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Updates on your feedback, work at London Bridge and a PLUSBUS survey

August 22, 2014

I hope everyone has been enjoying their summer holidays, although for the moment the Sun seems to have taken a break. In this blog I’m going to be giving some updates on feedback we’ve received over the last few months as well as telling you about major engineering work going on at London Bridge this month and a request to complete a survey about PLUSBUS.

Updates on your feedback

As you’re hopefully aware, National Rail Enquiries takes customer feedback very seriously. We collect feedback via a variety of sources: via email, telephone, social media or on our Community Forum. Whilst the feedback is acted upon as soon as we receive it, each month the team gets together to review the major themes coming through to see what the major issues were and work out a plan for resolving outstanding issues. The team also looks at feedback to come up with new ideas for changes that can be built into our ongoing programme of improvements.

Buying tickets

CaptureIn the next few blogs, I’m going to share some of the key themes coming through from your comments and what we’re doing about them. The first theme I’m going to talk about is buying tickets.

National Rail Enquiries has information about tickets available via all of the train operating companies in Great Britain. We search through all the fares to find you the cheapest through fare for the journey you’ve asked for. When you click Buy Now on our website, we pass you through to a train operating company website to complete the purchase.

Some of you have reported problems with this process and over the last few months we’ve been working with the train companies to identify the cause of these problems and work out a plan to resolve them. This is a long process as it requires changes both on our website and on the train company websites, but will be worth it in the long run. I will update you on this as our testing progresses but rest assured, we’ve listened to your comments and are acting upon it.

In the meantime, in the shorter term, we’re working on improving the error messaging on our website to give you better advice as to what’s gone wrong and what you can do about it. You can also get advice on our Community.

Major engineering work at London Bridge

As part of the Thameslink Programme, work has already started on rebuilding London Bridge station. When completed, London Bridge will have more through and longer platforms and a bigger concourse to cope with the 54 million passengers that go through each year.

Between Saturday 23 August and Sunday 31 August, part of London Bridge station will be closed and no First Capital Connect or Southern services will be calling at London Bridge. Southeastern services will be able to call as normal.

This will also affect Southern services to and from London Victoria and some other Southern routes, where an alternative timetable is running on most routes.

Further information on how this will affect your journey is available here and the timetable is up to date in our Journey Planner. Make sure you don’t get caught out and plan your journeys for the coming days.

PLUSBUS Survey

Plusbus960Our friends from PLUSBUS are asking for rail travellers to complete a short survey so that they can better understand their customers and increase awareness of the opportunity to buy a combined Train+Bus+Tram ticket when you’re travelling around the country. You can fill in their survey by visiting this page.

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New arrangements for accessing live train information for developers

May 21, 2014

New arrangements for accessing live train information for developers

I’m delighted to announce that as part of the rail industry’s commitment to transparency, that we will from June 2014 be making it much easier for individuals and organisations to access and use train running information when developing apps and other online tools.

Until now, a number of organisations and developers that use the service have been charged.

Public sector organisations and small commercial or private users will now be able to access the Darwin system for free.

Only the biggest commercial or private users, whose services are used more than five million times by their customers in a four week period, will be considered high volume users and will be charged.

The free access granted to public bodies, including Transport for London, passenger transport executives and local authorities, will be regardless of how many requests for information their customers make.

For all users, a licence will no longer be required. Instead, there will be terms and conditions that the user accepts (there will be no approval process): this will make it quicker and easier to set up new services. This will come into effect from 1 June 2014, although the sign-up process will still be manual until the required technical changes have been made.

We’re making this change to encourage innovation in the field of providing train time information to customers. If you’re interested in using our information services, please get in touch via our Developers Forum on Linked In, or email infoservices@nationalrail.co.uk.

 

Other News

Updates to Android and iPhone apps

In other news, this month, we have released new versions of our iPhone and Android apps in order to fix some issues which were found on the smartphone apps.

Android

  • Fixed an issue with permissions

iPhone

  • Fixed an issue with the station selector affecting some iOS7 users
  • Fixed an issue with some station names appearing incorrectly

I’d like to apologise to any customers that were affected by any of these problems.

 

Real Time Information Outage

Recently we’ve experienced problems with real time information not being available. These issues affected our Online Journey Planner, Live Departure Boards and Train Tracker services.

We’ve had several incidents where we have lost connectivity to some of our data suppliers.  We are working with our partners to achieve a long term solution to the problem to ensure the ongoing stability of our connections.

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Our Latest Smartphone App Release and Cheapest Fare Finder

March 20, 2014

New to the App Store and Google Play store this week are the latest versions of the National Rail Enquiries iPhone and Android apps. The apps now include information from Twitter and Transport for London.

Twitter

Twitter Information

Our Twitter accounts currently have 340k followers and our Twitter team is available 24/7 to provide the latest disruption information and to answer any disruption queries. We have now added into our app, the latest Twitter feeds. 

Our app now includes Twitter information for each of our Twitter accounts which include our main @nationalrailenq as well as those for the individual train operating companies. To access the individual train operator’s feeds, simply click the Twitter button from the “More” menu and select the train operator you travel with. The app will remember which account you prefer.

TfL 

tflappAnother great feature in our latest release is we now include Transport for London travel information. You can view whether there is disruption on the underground lines or other London transport for today, later or over the weekend. To see this in action, choose London from the “More” menu button.

Over the past few months, we have added some great new features on our smartphone apps and we’d love to know what you think and if there is anything else you would like to see. You can suggest an idea on our Community Forum

We’ve got a topic on the forum at the moment asking for your opinions on how the railway uses Twitter, you can join in the conversation by adding your comments to this topic.

Cheapest Fare Finder

One final piece of good news, Cheapest Fare Finder is back up and running on the website after some changes to its configuration. You can use Cheapest Fare Finder by accessing this link from your computer.

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Cycling Information on our smartphone apps

January 31, 2014

Hi everyone and Happy New Year from us all at National Rail Enquiries. I wanted to let to tell you about a great new feature we have introduced onto our Smartphone apps and some news regarding our Season Ticket Calculator and Cheapest Fare Finder.

Cycle information on App

cycleblog3

Since 2009, the number of cycle-rail journeys have increased massively from 14 million to a record 39 million a year. With this in mind, we wanted to make it easier for cycle users to plan their rail journeys. Working alongside The Association of Train Operating Companies’ (ATOC) Integrated Transport team, National Rail Enquiries has included cycling information in our smartphone apps.

The app upgrade is a joint project by the Cycle Rail Working Group and has been funded by ATOC, the Enabling Innovation Team, the Department for Transport and the Bicycle Association of Great Britain (BAGB).

cycleblog1The app provides cycle information for train journeys and stations such as cycling facilities at stations.

As each train operating company operates slightly different policies and restriction times for taking bicycles onto the trains, you can search for the policy by train operating company. This information is now easily accessible on the app by clicking the cycles tab at the bottom of the app screen. You can also find out whether reservations are required to bring your bicycle onboard.

 

 

 

cycleblog2

 

When you are planning a journey using our app either using the journey planner or the live trains tab, you can view the restrictions and facilities available for a particular journey.

By clicking on the station details, you will able to view details of station facilities which will include information such as the number of cycle spaces availablections and facilities available for a particular journey.

We’d love to hear how you find the new feature so let us know in the comments section below. If you’ve got any ideas for more features we can include on the app, why not share your idea on our Community.

 

 

Changes to the Season Ticket Calculator

Recently we’ve introduced a feature which tells you the average price of your journey when you travel on a weekly or annual ticket. The aim is to make it easier to compare with the cost of buying separate tickets and other ways of getting to and from work such as driving. Get started now by looking up your journey here.

 

If you want to know how we work out the average journey cost, you can find all the details are here.

Cheapest Fare Finder

Finally, we’ve recently removed access to the Cheapest Fare Finder. My team are currently working on some improvements to the way it works, and it will be available on the site again within the next week-or-so.

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Update from the recent St Jude’s day storm

December 20, 2013

The industry has carried out reviews of the provision of information to customers during St Jude’s storm. In the round, we believe we coped reasonably well.

However, there are always lessons to learn, and we are working with the train operators and Network Rail to improve upon the processes for providing information during such incidents.

I reported previously that on the morning of the storm, our services experienced some difficulties – this was due to the highest volume of traffic we had ever seen. We wanted to give you an update on the steps we have taken to make sure this doesn’t impact our customers again.

We have identified the root cause of the problem and applied fixes to avoid a reoccurrence. We are working with a new load testing company to help us identify any further issues and have arranged to carry out more elaborate load tests on all of our systems.  As well as this, we have put processes in place to avoid similar issues occurring in future.

 

tree on line south of moulinearn level crossing networkrailscot

During disruption, Social Media, especially Twitter, is used to show our customers the impact of the storm on the railway. Working alongside Network Rail, we shared multiple pictures of the fallen trees and debris across the line so customers could see what was causing the problems that day on the railway. We are working with our colleagues at Network Rail to put a robust process in place to provide impactful pictures more quickly.

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Some changes to our Contact Centre

December 2, 2013

Hi all, this month, I wanted to let you know about some changes to our contact centre. Since we began National Rail Enquiries, communication methods have evolved at a fast rate and our offering has evolved in order to allow us to keep up with these changes. From the launch of our first website, to TrainTracker Text, to Social Media and apps, we always look for new ways to bring you the information about your journey. Even in this fast paced, technology-focused world we live in, our contact centres are hives of activity and our current predicted call volumes are 3.6 million calls for this year.

National Rail Enquiries Contact Centre

In order to continue to bring you the best service we can (our average waiting time is currently 27 seconds), we have implemented some changes to increase the level of our customer experience. Previously, we had two centres based in Mumbai and Delhi but we have consolidated our contact centres into one site in Mumbai.

Working in a hectic contact centre, we need to ensure that our staff are fully up to date. We have introduced new innovative training plans which includes our new refresher programme. This quarterly programme ensures that our staff are well-informed and able to provide you with the best levels of service. We have also made some changes to the contact centre environment such as introducing a dedicated floor walking team who are there to assist with more complex queries. The working environment has also changed – desks are laid out differently, there is new IT to help the team do their jobs better and an elevated ‘command centre’ where the manager can see what’s going on across the floor. Ensuring our contact centre is up to date with the latest technology and telephony systems allows us to deliver you the customer the best customer experience. This is illustrated by our latest satisfaction scores with our customer satisfaction score at 87% and with 84% of our customers stating they would recommend us to a friend.  You can read more about our customer satisfaction results on the website.

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St Jude Storm – Impact on our customer service

October 30, 2013

Many more people than ever before used our services on Monday morning and reported a satisfactory experience, but there were problems encountered by some customers. If you were one of those customers who had difficulty in accessing our information on Monday morning, I am very sorry for the additional stress and inconvenience that we caused you. I’ve set out below a brief account of how we approached preparations for the storm and how events unfolded.

Saturday / Sunday

Storm St Jude was well forecast with the Met Office predicting weather that would have an impact on transport and other infrastructure. Some Train Operators took the decision over the weekend not to run trains early on Monday due to the likelihood of there being debris blown on to the tracks and the consequent potential safety impact. This information was posted onto our website homepage on Saturday evening.

On Sunday evening the amended timetable for Monday was made available in our journey planner.

Over the course of the weekend we had a planned upgrade of the journey planning systems which affected our ability to send alerts. This was communicated to customers in advance via their alerting preferences and by email. The upgrade went ahead as planned: one reason for the upgrade was that it allows us to add more capacity as required so that we could meet the needs of more customers.

Our contact centre team drafted in extra staff to work overtime on Monday to try to the cope with the anticipated increase in the number of customers calling. Our information management team was also bolstered with extra people.

The eye of the storm

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We saw a marked increase in traffic across all of our channels (website / mobile / app / contact centre) from Sunday evening which continued through the early hours of Monday morning. Despite many more people than ever before using our services on Monday morning and reporting a satisfactory experience, there were problems encountered by some customers.

The problems included some customers being presented with a blank page rather than their journey plan, live departure board or other information – including in some cases our home page. This also had an impact on some customers using our mobile website, our apps and TrainTracker. This was identified by our support team who immediately began to investigate the cause of the issue and rectify it, whilst adding extra servers to cope with the increased demand. This took some time to complete, but the upgrade at the weekend meant that it was possible without reducing service to the majority of customers.

On our telephone lines, although our contact centre had additional staff working overtime and all desks were fully staffed, some customers had to wait quite a while for their call to be answered. Our advisors answered 47% more calls than a normal weekday and in addition our recorded message system answered almost 12,000 calls.

What worked well

Between 6am and 7am we had approximately 40,000 people on the website at any one time – about ten times what we see on a normal weekday morning. In the hour from 06:00 to 07:00 we answered 50% more requests for train times & ticket prices than in our previous busiest hour, which was when there was heavy snow on 18th January this year. The majority of customers were still able to use the website satisfactorily whilst the fixes were put in place.

Although journey planning in the apps was affected by the overall journey planning problems outlined above, live departure boards and other functions worked well. The Social Media team worked at full capacity delivering over 2000 messages to our Twitter accounts – by the end of Monday we had an extra 11,000 followers on our @nationalrailenq account. On the Facebook page we compiled an album of the pictures of the issues being found by Network Rail and the Train Operators.

Lessons Learned

We are working with our suppliers to investigate what went wrong and why, so that we are better prepared for the next major disruption.

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