The art of communication is in communicating

By Catherine Ross

I understand that if there are high winds and severe weather warnings, cancelling all trains until the weather has passed is a prudent step to take. I can’t imagine a circumstance where my journey was important enough to put the lives of train drivers and passengers at risk.

As St Jude (apparently we give our storms names now) approached the UK coastline, Southern Railway cancelled all trains until at least 9am on Monday morning. Apparently it was at the advice of Network Rail and was, I thought, a sensible precaution.

With several days warning, most organisations were able to plan ahead for the arrival of “Stormageddon”. The Environment Agency had diggers out shoring up shingle to protect coastal communities. Emergency services were on high alert, the Met Office discouraged travel and provided up to the minute information. News providers did their job by alerting people to the threat, Twitter was awash with a combination of jokes and warnings.

Having closely monitored the trains situation, I made my way to Gatwick Airport in time to catch a train by about 10:30. I had to get to London for a meeting. It’s rare, but typical that it should happen on a day without transport. When I arrived at Gatwick, the station was so full it had been closed and passengers were being asked to wait in the airport. The customer services were as friendly as they could be, but their hands were tied by the complete lack of information.

No-one knew when the next train might run or how frequently trains might run afterwards. They couldn’t tell me anything. Eventually, I discovered that there was a replacement coach service. Employing all my optimism I joined the queue. It snaked out from the terminal building to the road and along to the end of the airport.

Again, staff were as friendly and helpful as they could be. Again they could tell me nothing. How frequently are the coaches running? I’m sorry, we don’t know. What are my chances of getting into London? I’m sorry, I don’t know. Roughly how many coaches worth of people are ahead of me in the queue? I’m sorry I don’t know. After an hour of queuing and with still no indication of whether trains were going to run, I boarded a train. An hour and 45 minutes later, I arrived in London.

The weather is just one of those things and Southern doesn’t have a great record of reliability in the face of the slightest adversity, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I can’t help thinking that my own journey and that of thousands of other passengers could have been vastly improved if only we had had some information base our decisions on.

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