I’ve been quite impressed so far with the high speed train service from the southeast coast to St Pancras.
We’ve had a few problems, but HSS1 is the service that Southeastern seems to prioritise – it’s been the one that’s kept running as far as possible in the snow (18 December was a nightmare) and when there’s strikes.
But it’s not all smooth running:
– it’s hugely expensive (“only the price of foregoing a daily coffee and croissant” I think was the slogan early on?);
– the trains don’t always couple properly at Ashford, and both halves don’t always make it on time in any case;
– at really high speed I feel just a bit bumped about and travel sick…
Despite these things, my overall impression is positive.
To digress for a minute, actually I was fuming yesterday about the press coverage of a campaigner from the north Kent coast complaining that there were loads of empty seats on the 07.12 train from Ramsgate.
Yes of course there are! One advantage of the high speed train is that the journey is shorter – so people can get up a bit later and still make it to work at the time they used to on the old service.
Besides, there jolly well ought to be empty seats at the start of the line.
We need them when they get to Ashford – rush hour trains are often packed and on the way home this evening there were people sitting on the floor in the door areas. Ludicrous when the service is effectively first class throughout.
I’m terribly sorry for the people who’ve had services cut – the people of West Malling in particular have it tough, and presumably their house prices will decrease without a regular train service to attract commuters. They should indeed fight to restore services that have been cut because in rural areas, public transport like the trains can be a lifeline.
But that does not of itself mean that the high speed service is A Bad Thing.
As for the claim that no one is using the trains – this service has only been running properly since December 2009, and the towns and villages where the high speed service stops are only just being identified as commutable. Of course there are people that see commuters themselves as A Bad Thing, but that’s a whole other story.
But faced with what is actually a pretty good service, the small things really get to you.
The worst thing for me is the paper tickets. I got used to using Oyster in London, and the smart card (with paper ticket receipt just in case) was far superior to the wretched cards with magnetic strips. It only failed once, and I was able to ring the Oyster helpline, and have it up and running again the following morning, with the one paper ticket I’d had to buy to get home refunded with no fuss at the nearest tube station.
But paper tickets are another matter.
I’ve gone through four so far – that’s one every 8 weeks since we moved here (and I only travel three days a week! That’s 24 days use per ticket on average…) When one of these failed after two days I simply didn’t bother replacing it for a month. I just showed it and the lovely staff at St Pancras, Ashford and on London Underground just buzzed me through. This was never a problem although it was a source of stress to me if I was running a bit late.
The weirdest thing was the day that a ticket machine at Victoria underground swallowed my ticket. It gave me someone else’s goldcard instead (I guess it could have been doing this for a while…). No one was available to help, so I went to the tube ticket office. They couldn’t help and directed me to the mainline station. They told me they couldn’t help and directed me to my home station. My home station accepted the other person’s goldcard but couldn’t just issue me a replacement ticket, I had to buy temporary tickets until a manager could agree it.
Eventually he did, and I was given a ticket for a refund.
Then we moved house and I lost both forms and tickets. Oh.
I found them again a few weeks ago. This was well past the 28 day limit that Southeastern sets, but as the replacement tickets are not cheap I applied the Which? rules on seeking redress.
Let me share my top tips:
– no matter how unfair it seems, companies are allowed to set limitations on refunds – acknowledge this;
– stress that you are a regular user of the service/ product in question;
– set out the circumstances clearly and concisely that meant that you could not comply;
– note that, to you, the out of pocket expense is serious;
– point out that although there is no obligation on them to act, taking the above into account, they could consider refunding you as a gesture of goodwill.
I received a letter saying that they will refund me and the cheque is in the post 🙂
I wanted to tweet my thanks to Southeastern, but they’re not on Twitter yet…
I tried to send tweet @ Southeastern trains to say thanks for goodwill refunding of my tickets after deadline. But they’re not on, so can’t!
7:17 PM Apr 22nd via web
Things that would make the service better?
– running the two trains that couple at Ashford separately, giving a service Ashford- London every 15 minutes rather than every half hour;
– switching to a smartcard system compatible with Oyster that can also be used pay-as-you-go on buses in Ashford (surely this should be part of franchising arrangements? If not, Ashford’s Future should insist on it);
– sorting out the irregular bus between Stratford International and Stratford stations, which often gets my husband there too late for the train;
– getting the train into Ashford on time before 6pm so that I can meet the limit on my childcare timings (if the train’s late, I can face a fine);
– similarly, not retiming the 1710 to arrive those few minutes later – it’s essential it gets in on time (or slightly early!) as childcare options in Ashford are so limited…
– resisting the temptation to maximise profit by stuffing us all in like sardines – we’re charged a premium price, we deserve to get the premium service for it!