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 spentand 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
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.
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
I received a short letter from the Customer
Relations Officer of Silverlink.
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.
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
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 regretwas 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
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
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.
When asked about services to Basingstoke an SWT employee was vague
about routes and times and only acknowledged the Anglia trains
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).
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
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
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),
(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,
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:
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  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 [NorwichLondon] 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 HighburyBasingstoke.
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 IpswichWinchester
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 DissReading)
. . . 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
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. 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 carsand 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
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, 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
The trainline.com 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,
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
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
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
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).
Having failed to obtain any fares information
from The trainline.com 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,
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 BasingstokeColchester
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
5 "It is important that such initiatives do succeed
and to do so they clearly need to attract passengers." Back
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
The latter will "display `real time' rain running information".
Do people read the letters they send out anymore? Back
A silly euphemism. Back
This is typical of a widespread problem with the composition
of these listings at many stations. Back
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
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
The first three departures shown in the leaflet are actually the
arrival times at Southampton from the west. Another irritatingly
wrong detail. Back
The time for Winchester is wrong: there is a connection in six
minutes that arrives 15 minutes earlier than that shown. Back
The first is shown to arrive at Norwich at 17.45, but NRT shows
it as 17.47. Back
NRT shows 07.07-someone has read the arrival time there. Back
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
Patterned, except that the 14.14 was omitted, for no obvious reason. Back
The systems sometimes rejected routeings via Highbury and Islington,
West Hampstead or Feltham as unavailable. Back
Both Railtrack and The trainline.com 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
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
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