Moribund train company Great Western Rail currently have a two month backlog of complaints. I think that this breaches their agreement with the Office of Rail and Road. In an ideal world GWR would be forced to improve, or be stripped of their franchise.
I've spent an utterly miserable month commuting between Oxford and London on GWR's over-crowded and decrepit trains. I was delayed around 21 times in a single month. That's close to 80% of all journeys that I caught arriving late. An utterly shambolic performance by anyone's standards.
The one faint glimmer of hope I had was the thought that I might be able to claim a tiny amount of compensation for the constant delays. That was not to be the case.
Initially, I'd emailed the company to make the complain - only to receive back a whinging excuse that they were dealing with a large volume of complaints and that I should expect a 3 week delay before hearing back from them.
Even their complaints department is delayed!
After a month of travel, I rang up to see what had happened to my complaint. "I'm awfully sorry sir, all our computers are down. Try calling back later."
Of course, their complaints department breaks down as often as their locomotives.
The next day I tried again. After 10 minutes on hold I gave up. Then, because I'm a glutton for punishment, I tried again. The same delays. One more attempt - and I was through!
"I'm sorry sir, we currently have a two month backlog of complaints. We've only just started on September."
That seems like an awfully long delay. I turned to the Office of Rail and Road to see what their guidance to train companies says:
3.31 Licence holders must provide all complainants with an acknowledgement and complaint reference/tracking number as appropriate and to make a full response to 95% of all complaints within 20 working days.
Office of Rail and Road's Guidance on complaints handling procedures for licence holders, 2015
Well - a 2 month delay is much longer than 20 working days. So, what powers do ORR have?
The maximum penalty ORR may impose is 10% of the licensee’s turnover.
Office of Rail and Road's economic enforcement policy and penalties statement for Railway licence holders, 2015
Oh! Wouldn't that be lovely! Fine the useless layabouts and return that money to the passengers. Sadly, that's unlikely to happen.
I spoke directly to ORR and they said that they are "working closely with GWR to resolve the issue."
I spoke to TransportFocus - they're the independent transport user watchdog:
We are aware that they are a bit behind. But we just deal with individual complaints as they come in.
I sent details of the issue to them - but they also have a backlog of GWR complaints to get through.
In the interest of fairness, I spoke to GWR's press team. They refused to answer any questions by phone and insisted on email.
We’ve recently moved our contact centre to a new site, bringing all our customer service work back to the UK, and the move means some detailed responses are taking longer than we would like. We are working with our new team to improve our response rates.
Ah, the good old "blame the call centre workers" tactic. Pathetic.
This is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility from a company. If you have a backlog of complaints, it seems to me that there are two simple solutions:
- Hire more staff.
- Fix the problems causing the complaints.
I appreciate that some of the issues surrounding track maintenance are outside of GWR's control. But their response to long-suffering customers is completely their fault. First Group - who own GWR - made a profit of £114m last year. I suspect that they've calulated that putting barriers in the way of compensation is cheaper than fixing the underlying issues.
Sadly, the region is stuck with GWR for another 4 years. So, I guess I'll be taking the coach into London for the foreseeable future.
I'll leave you with my favourite quote from the GWR Passenger's Charter:
We’ll make claiming compensation for a delayed journey as easy as we can.
What a joke!