17 August 2014

It’s getting hot in here

UPDATE: I responded to Southeastern - click here to see what I wrote!

Over the last 3 months, Southeastern travellers have taken to Twitter to complain about the heating on Southeastern trains.

Common replies from Southeastern have been

  • That they will talk to their fleet crews about this to fix the train
  • The driver has no control over heating on the train

The first response shows that their twitter account clearly believes that have maintenance problems.

The second, as discovered one morning on a Class 376 train is that the driver is able to turn off heating to a carriage, since he delayed our train leaving by 5 minutes to turn it off.

It’s not just me feeling the heat

For those of you interested in crowdsourcing on Twitter, I’d like to point out www.commutelondon.com (twitter: @commuteldn). They crowdsource tweets for all the train companies leaving from London, and I regularly look at the state of the #southeastern nation for an idea of delays etc.

On many times I’ve seen ‘heating’ mentioned in the top 5, usually at the top.

I asked Commute London if they were able to provide stats for the last few weeks about heating complaints for Southeastern on twitter, and they provided me the following statement:

“Over the past six weeks, South Eastern commuters Tweeted complaints about heating/air con during the rush hour periods on average 25 times a day”

That’s a lot of complaints.

My mail to Southeastern

In an effort to understand what the actual problem was, and why heating continued to be on during the summer months, I contacted Southeastern with the following email - my disclaimer to be able to post their response included, as always.

Hi,

For the last 2 months, I, and countless others have asked for the heating to be turned off on your trains. It is summer after all.

When complaints are answered we are assured this would be passed onto the fleet team to be fixed. However to date I experience at least one train per week that had the heating turned on. Apart from last week which was a marked experience from the norm - a week of air conditioned, well maintained trains - you could learn a lot from JR trains in Tokyo.

Anyway, please can you tell me what is being done to address this? Surely during summer heating can just be turned off?

Also, your twitter account continues to perpetuate the lie that the driver is unable to turn off heating on the train. My driver did the other day on a class 376 train, delaying the train by 5 mins to ensure the comfort of passengers.

Surely your continued wastage of energy flies in the face of your environmental claims as detailed here? http://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/about-us/sustainability/environment/

I’m sure your passengers would like to know:

  • if this issue will be addressed this summer
  • if any fixes will jeopardise heating during the autumn/winter months
  • your plans to ensure these issues do not occur next summer

As per my usual comments to you, please explicitly state in your reply whether I cannot relay any response to my complaint to my local commuters, otherwise I will assume it is ok to share, despite any standard boilerplate email footer.

Regards,

Phil

Southeastern responds

Dear Mr Rogers

Thank you for your web form dated 28 July.

I’m extremely sorry for the unpleasant conditions that you had to suffer due to heating issues on your recent journeys. While our trains aren’t subject to any specific regulations regarding temperature, we do adhere to guidance from the Health & Safety Executive’s advice regarding workplace temperatures.

The Health & Safety Executive recommend a temperature range from 13oC to 30oC and as such, we’ve set our thermostats to 21oC, being the temperature that’s accepted by Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning specialists where “the majority of people do not feel too hot or too cold when at rest”. It should be noted that this is a factory setting and consequently not subject to control by the driver.

I can assure you that all the equipment including the air conditioning and heating units on our trains are checked thoroughly before they are put into public use and also when the trains return to the depot at the end of service. This is essential to ensure that the trains meet the mandatory Health and Safety specifications crucial for vehicles that are in public use. Any failings that are discovered during these inspections are rectified before the trains are returned to service but unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, problems can occur whilst a train is in service.

We are relentlessly trying to ensure that the heating equipment on our trains is kept in good working order however, the equipment on our older Networker (Metro) trains is less sophisticated and reliable than those on the newer generation of trains. I would emphasise that we’re working hard to ensure that where air conditioning is installed it’s working before a train enters service although, it’s clear that this hasn’t been the case in your experience.

In order to alleviate this situation we currently have major investment projects in progress including our Thameslink Programme. The Thameslink Programme is a £6.5 billion project in south-east England to upgrade and expand the Thameslink rail network to provide new and longer trains between a wider range of stations to the north and to the south of London without requiring passengers to change trains in London. Work includes platform lengthening, station remodelling, new railway infrastructure, and the additional rolling that will result in the older models being replaced.

If you would like further information on this project and how it is advancing please visit:

http://www.thameslinkprogramme.co.uk/about

We’re in the process of updating our fleet however, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, this is a costly and time consuming enterprise. For the time being, please be assured that our fleet delivery team have been made aware of your concerns and we’ll do everything possible to provide a more pleasant travelling environment in the future.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, and I’m sorry you were required to do so.

Yours sincerely

REDACTED

Customer Relations Officer

Southeastern

My thoughts

Whilst Southeastern claim H&SE recommends a temperature range of 13C to 30C - this is old guidance, as detailed in the first section here.

Since the train isn’t a workplace (apart from those of us calling in/emailing to work saying we’ll be late), I’m not sure how this guidance can apply. But, for the purposes of this post, let’s assume conditions that don’t have physical effort - so, the temperature should be at least 16C. With, sadly, no upper limit apart from 30C for transporting animals

Whilst they note that there is no way to change the setting, they have conveniently sidestepped the ability to turn off heating on the train. Which has been shown to be possible.

I couldn’t find any official HVAC recommendations for heating, though at the end of this article it states that about 21C, it maybe uncomfortable

But is there an actual need to turn the heating on at all? Especially, as Southeastern have admitted, they are working hard to make sure that heating on their trains work correctly?

Well this site (see the Average High/Low temperatures) shows that, in London, the average Low temperature from June to September is 13C, peaking at 23C in July/August - which falls within the range that Southeastern believe people should travel in. Their words, not mine.

From the environmental perspective, Southeastern prides themselves on their environmental credentials - I’m sure this excessive heating flies in the face of this, as well as their aim to “be considerate to our surroundings”, though I guess passengers don’t count in that category.

I don’t see the relevance that the Thameslink Programme will make trains cooler - though have heard that longer trains will mean the air blowers will work less effectively. And I doubt Dartford will benefit from any new rolling stock in the short term.

What next?

I’m going to reply to Southeastern, suggesting that, during at least July and August they don’t turn the heating on in their trains at all.

I think a lot of complaints from customers have been due to the trains trying to reach that 21C sweet spot, and whilst trying to get there, pumping higher temperatures into the train, on an already warm day.

The rest of the complaints are just down to poor maintenance, which is an ongoing theme with Southeastern’s rolling stock, affecting customers daily.

The point is this: in an office, you wouldn’t usually wear your outdoor coat. You can wear, or take this off, on the train - if it’s a cold day, you keep your coat on. The extra body heat generated by constantly crowded trains also helps provide heat. There is no reason to turn heating on during the summer months.

If you’ve been affected by the heat on the train, then you should contact Southeastern directly via their online form - not twitter, this has been shown to be a “we’ll pass it on” service, with no actual feedback on the outcome.

Or consider contacting your MP, I’m sure your comments would be taken into account now, or when the franchise renewal process starts in November 2016, for a potential new operator in June 2018.



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Related links


Southeastern Railway Action Group
Dartford Rail Travellers' Association
Dartford Rail Travellers Association (Facebook)
Dartford Rail Travellers Association (Twitter)