Sema defends rail inquiry line

Sema, the Anglo-French computer services company which supplies all the UK's train timetable and train fare information, yesterday hit out at a report in the consumer magazine Which? claiming that rail passengers telephoning the National Rail Inquiry Service were given inaccurate information on 41 out of 70 occasions.

Peter Cook, who runs BR Business Systems, the train planning company bought by Sema in January this year, defended the inquiry service, which uses information supplied by Sema and employees from Serco, another UK computer services company.

"The researchers picked particularly complex journey issues which meant the database had to answer a lot of complex questions," he said.

Which? found, for instance, that the inquiry service gave the right price just four out of 21 times when researchers asked about the cost of travelling from Basingstoke in Hampshire to Carlisle in Cumbria and returning via London. Mr Cook said that because customers now always got an answer when they telephoned for informationit was understandable that complaints were rising.

He said the amount of information was also increasingly complex: "We have 144 million fares on our database and information on 20,000 trains a day. That is enormous complexity that was never dealt with by BR." Mr Cook said that Sema was training Serco's employees to use the database, but the employees were stretched: "Serco's workers are handling two and a half times the number of calls that they were employed to handle. We are training them as fast as Serco can hire them."