Latest news, views, opinionated rants and updates

11 Dec, 2013

Cycle parking at Witham station - UPDATED UPDATE

It's time for a further update to my previous posts about cycle parking.

Firstly, I got too excited last week when I was given a fob. It doesn't work.

Well, it started out working, but on the second morning I tried it the fob didn't work. I went to the ticket office, who told me it would need to be reprogrammed. They did the reprogramming after a short wait (originally they wanted me to come back in the afternoon to have it done), but once I'd made my way across the footbridge and back down to the parking I found out the fob still wasn't working.

Not wanting to miss another train, I chained my bike to the railings and gave up on it until later. I tried again tonight (having not had another chance up until then), but found the office shut until 19:30, so gave up on it. Assuming I get the opportunity to do so, I intend to head across at lunchtime tomorrow to see if they can reprogram/fix/replace it then.

Secondly, it looks like the situation regarding more fobs is no better than it was before.

A Reply from Greater Anglia

I have, pretty much by accident, managed to get a reply to my mail of 25th October, quoted in the blog entry from 20th November below: "Question for station management at Witham". I was corresponding with someone in customer relations who was dealing with another query which was the actual issue logged against the case ID I thought the cycle parking query was logged under.

I explained my confusion, and attached the original email, and this time, it seems to have gone to somebody in GA, possibly the Area Manager for a reply.

The reply is quoted below, with my thoughts interspersed. It comes from the customer service agent I was dealing with (whose name I have edited out). I was somewhat disappointed that it didn't come from either the Station Manager or the Area Manager althought the latter is referred to in the email. The reply gives a very interesting insight into what the reality of Greater Anglia's commitment to rail-cycle integration is, once you look beyond the press releases and publicity materials.

On the subject of Fobs

From: "Greater Anglia Customer Relations"
To: "Mark Oakden"
Date: 6 Dec 2013 19:11:38 +0000
Subject: Case Reference: GA131028-BBEZ

Dear Mr M Oakden,

Thank you for your recent email.

When the area was opened they gave out 70 fobs because there are 70
spaces, earlier in the year they purchased another 40 fobs to be given

So far this tallies pretty well with the information I had already. I'd have put the capacity of 30 Sheffield stands at 60 bikes rather than 70, but I guess they might be assuming that people will lock bikes to the frame of the shed itself as extra parking spaces.

They will not be able to give out any more fobs, because they have
already given out 40 extra, if everyone turns up on the same day they
could have 40 customers who can't park there bike which will lead to
customer complaints.

Wouldn't it be more sensible to do some proper capacity management? Just based on counting the bikes in there most mornings and some evenings, I've been able to see that number of access fobs that have been issued so far (110, apparently) leads to very low utilisation. I'd estimate the range of utilisation to be of the order of ~30% to 50%. That would suggest to me that Greater Anglia could easily issue a good deal more fobs without hitting capacity issues. An occasional count, plus the access records for the fob-controlled door would allow them to do a pretty good job of the capacity management if they were minded to. Hell, if they send me the records I might even do it for them!

So it would seem that I might have got a fob that had been handed back in, rather than one from a fresh batch that they were about to distribute as I'd assumed until I got the email from GA (and, incidentally in the process, I jumped the queue a bit - according to the guy in the office, I was third on the list when they issued it to me). The recycled fob might also explain why it doesn't work.

As to Greater Anglia being worried that they might receive complaints from customers if all the fob holders turned up at once and couldn't all park: I remember from when the footbridge and cycle park was being built it was publicised that it was being part funded with public money, largely from Essex County Council - i.e. making all of those of us that pay our taxes (and pay for tickets, the profit from which funded GA's contribution via their fees to Network Rail) also paying customers who are unable to use any of the 40 empty spaces we can see on a daily basis. Greater Anglia don't seem too bothered about my complaints.

What if everyone who bought a train ticket today turned up for the same train? Perhaps GA should limit the number of tickets sold to the capacity of a single train? Better make it an 8 carriage one since the 12 carriage ones are a bit thin on the ground at the moment.

Regarding the Chronic Under-utilisation
The Area Manager understands the cycle area is not always full but
customers can use the area when they want to and some of them work
shifts and leave there bikes overnight, 

I find it very, very hard to believe that there are so many more night shift workers using the parking than daytime commuters. The cycle park has always been much emptier whenever I've looked when coming home on the last few trains after an evening in London. Maybe I'm missing something - perhaps hordes of people do travel on the evenings when I'm not there to see them? Do GA put on extra trains for them? If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Saying that the Witham cycle parking is not always full is a bit like McDonalds claiming that their restaurants don't all have Michelin stars. Over the eight months or so since I have been on the waiting list for a fob, I've been counting the bikes most mornings and evenings and it has never been more than half full, and usually has about 20 bikes in it.

Suggested Alternative Parking
there are new cycle racks at Witham at the entrance by the car park
but these are not protected by CCTV.

There are indeed some racks there. Not only are they not protected by CCTV, they are situated in an area which has very little visibility from any of the main pedestrian thoroughfares such as the station footbridge entrance, thereby reducing the security further and making them a bit of a magnet for cycle thieves. Most best practice guides for the siting of bicycle parking suggest placing them in areas with high visibility, for example, the CTC guide states "Just as with car parking, cycle parking should be visible to staff, security guards or CCTV systems to minimise theft. It's even better if it's difficult to approach by van - thus preventing bulk theft." On the basis of that advice, I don't think you could place cycle racks in a much worse place than the ones referred to by the Area Manager.

TfL's Workplace Cycle Parking Guide also has some good advice: "Cyclists will be grateful if the parking is sited as close as possible to the door by which they enter the building. This is not just to shorten the distance they have to walk but also because this is where their bikes will be overlooked by those coming and going and, hopefully, by colleagues inside the building. [...] If help is needed in deciding, it may be helpful to take a look at where cyclists are currently parking as that is generally a good indication. [...] Cyclists will be reluctant to use parking provided out of sight at the back of the car park with the result that some will attach their bikes to an immovable object nearer the entrance instead"

Conclusion and Further Questions for Greater Anglia
When fobs are handed back in these will be handed out to the first
person on the waiting list.

Once again, thank you for contacting us.

Yours sincerely,

...... .....
Customer Relations Advisor
Greater Anglia

Well, thanks a lot for that - it was actually insightful, even if it wasn't the answer I was looking or hoping for. I hope that someone at GA sees this and is able to respond to the points raised.

The response did fail to answer one of the questions in my original mail: "3. How long is the current waiting list for fobs?". I'd still like to know how many other people are waiting to be able to use the 40 unused secure spaces. It's easy to count that there are more bikes parked outside on the railings on both sides of the station than are in the secure facility.

In addition, I'd also like to know the following

I also hope that my fob can be made to work (although that doesn't help the others who are still waiting for access to the secure parking).

Perhaps Greater Anglia don't realise that they don't need to keep the parking numbers down just to match the artist's impression.

P.S. I'm rather surprised by the fact that I resisted the temptation to use the phrase "fobbed off" in any of the above.

3 Dec, 2013

Cycle parking at Witham station - UPDATE

WOOHOO! I have a fob!

I still hadn't received a reply to my support case GA131028-BBEZ, so I queried the status of it via email. I received a very quick reply, although that seemed to refer to another case I had open with them under a different ID (regarding delay-repay claims).

On the off-chance, I went to the station and asked there. it seems that I was stil on the waiting list (phew!) and was the third name down. They also had some fobs to issue there and then. So, approximately 8 months after signing up, and with my wallet £25 lighter, I am now the proud owner of an access fob for the cycle parking area.

20 Nov, 2013

Cycle parking at Witham station

It's great to see that Greater Anglia are improving cycle facilities in a number of their locations, as evidenced by their showing at the cycle-rail awards this year. I quote:

"This year’s winners include: Greater Anglia, which now has cycling facilities at 88% of its stations including more than 7,000 cycle parking spaces."

A while ago now, GA massively improved their cycle parking provision at Witham Station (I seem to remember that this was with Council part-funding, but I can't find the reference to that at the moment. There is now a lovely, covered shed, in a convenient location by the footbridge (which was built at the same time). It has 30 Sheffield stands, and so has capacity for 60 bikes. There is a secure entry system, activated by a key fob which GA issue for, I believe, a £25 deposit.

Personally, I'd have specified the parking with more spaces than that, on the basis that prior to it being built, I'd counted up to 55 bikes along the railings on Braintree Road, and less than ten percent headroom seems a bit low to me, but capacity notwithstanding it's a good facility.

Where the facility falls down is that Greater Anglia have not issued anything like enough access fobs for it. As far as I have been able to find out, they issued one tranche of 75 when the fob access was installed, and a further batch of 40 around May 2013.

Consequently, whenever I've checked the occupancy, normally around 08:00a.m., the parking is never more than half full and usually there are 20 bikes or fewer in there.

I've been on the waiting list for an access fob since March 2013, and am still fob-less and relegated to parking my bike on the railings (and therefore being resigned to getting a wet backside on the ride home every time it rains).

Since the guys who staff the @greateranglia Twitter feed couldn't find out any more about the state of the waiting list or if there were plans to issue more fobs, I emailed the customer relations address:

Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2013 10:48:52 +0100
Subject: Question for station management at Witham
From: Mark Oakden


1. Do you plan to issue any more fobs for the secure cycle parking facility
at Witham station, and if so, when?

2. I'd also be extremely interested as to how many you have issued to
date.  My questions at the station, and via the @GreaterAnglia twitter feed
suggest a sum total of 115 (an initial 75, plus around 40 issued sometime
around May this year).

3. How long is the current waiting list for fobs?  I signed up to this in

The facility is currently very under-used.  I count the bikes in there at
around 8 o'clock most days and it is *never* more than half full.  Most
mornings, there are more bikes parked outside on the railings (including my
own) than in the secure parking.

I look forward to your replies to these questions.


I received an automated response on the 2nd November:-

From: "Greater Anglia Customer Relations" 
To: "Mark Oakden"
Date: 2 Nov 2013 13:32:16 +0000
Subject: Case Logged Notification. Reference: GA131028-BBEZ

Thank you for contacting Greater Anglia. Your correspondence has been received and assigned the reference number: GA131028-BBEZ. We aim to respond to 90% of contacts within 10 working days.


If your enquiry is urgent, please contact us on 0845 600 7245 (option 8) quoting the reference number above.

Customer Relations Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturdays: 08:00 to 20:00
Sundays: 10:00 to 20:00
Bank Holidays: 09:00 to 18:00

... but haven't heard anything since. I guess mine must fall into the 10% of difficult queries that take more than 10 days to respond to.

Imagine if the car park was run the same way - turning away cars even though it's 2/3rds empty on the basis that they weren't in the lucky few who got their names down at the start...

12 Nov, 2013

Quick review of current GA performance

From a passenger point of view, Greater Anglia's performance over the last couple of weeks has felt pretty abysmal. A quick check of my latest statistics confirm that it's pretty bad at the moment

Note that these statisitics aren't even affected my the lack of service on Monday 28th October, when the railways shut down because of the storms. (I coudln't travel, so I didn't have any delays to record!).

  4 week
Number of journeys 22
On time or early 4
1 to 4 minutes late 6
5 or more minutes late 12
on time (real) 18.2 %
on time (passengers charter) 45.5 %
Total lateness 3 hours 19 mins
(199 min)
Mean minutes late per journey 9 min 2 sec

The headline figures to look at are the on time percentages (I measure both real and "passengers charter" figures - where a train that's less than 5 minutes late is counted, in "passengers charter" terms, on time).

Having less than one in five journeys arrive on time is pretty poor, IMHO. The average delay per journey is more than 9 minutes. Given that the average total journey time is around 45 minutes, that's an average of approximately 20% extra journey time on every journey.

9 Nov, 2013

Holy Resurrection, Batman!

These pages fell into disuse for a while, largely because i was workign abroad amd got out of the habit of recording my journeys when I did return to regular train travel. In the mean time, the franchise has changed: Greater Anglia have taken over from national express East Anglia. The service doesn't seem to be much better though.

18 Oct, 2011

Random updates

A couple of longer delays recently: I got caught up in overrunning engineering works last monday and delayed by about 40 minutes and today, I was delayed on the way to work by an hour and ten minutes owing to the overhead line damage at Bethnal Green caused by the high winds last night. It seems only three platforms at Liverpool St were able to operate causing many trains to be cancelled or to terminate at Stratford.

I also managed to lose about 6 weeks of data in a phone synchronisation mishap - hence the gap inthe stats for August/September. OTOH, I was on holiday for three weeks of that so not too many journeys were lost.

11 Mar, 2011

At Last: a Round Tuit!

I finally found the time to download the last year and a bit's worth of statistics from my mobile phone and update the stats page.

I had to write a quick'n'dirty VNote to text converter to get the data off my phone (Tcl has a handy decoder for quoted-printable in tcllib). I'd hoped that GNU recode would be a simple answer to that problem, but since I needed to trim off lots of VNote fields I wan't interested in, I decided to use Tcl for the whole job.

One major change since the last time I updated this is that I now commute primarily into Stratford rather than Liverpool St. (on my way to Canary Wharf). This may be one factor in why the punctuality seems to have worsened so much since I last maintained my stats.

It's really quite shocking how bad things have got, once you start doing the analysis. In the last 4-week period, I made 28 journeys, of which only one was on time or early.

It's also risible how bad the seating situation on the Witham <=> Stratford route is. This situation has got very much worse since the change of the timetable in December. There went from being two trains from Witham (07:48 and 08:04) that would get to Stratford in time for commuters to get to Docklands for 09:00 to there being only one, the 07:55. Consequently this is very overcrowded.

I am waiting to find another "Round Tuit" now so that I can decide how to represent the seat availability (although this is pretty simple, I guess, I just have to add the words "almost never" to the page).

31 Jan, 2009

Prices up 6%, performance improves how much?

This year, National Express East Anglia increased the price of season tickets from Witham to Liverpool street from £3280 to £3480. This equates to a raise of just over 6%, about double the inflation rate. The 2007 price of £3280 was in turn an above-inflation increase of over 5&percent from the 2006 price of £3120.

I wondered what this would equate to in terms of performance improvements. The table below shows the figures for January in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

  Jan 2007 Jan 2008 Jan 2009
Season Ticket Price £3120 £3280 £3480
Price Increase (over previous year) - 5.1% 6.1%
Average delay per journey (mins) 5:30 6:12 6:40
Increase in average delay (over previous year) - 12.7% 7.5%
"PPM" 77.7% 63.6% 60.0%

So, despite hefty price increases each year, performance over themonth of January, both in terms of the average delay per journey, and the PPM (percentage of trains that run within 5 minutes of schedule), has dropped dramatically each year.

The performance drop between January 2008 and January 2009 is particularly surprising, sinc ein January 2008, services were massively disrupted by the disastrous overrun of engineering works outside Liverpool street station. Given that factor it's frankly astounding that National Express East Anglia didn't manage an improvement when comparing January 2009 with January 2008.

17 Nov, 2008

Year on year comparisons

In an idle moment the other day I was looking at my cumulative delay graph and thinking that it looked to the naked eye as if delays were getting worse year on year. A bit of SQL hacking later and I had the queries ready to check that out.

The following table compares average delay in minutes per journey across the time period I've been recording data. The periods compared are 1 year to 17th Nov, 13 weeks to 17th Nov and 4 weeks to 17th Nov. The year to date figures for 2006 represent a partial year, starting from mid-July, hence the "(*)".

  2008 2007 2006
Year to date 5:03 3:23 2:59 (*)
13 weeks to date 5:13 4:24 2:49
4 weeks to date 6:16 5:30 4:42

"(*)" indicates partial data.

It's pretty depressing reading. In each case, the figures have got noticeably worse each year. this is despite various press releases over the last few years from one/national express congratulating themselves on improving punctuality. I think it goes to show how far removed from the official statistics (calculated, I believe, for all trains, but only at end-point stations - i.e. not intermediate stations such as Witham) can be from real, peak-time commuter experience. "Lies, damned lies and statistics" indeed. Perhaps it's a subtle clue as to who writes the press releases?

16 Oct, 2008

OK, NXEA excuses department, repeat after me...

... "CONGESTION" is not a valid cause for a train to be late. I repeat: "CONGESTION", whether near Stratford or not, is not a cause of lateness when you're talking about trains (or for that matter airplanes under air traffic control), it's a symptom.

Don't tell us our train is late because of "congestion" as if you were a bit shocked as to how many trains would be travelling through Shenfield/Stratord/etc.: you know exactly how many trains should be there and exactly when. The fact that they're not is what leads to congestion, and must be caused by something else.

National Express control room: please look through your read out then tear off and throw away excuse booklet, and immediately throw away all the pages that say "congestion" - it's not a valid reason.

Apologies for the rant, but NXEA punctuality has been consistently bad for a couple of weeks and the only explanation that's been offered on a regular basis is "CONGESTION" which frankly just doesn't wash.

12 Jun, 2008

Service back to normal...

... is what National Express were saying would be the case this morning.

I'm sad to say, that service was indeed back to normal this morning with a 15 minute unexplained delay into Liverpool Street.

As of this evening, there are new delays caused by the derailment of a freight train between Marks Tey and Colchester which added another delay of 35 minutes to the day's tally. A video report from the BBC features a reporter outside Witham station (didn't see him there when I got home though!)

This comes on the back of a long (>60 minute) delay on monday night, followed by two days of not being able to travel at all owing to unpredictable delays, cancellations and overcrowding on the services that did run.

In this earlier video report also from the BBC, there's an interesting moment towards the end (at around five and a half minutes in) where the interviewer quizzes a Network Rail representative about the bonuses paid to Network Rail bosses. He literally says nothing (apart from a short laugh at the start of the question).

9 Jun, 2008

Another long one...

I got caught in the overhead line chaos tonight. Luckily, the train I was in was at Ingatestone station when it ground to a halt, and even more luckily i was travelling with a colleague who lives in Chelmsford whose wife was able to pick us both up from Ingatestone and very kindly gave me a lift home to Witham (thanks very much Alison!). Total delay ~1 hour.

6 Jun, 2008

Faulty gates at Liverpool Street platform 8

As I rushed to get an earlier train tonight, departing from platform 8, I noticed from a distance that the gates into platforms 8 and 9 were very congested, with large queues of passengers. As I often do, I decided to go through the gates at platforms 6 and 7 and walk along inside only to find, once through, that the internal steel gate between platform 7 and platform 8 had been closed (this is usually open).

I therefore had to exit the platform through the gates (which, obviously then wouldn't let me through so I had to requeue for the manned gate).

The gates at platforms 8 and 9 still had large queues. I noticed that there were only 2 functioning inbound gates (plus the manned gate at the end which I headed straight for, time being short). (I refuse to count the inbound gate that perpetually shows "Oyster only" as being a functioning gate since Oyster tickets are not valid or available on most routes on those platforms.)

Whilst queueing for the gate, I witnessed something that's pretty exemplary of the attitude of some (hopefully a small minority, but hard to tell from my experience so far) Liverpool Street station staff.

One commuter, presumably worried he'd miss his train queuing for the inadequate ticket barrier provision, decided to go through the gate that was being repaired. He walked through, and went to step around the member of staff repairing the gate, who immediately sprang up and shouted at the commuter to get out and go through one of the other gates (there was no request to see a ticket or anything). The commuter then said somehting about the queues and made to head for the train whereby the member of staff grabbed him and called over a poilice officer (or possibly a Police Community Support Officer, I didn't see clearly which it was). The railway staff member then proceeded to lie to the police about what happened, claiming that the man had pushed past him (nothing of the sort had happened, I watched it all from about 3 ticket barriers distant).

That's the first time I've seen anything of that sort during the rush hour, but there certainly seems to be a tendency amongst staff at Liverpool Street to use late nights as a chance to be very rude to passengers, then call over the police and complain that they've been sworn at if the passenger responds in like kind. I'm surprised the Police don't see through this. I guess it's just easier for them to take the staff side every time (I'm sure there are also legitimate incidents where the staff have genuinely been harassed and do require police assistance - I've just never seen one myself.)

28 May, 2008

Broke my delay record

90 minutes late tonight, on a journey timetabled as 42 minutes long. A bridge near Liverpool Street partially collapsed. There's no word as yet as to whether this is one of the same bridges that already caused disruption in January or March.

28 Mar, 2008

Information? What information?

The information screens at Witham station may as well be decommissioned for all the use they are, or at least re-branded (I suggest that they are renamed "CYA screens") since they are no longer used to convey information about train times, platforms etc.

At Witham station, there are a pair of screens as you enter which used to show a listing of the upcoming departures/arrivals with their platforms and information as to how late (or, occasionally not) they were running. There is also one screen on each platform displaying details of the next train: which stations it stops at, when it's expected to arrive, whether First Class is available and if the train is running short (e.g. 8 cars instead of 12).

A while ago, 'one'/nationalexpress decided that it would be a good idea to only display this information for half the time, so the screens started alternating (on a 20-30 second cycle) between displaying "information" and showing a static "security message" reminding passengers to keep their luggage with them at all times. Why the "security message" can't be printed on a poster and displayed that way instead of restricting all the screens to only showing useful information for 50% of the time is a question only nationalexpress can answer.

Today the "let's minimise the information passengers receive" campaign took another step forwards. The screens still showed the "security message", which I (not so) patiently waited through to get to the train information only to find that this had been replaced with a message about upcoming engineering works on Sunday. At this point I lost patience with the screen, took a wild guess and headed down to platform 1.

National express is, then, more interested in covering it's collective back over the upcoming engineering works than it is in providing passengers with information about their trains. "CYA screens" would thus seem an appropriate re-branding.

Or perhaps nationalexpress could re-brand them as "eco-screens".

"Valued customer, we have recycled our information displays as eco-screens throughout our stations to help save the planet from global warming. By re-purposing these displays to show extremely important "security" and "engineering" messages at the expense of some boring stuff about train times we will save nearly 50 sheets of A0 paper a year."

Who in their right mind could criticise them for that?

26 Mar, 2008

Lucky escape...part 2

According to The Times, Network Rail "instructed its press officers to hide the truth from the media about the cause of the delays on the Great Eastern main line into Liverpool Street station in London on Tuesday morning".

25 Mar, 2008

Lucky escape...

It seems I got pretty lucky with the trains today since I had to work from home to dial into an early conference call on the day when overruning engineering works again caused chaos on the trains.

14 Mar, 2008

14 million minutes

The BBC have a story that the National Audit Office have today released a report entitled "Reducing passenger rail delays by better management of incidents.

"In 2006-07, Network Rail infrastructure faults such as problems with the track and signal failure accounted for 42 per cent of total delay minutes, Train Operating Companies caused 38 per cent and external events such as weather conditions or vandalism, 20 per cent. Resolving incidents and getting trains running again requires cooperation between Network Rail, Train Operating Companies and in some cases the emergency services. The NAO found that, while Network Rail and Train Operating Companies generally had well established procedures for managing incidents which were followed appropriately, contingency plans were not always available or implemented as well as they could have been."

Lack of information is pinpointed as a concern: "One third of passengers recently surveyed by Passenger Focus were dissatisfied with the way rail incidents were dealt with and, of those who were unhappy, 75 per cent complained of a lack of information when they were delayed. The Association of Train Operating Companies has issued passenger information good practice guidelines to its members."

7 Mar, 2008

The cheque was in the post (x2)

I have now received my £24 cheque from 'one'/NXEA, and as predicted below, I've actually got two of them. I guess this means an email / call to them to see how to return the spare one.

27 Feb, 2008

'one' railway re-branded to national express East Anglia

Today, 'one' railway, was rebranded as national express East Anglia. A little bit more of a mouthful than 'one' was, but at least there's no scope for the confusion that used to be possible on announcements ("Was that the 11:41 service or the 11:40 'one' service?").

It probably shows how much attention I've been paying since this was announced sometime last year, with the BBC already running a piece on the new livery.

The rebrand comes with an intention to 'make travel simpler', with a number of initiatives proposed to improve punctuality and facilities.

Let's hope they are successful.

18 Feb, 2008

Still no printed delay forms at Liverpool St.

Amazingly, 'one' still haven't got any printed Delay-Repay (a.k.a. Customer's Charter) claim forms at Liverpool Street Station. Not only that, but their photocopier seems to be running out of toner, judging by the faded photocopy they gave me today. I hope the post office find it readable enough to deliver it.

13 Feb, 2008

The cheque's not in the post ... again(!?)

Today I got another copy of the letter described below on the 26th January. I assume that I have confused the system by submitting a delay-repay form immediately after the first day's delays, followed by the official "New Year Delay" claim form afterwards, once they'd published it. I did write a note to that effect on my "New Year Delay" form, but perhaps it may not have registered if they either scanned it directly onto their computer system, or if it was input manually, but there was nowhere to indicate the existence of such a note. If that is the case, I'm surprised that the cross referencing via my season ticket number didn't pick it up. Perhaps that's what they're planning to do in the 6 weeks of addditional processing they're talking about doing.

I hope this doesn't mean they're going to pay me twice - I'd feel duty bound to return the excess.

7 Feb, 2008

OK - I admit it...

I finally admitted to myself that the "Updates" section of my statistics page was becoming almost a full-fledged blog, so I've broken it out into this separate page. At least now I'll feel less guilty when the update entries veer away from strictly punctuality/statistics based topics.

6 Feb, 2008

Track problem highlights poor information displays at Witham

This morning, trains were severely disrupted owing to a track problem at Mark's Tey.

One of the most annoying aspects of this morning's delay was that it needn't have been so great for a large number of passengers if the communications at Witham station were better. The main problem is the information screens. These were, as usual, only displaying information for 50% of the time (the other 50% of the time they're displaying "static content", e.g. the standard "Security Notice" reminding passengers not to leave bags unattended lest they are destroyed by the security forces, or, as today, an apology about how bad the service was yesterday).

Unfortunately for those of us trying to join the 07:58 at platform 1 this morning, for the other, allegedly informative, 50% of the time, the platform 1 information screen was indicating that the train in that platform was, as is usual at that hour, the 07:58. I did think it somewhat strange that the train there was a class 360 rather than the usual class 321, but put this down to the disruption (and the indicated cancellation of the 08:04). Unfortunately, it became apparent, too late to change trains, that the train we'd been sitting on waiting to depart, was in fact the 0820.

I really wish they'd fix those screens to display information 100% of the time and relegate the security messages and apologies to notice boards where they belong.

26 Jan, 2008

The cheque's not in the post, but it's on its way (honest, guv!)

I received a letter today letting me know that 'one' have processed my claim form for the disruption on Jan 2nd and 3rd and that on the basis of the information supplied, I will be receiving compensation of £24.

Furthermore, they informed me that they'd be paying the compensation as a cheque, rather then their usual rail travel vouchers. Good!

They went on to add that owing to the number of claims they had received, and the amount of processing required, it could be up to 6 weeks before they would send that cheque.

I'm puzzled: haven't they pretty much done all the processing in that they apparently have in their computer systems all the information required to write to me (and presumably everybody else who claimed) and tell me how much that I will be receiving? How much more processing would have been required to print the cheque onto the bottom of the letter? Call me an old cynic, but I do wonder if that 6 week delay is actually about keeping Network Rail's money in 'one's bank account, earning interest for 'one', for a few additional weeks.

By the way, if you were affected and haven't yet claimed, the form is available at stations and online. Forms need to be submitted by 22nd February at the latest.

24 Jan, 2008

'one' second bottom of passenger satisfaction survey

Passenger Focus, the independent national rail consumer watchdog, just published the results of their Autumn 2007 Passenger Satisfaction survey (download). To quote from the summary

"Comparing the percentage of passengers satisfied for individual train operating companies with Autumn 2006, four have declined significantly (First Great Western, GNER, First ScotRail and Heathrow Express), and two have significantly improved (South West Trains and Arriva Trains Wales). Fifteen have had no statistically significant changes in their overall satisfaction results compared with Autumn 2006."

" The lowest ratings for overall satisfaction were given to First Great Western (74%), One (75%), Silverlink (76%), First Capital Connect (77%), and Southeastern (78%)."

'one' were second bottom of the overall list with 75% satisfaction (1% ahead of bottom-rated First Great Western on 74%). That they were also not listed as having had no statistically significant changes indicates that they must have placed rather lowly in the previous year's survey. Surprisingly (ha!) there's presently no mention on 'one's website of this survey, or what they intend to do to improve satisfaction (or indeed what they unsuccessfully tried over the last year).

The BBC has coverage concentrating on both the 'one' railway and First Great Western results.

Random footnote: 'one' seem to have run out of printed delay-repay (passenger's charter) claim forms at Liverpool Street station. Every time I've asked for a form this year so far they've handed out a photocopy.

23 Jan, 2008

Communication breakdown

Today, I experienced a prime example of 'one' customer communications. The train I joined at Liverpool St. didn't leave on time. No announcements were made on the train until 20 minutes after it was meant to depart, at which point we were advised to leave the train and join one of two later trains. The most annoying thing was that had the announcement been made just four or five minutes earlier, we could have just crossed the platform to the adjacent train, and suffered perhaps 10 or 15 minutes less delay.

3 Jan, 2008

Season ticket price increase

The new prices for 'one' mainline season tickets appeared on the 'one' railway website earlier today. For a while, though, the page wasn't linked (the "Season tickets" entry was missing from the ticket types list), but could be found by URL guessing (or merely Googling and following the link to the old page).

In the end, my ticket rose from £3120, to £3280, an increase of just over 5.1% (so slightly better than I feared yesterday, but still above inflation).

2 Jan, 2008

Disappointing but not wholly unexpected...

... at least not by myself or most of the other commuters that I overheard or spoke to.

It was not such a happy new year for passengers travelling into London Liverpool Street on the first working day of 2008, prompting an "urgent inquiry". Owing to overrunning engineering work, no trains ran into or out of Liverpool Street station for most of the day. Many trains were cancelled, and those that ran only went as far as Stratford, where passengers had to change onto the London Underground Central line. During one of the long stationary waits on my inward journey it was announced that the police had closed Stratford station owing to overcrowding.

The delays were 51 minutes on my inward journey and 36 minutes on the return. The return journey was standing room only on a very crowded train.

According to the news reports, it was also today that the above inflation price increases for rail tickets were announced, although the 'one' railway website had switched into their low-bandwidth mode today in response to the problems at Liverpool Street, and so the links to ticket prices were not available to check how badly my route has been hit. One report quoted the rise on the Norwich to London anual season ticket as being 6.4%, so I expect it will be something similar to that, adding up to a rise of about £200 on my season ticket price.

To add to the joy, snow flurries are forecast for tomorrow, so I guess we should expect more chaos on the railways.

7 Dec, 2007

Two dreadful days

The last four journeys have been the worst period I can remember during my time commuting on 'one'. A total of 153 minutes (2 hours 33 minutes) of delays over four train journeys! For three of them, I was standing all the way in very crowded conditions.

There were a mixture of causes for the delays:-

The final journey of the four only had a one minute delay, but was formed of only 4 coaches, so was heavily overcrowded. Pretty much all of the reasons for delay were out of 'one' railway's control (not sure about the reason for the very short train). The on-train information, though, was pretty dreadful. Most of the above were reconstructed after the fact from station announcements/news reports, owing mostly to the terrible on-train PA systems - as far as it was possible to tell, the drivers were providing plenty of information - it was just largely inaudible in the carriages.

13 Nov, 2007

Looks like things used to be better in 1901...

I just found this whilst searching for other train punctuality resources. It's an article from the New York Times of October 28th 1901 (taken originally from The Telegraph) which reports that Great Eastern Railway had just come top in a measure of punctuality across the English rail system (a local mirror of the pdf linked from that page is here).

Interestingly, back then the trains were measured against arrival within 3 minutes of timetable rather than the 5 minutes that's common practice in the UK now (Passengers' Charter).

2 Nov, 2007

Total delays have now topped 24 hours

As of today, my total delays have topped 24 hours. Over 463 journeys, I've now experienced 24 hours and 29 minutes of (net) delays.

The milestone was reached on a particularly poor day's travelling, with my morning train being cancelled leading to a 12 minute delayed journey on an overcrowded train standing all the way to Liverpool st. followed by a 23 minute delayed journey home in the evening.

24 Oct, 2007

Just spotted this on 'one' railway site

'one' are reporting their eighth successive period of punctuality over 90%. It seems, at least on overall measures, that their punctuality really is improving. The performance on the mainline service (including Witham to Liverpool Street) is lower though, at 84.9% which they attribute to "a mix of infrastructure problems, engineering work over-runs, suicides and incidents outside the industry's control (such as the closure of the route for eight hours on 5 October - due to the closure of the adjacent A12 caused by safety precautions related to a fire on a road vehicle carrying oxy-acetylene cylinders)."

My own experience over these eight periods is less good... I travelled 216 times in the last 8 periods, and arrived less than 5 minutes late on 170 of these journeys for a punctuality rating of 78.7% (i.e. somewhat lower than the 84.9% that 'one' measure over all trains). I assume this is a result of my measurements being restricted to peak time trains only, which I must be more susceptible to "infrastructure problems, engineering work over-runs, suicides and incidents outside the industry's control". Or maybe I'm just phenomenally unlucky with my trains?

On those late journeys in that period where explanations were given, they were as follows:-

22 Oct, 2007

More statistics..

The first fruits of the SQLite rewrite are the 2 and 4 week moving averages and the 4 and 13 week histograms on the figure above. Incredibly easy to add (once I worked out the self join necessary for the moving average.

The next simple addition will be another column (or two) in the statistical summary table, and an automatic generation from the database of the delay-repay table on the correspondence page.

16 Oct, 2007

Re-write of back end analysis code

Over the last week or so, I rewrote the analysis code (previously written in Tcl, analysing a flat file of dates/journey times) to utilise an SQL database backend. The code is still Tcl, using the wonderful SQLite library by D. Richard Hipp.

At the moment the analysis code is a straight port; although it's much simplified now that I can do most of the logic (e.g. finding sums, maxima and minima) in SQL.

The main motivation is that this should allow me to fairly easily add more statistics such as the summary figures and histograms for other time periods such as the last 4 weeks etc.

23 Jul, 2007

One year on 'one' railway

Today, my first full year travelling on 'one' railway drew to a close with a total of 19 hours and 28 minutes of delays.

During this time I have received a total of £26 in 'Delay-Repay' compensation in respect of 7 qualifying delays. On reflection, though, I think that the most annoying delays are those much more frequent short ones that don't qualify for compensation but cause just as much disruption (e.g. on some trains, 5 or 10 minutes delay is enough to make me miss the only bus that gets me close to home, so I'm faced with either walking the 1.5 miles and not seeing my children, or paying out approximately £5 in taxi fares).

Of course, to get, and take advantage of, this compensation, I will have had to fill in my name and address a total of 14 times (7 times on the compensation forms, along with lots of other information and 7 more times on the back of each received rail travel voucher when I use them).