Wheelworld Railway

APRS goes offline… but no word yet on replacement.

Posted in APRS, Passenger Focus by Wheel World Dad on May 26, 2010

Yesterday I received an email at about 15:30 from East Coast Trains:

For approximately 35 hours from 00.01 on Saturday 29 May, until around 11.00 on Sunday 30 May it will not be possible to make seat reservations or to book Advance tickets at stations, call centres or over the internet. This is to allow vital upgrade work to the national reservation system in response to growing customer demand and will affect all Train Operators and retail channels, not just East Coast.

During this period, timetable advice will continue to be available and tickets can be sold where a seat reservation is not required.

The Assisted Passenger Reservation Service (APRS) will also be unavailable during this time. Any passengers who require assistance boarding and alighting their train are advised to book in advance.

If you are travelling with a bicycle during this period, please note that we cannot guarantee there will be space on the train for it unless you have pre-booked.

Thank you for your understanding while this work takes place

Oh dear.

The Assisted Passenger Reservation Service (APRS) will also be unavailable during this time. Any passengers who require assistance boarding and alighting their train are advised to book in advance.

Yep – you read that right.  So, passengers on Saturday who might want to travel Sunday or on Monday morning have to either run the risk or try to book Sunday afternoon.

So my question is this: Why could they have not found a work around, using email or faxes and phones?

I passed this yesterday to Ashwin Kumar of Passenger Focus who came back to me with a very quick reply:

We chased ATOC on this issue today and what they’ve told us is that people won’t be able to make new bookings whilst the National Reservation system is down on Saturday and up to 11am on Sunday but any bookings made before 6pm on Friday will be honoured at the weekend because they’ll download the data before the reservation system goes down and distribute it manually to stations.  Of course, none of the TOC web sites that I checked today explained clearly that APRS bookings for this weekend needed to be made before 6pm on Friday.

Given that any bookings made over the weekend for Monday onwards could be taken and entered on Sunday afternoon, the only journeys that needed to be affected would be those booked after 6pm on Friday and made on Sunday.  There won’t be that many of them so I can’t see why they couldn’t just operate a manual system for such bookings this weekend.

so – minimal people affected (thank goodness), but it perhaps highlights weaknesses in the system.

The DfT and ATOC have mooted for a little while they are aware of the weaknesses and have since told Passenger Focus that they have designed a funding package for APRS’ replacement.  Designing the funding package is one thing, but actually securing the funding is quite another.  With the cuts recently, there is a pretty good chance that funding will not be found easily, but this shouldn’t deter ATOC from trying hard.  With 2012 approaching fast which will need a resilient system in place, I can’t help but worry that all the hard work by the ODA could all fall flat on its face.

‘Nuff said.