London Midland admits it got it wrong over its passenger assistance service


Rather a lot of stairs to go up or down if you are disabled or have a buggy at Berkhamsted station if the lift is out of order.


London Midland has admitted that a ” breakdown in communication ”   meant it didn’t know that one of its stations was unstaffed, had a faulty lift and that its  emergency passenger help service didn’t work last Sunday.

The admission came in an email from the company in response to a complaint I lodged after being dumped at Berkhamsted with my disabled wife Margaret at the end of a weekend break from Liverpool.

I highlighted this in a blog earlier this week purely because I thought the situation was potentially dangerous and that train companies should be more careful in ensuring that their passengers can travel safely.

An email from Sarah Brassingham, a customer relations adviser, admits :  ” Unfortunately there was a breakdown in communication that meant that the team at Milton Keynes Central were unaware of the issues at Berkhamsted that evening, which were obviously compounded by the issues with the help point on your arrival.

Steps are being taken to address this with the stations and Passenger Information teams, and our Facilities team are resolving the issues with both the lift and the Passenger Information points as quickly as possible.

I can assure you that we take any assistance failures extremely seriously and apologise again for the inconvenience and distress caused.”

We have been offered a rail refund for the Milton Keynes to Berkhamsted journey but it does raise wider questions. One solution would be to ensure that whoever helps a disabled person  to get on the train informs the guard about the person’s destination – so if there is no one there the guard can help. at the other end But that still doesn’t get over the problem of faulty lifts or emergency help systems not working.

London Midland say their policy is ” Pre-booked assistance is provided by the station team at staffed stations and by the Conductor on board the train when the station you are getting on or off the train at is unstaffed.”

That raises another question. London Midland still has guards. If Southern get their way they won’t be any and presumably if they have any unstaffed stations disabled people won’t be able to get off the trains or be unable to travel.

That is one reason to back the RMT union case to keep guards on trains and fight the company and Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, who want to get rid of them.



Can’t rely on London Midland:How staff cuts and technical failures dump on disabled and vulnerable rail passengers

london midland train

London Midland train


This weekend my wife and I returned from a weekend in Liverpool where I had been speaking at a GMB Justice Campaign conference.

My wife is recovering from a stroke and we use the passenger assistance service to travel by train as she needs a little help boarding trains and avoids using stairs.

This weekend we got a good service when we boarded the train at midday on a Friday in Berkhamsted and a good service at London Euston  and Liverpool Lime Street on the way up and at Liverpool Lime Street and Milton Keynes where we changed trains on Sunday on the way back.

But the support fell apart when we returned to Berkhamsted just before seven o’clock on Sunday evening. I am writing about what happened here because it has wider implications for rail  travel and what steps rail companies take to protect people in an emergency.

Berkhamsted Station has recently installed lifts to aid the disabled, people with heavy luggage and families with pushchairs to get from the platforms to the subway below.

When we got to Berkhamsted  a town with 27,000 people) there was no one there to help my wife off the train and the lift was out of order. But it didn’t say it was out of order. Instead you could access the lift to go down to the subway. It just wouldn’t respond to go down to the subway.

Thinking this should be reported I pressed the alarm. Immediately I got an automated message saying ” don’t panic” and then the lift dialled an emergency number. There was no reply. I repeated the exercise still no reply. Luckily the doors had not closed or else we would have been trapped inside the lift until some one rescued us.

On the platform there is also an automatic system for passengers to contact someone should they need emergency assistance. I pressed that. Believe it or not I got message saying the number was unobtainable. So if say someone had been assaulted or sexually attacked on the platform – the emergency assistance system was faulty

When we eventually got off the station ( there is another roundabout route down a ramp through a station car park ) I found a notice on the ticket office saying there it had closed all day Sunday – so  there had been no staff at the station all day.

What has shocked me is that London Midland seem to have no ” duty of  care” to passengers – and their systems which are supposed to work when they are no staff – appear to be just there for show.

We did meet one member of London Midland  staff working that night – a man on the train from Milton Keynes to Berkhamsted checking tickets. So the company gave more priority to making sure it got all its revenue on Sunday for its shareholders and directors – than bothering to provide staff or checking that emergency procedures worked  to aid its passengers. And with plans to get rid of guards and close as many ticket offices as possible it can only get worse.

I have written to London Midland for an explanation and look forward to their reply.






The train driver who averted a major disaster on a London commuter line in nine seconds


The two collided trains in the Watford Tunnel.Pic credit: British Transport Police

An accident  report out today on the landslip at Watford that derailed an early morning  London Midland commuter train last September reveals the importance of having properly  trained staff  on our railways.

It reveals that without prompt action by the driver there would have been large number of casualties and possibly fatalities when another commuter train running in the opposite direction collided with the derailed train.

It also shows having a guard on the train meant that passengers on the service who had not been injured got immediate reassurance and help after the driver was trapped in the cab following the accident.

The report praises both the driver and the guard for the way they handled the accident – caused by heavy rain leading to a landslip on the line just inside the entrance to a tunnel at Watford.

Simon French, Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents said:

 ” The collision of a passenger train with a derailed train in Watford tunnel on the morning of 16 September last year serves as a reminder of why everyone in the railway industry continues to work so hard to manage risk – the collision of two trains in a tunnel is a scenario we all hoped never to witness.

The derailment of the 06:19 service from Milton Keynes could so easily have led to a catastrophic sequence of events were it not for two notable factors. The first was the sheer professionalism of the driver who, within moments of becoming derailed, had the presence of mind to apply the brake and then transmit an emergency message using the train’s ‘GSM-R’ radio. His actions alerted the driver of a train approaching in the opposite direction who immediately applied the brake. As a consequence, the northbound train had reduced speed from 79 to 34 mph before striking the derailed train a glancing blow. This reduction in speed may well have made a big difference to the eventual outcome.

The second mitigating factor was the slotting of one rail of the track in the gap between a gearbox and a traction motor on three of the axles, so preventing the derailed train deviating any further into the path of the approaching train. This unintended consequence of the train’s design probably made the difference between a glancing blow and something closer to a head-on collision.

The report reveals that the driver had just nine seconds to alert the oncoming train after his train had been derailed – but as a result it certainly saved lives.

The circumstances of the crash are also a grim warning in the age of climate change given that very heavy rain caused the landslip at exactly the same spot  as another landslip in 1940.

The rail accident investigators found details of the earlier landslip in Network Rail’s archives but unfortunately the  management of Network Rail had not alerted people  who had  been working on removing vegetation and trees in the cutting on the need to  revamp an old drainage system.

The report also reveals that had there been a serious accident access by the emergency services to the scene would have been difficult and there did not appear to be any plan for organising a major rescue should an accident happen in the Watford tunnels.

All this suggests to me is that ministers and privatised railway companies – such as Southern railways – who want to save money by continually cutting staff should be wary of doing so. It could cost lives and passengers need help and reassurance should the unexpected happen on their daily commute.



How the government is allowing the Japanese to profit from captive London and Brummie commuters



Earlier this month the Department of Transport extended its recommended list of bidders to run Britain’s railways to a privatised rail company in Japan.

It shortlisted East Japan Railway as a minority partner with the Dutch state rail company Abellio, in the consortium West Midlands Trains Ltd as one of three groups bidding to take over the West Midlands franchise next October. which provides commuter services into London and Birmingham including my home town of Berkhamsted.

But more significantly it decided that East Japan Railway would qualify as an approved bidder for any other franchise up for grabs until 2020.

The Telegraph presented  the bid as a move by a company at the cutting edge of technology as it provides some of  Japan’s bullet train services.

But anyone thinking those on the crowded commuter routes will be whisked in by a super bullet train service should think again.

The story is in fact the exact opposite once you study the company’s latest annual report.

What it shows is that the bedrock of the company’s regular income is its commuter services around Tokyo not its bullet trains. And the prospect for making any more money out of them is a tad bleak.

It reveals that the company is currently facing a downturn in its commuter services serving Tokyo partly caused by a declining population and is looking to expand abroad. It currently provides no services outside Asia – where it is helping develop a mass transit rail system for Bangkok and improve train services in Indonesia.

The annual report says: “Generally, Japan’s declining population is seen as unfavourable for the transportation industry. However, our performance in fiscal 2015 proved that, even in an era of population decline, we can grow revenues by steadily implementing various measures.”

These include developing stations and encouraging more retired people to use local trains as the number of commuters decline.

With lower fares in Japan than the UK, the move could give the operator access to the lucrative London commuter market and it could also offer its services to maintain and build new trains for the British market.

So in other words commuters using London Midland trains to get into Birmingham and London Euston will be contributing to  profits which can be repatriated to Tokyo to offset the declining  Japanese market.

Which makes an investment in London Midland a one way bet for the Japanese since the current Tory government will ensure fares rise every year and the growing population in the UK will all help boost profits.

I would not be surprised to see government ministers in the transport department helping themselves to directorships and consultancies with the company a couple of years after they have stepped down from their posts. After all they have done them a great favour.

I have written about this in Tribune. The three consortia bidding are:a consortium run by London and West Midlands Railway Ltd, a subsidiary of Govia Ltd (a joint venture between Keolis and Go-Ahead Group)’ West Midlands Trains Ltd, currently a wholly owned subsidiary of Abellio Transport Group Ltd with East Japan Railway Company and Mitsui & Co Ltd as minority partners; and MTR Corporation (West Midlands) Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of MTR Corporation (UK) Ltd which runs the Hong Kong rail system.

The new London Midland operator will take over in October this year.

Does the train take the strain? East Coast good, London Midland bad

A helpful East Coast express: pic courtesyLocoPix

An unhelpful London Midland train

Travelling around with a recovering fractured shoulder  is not much fun. Particularly if you have to load your heavy luggage on a train. But fortunately there is a free public service offered by the rail companies to get assisted help if  you are disabled. Or is there?

I had two opposite experiences going on holiday from Berkhamsted to Edinburgh. One showed the worst aspect of rail franchise companies, the other the best.

I contacted both London Midland and East Coast Trains by e-mail in advance for help. East Coast trains replied by return, saying my e-mail did not make it clear how much help I needed and giving me a number to ring them for more help. London Midland did not respond and never did.

When I rang East Coast they could not have been more helpful. They took details of the trains, the seat reservation, and because I wasn’t sure how we would arrive at Kings Cross where to go to get assistance on the station.

I then rang London Midland on a freephone number on their website. No reply, not even an answering service and finally a member of staff disconnected the call.

So no help for the journey from London Midland. East Coast – despite the train being overcrowded because of two other cancellations at Kings Cross – kept their bargain. With the luggage space full, the porter obligingly moved the cases to the guards van. At Edinburgh Waverley there was a porter to meet us as we got off the train ( they wanted the seat reservations so he could meet us at our carriage). On the way back to Kings Cross exactly the same experience – the porter even found one case after another passenger had moved it.

Is there a political point in this?  East Coast is state owned, and seems to train its staff to beleive in public service. London Midland is not. It is a state subsidised profit making private operation – whom I have already  crossed swords with issuing ” ghost tickets” at different prices from Berkhamsted. (see earlier blog on this site).

My suspicion is that London Midland’s  disabled help service is a fake, just a cyberspace invention on their website invented by their pr department, to make it look as though they care. Or perhaps their training programme for staff centres on how to lose e-mails and put down phones on customers, thus saving them any inconvenience or cutting into their large proft margins.

Either way East Coast deserve congratulations, the managers of London Midland  need their shoulders breaking.

London Midland’s  response is  attached as a comment to this piece ( see above).

Ghost Ticket from Berkhamsted

A Ghost ticket

A real London Midland train: Picture courtesy Daily Mail

You will all know about ghost trains – those services that run but do not appear to exist on the timetable.

London Midland  have gone one step further – they may be the first railway in Britain to sell ghost tickets.

For the last five months the company has offered us oldies an extraordinary deal if we want to travel in peak times and have the freedom to travel round London.

If you purchase a ticket from the company’s two ticket machines at Berkhamsted station  for a London travel card – you have been able to get a £7.20 reduction on a £22 peak time rail journey.

 But don’t ask for such a ticket at the booking office – because until January they will tell you that no such fare exists and they can’t sell you such a  ticket. As a result by word of mouth hundreds of oldies have been getting a secret third off rail fares to London before 9.30 am.  Up to January tickets were legal, issued by the company and they work all the  entry gates to the tube in London. No one  published the deal in case the foolish London Midland changed its mind and withdrew the ticket.

 London Midland obviously decided they did not want to spend the money altering the ticket machines so  ghost tickets continue to be spewed out of the machine .

Now with the new fare rises the reason has become clear. London Midland had programmed Berkhamsted to accept the a new Anytime £14.80 peak travel card five months before it existed.  It was to be linked with higher fares for those using evening peak trains. No wonder they weren’t going to remove them from the machines.

The extraordinary thing  is this  the now £7.60 reduction is still  available after the fare rise and before 9.30 am from the ticket machines – though the booking office insist it  is now an illegal ticket if you travel before 9.30 am. 

 I don’t know what trading standards would make of it. According to Passenger Focus, the independent consumer group, rail companies are not allowed to issue differently priced tickets to the same place from booking offices and machines at the same station.

The company is recouping any savings for early travellers by charging 30 per cent more if a passenger  goes in after 9.30 but needs to return from London between 4.45pm and 6.45pm. In this case for oldies the fare rises from £11.15 to £14.80.

But if you do travel before 9.30 am on the ticket – the booking office say they will get you.

They say travellers will be stopped at the barrier at Euston – if caught using it -as it won’t work the machines there . However many of the rush hour trains do not use platform 8 to 11 and there not a barrier in sight on other platforms to stop you.

 This is going to make an interesting test case if they do pursue people – for the name on the ticket is Anytime – which if there is any restrictions on travel is a breach of the Trades Description  Act.