Archives for posts with tag: Train

I was back in the UK recently, where the mood was somewhat Brexit-fixated, as could be understood for the single greatest economic event in our lifetimes. There is a feeling of uncomfortable change and uncertainty.

Unfortunately, I was accompanying my mother to a funeral. It was a slightly convoluted travel arrangement, as the funeral was 2 hours away. My brother would drive us up there to attend with us, before heading somewhere else for work. We would take the train back. Mum wanted to avoid the Friday afternoon motorway traffic. So, it was two singles from Stafford to Bristol, about a 2-hour journey on the Crosscountry Trains service.

Mum insisted on paying for my ticket, a ludicrously expensive £60 for a single off-peak journey. The train was 10 minutes late picking us up. There were no seats available, the train was only 4 carriages long, an intercity train service running at 6pm on a Friday, what I would call peak travel time. I managed to find one seat for Mum and stood in the aisle. Two minutes later the food trolley wanted to come through – well, not the food trolley, a chirpy soul directing the food trolley. I had to walk the length of the carriage to let him past, and then come back again. I offered to lie on the luggage rack instead, but he said that would be too dangerous.

After 20 minutes, some seats freed up, so we were able to sit together for the rest of the journey. The train arrived, twenty minutes late. I’ve written before about how the UK rail system is so complex that it seems impossible to keep the trains on time, yet the Germans and Japanese manage it. Nobody seemed all that bothered by the crushed train and its lack of punctuality. Par for the course, they would probably say.

It has been a while since I took the train. No feeling of change and uncertainty there. Same as it ever was.

I’ve been travelling on Irish trains for 10 or 15 years. On the whole they’re reasonably comfortable and reasonably reliable, and quite expensive, perhaps because there’s a lot of fixed assets to maintain and a lot of staff mouths to feed. It being a state body, I imagine there’s a quite a lot of fat on the business that can’t be easily trimmed.

Irish Rail trains have these automated train announcements for their inter-city routes. The announcements come on at various points in the journey. I thought they were perhaps driven by GPS, so that when the train was a certain distance from a station, this triggered the ‘in a couple of minutes we’ll be in X’ announcement, and so on.

I don’t now think this is the case, because the announcements have been coming in at oddest the times, for quite a while. Recently I was on a Dublin-to-Galway service that was announcing we were coming to the various stops before we got to them – which is good – while we were at them – not so good – and after we had left them – not good at all.

Also, Irish Rail would do well to listen to the announcements of other operators like Gobus, whose messages are much more friendly and positive rather than negative. Irish Rail announcements have rather too much ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ about them. What’s wrong with saying ‘please avoid sitting in pre-booked seats’ or ‘please keep your feet off seats for the next passenger’? It’s less negative and conveys the same request. Theirs comes across as a bit semi-state and antiquated to my mind.

Finally, before I fall off my soap box, there are ticker tape-style notices on each carriage which display what the audio announcements say. On one of them, there has been a typo – an extra space like this  ‘please do not put your  feet on seats – for years and years. It must appear on every train, on every route in the country. You can’t tell me no member of Irish Rail staff has never noticed it and thought to get it fixed? It’s the detail that counts in the service business.

I had occasion, dear reader, to go to France and Italy a few weekends ago. It was a bit of a road trip – with some planes and trains thrown in for good measure – and one of the earlier legs was the Eurotunnel from Folkstone to Calais. I’ve been on the Eurostar from London to Paris, but never the car-train thingy.

I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t booked the tickets as it was a surprise held in my dubious honour, so I hadn’t gone onto the website to see what it was all about. I was going in cold, which is always interesting from a marketeer’s perspective. It is always incredibly valuable to experience the customer journey through your product or service for the first time, because once you’ve got your feet under the table and you know where to look, what to do and what to expect, you can’t help first-time visitors navigate big idea any more.

I was expecting something like a cross between the car ferry and the Eurostar. Drive on, dump the car, chill for a couple hours, drive off. So, imagine my surprise when we drove onto a ‘carriage’ that houses about 3 or 4 cars and sat there. You can either sit in your car and feel mildly seasick as the train speeds through the tunnel, or you can get out of your car and walk up and down the side. There’s an emergency loo, but no cafeteria, no entertainment, no view, nothing.

I examined the inside of the carriage. There were lots of emergency notices and information about what you can’t do. What I didn’t know was that the journey is only 35 minutes long and there’s not much you can do.

One thing that struck me was that there was nothing to manage expectations for the first time traveller. You have to find stuff out for yourself, when it’s too late.

How hard would it be to produce a 3-minute video that runs in the terminal and the carriages to give you more information on the customer experience? It would put you at ease, enhance the experience and make you spend more money in the terminal, knowing that you would be without food and drink for the best part of an hour.

I’m not saying Le Shuttle is Le Shittle, far from it. It’s a massive investment and a huge time and money saver. It’s no nonsense, not quite ‘quick and dirty’ but certainly at the functional end of travel. What I am saying is that they need to work on the customer experience. And, when they do, everybody wins.