Rail phone blunder puts chemist on line

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The Independent Online
A pharmacy plagued by train inquiries after its number was wrongly listed in a directory has received no compensation or even acknowledgement of the problem from the rail industry after six months of complaints.

Associated Chemists, a Sheffield firm, found in March that its number had been wrongly published in the North Manchester phone book and the Yellow Pages as the number to obtain "BR information". The first the firm's managing director, Martin Bennett, heard about it was when he picked up the phone early one morning and was asked if he would mind looking outside "to see if the Bournemouth train was there".

On Good Friday, when demand for prescriptions was particularly high, Mr Bennett's switchboard was inundated with calls, causing severe problemsfor genuine callers. At other times, such as in the aftermath of the Watford crash last month and in the days before Bank Holidays, the switchboard has been blocked by callers.

Today Mr Bennett hopes to meet a representative of the Association of Train Operating Companies, the first official acknowledgement of the problems from which his business has been suffering in the past six months. His efforts to get any response from British Rail failed, as in the aftermath of privatisation it was impossible to find out who to contact.

Mr Bennett said: "Finding out who was responsible has been a major problem. Yellow Pages say they obtained the information from BT, who in turn say they got it from British Rail's PR company, Proctor and Proctor, who say they obtained the number from BR."

Proctor and Proctor has contacted Associated Chemists and offered to have the number changed but Mr Bennett says this is not acceptable, because the firm has provided an extended-hours emergency service in Sheffield since 1952 and the number is widely known. Mr Bennett discovered that the cost of installing computer equipment to filter out the rogue calls would cost pounds 10,000 and attempted to find out if British Rail would pay. He was told train inquiries are now the responsibility of the Association of Train Operating Companies, but spent several months unsuccessfully trying to get someone there to return his calls.

Matters have been made worse by introduction of a new national number for phone inquiries. Mr Bennett said: "The correct BR number now has an answerphone telling people to phone the national number, 0345 484950, but they don't get through and then phone our number and abuse our staff."

Mr Bennett has given up trying to obtain sufficient compensation to pay for computer equipment but would dearly like someone to acknowledge the problem: "I just want someone to come and say sorry and offer to help me. It doesn't seem too much to ask."