Chiltern Railways is one of Britain's best railway companies. It regularly tops the tables for punctuality and customer satisfaction. But things went badly wrong this week.
I enjoyed an uneventful journey back from Birmingham Snow Hill to High Wycombe on Wednesday night. I changed trains at Wycombe, only to find the information boards displaying trains that should have left long before - and claiming they were running on time. My local train to Gerrards Cross never arrived, but I jumped on the first service that did. (It had decanted a train load of unhappy commuters, arriving almost an hour late from Marylebone.)
After ten minutes, the driver apologised that the train had been cancelled. He told us to make the long trek to the other platform for an imminent arrival (Wycombe is an odd station, because of its valley setting, with two staggered platforms linked by a subway). But this alternative train was not due to stop at Gerrards Cross, and there was no prospect of any train stopping there for almost an hour. Because of this, I asked the Chiltern Railways representative to request a stop there. (The company has shown commendable flexibility to do this in the past, as I blogged here.) The request was turned down. Luckily, the excellent Rely-on taxi firm from Gerrards Cross collected me from Beaconsfield instead. Their drivers had a torrid night, as six trains terminated at Gerrards Cross in succession, causing chaos.
All the while, there were no announcements. The information boards were showing totally incorrect information. This was a very serious communications failure.
The chaos was caused by a signal failure at Beaconsfield, I understand.
I hope Chiltern Railways learn from the experience of this week. The odd thing is that it's not unprecedented: when I was commuting, I remember several times when the line was blocked by lorries hitting bridges and a signal problem at Marylebone.
Having criticised Chiltern Railways, I should add that my £29 return fare to Birmingham Snow Hill was excellent value. And the company deserves further praise for using Twitter to keep passengers informed, and to contact us when we tweet about problems. As the team wrote to me, "I know! It's not been a very good week at all. Very sorry." It really does pay dividends in building better relationships with customers. I'm sure it's all done on a shoestring, so well done!