As has become customary on these days, I have spent just a little too much of my time today stress testing the new timetable.
Disclosure: I pay for an annual season ticket for travel on a reasonable chunk of the Chiltern network. However for today I did approach the railway company for a day ticket that would enable me to travel further afield without paying any extra. They kindly agreed and I am most grateful. It was on the clear understanding, agreed with no difficulty, that anything I wrote would be my own and would not (on my part) just be a piece of marketing blurb for Chiltern Railways.
I should also add at this stage that I have significant and ongoing disagreements with Chiltern Railways relating to local matters, but those are for an entirely different time and place.
So, how did the day go?..... Well I suspect that Chiltern Railways will be fairly please with themselves tonight. Compared with the September 2011 and December 2012 Timetable days, today was considerably better.
Here is a summary of the day, using exactly the same format for the facts and figures that I used previously:
- Total number of individual train journeys:15
- Total distance travelled: 533.9 Miles
- Longest train journey: 111 Miles
- Shortest train journey: 4 miles
- Highest individual average journey speed: 78.5 mph
- Average speed of all journeys: 61.8 mph
- Cumulative delay: 15 minutes
- Number of cancellations experienced: 0
- Number of times my train was pulled over to allow a Mainline (express) service to overtake: 0
From first thing this morning, through to late this evening, I have been monitoring the cumulative PPM punctuality performance for Chiltern. Hopefully you can see from the above graph that while there was a dip at lunchtime (caused mainly by a failed train), the punctuality across the network has been pretty good, particularly for a new and virtually re-written timetable. Senior Management at Chiltern Railways are probably patting themselves on the back - without doubt the performance today has been absolutely stellar compared to the last two significant timetable changes.
A word of caution though: At some times of the day there is a ridiculously large amount of slack built into the timetable, meaning that a train has to be running a huge amount behind what it is capable of, before it is considered to be officially late.
However notwithstanding this, the measure is the measure and performance has improved.
In no particular order (other than vaguely chronological) here are a number of observations from the day:
- I spoke to five people before I boarded my first train of the day. Three were most unhappy with the new Timetable and what it would do to their work / life balance. Two were fine - they both travel just one stop to work.
- Much confusion at High Wycombe with the main 'London Platform' departure board out of order. I witnessed a number of people miss a train because it was unclear from where they entered the station which platform their train would leave from.
- The car Park at Princes Risborough was considerably quieter than normal till much later than normal. This can probably be attributed to the one remaining non-stop train running 20 minutes later than was previously the case.
- One train (the train that started from Princes Risborough at 0644) being full at the front from High Wycombe and roughly a third full in the rear two carriages. If you want a seat on the 0701 from Beaconsfield consider moving towards the back.
- Some people getting significantly animated (again, at Princes Risborough) with two senior Chiltern Railways staff about the withdrawal of their second morning non-stop train (there isn't one at all any more in the evening).
- The look of confusion when a Mainline Silver Train pulled into Princes Risborough (with 15 minutes to spare), to form the 0744 service to London. Quite a few people were on the train when it started. A lot more got on at High Wycombe and it is estimated that 150 people were standing from Beaconsfield, throughout the length of the train.
- I saw a Class 172 train heading to Stratford-upon-Avon, two cars long, capable of 100 mph, nor wi-fi or tables. The first I have seen that type of train on that route.
- A mixed train formed of a 75 mph two car unit and a 100 mph Class 172. The service was timed for 100mph. Not possible.
- Throughout the day, many more trains terminate at Bicester North than was previously the case. I witnessed three instances where terminating trains blocked or delayed the paths of Southbound trains. I have no doubt that this will have already been identified by the railway company, but instinctively it seems plain to me that the timetable modelling at that location has not worked.
- A 'key' service (the 1715 from Marylebone to Kidderminster, first stop Leamington Spa) left with no more than 180 passengers on board (a generous over-guesstimate). Fifteen people in my carriage and three sat in the Business Zone. That seems an under-use of a valuable resource.
None of this measures that countless people have have definitely had their working day extended, or their home day diminished. There will inevitably be delays and cancellations, but the fact is that people need to be where they want to be when they want to be. At some stations the only way this can happen is by passengers leaving for London earlier than was previously the case, or by leaving London later than was previously the case.
Some passengers have praised the new timetable. Many have been most uncomplimentary. Measured objectively, it broadly works. Measured from how people feel, some people are not happy.
You cannot please all of the people all of the time. Many passengers will be happy tonight, many will not. Change happens, but people don't have to like it. For some, change is a positive experience, for some it's a real negative, and some just work around it.
Personally, the new timetable will involve me changing my working pattern and some additional expense. Others won't be affected. I would like to think however that senior management at Chiltern will listen and act on all constructive or heartfelt feedback, not just measure their success by reliability, punctuality and passenger loadings.
I am grateful to Chiltern Railways for giving me the opportunity to Track Bash the Chiltern Mainline today.
For the record, my first journey this morning was at about 6.00 am, while my last finished at about 8.00pm. It would appear to be time for a beer and bed!