On the right track?

First Great Western High Speed Train

No matter what team you may have been supporting in this year’s Rugby World Cup you were virtually guaranteed to have been facing a bumpy ride. Even if your team was not in the ‘Group of Death’ you may still have had to go up against the giants of New Zealand, France or Ireland. Whoever was your team you knew that your journey was not going to be a straightforward one.

And if you were a fan travelling by rail to the Millennium Stadium then that might have been doubly true.

Trips to and from Cardiff, for rugby fans, have been plagued by problems. Social media has become a very welcoming home for the complaints of those with a grievance, and the Rugby World Cup is no exception. There have even been photographs posted online of passengers sleeping in the luggage compartments of trains.

First Great Western (FGW) has admitted that there was “severe overcrowding” during the Rugby World Cup matches that were held in Cardiff. In a statement they said, “Although we warned customers services were likely to be very busy and to travel early, the number of people wishing to travel is slightly higher than predicted, and passenger numbers have been less evenly spread throughout the day than we would normally expect.”

But frankly that is dodging the issue.

‘Severe overcrowding’ is another way for FGW to say that they underestimated the number of people who would be demanding their services. It is just another way for a business to lay the blame of their own failings at the feet of their customers.

This is not simply a comfort issue either; there is also a very clear safety aspect to all of this. Earlier this year British Transport Police released figures which showed that violent crimes on trains had risen by 8 per cent and sexual offences on trains had risen by 25 per cent. These kind of crimes often occur on overcrowded trains because of the increased chance for confusion and more of a chance for perpetrators to blend in with the crowd.

To be fair, in a perverse kind of way the sexual offence figures can be seen as good news. It was thought that up to 90 per cent of such crimes on trains went unreported, if victims are feeling more confident in coming forward that is obviously to be welcomed.

The problem is that the companies who got the figures for the Rugby World Cup so wrong are going to be in the position to make similar decisions again, and we have no reason to think that they won’t get those decisions just as pathetically wrong again. And FGW doesn’t have a great track record (pun unintended) in this area.

In 2010 six of the ten most overcrowded train services in Britain were thought to be run by FGW, the second most overcrowded of all was the Swansea to London run. Since then things have been going in the right direction, in 2013 only three of the most overcrowded journeys were run by FGW and last year that figure was down to two. But after the mismanagement of this year’s Rugby World Cup I can only see that figure going up.

World Cup transport decisions get a lot of attention and companies tend to react quickly if they are getting a lot of negative attention, but once that attention goes away the impetus for a company to respond to that pressure also goes away. Unfortunately it seems that the impetus is still on the customer to keep up the pressure on train companies if we want to see them trying to do a good job.