This train inquiry is delayed ...

... because there are the wrong sort of people on the telephone line
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The Independent Online
The telephone inquiry system for rail passengers is in such a mess that about a third of callers never get through. With reorganisation of the system and the privatisation of the rail network, a new national inquiry number is being introduced and is due to go fully into operation on 19 October. The number, 0345 484950, has already "gone live" in many parts of Britain but is already unable to cope with increasing demand from passengers; thousands of callers are cut off after holding on for several minutes.

Although it was not advertised in London, up to 100,000 callers there were using the service daily and the number had to be withdrawn for London, with an answering message advising callers to contact one of four other existing lines.

The Independent has received a number of complaints from readers bewildered by the partial introduction of the new system and who have often called several numbers without getting a reply. Other complainants were given wrong information, as operators no longer have any local knowledge. This is because when people dial the new national number and their local bureau is engaged, they are transferred to one of the referral bureaux in Newcastle or Havant, where operators have to deal with all the rail network's 2,500 stations and 55 million fares, which are not available on one consolidated computer system.

There are 45 bureaux, nine of which are provided by a BR subsidiary, RailDirect, and the rest by individual train operators. While BR has invested pounds 1.4m in the Newcastle system, the 25 train operators will have to agree to invest significant sums to improve the system. According to Jim Collins, managing director of RailDirect, "the train operators are too poor at the moment to pay for the new software and hardware that is needed". All 25 companies will have to be convinced of the need for extra investment before major improvements can be made.

The national train-inquiry system, which deals with 40 million successful callers per year and an estimated 20 million who do not get through, has been deteriorating for a long time as investment failed to match growing demand. The CRUCC, the rail watchdog, said complaints about the train- inquiry bureaux doubled over the past two years. As well as problems caused by reorganisation and the historic lack of capacity in the system, the rail regulator has added to the problem by requiring train operators to provide "impartial information" which does not favour their own company.

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