A complaint letter to East Coast Trains after a recent rail journey…
From: Robbie Thomson [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 05 November 2013 16:02
Subject: Fight the power!
I’m emailing regarding the pretty poor service I received on East Coast Trains on Friday 1st November when I travelled from Aberdeen to Newcastle.
I am not a frequent train user. I want to say that at the outset. I use my car because I don’t like strangers and I can sing the female bits of “Endless love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie without having anyone staring at me. But when you work up in Aberdeen and need to get to Newcastle the fastest way, invariably is by train. Not only was I using the train, but for this journey I was travelling first class. The main reason for this was that it was only £1 to upgrade but also being able to turn my nose up at people in cattle class was an added benefit. Another benefit of first class was that I had a boatload of work to do and you can’t do that in standard class when a child is vomiting on your shoes or an old lady is constantly asking you if this is her stop.
I boarded the train, hot and sweaty after lugging my bags and my rather cumbersome figure around all day, took my seat and got my laptop out to get cracking with my work. I plugged it in and – nothing. No power. Changed sockets – nothing. Changed sockets – nothing. After the third or fourth time of leaning over seats and giving the rest of the carriage a perfect view of my arse crack I knew this was a problem that extended much further than me. I sat, watching as my battery drained, hopeful that at any moment the power would kick in and the crisis would be averted.
I spoke to the attendant straight away and asked her to look into it. She said she would speak to the guard and get it working again. She winked at me which I thought was nice, but judging by my hot and sweaty face and the fact that I’m positive she got the best view of my rotund posterior, I attributed it to her having a dodgy eye.
Half an hour went by and nothing had happened. I caught the attention of another attendant (the one without a dodgy eye) and asked her if anything had been done about the power. She said “they” were working on it. The problem was obviously more serious than I thought – “they” had been drafted in. I checked every 15-20 minutes after that, but as we thundered down towards Edinburgh my laptop remained temporarily comatose.
When we arrived in Edinburgh about 45 minutes later I had a flat phone battery to add to my flat laptop battery. The crew changed around at Edinburgh and when we left the station I was under some sort of false hope assumption that because we had been standing still for 15 minutes someone would have sorted the power issue out. But no, we were left powerless and with now an entirely new crew to try and sort out the problem. As the attendants came round (as far as I was aware, none had dodgy eyes) I asked them to look into the power problem only to be told again that “they” were trying to sort it out. I don’t know who “they” are, a shadowy cabal of railway plug socket engineers, but either this was a gargantuan problem that it had taken over two hours to try and fix or “they” are largely useless at their jobs or “they” don’t exist. I think it’s the latter.
It was now 22:15, half an hour before my train was due to arrive in Newcastle. I had completed zero work, missed countless phone calls and due to the cessation of my contact without the outside world I couldn’t even tweet my frustrations or play angry birds. The situation was, however, made slightly better by a steady supply of beer and crisps that I was afforded due to me travelling in first class. But as 22:15 came round and I’d finally become bored of staring out of the window into blackness I overheard the attendant saying to another passenger that the power was off indefinitely. Brilliant. The small army of workers that had been tirelessly pulling out all the stops to fix the problem since Aberdeen had finally called it a day. This problem had beaten them! The attendant went on to explain that they can only reset the power when the train is stopped for longer than five minutes. Obviously no-one had thought of this at Edinburgh WHEN WE WERE STOPPED FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES!!!
I endured the last 30 minutes of my trip accompanied by one final beer and thought about how even though my upgrade had only cost me a pound, I expected things to be working and they weren’t. Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it needs to be rubbish.
You might be asking “what does he want?”, “Is he going to ask for a free trip?”. Well the answer to that is that I want absolutely nothing. I travel by train so infrequently that any voucher to travel on a train would be about as much use as a power socket on one of your trains. I just wanted to let you know that I left your first class train on Friday night feeling as if I’d been ripped off.
Do you know what you have to do on a train when you don’t bring any books and all your electrical devices run out of power? NOTHING. You sit and do nothing. You daren’t stare out of the window for fear of not having anything to do in fifteen minutes time and any attempt to start up a conversation will fall flat due to the fact you’ve shown your fat arse to the whole carriage. When you have nothing to do on a train, it is unbearable. Waiting for the attendant to come and offer you a drink so you finally have someone to talk to, rearranging your debit cards in your wallet and reading all your old receipts are not ways to entertain yourself on a journey.
I am asking for absolutely nothing. But what might be an idea is to tell your staff that if they communicate bad news properly, people will understand. I don’t actually give two hoots that the power wasn’t working. It was an inconvenience that meant I had to arrange my pick up from Newcastle station via telepathy but I’m still alive. It wasn’t the world’s worst problem – but your staff acted as if every time they were talking about it was some sort of national secret.
Come out and say “look, there’s plugs there next to your seats, but they’ve broken. I don’t know why they’ve broken, no-one knows why they’ve broken, but they don’t work. We’re sorry – here’s a slice of cake that’s gone slightly dry round the edges.” People will understand but I guarantee you will have more pissed off people if you dance around the problem and never give them a straight answer.
Teach your staff to look at people as people and not just another seat to serve. Most of the staff looked like they didn’t want to be there on Friday night. Admittedly, that may have been due to my arse-in-the-air repertoire but still, act as if you like your job. Be positive, smiley, happy, eager to help and eager to serve people.
In case you’re wondering I had a lovely weekend in Newcastle.
And just to prove that my email isn’t entirely accusatory, the beer and the crisps were spot on. And the toilets were clean! For once on a train I didn’t need to wade through urine to take a dump – much appreciated!
P.s. In our collective bid to be more positive and respectful of people, I’d appreciate a reply (and not an automated one – just a few words, even if all it says is “Thanks for your email – we don’t care”)