Letter To The Editor
Overnight Train Services
David Gallant (Newsletter June 1999) certainly has a point regarding the policy (or the lack of it) on night travel. By using a sleeper, the railways are the only system of transport to provide an acceptable method of doing so. Furthermore no better method of transport can compete with it, now, or in the future, in the sense that a passenger can be at his destination at the start of the working day.
The poor use of night trains is the result of the failure to promote facilities. The fault is that it is supposed at management level, that not only do the public know what is available, but that in any event booking clerks and enquiry clerks will tell them anyhow. Nothing is further from the truth, and this has been the case for a very long time.
Many years ago, I was asked to see what could be done to improve the loading of the sleepers from Plymouth, to London and Manchester. A telephone and personal caller audit was instituted on the basis that the customer needed to reach a destination at a time which should have prompted the suggestion to use the sleepers at night. In only 5% of the requests was such a suggestion made. All concerned were then informed that they had been monitored and would continue to be so. In about 10 months the sleeper business had doubled and extra cars had to be provided.
Some while back I arrived at Fort William on the day that the High Court in Edinburgh was to decide on the fate of the West Highland sleeper. Going into the Tourist Office, I asked if they could advise me in obtaining a sleeping berth for London, a week later. No. There were no trains at night and they thought that berths were only provided in countries like America. To this, the only possible response was that Fort William had had a through facility of this nature for the best part of 100 years, and here, in that day's paper was a debate on its future. That had them floored, and the only thing they could suggest was that I went down to the station to see if they knew anything about night trains. In a small town like Fort William this just about beggars belief. The Tourist Office in Spean Bridge was no better, and on three occasions I have asked about night travel in the Tourist Office in Inverness and got similar negative results. That said these are no worse than the West Country 30 years ago, or the Home Counties now, where on occasions when trying to make a reservation, the booking clerk knows nothing about the service, and I have to find the information for him in the public timetable. Then I am told there is nothing he can do. For goodness sake, what are these people employed for? When I was a booking clerk, I had to know the timetable, and do all I could to assist, and make reservations for one's customers. And what a feeble standard of management there is now, when there appears to be no check on what these people are, or rather not, doing.
Does this really concern FoFNL? Any action which promotes long distance travel into Inverness will indirectly help the Far North Line. Depending on where one lives, FoFNL should see themselves as watchdogs of what the public is not told, and keep a note of it. This may be valuable in due course when pressing for improvements or preventing further service reductions.
John M Chamney.