Green ink special part 2: What’s the point of London Travelwatch?
It’s not just Greenwich Council that takes a long, long while to answer to complaints. One weekend early six months ago, what BBC London would call TRANSPORT CHAOS! hit this little corner of south-east London. For a whole weekend, there were no trains through Greenwich, Charlton or Woolwich. There were also no trains from Blackheath station, knocking out the alternative. And there were also no trains on the Jubilee Line, ky-boshing the third alternative. (This was before the DLR came to Woolwich.)
It was a grim weekend – my main memory of which is trying to get to Nottingham for a Charlton match; I just made it to St Pancras on time, my travelling companion didn’t and had to fork out a fortune for new tickets. I fear he’ll explode if he’s reminded of the episode. But with his mental health in mind, I dropped London Underground and Network Rail a line to see just what the bloody hell they thought they were playing at. LU responded quickly and thoroughly, saying the date had been scheduled for some six months and that Network Rail often planned their works at short notice, and the two did act to co-ordinate these things. Network Rail took three weeks, and responded with: “Network Rail plans railway closures based on a number of factors but our primary concern is safety.” Er, not good enough. It didn’t even explain why two different lines were closed (the Jubilee Line, meanwhile, is going through a badly-needed signal upgrade which will, supposedly, transform the service).
So, I complained to London Travelwatch, which is meant to be “the voice of London’s transport users”. A few weeks later, I got a response stating that they accepted London Underground scheduled its line closures carefully, but they would pursue Network Rail for a further explanation. A few more weeks passed. Months passed. Autumn ended, and winter came. Big Ben ushered in a new year. America elected a new president, and he took office. Michael Jackson announced a comeback. Some streets in Charlton got swept. And, finally, earlier this week… a response.
“May I begin by apologising for the delay there has been in dealing with your concerns as I note the incident in question occured in September 2008. Railtrack [sic] did not help with the situation by replying until February this year.”
Hmmm. Railtrack was effectively wound up six-and-a-half years ago, but let’s skip that. Apparently, the work was on the tracks between Charlton and Blackheath junctions, through that very long tunnel under Blackheath, which required hefty engineering trains which could be up to a quarter of a mile long, so both lines needed closing. It’d been nice if they’d told us this at the time.
“Network Rail… explain that as their engineering works are planned between 5-2 years [sic] in advance, other operators in London would have had ample opportunity to comment where LUL of [sic] DLR works would be likely to cause conflicting problems.”
So, both these works had been scheduled for at least six months. Did they meet to compare notes? We still don’t know.
“It is our understanding that LUL tries as hard to avoid closure clashes with Network Rail, although sometimes the volume of work is so great that this is not always possible.
“We believe that Network Rail tries as hard.”
Is that it? So Network Rail takes four months to reply to its enquiries, and London Travelwatch accepts its explanation – which conflicts with that of London Underground – without question? They clearly don’t try as hard, because Network Rail tried the same trick in January, this time closing the Greenwich line when the Jubilee line was also closed (but allowing some trains through just to serve people going to a gig at the O2).
So what is the point of London Travelwatch if it’s fed obvious cobblers by a unaccountable transport body, and then says “Well, that’s alright then” and replies with a typo-ridden letter? This isn’t a watchdog, it’s a lapdog, snoring while rail companies who greedily help themselves to our cash also steal hours of our time. It might as well be put down if that’s the best it can come up with.