Putting passengers first at Paddington
Tim Bellenger, director of policy and investigation at London TravelWatch, highlights how new integrated planning was adopted to minimise passenger disruptions in the capital this winter.
Over the festive period multiple engineering projects took place, closing some of the busiest parts of Britain’s rail network. One of these was the closure of Paddington station and two of the four tracks between London and Reading for electrification and Crossrail works. Such closures are an annual part of the transport scene in London, but in the past have not always gone according to plan, with passengers suffering as a consequence, such as at Finsbury Park in 2014.
Although this article was written before the festive period, it highlights some of the planning that took place beforehand which will hopefully have ensured that the work went smoothly and that lessons from past years were learned.
Great Western Railway (GWR) was acutely aware of the problems at Finsbury Park in December 2014 and problems in previous years, and set up a specific project team to plan and manage both this closure and their input into simultaneous closures elsewhere at the same time. This team, led by Andy McRae and Ian Mundy, took the decision to involve transport watchdogs London TravelWatch and Transport Focus at an early stage in the planning for the closures, and were able to benefit from their extensive knowledge of passenger needs, the complex transport network in London and their contacts with local agencies and other transport operators.
The closure of Paddington meant that passengers were required to use alternative rail routes such as the new Chiltern route to Oxford, South West Trains to Reading, Virgin West Coast and London Midland to Birmingham and, crucially, London Underground between Paddington and Ealing Broadway.
This latter journey is quite complex under normal circumstances, but as the watchdogs pointed out, the simultaneous engineering closure of the District Line between Gloucester Road and Acton Town would make things even more difficult for passengers. This was particularly the case as the alternative Piccadilly Line would also have to cope with all of the demand to and from Heathrow Airport in the absence of Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect. Ealing Broadway also has no step-free access.
Therefore it was really important to make sure that arrangements were even more comprehensive, and able to respond to incidents on the day.
As a result of the watchdogs’ interventions, a number of changes were made to plans, including:
- Providing spare train sets and crew, operationally ready in the event of service disruption, ready to cover any train service from Ealing Broadway likely to be affected by earlier disruption elsewhere
- Additional staff from all operators at London Paddington and from GWR at Ealing Broadway
- A comprehensive information campaign by GWR and TfL to ‘intercept’ passengers before they got to Paddington or Ealing Broadway
- Large-scale vinyls on existing Crossrail building works at Ealing Broadway to alert local passengers to the disruption (see photo above)
- Provision of refreshments and things to mitigate cold or wet weather at Ealing Broadway
- Engagement of local businesses to ensure that they were aware of the closure and any opportunities
In addition, Network Rail was able to bring forward the opening of an additional footbridge at Ealing Broadway so that a one-way system could be introduced to cope with the additional passengers expected at the station. We look forward to reviewing the effectiveness of the work that took place over the festive period in early 2017.
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