When a TOC gets the flack, even when it's not their fault

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Imagine the following scenarios:


- 11am. There’s a fault with a signal, resulting in train delays/cancellations. The fault is fixed and within an hour most services are running to time, within 90 minutes all scheduled services are back to normal is back to normal. Commuters travelling first and last thing don’t even know there’s been a problem (unless they look at twitter).
- Some kids trespass on the line causing delays for several hours
- There’s flash flooding and line X is closed for 24 hours between stations Y and Z, a rail replacement bus is put on.
- A freight train breaks down blocking a line for several hours, this results in knock on delays for several hours across the local area.
- It snows heavily overnight, several drivers can’t get to work some lines are also blocked. The TOC Company operates a skeleton service.


None of those issues are the fault of the TOC, yet it will be them who gets it in the neck from passengers, either through a formal complaint, moaning on Twitter or venting their anger at ground staff.

What should a TOC do in this situation? If incidents like this keep happening, it damages the reputation of the TOC even though events and circumstances are beyond their control.
 
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LowLevel

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Accept that like the staff on the front line wearing the uniform, they are the public face of the railway and therefore have to be the contact with the customer whether they like it or not - we are meant to work as 'one railway' so that's what it means. In an attempt to see this through, in the event of delays etc where I'm mentioning service disruption to another operators connecting trains, I always issue an apology on their behalf to their passengers (even though we ourselves are unaffected), or say 'on behalf of your train operator may I apologise in advance for any disruption... etc'. Same as if there's infrastructure problems or engineering work causing road replacements, I always apologise 'on behalf of 'A N Other Trains and Network Rail'.

It usually seems to go down fairly well that we are acknowledging each other's issues as a network rather than living in a bubble.

Meanwhile in the background they can quietly be pushing the guilty parties '(if there are any) to sort things out. Our TOC employs an external performance manager whose job is precisely to be a rottweiler with things like freight companies who have trains that routinely leave terminals late and delay the same passenger services, or Network Rail if the same problems keep arising to work together to find more robust solutions.
 
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LexyBoy

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What LowLevel said. The TOC's secondary purpose (after delivering the readies to its shareholders) is to provide a service to its customers. If it finds itself unable to provide the promised level of service, then it is the responsibility of the TOC to (a) do its best to keep customers informed and get them to their destinations as far as is possible, and (b) to address the cause of the problem - whether this is something under the direct control of the TOC or down to their "suppliers" - NR et al in this case.

It works the other way too - passengers see new trains, improved services etc as the doing of the TOC when in most cases it has scant involvement.
 

Tetchytyke

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None of those issues are the fault of the TOC, yet it will be them who gets it in the neck from passengers, either through a formal complaint, moaning on Twitter or venting their anger at ground staff.

TOCs are all too happy to claim the credit for new trains, even though they're nothing to do with them, so it works both ways.

The TOCs are the public face of the railway and should accept the rough that comes with the smooth. It never fails to annoy me when TOCs, instead of saying sorry for a delay, simply say "it's nothing to do with us, blame Network Rail".
 

ComUtoR

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The TOCs are the public face of the railway and should accept the rough that comes with the smooth.

I do agree but I also see that public perception is detrimental to all parties involved. The more people understand how and what actually happens and who's fault it is potentially more constructive. A TOC could have a better relationship with their passengers if they knew when they were to blame an when they weren't. Potentially a TOC has a stronger argument to present to NR when they have the backing of the public.

It never fails to annoy me when TOCs, instead of saying sorry for a delay, simply say "it's nothing to do with us, blame Network Rail".

Imagine being blamed for every little problem, knowing it wasn't your fault.

I was being shouted at just a couple of days ago for something that was not my fault but I smiled and sucked it up. Regardless of the passengers behaviour or mine, the complaint fell on deaf ears. It just becomes a pointless rant rather than a constructive complaint to the right people.

It's frustrating for both staff and passengers that no-one is taking responsibility. Personally I'd like to see Network Rail and TOC alike, make announcements etc and accept when problems are theirs. I think that both hide behind each other.
 

Tetchytyke

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Imagine being blamed for every little problem, knowing it wasn't your fault.

It's frustrating for both staff and passengers that no-one is taking responsibility. Personally I'd like to see Network Rail and TOC alike, make announcements etc and accept when problems are theirs. I think that both hide behind each other.

I get plenty of it in my day job, I'm sympathetic to both sides, I really am.

The problem is that delays are usually as a result of a combination of things, some of which are the TOC's fault and some of which are not. You can probably guess which TOC I'm mostly having a go at, and the problem with that TOC is that delay management and communication is abysmal. They can't control the signal failures but they can control the fact all their staff go into hiding and they can control the fact that they way they implement skip-stopping in delay leaves some stations without services for a very long time.

I'd also have a go at Network Rail here, they're great at retweeting praise but the Twitter feed goes silent whenever there is an infrastructure failure. You'd have more luck getting blood from a stone than getting an apology out of them. And on the southern WCML a couple of years ago there were a lot of infrastructure failures following the botched Watford upgrade.
 

F Great Eastern

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A lot depends on how the staff deal with it as well and how disruption is managed, unfortunately a lot of staff seem unable to think outside a box and if a train is cancelled they just tell everyone to wait for further information rather than actively push people through other routes and via connecting services that are running but may take a little longer.

For example I was at Liverpool Street a couple of days ago where the power supply was effected and there was little announcements other than waiting for further information and it was very badly handled. Everyone booked on the Intercity Norwich trains for Colchester, Manningtree and Ipswich was told to wait for further information which was either someone who is not clued up or a lazy announcement.

What should have happened is anyone who was either alighting at Colchester, Manningtree or Ipswich or making connections there should have been pushed onto the EMU service to Ipswich, but they were not, which causes them to wait around like hermits since there was no information on when the next MK3 rake would run. For me that was extremely poor customer care.

On the other side, I was at Birmingham New Street yesterday and following the one under at Tamworth, there was excellent information in relation to all trains, the departure boards were being updates and lots of manual announcements about diversionary routes, advance ticket restrictions being lifted in some cases, short formations, advising that some trains were full and alternatives and many suggested routes. Despite the fact that almost every train was delayed, canceled or impacted, there was a sense of calmness even at fursh hour.
 

cuccir

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The problem is that delays are usually as a result of a combination of things, some of which are the TOC's fault and some of which are not.

I think that's a good point to make as well - the simple in/out of a TOC's control is probably often far too simple a division.

It's also worth pointing out that there's a rump percentage of the population - I wouldn't like to be precise but I'd guess somewhere at 10-25% - who will complain and complain loudly or rudely, irrespective of the cause and response. Anyone dealing with the public in any capacity probably has to be aware of this. Evidence of a few people complaining is not always evidence of wider dissatisfaction.
 
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