West Midlands Trains boss apologises for disruption
A train operator that has faced major criticism following months of delays and cancellations has apologised to passengers and pledged to improve heading into the new year.
It has been a disastrous year for West Midlands Trains (WMT) which suffered a huge drop off in performance following timetable changes in May.
Mayor Andy Street has been among the most vocal critics of the operator, labelling the performance as unacceptable. Passengers have been forced to contend with delayed and cancelled trains and when services have turned up many have been forced to stand at busy times.
Speaking to the Express & Star, head of corporate affairs Francis Thomas apologised and said the company, which took over the franchise from London Midland last year, “held its hands up” about the problems of recent months.
But he insisted bosses had learned lessons and that changes were being made to improve reliability and capacity. He also said WMT has expanded its compensation scheme to ensure passengers who deserved payouts would get them.
Mr Thomas said: “We totally recognise the difficulties passengers have had since May. We take responsibility for it and apologise to all our passengers.”
He said efforts to extend and improve the service had actually had the opposite effect. “It allowed us to carry an extra 150,000 passengers a week. We introduced a long-distance service so people from Penkridge could travel down to London on the same train,” Mr Thomas said.
“However, we achieved this using trains and train cover more intensely and the downside is when things go wrong you’ve got additional complexities in the system and it takes longer to restore the timetable. If there is a fault in Milton Keynes the knock-on effect is much greater.
“The challenge is how do we hold onto the benefits while taking the complexities out of the timetable?”
Planned improvements include increasing the number of trains on local journeys, rather than having to rely on services coming from London which are more likely to encounter problems en route.
WMT is adding 16 extra carriages this weekend on top of a planned 24 for next year to try and decrease standing.
Mr Thomas said: “In busy urban areas at busy periods it is inevitable some people will stand on trains, particularly close to city centres. It happens in every major city in the world. What we do recognise is the West Midlands desperately needs more carriages and we have worked hard to introduce more carriages.”
Mr Thomas said he believed there needed to be “better modelling” for timetables “before they go onto the track” in future on the rail network to try and avoid disruption. He also suggested a demand from Mayor Mr Street for WMT to freeze fares was not that simple as prices are due to go up in line with national hike in January.