Commuters protest party on the train

VIDEO Frustrated commuters were today hoping for fewer headaches after staging a protest party on a National Express train to Ipswich to vent their grievances at the company.

Simon Tomlinson

FRUSTRATED commuters were today hoping for fewer headaches after staging a protest party on a National Express train to Ipswich to vent their grievances at the company.

Beers flowed, balloons were blown up and banter ensued in a bid to build rapport between commuters who were becoming tired of a service that has so publicly been beset by problems over the last few months.

And to top it off the party was held on a train that of course was running late.

The ringleader, who wishes to be known only as Liam, organised the on-board gathering after he attracted a huge virtual following on his blog, ihatenationalexpress.blogspot.com.

Since setting up the site a month ago, the 24-year-old financial journalist said he has received more than 10,000 hits, with around 50 people openly supporting his party idea.

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Liam said: “I just want to get a bit of camaraderie so people can recognise each other and start talking. There has been a real community spirit after setting up the website.

“There is a real lack of communication from the company. As usual the train is delayed, we are going at a snail's pace, and they don't give us any information.”

In reality the turnout was less impressive, with only a handful of travellers taking part in the friendly get-together on Friday's 6pm service from Liverpool Street to Norwich.

But the ever-growing community of disgruntled people in cyberspace, including some claiming to be National Express employees, had certainly caught the company's attention.

Liam had a personal meeting with the company's deputy managing director Mark Phillips the day before the party so he could air his views.

Commuter Heather Crosbie, of Rectory Road, Ipswich, said: “All we want to do is travel on a train that gets us home when it says it will.

“They have got a captured audience.”

Another reveller, called Caroline, said: “I want to stick two fingers up to National Express.”

David Wright, 53, of Colchester, said the problems recently have been the worst he has suffered during his 37 years of commuting.

He said: “It is a nightmare. It might just be unfortunate but National Express have got a very poor record.

“But it is not just the service - the attitude of the staff is very aggressive. We are very dissatisfied.”

- Do you think the party was a good idea? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Company response:-

NATIONAL Express East Anglia's head of corporate affairs Jonathan Denby today defended the company against the protesters' claims.

Bosses were aware of the travellers' concerns and deputy managing director Mark Phillips had agreed to meet Liam to hear of his specific concerns.

He had been given 60 questions raised on the blog and the company would be responding to them as soon as possible.

However Mr Denby said that despite a series of high-profile problems over the last few months - which had been caused by outside factors - reliability on the route had improved generally.

“We realise that when there are major problems such as those which arose in early June, there is serious inconvenience and we try to do what we can to minimise that.

“But in the immediate aftermath of a major incident, like the freight train derailment, there will always be some confusion before we know what the situation is - you cannot have a engineer on call every 100 yards along the track.”

Mr Denby said the company had tried hard to keep passengers informed about what was happening on the line and had received positive feedback.

He said: “When things went wrong we got more people out to tell passengers what was happening - and a couple of weeks ago we announced an extra compensation package.

“Our staff have been trained in how to deal with our customers and almost all the comments we get are that they are very friendly and helpful.”

Mr Denby said that on Friday night services had been fairly reliable. There was a speed restriction on the outskirts of London which meant some trains ran between five and ten minutes late, but there were no major hold-ups for passengers.