The Whistle Stop Tour

Your opportunity to meet our managers and help us build a better West Midlands Railway.

We want to put you in the driving seat! We think it’s really important for us to get to know you and give you the chance to understand everything we’ve got planned to make your journeys better. That’s why we’re hitting the road (or rails!) with our Whistle Stop events coming to a station near you.

Our Whistle Stop tour will pop up at a number of stations listed below, including an all-day event in Birmingham. Come and have a chat with your local and head office management teams responsible for your services and provide valuable feedback about your experiences on our services.

We know that your time is precious and don’t have time to stop and chat in a station so we are also launching brand new “on board” events, covering a variety of routes across our network.

Where are we going to be?

16.09.2019 07.45 - 18.15 Birmingham New Street (Main concourse)

*More stations, stops and dates coming soon.

What did you ask us about?

We take all feedback seriously and use it to help shape the future of your services. We also have many initiatives in the pipeline already (or as we like to call it our £474m investment programme).

You can find answers to the hot questions from each of our recent Whistle Stop events below, choose the station closest to where you travel to find out what’s going on in your area.

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with our Customer Experience Director, Head of Stations, Head of CX Strategy & Innovation, CX Insight Manager, CX Analyst, Future Stations & Services Delivery Manager, Head of On Board, CX Strategy Manager, Station Manager & Area Station Manager across the morning and evening peaks.

A) The May 2019 timetable was our first major timetable change for the West Midlands and the biggest change to unit & traincrew plans in a decade. It was a central part of the government and local authority’s plan to increase capacity (number of seats) in and out of Birmingham, when they awarded the franchise.

On the Snow Hill lines, we operate diesel trains which are in short supply across the country, due to delayed electrification schemes. While we ordered 80 brand new diesel carriages back in December 2017, these take approximately 2 ½ years to build. In the meantime, we have to increase capacity with a largely unchanged fleet, although we did add 11 “nearly new” carriages to our ranks in April 2019.

In order to deliver more capacity overall, we altered carriage allocation on specific services to make more efficient use of the limited number of trains we have. This means that our longer 5 & 6 carriage trains have been put on the core section of the route (Dorridge / Whitlocks End to Stourbridge Junction / Kidderminster), as a round circuit on this section takes less time than running out to Stratford or Worcester. This means we can turn it round and get it back through Snow Hill / Moor St to operate a second ‘long’ service during the peak.

A) We are planning to introduce car park charges as a way of managing demand and reducing ‘rail heading’, where motorists may drive extra miles to avoid charges & prevent local residents from accessing the station. This does not include stations where the West Midlands Combined Authority manage the car park (within the Network zones 1 – 5).

We are working with local councils to make all our stations easier and safer to use, with our investment programme looking beyond the station boundary. Every station is undergoing a sustainable transport review, including work with local councils to assess wider transport infrastructure, part of this is our standing commitment to invest in 2,760 more cycle spaces across our network. The revenue generated will also support our programme to introduce ANPR, increased CCTV coverage, brighter lighting and resurfacing works.

We don’t have a final date yet as we are still undertaking the preparatory assessment work, we’ll absolutely make sure we communicate to customers when a date is finalised in plenty of time.

A) We have a rolling programme of upgrades for the Snow Hill line fleet of Class 172 trains. This will include re upholstering every single seat, making the saloons lighter & brighter as well as installing plug sockets, USB charging points, Wi-Fi and free onboard entertainment.

This work is scheduled to take place over the rest of 2019 and in to 2020, with one unit removed from the fleet at a time to make sure we can still run as many carriages as possible. In all 35 units, made up of 85 carriages will be upgraded for the Snow Hill lines.

A) This train is parked in our Worcester depot overnight and comes into service at 06:15 by coming out of the sidings, up to a nearby junction and then back down into the station where it starts its first passenger service at 0630. Unfortunately, it’s rather congested around this area in the morning with lots of trains from lots of different operators all vying for paths through some busy junctions heading off all over the country.

Throughout June and July, we did experience a few technical issues with the trains used to operate this service but there is one big issue that has been causing us a regular headache, which believe it or not is a knock-on delay from a signalling issue over at Bromsgrove. In essence, there is a design fault with particular new signal between Droitwich and Bromsgrove, for which Network rail have been working on a solution. In the interim, this means the signal has to be held at red until trains get close which means all trains have to slow down on approach, causing queues all the way back to Worcester (think average speed limit on the motorway) and blocking our train in at the sidings. Network Rail who manage the signalling and track systems have been working hard to get a bespoke fix but have had a few false starts. It is now back up and running, so hopefully should ease the pressure on early morning trains paths round the Worcester junctions.

A) From the 9th July, we added carriages to some key trains, such as the 17:13 departure from Snow Hill towards Worcester. This was done after we assessed the operation of the new timetable, fully reviewed the feedback and then crucially decided if there were alterations that we were able to make. Our timetable, carriage allocation and overall operation is specified by our contract with the Government and Combined Authority. Any alterations have to be consulted and approved by our regulatory partners and then sent to Network Rail to check whether the changes impact on any other train movements. The carriages which were added the likes of the 17:13 were removed from other services. While we judged that these services could afford the lesser capacity, it did involve additional train paths being identified on the network to join the new trains together. It was frustrating for us that we had identified an apparent solution and weren’t able to action it more quickly, but we must operate within the industry regulations which have been designed to protect as many train services from the risk of disruption.

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with our Customer Experience Director, HR Director, Head of Stations, Head of Corporate Affairs, Head of On Board, CX Strategy Manager, Station Manager, Area Station Manager, colleagues from West Midlands Rail Executive and local rail user groups.

A) Our May 2019 timetable was the first major timetable change for West Midlands Railway and the biggest change to our train diagrams (the plan of where each train goes each day) for a decade. It was a central part of the government and local authority’s plan to increase capacity (number of seats) in and out of Birmingham, when they specified the franchise.

On the Hereford – Worcester – Birmingham route we operate diesel trains, which are in short supply across the country as very few new versions have been built in recent years due to multiple governments’ aspirations that the network would be more widely electrified by now. With the cancellation of many rail electrification schemes, the existing diesel fleets have struggled to meet growing demand. A further complication is that many of our diesel carriages now need some midlife TLC with each carriage out of service for approximately 2 weeks while we carry this out. To allow for this we had planned to move our diesel carriages operating between Birmingham and Walsall on to Hereford and Worcester services, these carriages were to be freed up by electric replacements from Transpennine Express, taking advantage of the recently completed installation of overhead electric wires on the Walsall route. Unfortunately, the nearly new trains (Class 350/4) from Transpennine Express were not delivered to us as planned due to the late arrival of their brand-new trains form the factory. However, the first Class 350/4 has now arrived with our sister company, London Northwestern Railway, at their Northampton depot, ready to enter service in September, which will in turn allow the transfer of our remaining diesel carriages in the Autumn.

We recgonised that the Hereford – Worcester – Birmingham route was very popular when we submitted our plans to run the franchise which is why we committed to ordering 80 brand new carriages in December 2017. Unfortunately, these take approximately 2 ½ years to build and commission, these Class 196 units are due to enter service in 2020.

Class 196 carriages

A) In the 2 years building up to the May 19 timetable launch, we recruited and trained an additional 200 drivers / senior conductors to work the extra services that we were introducing across the network. We have worked hard to plan our people resources around the new timetable, but with over 2,500 changes to rosters and traincrew diagrams we knew there would be some plans that worked on paper but might not work in practice. This is why we closely monitored the operation in the first month, particularly at Birmingham New Street to find out where turnaround times were tight and had the potential to cause issues, such as when inbound crews were struggling to be in position in time their next outbound train.

Given the complexity of our operation, with an increased number of services splitting and joining halfway along a route, we are finding that managing traincrew dynamically during disruption is a particular challenge. This will improve as our control teams and duty managers develop a deeper understanding of the operation day to day, which in simple terms for our customers means you shouldn’t notice as many incidents where we’ve had to adapt our plans. This is because we’ll have swapped our crews around to avoid the problem spiralling into something more significant. To further help us mitigate for low traincrew availability, we have also spent a considerable amount of time training more drivers and senior conductors on a wider portfolio of routes so they can be deployed more flexibly.

A) Yes! We have a plan in place to make sure we hold regular sessions from now on. Over the course of 2018 we undertook a comprehensive restructure of our organisation, building new teams who are better focused and able to deliver our transformational upgrade programme. This inevitably caused some disruption to way we do business and coupled with the launch of our £400m plus investment programme, we did get our heads down and concentrate for a few months, omitting to organise enough of these events. From now on, there will be a forward calendar, published every 6 months on our website, advertising when and where we’re going to be, we also plan to launch on board engagement sessions on routes where individual stations are too small to host a full Whistle Stop.

Check back on this page for updates on where we’ll be visiting next!

A) We have a rolling programme of upgrades for the Snow Hill line fleet of Class 172 trains. This will include re upholstering every single seat, making the saloons lighter & brighter as well as installing plug sockets, USB charging points, Wi-Fi and free onboard entertainment.

This work is scheduled to take place over the rest of 2019 and in to 2020, with one unit removed from the fleet at a time to make sure we can still run as many carriages as possible. In all 35 units, made up of 85 carriages will be upgraded for the Snow Hill lines.

A) We know that bikes are a hugely popular way of getting to/from the station and are essential for some of our customers to get around. While we don’t currently see an outright ban on bikes as a reasonable option, we do have a policy of limiting them to 2 per train and at peak times, our policy is not to allow full size bikes, instead we only allow folded bikes. Applying these rules is at the senior conductor’s discretion, if you have any concerns please speak to our on board team who will be able to help.

Customers were able to discuss their feedback directly with our Customer Experience Director, Head of On Board, Head of Corporate Affairs, CX Strategy Manager and local rail user group representatives.

A) Our May 2019 timetable the first major timetable change for West Midlands Railway and the biggest change to our train diagrams (the plan of where each train goes each day) for a decade. It was a central part of the government and local authority’s plan to increase capacity (number of seats) in and out of Birmingham, when they specified the franchise.

On the Hereford – Worcester – Birmingham route we operate diesel trains, which are in short supply across the country as very few new versions have been built in recent years due the long-term political strategy being that the UK network would be more widely electrified by now. With the cancellation of many rail electrification schemes, the existing diesel trains have struggled to meet growing demand. A further complication is that many of our diesel carriages now require some midlife TLC with each carriage out of service for approximately 2 weeks while we carry out both mechanical and on-board facility improvement work. To allow for this we had planned to move diesel carriages operating between Birmingham and Walsall on to Hereford and Worcester services, these carriages were to be freed up by electric replacements from Transpennine Express taking advantage of the recently completed installation of overhead electric wires on the Walsall route. Unfortunately, the nearly new trains (Class 350/4’s) from Transpennine Express were not delivered to us as planned due to the late arrival of their brand-new replacement trains form the factory. The first of these 10 trains have now arrived with our sister company, London Northwestern Railway, at their Northampton depot, ready to enter service in August following some modifications, which will allow the transfer of our remaining diesel carriages.

We recgonised that the Hereford – Worcester – Birmingham route was very popular when we submitted our bid to run the franchise which is why we committed to ordering 80 brand new carriages in December 2017. Unfortunately, these take approximately 2 ½ years to build and commission, these Class 196 units are due to enter service in 2020.

Class 196 carriages

A) Our 8 Class 153 carriages were due to be retired at the end of 2019, when a new set of accessibility regulations is to come into force. We know that these carriages are not universally popular and lack some of the creature comforts of our newer trains. However, as demand for our services continues to grow every year, these carriages are a necessary evil while our brand new trains are built. We are in the process of exploring whether we can keep them in service beyond the end of the year, as peak time crowd busters. Importantly though, from 2020 onwards they would only operate when attached to a more modern unit and run together.

We don’t plan to keep them as soon any longer than we have to, the sooner they can be turned into baked bean tins and our new trains are delivered the better!