February 21, 2004

Why people need to see what they expect to see.

Michael Jennings | Rail General

I am presently in an internet cafe in Manchester. I should be half way back to London in the last Midland Mainline train via Leicester, but as it happened, I missed the train. I will instead be catching a midnight National Express coach back to London, which as a thing to do is a little annoying, and which will cost me an annoying but not horrendous sum of money (£19). Now, there is an interesting reason why I missed the train.

I arrived at the station in time to catch the train, around five minutes before it was due to leave. This station has two television screens near the ticket office giving departures and arrivals. Or, rather, giving arrivals and departures. That is, the arrivals screen is on the left, and the departures screen is on the right. I walked into the station, looked at the left screen, saw "London St Pancras: 19:02 Platform 4" on the screen, and walked to Platform 4. I then waited for a few minutes, and then heard an announcement saying that the train on Platform 2 was the 18:59 train to London St Pancras. I then ran to Platform 2 and the train was still there, but the guard (who was behind an open window on the train) explained that the doors had been locked and the driver had been informed he could go, so she couldn't let me on. The train (an Intercity 125 I think) seemed to have slam doors and I am not sure whether they actually were locked, but I took her word for it and did not attempt to board the train. (There is a genuine safety issue here, and I do respect this). I therefore missed my train. I then went back to check the departure screen, and again I saw "London St Pancras: 19:02 platform 4". I raised my camera to take a photograph of this to send to Midland Mainline. However, before actually taking the photo, I finally noticed that the "Departures" screen was the one on the right, rather than on the left as is usual. I realised that I had missed my train because I had confused "Departures" and "Arrivals", and I was annoyed with myself. (Unfortunately I did not actually take the photo for this blog post).

My ticket was an advance purchase valid this train only valid Midland Mainline only ticket, but if this had not been the last train of the evening, I would have boarded the next train anyway. (Often conductors have a little discretion and will often allow passengers to catch the next train after the one their ticket is strictly valid for, because there are plenty of reasons for missing a train that are the fault of the operator - late connecting services for instance). However, it was the last train of the (Saturday) evening, and Midland Mainline have no Sunday service from Manchester to London, so my options were to board the next Virgin service to Euston (and probably pay another fare, as there is really no good reason why Virgin should honour a Midland Mainline only ticket) find some non-rail way back to London, or wait until Monday morning. Even if I tried the Virgin option, I would have had to wait until the next morning, as the last Virgin service of the evening had already departed. Which would mean I would have to find and pay for another night's accommodation. So the National Express coach was looking better and better. (Bring on Megabus, however).

I will write to both Midland Mainline and whichever operating company runs Stockport station, and point this out. (I may even mention that I write for Transport Blog), explaining that yes it was my fault and not asking for any recompense, but pointing out that standardisation of departure signs is very important. Because far more people look at departure boards than arrival boards, it is normal to put departures on the left. (Or, often there is a departure board and no arrivals board. And if you do not do this, confusion and missed trains will occur as a consequence. As happened to me tonight).

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Comments

You realise we almost met? I was changing trains at Stockport on the way back from Bolton to Cheadle Hulme. I saw the MML train to London arrive and leave while waiting for my delayed connection.

It was an Intercity 125, BTW. Although the still have slam doors, they're automatically locked by the guard before departure; this central door locking was installed after an unacceptably large number of deaths of people falling out of moving trains.

Posted by Tim Hall on February 21, 2004

Intercity 125 have locable doors. Specially the Midland Mainline ones. MM is normally a very good service. Of course BR never got it wrong did it.

Posted by Amir on February 22, 2004

One can't really blame Midland Mainline here. They were running a train service that is on time and apparently quite efficient. (They also have free coffee for passengers in all classes who actually make the train, too). This particular service was to a station that does not belong to them and they do not normally serve, but which they do serve at the moment due to a lack of capacity on the West Coast Main Line due to the upgrade of said line. Their tendency to have the train sit on the platform for a minute or so after they lock the doors is irritating, but presumably for good safety reasons, although if this was tried on a commuter service (South Central, say) with lots of slamdoor trains it would probably start a riot.

Mainly, the post was written in haste when I was really irritated about missing a train. Missing a train despite being at the station in time to catch it was much more annoying than doing so due to simply being late, and there are ways that this can be avoided, such as making the signs clear and logical. I think I therefore blame myself, Network Rail/Railtrack/British Rail and Virgin Trains in that order.

Posted by Michael Jennings on February 24, 2004

You won't be pleased to know that the train then stopped again just south of the station to let my late running local train cross in front of it at Edgerley South Junction.

Posted by Tim Hall on February 24, 2004

The issues raised by Michael are very important, and for frequent passengers cause frequent confusion. I am trying to talk to the RPC to have a more intelligent approach to stations monitors and announcements. Chaging at Crewe, to catch a train for Shrewsbury, I am looking for Cardiff. Maesteg and Barry Docks have resulted in me missing a tight connection. Neither is it necessary to state all the stations for which you must advise the guard if you wish to alight. A passenger for Llanbister Road will know this, and in any case the guard will inspect all tickets on this line.

Posted by Brian Hayes on March 6, 2004

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