Rail companies fined pounds 250,000 for failing to answer travellers' phone calls

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The Independent Online
Train companies are to be fined pounds 250,000 for failing to answer 15 per cent of calls from passengers in four weeks using the telephone inquiry service, the rail regulator said yesterday.

As revealed exclusively in The Independent, nearly 750,000 calls went unanswered in the month under scrutiny by John Swift, the rail regulator. This low level of response immediately triggered the penalty payments. Mr Swift instigated the investigation after the service failed to meet its target of answering 90 per cent of calls to the National Rail Inquiry Service.

Ivor Warburton, chairman of the Association of Train Operating Companies, which runs the service, blamed heavier-than-expected demand before the August bank holiday and said the target had been met, but one week late. He said the service cost pounds 3m every four weeks. The number of staff answering the calls had increased from about 1,100 to 1,700.

Ominously for the privatised companies, Mr Swift said he found it "deeply disturbing" that people were getting inaccurate information to the extent it was being reported. He added he would be taking that issue up with the rail operators. The fines would be issued automatically once British Telecom, which had been monitoring the calls' success rate, had confirmed the performance in the fourth week.

- Randeep Ramesh