. Alternatively, by staying on the 09.00 from Norwich to Liverpool Street they could comfortably arrive in Southampton 65 minutes sooner. The connections into the last train of the day are now more clearly shown, a double-change has been eliminated and departure from Norwich is 20 minutes later, but this depends on a six-minute interchange at Stratford [see below]. Despite the infringement of the seven-minute rule the on-line timetables also allow this timing, which is confusing.

  The Winter leaflet has a slogan on the front about "better connections". I do not think the changes match up to that claim.

  The National Rail Timetable does not give any connections at all in the Table [12] devoted to the service. Table 158 [Weymouth - London] and Table 59 [North London] have footnotes describing the origin or destination in Anglia territory, but Table 11 [Norwich™šLondon] says nothing about the link with Basingstoke via the North London.

  The timetable is so inadequate for such a corridor that I cannot understand how so much managerial and regulatory effort has delivered so little (or perhaps I can). It looks more like that of a line which British Rail wanted to close than that of an entrepreneur breathing fresh life into a moribund industry. It is also disturbing that the track-pricing regime and the institutional structure appear to discourage Railtrack from asking awkward questions about services that take up valuable capacity quite disproportionately to the number of people on the trains.

  On Mondays to Fridays there are only five westbound and four eastbound trains over what Anglia call the core section. The last westbound is at 15.22 from Chelmsford. Farnborough gets two trains in the middle of the day westbound but five east bound, although four or these run in the morning and the last after the evening peak. One train is pathed so badly that it takes 39 minutes to cover the 11.5 miles from Feltham to West Hampstead. One westbound service starts from and two eastbound services stop short at Highbury and therefore add little to existing journey opportunities: since they do not reverse one must conclude that the set goes elsewhere empty to form another service.

  The awkwardness of the pathing is tangible when one makes the journey: my trip felt tediously slow, with several lengthy stops. It made up a three-minute late start from Stratford on leaving Highbury, was one late from West Hampstead and lost two more minutes to Feltham.

  The Winter 2000-01 service is essentially unchanged from the initial service, apart from the slight improvement in connections and the extension of the two afternoon trains to Stratford and the starting back from there of the former 08.18 HighburyšBasingstoke. Anglia's website majors on this, but the plan still signifies clever marginal diagramming of sets whose prime function lies elsewhere rather than a commitment to Crosslink travellers.

  The managing Director replied to the criticism of the timetable by admitting that "it is by no means ideal" and then saying that he believed I have "underestimated the sheer complexity of delivering this train service at all". On the contrary, it is precisely because I am all too familiar with the complexity (both of the network and of the byzantine procedures that now compound the planning problems) that I am working in several ways to make the case for an altogether simpler and more rational approach. From that perspective, I think Mr Clarke is naive in imagining that, having "established a foothold as an incumbent operator" he can "exert the greater influence we would then hold to improve those paths", the aim being "to deliver a faster, more regularised pattern".

  In my view the present process is inherently incapable of doing that. Only the Swiss model, which I am currently researching and testing in British case-studies, could achieve it. But there is a catch. The Swiss approach would establish whether this mixing of stopping and semi-fast passenger trains and heavy freights on a difficult infrastructure could operate with consistent reliability on a repeating hourly cycle. If it could, well and good. If it could not, the works to enable it to do so would be defined and costed and would then take their place in a carefully-prioritised queue. Whether the cost against the potential revenue even from a regular and faster hourly service would place Anglia's ideas far up the agenda is a moot point.

  Meanwhile, my comment about Railtrack's position was more pertinent than I realised: Railtrack was reluctant to accept this service but was overruled by those keen to see "competition" and to achieve some quick headlines about a new route. The system must allow Railtrack's judgement to carry more weight where capacity is constrained, and the enquiry that I advocate should examine the effect the insertion of this service has had on the reliable running of the North London Line and of the frequent freight trains. If my experience of stop-start was anything to go by it cannot have been favourable.

  I am not persuaded by Mr Clarke's strategy. Having been involved for many years with demand analysis, timetable planning and transport policy, I had profound doubts about whether the hype surrounding this service was justified. It struck me (and others) that an infrequent service of slow, erratically-timetabled trains with mediocre connections was absolutely the wrong way to go about providing an attention-grabbing alternative to the M25, for all its notoriety. I continue to believe that the service is so bad in its design, its operation and its uncompetitiveness that it should never have received public funding and should never have been allowed to start.

  Journeys over the core section take between 15 and 30 minutes longer than typically via the London terminals, and, because of the randomness of connections, anything up to 60 minutes longer on comparable trains where additional changes are required. Only those people with a particularly strong aversion to interchanging via the Underground and a high degree of tolerance of a thin frequency will be interested (the Jubilee Line has added a good alternative avoiding the Central + Northern/W&C two-stage problem). The mean times shown on the leaflet for Norwich to Basingstoke and Basingstoke to Colchester are 246 minutes and 175 minutes: the AA route-planner offers respectively 206 minutes and 136 minutes by road. Maybe because the trains are so feebly competitive the leaflet lacks any headline examples of journey-times, which writes off that large swathe of potential customers who are frightened by conventional timetables. For journeys such as Ipswich—Winchester the choice is usually two main-line changes and longish waits, or a markedly faster journey going through the terminals and the Underground (with which many people will be more familiar). Moreover, the high frequencies on the Liverpool Street and Waterloo lines mean that on a good day actual times can be cut below the recognised times. Conversely, if things go wrong there are plenty of fallback options, whereas on the cross-route they are fewer and the consequences are likely to be more damaging.

  Mr Clarke's response to this analysis was to argue that the early weeks of the service had "conclusively proved that there is a whole potential market of travellers which the industry has largely missed in the past, for whom the key decision-making choice is not journey time but convenience. We have found many passengers who have used Crosslink for journeys which would have been quicker via London (eg Diss—Reading) . . . because they preferred an `easy' journey with hassle-free changes to a slightly faster one". That is somewhat unfair to BR's demand-modellers, who well-understood the issue of interchanging (though I might agree that they underestimated the deterrent effect of changes for some market sectors). The reference to "a whole potential market" and "many" are curious in view of the loading of the trains. (I do not of course have detailed figures, but I cannot believe that my journey was wholly untypical and I have reliable reports of other trains regularly conveying taxi-sized loads.)

  Yet there are also some more fundamental questions. The sSRA issued a Press Release on 8 December 1999 announcing the first two successful bids under the Government's Rail Passenger Partnership [RPP]. It stated that the objective was to "attract people out of their cars" and that the proposals had been appraised against the Planning Criteria, derived from the 1998 White Paper, of environment, safety, economy, accessibility and integration.

  The details were not reassuring about the sSRA's ability to judge projects and to challenge the self-interested propositions coming from private companies. The connection with Thameslink at West Hampstead was mentioned without it being asked whether the geography made this of any value. There was the at-the-time obligatory inclusion of links to the Millennium Dome despite the new service adding virtually nothing to the options for getting there. The Chief Executive was quoted as saying the scheme would help ease congestion on the M25 and that it fully met the aims of an integrated policy while seemingly having no insight into the total inadequacy of the timetable to achieve either.

  In my judgment the sparse loadings mean that the service is of small benefit on all five Criteria. On environment it could even be negative, since the pollution per passenger of so poorly-loaded a train may be greater than if each travelled by car and since some North London travellers may have been lost as a result of greater unreliability. On value for money, of which the Chief Executive was so confident, I estimate that each through passenger is receiving a public subsidy of at least £22 per single journey. [16]By no stretch of the imagination can that be justified, and such a misjudgment does not bode well for the SRA's Strategic Plan or the coming distribution of the Secretary of State's largesse.

  The situation is even worse when one considers the composition of the traffic. As too many in the industry are inclined to do, Anglia's managing director has switched from justifying the service as a congestion-buster to justifying it as opening up new travel opportunities. Now the latter may have some social merit in helping the less-advantaged, but the benefit is small compared with genuine attraction from cars—and as the railfreight interests vocally argue, running lightly-loaded passenger trains must be measured against the loss of paths for heavy freight trains.

  In a test of the information provided by Railtrack on-line and by the National Rail Enquiry Service the two sources gave significantly different information for the ordinary main-line services, chiefly because the latter finds options via the Jubilee Line (although note that the operator could not tell me why she was quoting an arrival time at Waterloo followed by a departure time from Stratford, which might have confused a member of the public). They agreed on an arrival time for a particular connection which is eight minutes earlier (by an FGE train) than that shown in the Anglia leaflet. However, NRE only found the Anglia service after I had been referred to a supervisor and given her a few clues about the route.

  New tests showed that the situation is no better. A request to the Railtrack on-line timetable for services from Ipswich to Southampton after 12.00 showed four trains/hour[17] via Liverpool Street and Waterloo with an average time of 189 minutes. The two options (mean time = 261 minutes) via Highbury were not offered. Similarly, Colchester to Winchester only yielded the Anglia trains when one forced a routeing via Highbury, [18]and it then gave perfectly correct arrival times at Winchester 21 minutes earlier than those shown in Anglia's leaflet. Moreover, the service is so slow that the system offered arrivals 8 or 13 minutes faster still by getting out at Highbury and Islington, taking a WAGN train to Moorgate and then the Northern Line to Waterloo!

  The likewise did not offer the Anglia trains, and when asked for a departure from Ipswich at 14.41 via Highbury it offered a change at Stratford to Silverlink and another change at Highbury to the Tube for Waterloo, still reaching Southampton 34 minutes earlier than Anglia's advertised time. It did offer the morning service from Basingstoke to Colchester when one specified the route, but the fares component would only quote routeings via central London.

  I asked NRE for services from Ipswich to Southampton after 14.00. For the 14.41, which Anglia advertise as the connection at Stratford into their 15.22 from Chelmsford, I was advised to change at Stratford and Waterloo, whereby I could arrive at 18.10, 49 minutes earlier than with Anglia. When I suggested that there is now a route via West Hampstead I was offered the 14.00, change at Stratford, Willesden Junction and Clapham Junction. Persisting, I got the impression that the call-centre-person knew nothing of the geography or even the existence of the Anglia service, and I was referred to the supervisor. When The Four Seasons had finished playing somewhere in Scotland I was given the same information. Persisting again and giving the supervisor a clue, I was told there were just the two morning through services from Ipswich. Only when I suggested trying a train starting at Chelmsford and then finding a connection from Ipswich did I get what I wanted, and even then it was the 14.30 from Ipswich, change at Chelmsford, rather than the 14.41.

  This is daft. The problem is partly that the search-algorithms are not set up to deal with slower, change-minimising routes, a matter which Anglia ought to be taking action on[19], but I fear that in this particular case the extra-time/greater-convenience ratio is so unfavourable that no amount of fiddling with the systems are going to enable them credibly to offer such services.

  Panel 7 of the leaflet has a promotional letter from Anglia's Managing Director. It is so imprecisely phrased as to add little information and few promises. It includes that word "exciting", which seems to be programmed into marketeers' brains for automatic use in every leaflet and press release but is not one I would use of a utilitarian trip from Chelmsford to Basingstoke via the North London Line.

  I am pleased to report that in the revision "exciting" has disappeared, but as noted above the claims for improvements in the service are somewhat exaggerated. The trains are described as "fast", which may be technically accurate when they are given a chance but surely infringes the Trade Descriptions Act in regard to their progress on the North London. And Mr Clarke holds out the prospect of treating oneself "to a snack from our on-board catering": on my journey the attendant was missing, and the versatile conductor opened the minimally-stocked buffet after Highbury for the few minutes it took to serve his complement of passengers. I assume that Anglia are saving money by cutting extravagant crewing, despite the leaflet's promise.

  The final panel (8) explains the fares and tickets. It is replete with jargon, complications and negative rules. It gives no examples of fares, which means that we have lost more potential buyers because marginal travellers (who think all rail fares are impenetrable and either high or restricted) cannot be bothered, for this sort of journey, to ring a national enquiry line. And in giving prominence to advance-booked, train-specific discount fares it is surely misguided. Apart perhaps from some Heathrow traffic, the nature of the demand must be for simple, walk-on, flexible fares. (As one example, how many people would want to spend £23.00 on a Super Advance Return that must be booked by the previous day when for £23.80, or less with a Network Card, they could have a fully-flexible, all-routes Cheap Day Return?)

  The Managing Director completely missed my point. He resorted to the industry line that consistent, comprehensive, impartially delivered information is all that is required, whereas the real issue, in my view, is that the fares system is fundamentally flawed by its complexity and restrictions. It is true that I travelled freely with a Zone 1-6 Travelcard and that, as Mr Clarke says, interavailable tickets and Network Cards can be used, but the effect is blunted by the text, which is unchanged in the Winter edition.

  In line 1 the flag goes up for the uninitiated in the phrase "most" ticket types are valid. In lines 5-6 the words "exception" and "other companies" will ring alarms (I am not clear why other TOCs' promotional fares need to be mentioned here). There follow 64 words describing Super Advance Returns, with off-putting phrases (for most of the market) like "only valid", "selected operators" (which?), "must be purchased in advance", "limited numbers", "trains must be nominated". All this, but nothing selling walk-on fares, or Travelcards (not mentioned) or Network Cards (only mentioned in a note explaining that they cannot be used on Anglia services into Liverpool Street[20]).

  Having failed to obtain any fares information from The I phoned Anglia's own ticket-line. I asked for a day-return fare from Basingstoke to Colchester and was quoted a Saver at £32. I was then told that booking on the day would mean an Open Return at £50. The sales-person seemed unaware that Savers are also walk-on fares (the later conversation with NRE explained the anomaly [see below]). Mentioning the Crosslink leaflet I next asked about the Super Advance return [SAR] that figures prominently in the text. After much searching for the leaflet and consulting with colleagues the salesperson reported that SARs are not sold for this station-pair because Savers are cheaper. Being curious, I wondered whether they are available at all and one was eventually found for Basingstoke-Ipswich, at £22.50[21].

  Continuing to play the mystery shopper I requested advice about the six-minute connection at Stratford: was that sufficient at a big station? The salesperson checked the manual and found that it lays down a minimum interchange of seven minutes, but, I was reassured, "you can actually make it though it's a bit of a rush". When I did not sound very happy about that I was told that I could wait 10 or 15 minutes for the next train. When I pointed out that this was the last of the day by that route I was told that I could travel via Waterloo instead. When I said that I was trying to avoid Waterloo and what if I missed the train the salesperson hastened to tell me I could claim compensation. Finally, the supervisor said I should not worry, the seven minutes is for safety but six minutes is fine.

  Null points for Anglia's marketing. Why did both people assume I was able-bodied and capable of finding my own way around a complex station? Why did one faux-pas pile on another? Where was any recognition that I might be one of the customers averse to crossing central London they boast about attracting in such numbers? And can the industry afford such pandemic confusion?

  I then tried NRE. The first person told me, before asking my time of travel, that there is a Basingstoke™šColchester Saver valid on Anglia trains at £32 and a Saver at £32. Naturally I wanted to know the significance of this rather peculiar statement. I was told that only Anglia operate on this route. Some persistence and the help of a supervisor revealed that Anglia's fare is available on the 08.26, whereas the regular Saver available by any route, including the London terminals, cannot be used until after 10.00 (before then the fare is £50 with an Open Return).

  In sum, there is an acute risk that most people will simply ignore an absurdly ill-judged service presented in a poorly-conceived and badly-executed leaflet. The impact on congestion on the M25 seems likely to be infinitesimally small. The gloss of the leaflet is totally belied by the reality of the experience. We, the industry, are asking well-trained and well turned-out crews to manage a good-looking train that operates through a crummy environment no self-respecting traveller with a smart car in the garage would venture near. We have forgotten the elementary fact that it is the total package that matters, from appealing and accurate marketing to every last detail on the day. The condition of the North London platforms at Highbury & Islington and the lack of information is indefensible anywhere and unforgivable for a major interchange. The timetabling is so inappropriate for the market that one wonders why anyone thought it was worth starting the service at all. It is certainly difficult to understand why the proposal qualified for a large Partnership grant. The marketing is patchy, muddled and in some respects incompetent. Indeed, I need convincing that the scheme is something more than a use of marginal time in stock-diagrams (or merely an ORCATS raid) that is being pursued for political and publicity reasons without any long-term vision.

  One cannot simply retreat into saying that, if Anglia lose money and pull out, then, in the free market, that is no more than its problem. The credibility of the entire industry depends on this sort of scheme succeeding. We are all involved. Unless I chanced upon a bad station and a bad day for loadings, I have a dreadful foreboding that this service is going to flop. It should be doing better, and there should be evidence that every detail throughout the route is being put right. There was none. We cannot contemplate the withdrawal of this service (except perhaps in order to relaunch it when the infrastructure, the timetabling and the marketing are truly fit for it). It must be got right.

  I see no reason to alter that judgement.


  I said in July that I did not want to receive platitudes and excuses. Instead I said I wanted to hear of certain changes by the start of the Winter timetable. I repeat the list here, with a commentary on progress.

    —  That Highbury & Islington, and any other station in a similar condition, has had a thorough spring-clean and been allocated the resources to maintain the station in good shape thereafter (if that happens I will donate my next Railtrack dividend to a railway charity).

    No visible change has occurred, and I now know that Highbury is not the only problem.

    —  That the track at Highbury has been cleared of defects, weeds and debris.

    No visible change has occurred. I would like Railtrack to convince me that they have inspected and passed as safe the cracked sleeper.

    —  That a working public-address system has been installed to announce the Anglia trains (and any delays to them) on the North London Line platforms.

    No action because of a dispute between Silverlink and Railtrack.

    —  That staff are available on the platforms to assist passengers with advice and luggage.

    No sign of such staff despite Silverlink's statement that it was making appointments.

    —  That the leaflet has been completely redesigned to present a more helpful, more relevant and more honest story about the service.

    Only minor changes have been made. The fundamental flaws remain.

    —  That the fare-structure has been simplified: it should consist of the normal range of walk-on fares available in London, without any qualification, and be capable of being presented in a station-matrix format (pending a more customer-friendly national fares system).

    No action taken (not that I really expected it to be). My enquiry-line experiences (bearing in mind that I know what questions to ask whereas many people do not) were truly appalling, and I wonder how much longer the industry can defend the indefensible.

    —  That the Regulator and the sSRA have outlawed all new timetables, route-diagrams and notices that refer only to the promoting TOC's services without giving an appropriate level of attention to and detail about other TOC's services, and required all existing material to be replaced by material focussing on the national, integrated network by the end of the year.

    Despite ATOC's reinvention of the National Network, complete with the BR double-arrow, both Anglia's and Silverlink's timetables continue to present incomplete and partial information that breaks the spirit if not the letter of the Code of Practice. Information about the service provided by the two on-line systems and by NRE is wholly unsatisfactory, and the Regulator should intervene urgently.

    —  That a senior Anglia manager will prowl about incognito at least once a week and report and act on what is happening in real life, working on the assumption that every detail counts.

    Anglia's Managing Director claimed that this was already being done. I can only say that by my standards it is ineffective.

    —  That an independent (of Anglia) inspector will examine the service incognito at least once a month and have the power to require action (with suitable sanctions, including reimbursement of the public funds, in the event of default).

    None of the supervisory bodies took up this challenge.

    —  That the sSRA has set and published tough targets for improvements in the physical, operational and marketing aspects of the service and is prepared to enforce them.

    The sSRA's reply was complacent and implied that it had no intention of intervening.

    —  That the sSRA has published the forecasts of traffic on which the grant was made and initiated a monthly public report on actual volumes of traffic, together with an action plan whose vigour is in direct proportion to the gap between forecast and reality.

    As above, I understand that the sSRA is not requiring regular and detailed reporting of results from Anglia. In view of the questions this case raises about public policy and public funding I shall be asking the sSRA directly what information it is intended to place in the public domain about the appraisal and post-implementation evaluation of RPP grants.

    —  That if no concrete and substantial improvement in the service itself or in traffic has been achieved, the Select Committee on Transport of the House of Commons will initiate a hearing into the circumstances of the award of the Partnership grant and its implementation.

    I believe the Select Committee should now intervene.

  I also called for further changes by the start of the Winter 2001-2002 timetable. I repeat the call.

    —  That the service will operate hourly, from early morning until late evening, to the same timetable every day of the week and with regular, patterned connections at both ends (and if that is too much to expect so soon, that there is in place a phased programme of developments towards such a standard).

    —  That serious money has been spent on refurbishing Highbury & Islington, and on other stations if necessary.

    —  That reliable, high-quality daily operations, coupled with a good frequency and excellent timetable connectivity, have reached the point where the line can be marketed with confidence to drivers on the M25 without risking derision.

    —  That long-term plans backed by realistic funding exist to enable the service to become half-hourly, which is what I would regard as the minimum that is likely to have a demonstrable impact on those who now drive across London.

October 2000

5   "It is important that such initiatives do succeed and to do so they clearly need to attract passengers." Back

6   Because the signature is a squiggle it is impossible to tell whether he personally has taken responsibility for it. I also do not like a letter about a matter of customer and professional concern to carry the legal phrase "Without Prejudice". Back

7   The latter will "display `real time' rain running information". Do people read the letters they send out anymore? Back

8   A silly euphemism. Back

9   This is typical of a widespread problem with the composition of these listings at many stations. Back

10   In A Guide to Anglia Railways the Stratford to Basingstoke section is shown as having "Local train services", in the same category as the Sheringham branch. Back

11   Not that it will be much missed by anyone who travelled hopefully on August Bank Holiday from, say, Chelmsford to Staines, only to find that none of the return services called there. Who planned such an absurd timetable, and why? Back

12   The first three departures shown in the leaflet are actually the arrival times at Southampton from the west. Another irritatingly wrong detail. Back

13   The time for Winchester is wrong: there is a connection in six minutes that arrives 15 minutes earlier than that shown. Back

14   The first is shown to arrive at Norwich at 17.45, but NRT shows it as 17.47. Back

15   NRT shows 07.07-someone has read the arrival time there. Back

16   Travellers exclusively on the two main lines can be ignored, since the service adds little to what already existed there, and they were certainly not the object of the grant. Exclude gricers. Exclude also those who travel to/from Highbury and Islington or West Hampstead, since the benefit to them is small compared with using existing services. Conversely, include those who could equally well travel via central London. Suppose that my observation of five through travellers represents a minimum load. Be charitable and assume that the mean is twice that. The calculation is then ((£2.8 million/three years)/(80 trains/week x 52 weeks x 10 passengers)) = £22/passenger. Back

17   Patterned, except that the 14.14 was omitted, for no obvious reason. Back

18   The systems sometimes rejected routeings via Highbury and Islington, West Hampstead or Feltham as unavailable. Back

19   Both Railtrack and The allow one to select an intermediate place but not to avoid a named place, even London in general (unlike road route-finders). And although the through-trains-only option will produce the Anglia service for Stratford-Basingstoke, it breaks down for many other parts. Back

20   Why does this need to be mentioned since the whole point of the leaflet is about journeys avoiding Liverpool Street? A smart traveller could presumably evade the restriction by using a Basingstoke train as far as Stratford and then switching to an FGE train into Liverpool Street or to the Central Line. Back

21   So if you want to travel to Colchester and can plan your trains, buy to Ipswich. You will save £6.50 and have the pleasure of knowingly boosting the headline passenger-kilometre figures! Back

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