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A Little Help from My Friends

Wednesday, March 3 2010

Culham Station, near Abingdon, April 2004. Photo R P Marks

(Click image to see the original photograph and details of licensing. Click here to see more photos by R P Marks on Flickr.)

All the ‘Customer Care’ courses in the world are of little use if the staff don’t care about the reputation of the company they work for, or are so tied up with rules and regulations that they would be severely punished for sorting out the problems of the customer.

Many years ago I was flying out of Heathrow when there was a bomb scare. The terminal building was hot and very crowded. When I got on board the plane I needed a drink. When I pressed the button for service the cabin attendant (they were called ‘air hostesses’ in those days) barked at me, And what do YOU want? British Airways had just put all their service delivery staff through a ‘Customer Care’ programme. I was not impressed.

In the ‘bad old days’ of BR a certain amount of the professional pride, that was such a strong feature of the ‘Big Four’ pre-nationalisation companies, remained. In particular there was a ‘get the passenger home’ ethos which, while totally unadvertised, saved the skin of many a commuter who had missed the last train home.

Of all unlikely places to get stuck in, Reading was the place where I found myself without a train to my destination, twice!  The first time I was trying to complete a journey from Swanage to Slough and as it was now after midnight, I had run out of trains. A helpful railwayman directed me to the station supervisor’s office. The supervisor looked up a working timetable and found an empty stock DMU running down to Southall Depot which was due to depart in half an hour. ‘I’ll ask the driver,’ he said. He was as good as his word. I travelled in a deserted train with all the lights switched off as far as Slough, where the driver made a brief unscheduled stop. I then had to clamber over a fence to get out as all the station’s gates were locked!

The second time, it was not so late very late, but there were no more trains stopping due to call at Culham where I had parked my car. However, there was a DMU, due to leave in 10 minutes time, passing through Culham on its way to Oxford. I chatted up the guard. “It’s OK with me,” he said, “if the driver agrees.” I asked the driver. “OK,” said the driver, “but you’ll have to ask the guard.” Our train made a brief unscheduled stop at Culham and I arrived safely home. In these days of health and safety and ‘black boxes’ in the cab, do railway staff still make special arrangements for passengers who have missed their last train home?

…to be continued

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