Kenilworth: Playing the blame game…

A NEW station at Kenilworth was due to open in December 2017. It has already missed two previous opening dates and now might open in February 2018 – more than a year late.

The missed deadlines will come as no surprise to those who have closely monitored the project from its inception. Neither does it help that project sponsor Warwickshire County Council is pointing the finger at the Department for Transport for the delay.

The department has batted criticism away, saying blame lies with the council, as sponsors, together with contractors and others for repeatedly missing completion dates.

In a classic case of ‘fake news’, the council claimed on local radio, and in a statement, that the station “was complete, looks amazing and the facts speak for themselves”.

Judging by the picture (above right), taken less than 24 hours after the radio interview, the facts do indeed speak for themselves.

It’s nowhere near ready!

There’s a good few weeks of work for contractors to complete before the regulatory inspections can even be made – discounting any bad weather delays and Christmas holidays.

At the front of the station, the car park and walkways need surfacing, and contractors’ cabins are all over the car park. There’s no signage, no passenger safety features. It gets worse.

Even the new winter timetable doesn’t include Kenilworth, not even as ‘opening during the currency of the timetable’. A missed opportunity.

A view of Kenilworth station taken four days before the new station should have opened. FRASER PITHIE

When work started, the cost of the project was £11.3million, but now stands at £13.6m – a rise of more than 20%. Like me, you will be asking: Who pays for the overrun?

With any project sponsored by a local authority, taxpayers have a right to know whether their money is being spent wisely, and are there adequate project management and cost control safeguards in place?

There have been many concerns raised over this project, and knowing something isn’t quite right prompts people to dig deeper for the real answers. In fact, some of the answers provided to the many questions Warwickshire County Council has fielded under Freedom of Information legislation – and seen by The RM – have been less than forthright.

My previous comments have covered cost overruns and project management issues, yet here is a project that is over budget and has missed its opening date THREE times. The failures are casually shrugged off by the council’s joint managing director who said:
“…two more months, having waited 53 years is not long”.

I could say so much more but will leave you with this question: Why are we so poor at getting things right first time, to schedule and on budget?

Communication breakdown – not good enough

The news that around 500m of overhead wires were brought down near Wembley on a Friday night (December 1) was unwelcome, throwing the weekend and commuting plans of thousands into chaos who used the West Coast Main Line.

Bad enough to happen on one of the busiest mainlines in the country, but as the problem dragged into the weekend, Network Rail said there would be no trains in or out of Euston until midday Sunday.

National Rail was tweeting passengers ‘not to travel’, but is that even a realistic suggestion? To achieve that, passengers need accurate and timely information, and alternative route suggestions.

Several friends and colleagues who were on trains or about to catch trains on the West Coast said there was a paucity of communications from the rail industry – not for the first time either.

Different information was being given to passengers, there was no consistent message, and many were left to their own devices.

It’s all very well passengers being told they could use other operators’ services if they were at a London terminus and could get to another station, but not much help to those waiting at places like Bushey or Apsley, for example, where there is no other option.

Just 10 days later (Dec 11), Waterloo’s evening commuter service descended into meltdown after a lineside fire damaged signalling cables and track circuits, putting many platforms at the country’s busiest station out of use. The effects were still being felt the next day.

Transport Focus has criticised the lack of information to passengers waiting at Waterloo. To quote their blog: “There was no attempt to display what was actually going to run, nor any announcements saying what is coming in next. It seemed pure pot luck.”

For a growing and dynamic industry, this simply won’t do. Passengers pay good money for their fares and season tickets, and with the availability of the internet and social media, expect and deserve better quality information.

Neither can I see the point of the higher echelons of the industry banging out scheduled tweets containing good news messages during periods of major disruption. It’s not only pointless, it just winds passengers up and suggests the industry doesn’t care.

Situations like this can also lead to angry exchanges between passengers and public-facing staff who were doing their best with the limited information they were being provided with.

BR had a variety of contingency plans, yet with far more effective communications today than 30 years ago, passengers are still left in the dark as to how to get to their destination. Why is it so difficult? Are there no major disruption plans?

Have we really moved forward from the dark days of December 2009 when five Eurostar trains failed in the Channel Tunnel with 2,500 passengers stuck for five hours, and the resultant appalling publicity for the railways?

Contingency plans were criticised as insufficient then, and after the latest debacles, many will say they are still insufficient now.

The treatment of passengers at times of disruption is key to how a level of trust develops and builds between the customer and the train operator: a fact the industry should never forget.

CHRIS MILNER, Editor

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