“Is it really three months since we started using the first half of the New station”, well yes I said to the person I was chatting to on platform 11. A familiar platform to me indeed and more about platform 10 & 11 later on. I decided at the half-time switchover time to write this blog at the end of July to give a more extended view of New Street – New Start, so I hope you enjoy it and the pictures as much as I enjoyed the volunteering and writing about it.
Three months ago on Saturday 26th April 2013 the travelling public got their first glimpse of New Street Station’s first half as a partition was removed from the wall at the southern end of the dispersal bridge. People were staring in amazement at what they could see with contractors in their Hi-viz clothing beavering away with last minute preparations. Under the overall guidance of Mark Bennett, Project manager at Network Rail, everything had to be ready to sign it off being a building site in readiness for the first train of the day on Sunday Morning.
(Viewpoint on the 26th April looking back towards old dispersal bridge)
I was at New Street Station for my official briefing and tour of the first half of the station as I was going to commence my duties as volunteer “Passenger Travel Champion” the following day and on selected days for the next month. More about that later but first my briefing visit.
Our briefing morning started off-site at Meridian House off Small Brook Queensway where we met the other volunteers and the Birmingham City Council representative Team Leader Sue Taylor and several Network Rail Senior Staff.
First job was to master the safety device on the hot water tap to make ourselves a drink before sitting down for the New Street – New Start presentation. The video as you will see if you click the link is a fly through of how the station will look in 2015.
We were then taken through what we would wearing & the equipment to use whilst we were on duty. During this time regular Network Rail staff would be wearing a much lighter blue top so rail operating staff could differentiate between us.
We were also taken through a safety briefing & procedures we had to undertake to ensure the safety of all people at New Street Station and on trains. For obvious reasons I will not go into those details as that would be a safety breach in itself.
We then made our way to New Street station and as the first half was still designated a construction site we made our way to the clothing room which was going to also be our booking on and off point to put on our HiViz safety equipment including boots.
We were then split up into small manageable groups to have our tour of the new part of the station. I felt highly privileged as I was in the group headed by Mark Bennett, the overall project manager. Where ever we went on site I got the feeling of genuine respect from his colleagues and contractors and nothing was too much trouble to resolve. Just to add that during my stint as Travel Champ I came across Mark many times, and in every case despite the long hours and pressures of work he remained as enthusiastic and determined to make sure customers and staff alike got the very best of service he could offer to make a real difference.
(Mark Bennett – Project Manager explaining what was happening in this area above New Street station ramp as most people knew it.)
And so the tour begins and as pictures can speak louder than words I will share a few with you that I took.
All those pictures were taken the day before half-time switchover and what a transformation on the Sunday afternoon when I started my first volunteer stint. There were other volunteers who had done their duty in the morning so we were taking over from them. After we had suitably dressed we were allocated our areas of work, whether it be on the platform or on the paid or unpaid concourse. Those on concourse had the big hands indicating directions to go and those on platforms didn’t for health and safety reasons.
The real thing
My first shift was at the bottom of the new escalators on platform 10 & 11 and we had the added task of guiding people to platform 12. Because of unforeseen circumstances with the foundations relating to the new John Lewis store there was no direct access from the paid concourse down onto 12. Access was via 10 and 11 and the old dispersal bridge and for pushchairs and wheelchairs via the old lifts.
If you were one of those who asked directions at the time and was able to walk you would have heard me say “Down to the second orange customer info screen. Up the old escalator, turn right and down the stairs onto 12”. My shift went quickly and it was soon time to return home. As the next was going to be my normal work day I decided to take extra ones of the “Z card” handy New Street Station guide to distribute to my fellow commuters on my regular Walsall to Birmingham Train. By the time I arrived at New Street they had all gone.
Obviously on the first day there were many people who had just come to have a look, maybe familiarise themselves with the new layout or just spend a Sunday afternoon differently.
I quite enjoyed being down on 10 and 11 and I requested that I be placed there on my next shift if possible. Sue Beardsmore and Tom Harmon & other Network Rail – Gold Command staff) happily obliged and I spent all but one of my volunteer shifts down there.
It would have been nice to complete my last shift on 27th May down there but thankfully for passengers the new lift became operational down to platform 12 so was not needed down there. Therefore my last shift was spent on the paid concourse where it wasn’t so busy for me but I did have one memorable request from a teenager. She came up to me and asked me where “platform 9 and ¾ was”. I told her platform 2 for the London Euston Train then the London Underground to Kings Cross where she would find it clearly labelled. I think she wasn’t expecting that reply and just said thank you.
All my volunteer time was at weekends and the two Bank Holidays as I already have a full time job. Weekends of course bring in changes to the normal running with engineering work taking place and some lines closed.
The majority of questions on the platform related to “where does the train go for …” “Is this the train to…” “How do I get to platform 12” amongst many other common ones. Apart from using my knowledge gleamed from the briefing I also had each day the “Arrival and Departure shifts” which showed all the scheduled trains for the day. Passing though freight trains and there were occasional ones, and other information to guide passengers. Because of last minute changes due to train’s late running and re-platformed ones it was important to listen to the announcements so as to be accurate with passenger information. We had our radios if we were unsure and I also used my personal Samsung Galaxy Note 2 device to double check on changes.
With passengers probably spending less than 15 seconds with you it’s important that you were looking ahead to the next services on your platforms and alternative trains should a passenger miss the one they are running after.
It’s probably no surprise to regular Network Rail employees and train operating staff but to me it did prove to be an eye opener being down on the platform. My observations include some passengers not knowing what train operating companies they should be getting on, even though the display clearly shows which company it is. Tickets they have purchased at a discount online with specific trains and or restrictions that apply to them and then want to go on a different one. Passengers ignoring the advice you have given them when a ticket specifies “London Midland only” or “Virgin Trains only” etc. and getting on the wrong train. I think the best though, and I had a few, people asking how they get out of the station now the old lifts not accessible as a way out. In some cases from their responses it was very clear that they didn’t have a ticket and didn’t intend to pay.
Smoking was another issue as passengers did try to go to the end of the platform and light up and didn’t take to kindly to being asked to put it out. On one occasion a passenger refused but must have been seen by network Rail staff on CCTV as they were told over the PA system they could be seen and had to extinguish it immediately. The majority though did heed to the request and asked where the smoking area was and of course I pointed them in the right direction out of the station.
To ensure we were all doing okay various members of the Network Rail Switchover Team visited us on a regular basis and a very good retired work friend of mine persuaded one of them to stop and have a picture taken.
(Yours truly pictured with Adam, one of the volunteers I worked closely with during most of my shifts and Jag a member of the Network Rail gold command.)
I must mention that Adam was a natural in spotting potential inflammatory situations and calmed down a few incidences where there were passengers who had a little too much to drink and upsetting other travellers. I wish you well and hope your application for the job you were seeking goes with success.
Overall my experience was a very enjoyable one and I felt I had put to good use officially my knowledge of New Street station and the railway operating infrastructure that I’ve gained over the years. I’ve also was very privileged to receive an insight into how complex the operation of running a busy railways station is. With its many strands of security, network and train operating company staff all dependent on each other to make things go as smoothly as possible whilst thousands of others are rebuilding and transforming the second half in the background.
As a result of being a regular user of London Midland services I have got to know many of their staff by sight and regularly speak to them. Therefore it was no surprise to some staff that I was a volunteer during the half-time switchover and indeed receive many complimentary comments about the service I was providing to all passengers at New Street and beyond.
Post “Travel Champion Days”
My last shift as mentioned earlier was bank Holiday Monday, 27th May and I returned to my normal unrelated to rail, day Job the following day. Since then have passed through the station and watched as it has transformed further and changing all the time. Based on passenger, staff and “Travel Champion” feedback, additional signs have been placed around New Street station.
When I’ve spotted passengers looking bemused or notice they may not be sure of which way to go, I have asked if they needed any help and pointed them in right direction or offered info to help them. I have also noticed at peak times Network Rail have had staff around the main customer information screen area (pictured below)
Its important to bear in mind that it is very much “work in progress” in readiness for completion towards the latter end of 2015. Meanwhile of course the flagship store John Lewis is being built and set to open next year.
Below are some pictures taken since the end of May 2013 in and around New Street Station.
I still continue to be recognised by some security staff and Network Rail employees and they stop and have a brief chat with me as they go about their work. That shows to me that somehow I did make an impression and difference to the users at the station but above all else communication is the most important asset that all staff must have at a place like this.
Everyone has to work together regardless of what part of the railway industry they work in and share one vision. That vision is that customer information has to be at the forefront of everything they do. On the whole the staff that I observed at the station worked well and some went the extra mile to show travellers they did really care about giving the best service, information and assistance that they could. It is these people that are the ambassadors of the station and hope they will be recognised as such
I do really miss my “Travel Champion” days at New Street of which I did approximate 35 hours in total but look forward to returning as a volunteer in 2015 when once again we shall be needed to show people the whole New Street station in all its intended glory. Meanwhile its business as usual for the regular passengers who are using the station.
To finish I am particularly proud of some comments that were said about me by one of the Network Rail Gold Command staff and I quote
“David stood out during his time at New Street Station as a Travel Champion volunteer due to his constant enthusiasm and the quality of his customer service. The patience and sincerity David treated passengers with was only beaten by the his knowledge of the railway which would happily share with any passenger who required it. If we require volunteers again we would certainly hope that David would come back to assist us.”
You bet I will and so many of the other Travel champs will to, I’m sure.
For more information and be updated with the progress of New Street Station please go to the http://newstreetnewstart.co.uk/
For information on the facilities available at New Street station click here
The views in this article are all my own except where quoted and I am grateful for the opportunity of being part of the Network Rail’s half-time switchover team. My thanks to all those who supported me and my fellow “travel champs” during the period 26th April to 27th May 2013.
All pictures with the exception of the certificate are © Dave Cresswell 2013