Wednesday, August 10, 2005

My reply to Connex email about train guards

Dear Connex
Your reference: Resolve case 2005/ 00899
Thank you for your detailed comments re staff attitude on board the Western line trains and it deserves a more detailed response from me. I trust these comments will be taken as helpful and constructive.
The job of train guard – or Connex train ambassador as one of them corrected us the other day when making an announcement – is far from easy. I couldn’t do it. You need an excellent memory to remember who gets on at each station, you need homing skills to find those people on a crowded carriage to collect their fares, you need to multi-task and you need the equivalent of mountaineering skills to navigate your way through a very crowded standing room only carriage of people.
You have people you should be very proud of. Although you have now given them name tags, I wish I had taken notice of their names. People like the deaf man with the big sign around his neck asking people not to shout at him; the short middle aged European woman who always welcomes people on board; the 30ish-something Indian woman; the Indian man who offered his mobile for us to ring people when we were literally stuck for hours one night because of a signal failure; the bubbly Maori girl who mentioned she looks after her sister’s baby some days.
Likewise, we –the regular users – are a tolerant lot. A senior local body politician emailed me recently to say he is surprised there is not a riot on board because we put up with almost daily delays and inconveniences. We do it because we believe in the rail system for Auckland, understand it has teething problems and want to support it through thick and thin. Connex has made welcome improvements already and we thought, seemed to be over the worse until yesterday’s signal failure.
As regulars, we bond together, talk together and help each other in time of need as sometimes it really does feel like an Outward Bound survival course such as during yesterday morning’s hold up when we tried to lip read the guards to work out what was going on and debated whether to leave and share a taxi or bus or stick it out hoping the technical fault would come right.
All we ask is to be treated gently. In recent months we have all see TV footage of what happens when trains stop unexpectedly overseas. Trust me, it has made us all a little nervous. Some of us also remember the morning the train caught on fire. When a train does run into a problem, we sometimes are left in the dark about what is happening. The guards tend to rush into the driver’s cab and then – if the train has stopped- get into a huddle at the back of the train or go outside on the platform as we strain to pick up the odd word of what they’re saying.
Here are some suggestions:
1. It is imperative we get an intercom on board for safety reasons. The other morning I never saw a guard and my ticket was not clipped. If there had been an emergency and we needed to get out of the train, would a guard have appeared and would we have heard in time of the need to evacuate? This has to be a priority.
2. Almost everyone on the train has a story about getting out at the wrong station. When the train is crowded with standing bodies, you can not see in the winter dark, where you are. The trains that now carry an electronic sign on board are great in principle but again with all the bodies you can not see the sign. We need an intercom announcement or simply the guards to announce as they go to open the doors. The other day some poor woman told us she got off at the wrong station, got lost in the dark and the rain as she did not know where she was and got extremely frightened until she found a dairy and got a taxi ordered.
3. Please teach all your train ambassadors to relax and smile. If need be, ask Air NZ how they teach their in-flight crew to do it. As I have noted, there are a few who made a difficult cramped journey even more unpleasant. As I have reported, a few remind me of an old black and white war movie I saw one afternoon on Prime TV in which Jews were being sent on a train to the gas chambers. If they want to quiz us about whether we are really getting off at the station we bought a concession ticket for or are trying to cheat the system, ask nicely, not grill us as if we have actually committed the crime. Most people are honest.
4. The Maori wardens obviously do a job none of us would want to go near. The school kids should be standing for adults. Good on the wardens for making this happen. But again please don’t shout at the kids. I have yet to see a school kid misbehave on board. A “please” teaches them manners. Having them yell at the kids only creates hostility and makes for a tense atmosphere on board.
5. People get told off –especially by the wardens- for standing too near the doors. Understandable, if there are safety issues. But on most trains there is nothing to hold on to if you’re standing halfway down the carriage, unlike a bus – no straps, rails or chrome bits at the end of seats. You have the horrible politically incorrect experience of almost clinging up against some other human body or clinging on to the coat of a seated passenger. For safety reasons, we need some sort of hang rails. That is why we congregate near the doors where there is something to hang on to.
I trust these comments are helpful and again congratulate you on your efforts to make Auckland’s rail service better. I really want it to succeed as it is the future for Auckland’s transport woes.
Again thanks for your thoughtful response.
Miles

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