Latest Rail News

22.12.14

Deadline missed for improving information during disruptions

The deadline for completing an industry-wide action plan to improve passenger information during times of disruption (PIDD) has been ‘missed’, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has stated. 

The regulator, in a letter to ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies), stated that although individual train operators continue to make improvements for passengers in some areas, there is no industry-wide plan. 

Earlier in the year it was announced that the first draft of the action plan would be published by November 2014, with progress being reviewed regularly by the industry’s National Task Force (NTF), which the regulator attends. 

The plan was then to be substantially populated by December 2014, with there being an NTF supervised change control process to allow for any “further deliverables/dates to be added”. 

But “the deadline for completing this plan has been missed”, the ORR says. John Larkinson, the ORR’s director of economic regulation, makes clear that ATOC says the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) is only now reviewing the plan and will consider it at its meeting on 27 January. 

“It is of course essential that ORR agrees the plan in terms of ensuring there is clarity on what is going to be delivered and what difference it will make, who is going to deliver it, and by when,” said Larkinson in his letter to ATOC’s chief executive Michael Roberts. 

“So we need to receive the plan well before it goes to RDG and have the opportunity to comment.” 

ORR letter extract

Back in September, Larkinson wrote to TOC managing directors and Network Rail to summarise the position which had been reached on PIDD and the next steps to be taken. 

The new position includes a revised code of practice that incorporates actions from the Transport Select Committee which wants to see an end to passenger information stating that incidents that are affecting services “until further notice”. 

In particular, the new code of practice includes commitments: 

  • To carry out further national quantitative research for all train operators – with the results being published by each operator;
  • For the audit of core messages by a third party;
  • To ensure that core messages have better estimates about the duration of the incident;
  • For operators to monitor their websites (and other websites that contain information about their services) to make sure that what the passenger can see makes sense; and
  • For operators and Network Rail to hold cross industry reviews of local plans to ensure that they are up to date and share good practice. 

The new delivery measures cover three time bands and include: 

  • Short-term delivery – actions such as ensuring websites have a prominent warning message when the service is disrupted, better promotion of services that are available for passengers to check for delays before they travel, ensuring that amendments are entered into the Darwin system in a timely fashion and giving details of how to claim compensation if the threshold has been reached.
  • Medium-term delivery (within two years) – actions including integrating the National Rail Enquiries disruption feed into the retail pages of train operator websites so that passengers planning journeys on routes that are disrupted are told about it, making a renewed effort to ensure that staff make an initial announcement within two minutes of a train coming to a stop between stations and reviewing the apps and devices issued to staff to ensure they are fit for purpose.
  • Longer-term delivery (within CP5) – actions including an aspiration to link retailing websites with the National Rail Enquiries alerting service so that notifications can be sent for disruptions, delays and cancellations and contacting passengers booked on specific trains if that train is delayed or cancelled. 

Larkinson added: “We need to agree how the new code of practice commitments and specific new delivery measures are consolidated into an action plan containing clear, dated deliverables and showing the operators responsible for delivery. Progress with delivery of the action plan can then be monitored by the industry and ORR and publicly reported.” 

RTM was told by the RDG, on behalf of ATOC, that the organisation has been in conversation with the ORR about publishing a high-level summary that’s “currently being finalised with the intention to have it ready early in the New Year”. 

“Accurate and timely information is vitally important to passengers, especially at this time of year,” said Larkinson. “It is essential that the industry addresses this issue in an open and transparent manner to provide confidence that progress is being made and that sustained change will be delivered.” 

Winter weather preparations 

The RDG stated that, in the meantime, the industry has published a 10 point plan setting out how it is more prepared than ever for the onset of adverse winter weather. 

590 Delayed c. Alastair Grant - PA images

Operators and Network Rail have been working closely together to learn lessons from previous years when extreme conditions have caused disruption to services, and have been investing millions of pounds to ensure the railway is as prepared as possible. 

Measures to improve the railway’s resilience to snow, ice and flooding include:

 Trains:

  • Fitting of some trains with snow ploughs, hot-air blowers, steam jets, brushes, scrapers and jets for heated anti-freeze and compressed air to quickly de-ice tracks, plus heated skirts for trains running in colder parts of the country;
  • Thorough checks of standard train features designed to prevent problems caused by extreme winter conditions, including coupler heaters, door seal grease, fuel tank heaters and horn heaters.

Tracks:

  • Empty ‘ghost trains’ will run through the night in key areas as temperatures fall, to help keep tracks clear; freight ‘proving trains’ will run in the mornings following adverse conditions to ensure routes are clear;
  • Network Rail has an expanded winter fleet that now includes 14 snow ploughs, 10 snow and ice treatment trains, two snow blowers, 25 locomotives fitted with mini snow ploughs (10 more than last year) and 24 multi-purpose vehicles (14 more than last year) with de-icing capability;
  • Anti-icing fluid and heating strips are used on live conductor rails to stop ice building up which would prevent trains from drawing power; the addition of heating strips in key locations has reduced ice-related incidents by up to 80%;
  • Flood defence systems are on standby, including inflatable barriers which protect tracks and vital equipment from flood water.

Signals and points:

  • Heaters and NASA-grade insulation have been attached to critical points to prevent ice forming;
  • Protective covers have been added to 4,000 points and 2,500 points motors, to keep snow out and prevent damage by ice falling from trains;
  • Remote temperature monitoring is in place and a helicopter fitted with thermal imaging cameras to identify points heaters that are not working effectively is on standby.

Stations and depots:

  • Ensuring depots and stations have enough salt, shovels and de-icer supplies;
  • Preparing specialist equipment such as hot air blowers and steam jets at depots.

Staff:

  • Plans are in place for staff to be based at strategic places on routes in times of severe disruption to provide information and advice to rail users; and to ensure that full depot staffing is maintained even where some staff are unable to get to work;
  • Thousands of staff will patrol the network round the clock in times of extreme weather, clearing snow and ice from junctions and tunnels;
  • When flood warnings are received from the Environment Agency, staff and equipment will be sent to ‘at risk’ areas so preventative and mitigation measures can be put in place.

Measures to improve passenger information during disruption include:     

Better real-time information at stations:

  • A multimillion pound project is underway to enable consistent information to be displayed across stations as well as on websites and apps provided by operators, National Rail Enquiries (NRE) and other rail retailers. This will help ensure that passengers can get the same answer to a journey query whether they use apps, websites or station information screens. Around a third of the country’s stations have now been connected to the same single real time information feed.

 Letting passengers know as early as possible about any changes:

  • The industry has improved its processes so that revised timetable information can be fed into customer information systems more quickly, so that the new timetable is in place the evening before and passengers are better able to plan their journeys for the following day.

 Better use of social media:

  • Operators, Network Rail and NRE are increasingly using social media to keep passengers informed, including answering passengers’ real-time/live queries; publicising updated travel plans and travel information; and sharing images of what has caused a delay and showing progress in efforts to get people moving again. This autumn, NRE sent over 33,000 tweets, 17% more than last autumn.

Explaining delays better:

  • The industry has developed explanations of common causes of delays, which are now publicised at stations, on websites and social media, especially at times of disruption, to help customers understand why their journey might be disrupted.

Better information on delay compensation:

  • Train companies are doing more to remind delayed passengers how to claim compensation including: more train announcements; posters at stations with barcodes smartphone users can scan to go directly to compensation forms; publicising details on platform screens; staff handing out claim forms on delayed trains; tweeting links to claim forms; making information more prominent on websites during disruption; and sending email reminders to passengers. 

“We hope that the measures we have put in place to improve equipment, technology and processes will mean passengers feel fully informed about the potential impact of weather on their journey,” said Michael Roberts, director general of the RDG. 

“We want people to feel confident that the industry is doing all it can to get people where they need to go, and we will continue to learn from future weather events how we can get better still.” 

To read the relevant ORR letters, click here

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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