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