Time for a train company not run by railway people?

Posted on December 22, 2010

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Perhaps it is time for us to stop employing railwaymen and women. After all, the experience on the railways today is pretty broken the second anything untoward happens – they appear totally inflexible and unhelpful. The secret has got to be in the people they are employing and the freedom they give people to do a decent job.

Take my morning experience. A signal failure at my local station and no trains are running. Except trains are running and they were running on my usual track and sailing straight through. No explanation as to why. Also no explanation as to when the next train would arrive. Plenty of screens saying cancelled, but no explanation as to when the next train might arrive or what the situation really was. This is what people want from train information – they want real human insight.

Read this. This is a description from a CEO of an industry that needed change: “They were seen as heavy-handed, bureaucratic, unhelpful and unimaginative.” Could be the railways couldn’t it? It was in fact the banking industry, and it was Sir Kit McMahon, Midland’s chairman at the time. He decided to open First Direct. He went on to say, “We deliberately recruited non-bankers [from the] services industry. This was a bank that wasn’t run by bankers.”

The result is also a bunch of people that actually quite like their jobs. You see, I think there is a link between people being given permission to do their jobs and being satisfied – it’s just businesses don’t spend enough time focusing on the communication skills of people when they employ them. There’s a great announcer at Brighton station, and there is a guard on the Sussex mainline who is brilliant, but these people are few and far between and they’re concerned as much about looking after people as they are the railways.

So, don’t we now need a railway company that isn’t run by railway people? One that is run by communicators and service oriented people. A real one – not just a Virgin rebadging. Must be worth a try. It couldn’t be worse.

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