Travelling on MerseyRail doesn’t just piss me off, I confirmed today. From the grunts and rolling eyes across the carriage at Birkenhead North during peak hour this afternoon, I expertly deduced that it got under the skin of quite a few people.

“Bibibibibi-PSHEWWW,” the doors closed. “Ting ting.” Then the doors opened again. Quizzical looks. The doors closed. Then opened. Then closed. “Fuuuuuck sake,” growled the builder next to me (I assume he was a builder cause he was wearing a high-vis jacket, either that or he was a lollypop lady).

It went on for about three minutes and was likely forgotten about by everyone else as we approached Leasowe. Not me, though.

Sadly, I’m a slave to MerseyRail. I’m sans car at the moment, live by West Kirby station, and need to get to Liverpool every day. Then, at the weekends, I travel to Preston. I use the service seven days a week, and haven’t been off the Wirral line for nearly three bloody months now.

And when you use something so consistently, you pick up on the slightest things. It’s not a one-way street. I pay an awful lot of money to use MerseyRail, and lately I’ve been cataloguing things inherently wrong with the network like an incredibly sad bastard; possibly one rung lower on the ladder than your actual train spotter.

Take this example, for instance. Last month I got on at James Street, only to find a woman blocking off an entire third of the carriage so she could have it all to herself and her two McDonald’s munching kids (pic above).

She blocked the path with her pram and refused to let anyone past. We all stood squashed until she stomped off at Bidston with her tiny troupe waddling behind – the carriage laden with chips squashed into the floor, soggy lettuce on the seats and stinky Maccies strewn everywhere.

The other morning, my fellow passengers and I got booted off at Hoylake in the pouring rain with no explanation. The other evening the (heaving) train stopped in the tunnel between Hamilton Square and James Street for fifteen minutes.

All those irritations have built up in a bubbling, seething cauldron of mediocrity over the months. But I would have stomached more because, frankly, I’m currently stuck with MerseyRail as much as Flo is stuck with Andy Capp.

Then I came across MerseyRail’s Twitter account and really lost it.

I work in online media, unfortunately, and over the past fortnight or so, have noticed a lot more activity from MerseyRail’s Twitter. I can tell from my experience in ‘online marketing’ that MerseyRail is derailed when it comes to cross-platform communication.

“Morning, we’re here to help you until 16:00 today.” is posted in one form or other by MerseyRail every morning.

4pm rolls around (because train behaviour is only worth tweeting about ‘til mid-afternoon apparently. There are zero problems in the evenings).

“Signing off now. We’ll be back at 0900 tomorrow to answer your tweets.”

Aha! I thought the other day. Finally, an outlet!

I tweeted them and was ignored, though admittedly it wasn’t the best introduction as I asked “why is your service so bad?” I was told to email details of the journey in question that upset me so to the customer relations department.

I grew up the next day, and sent them a proper tweet when I saw MerseyRail was open for business. Luckily (or unluckily) the usual six-carriage rush hour service from James Street was reduced to three cramped carriages with no warning at all the day before:

@merseyrail: Morning, we are here to answer your tweets until 4pm

Didn’t get back to me yesterday – 3 carriages instead of 6 at JS, 5:12 yesterday RT @merseyrail: We are here to answer your tweets until 4pm

@JohnMeddy Thanks for your further tweet. However, we have asked you to contact our Customer Relations Team via email comment@merseyrail.org

@merseyrail What’s the point of saying you’ll answer questions via Twitter then if you’re only going to point people to an email address?

@JohnMeddy Our Control Centre advise that this train was formed of 3 coaches only yesterday so that additional units could be provided contd

@JohnMeddy on the Southport line to cope with the large number of people travelling for the Orange Lodge event. Apologies for any discomfort

Oh. So no contingency plan was put in place for a dubious event MerseyRail knew they had to provide carriages for in advance? What? How does an event in Southport affect the James Street to West Kirby service?

Another opportunity presented itself Wednesday night after another nightmarish trip home. Thursday morning I tweeted:

Hi @merseyrail, signal fault at Hamilton Square yesterday delaying peak hour, after-work service (again). Response?

No public spat this time. Instead a direct message:

Sorry for yesterday. Please check live updates on our website http://www.merseyrail.org Thanks
My equally twattish reply:

Got a DM from @merseyrail saying to check the website for things like signal failures. My responsibility to check instead of fixing cause.

I admit my tweets to MerseyRail were grumpy at best. Plus I’m a cock. But I’m not an isolated incident. A quick glance at MerseyRail’s Twitter feed unveils useless response after useless response:

@BBAILEY26 Best to email the details to our Customer Relations Team comment@merseyrail.org thanks

@ianwalker1991 Please call our Customer Relations Team on 0151 702 2071 and they’ll direct you to the right office. Thanks

@InsaneForLouis Please email our Customer Relations Team comment@merseyrail.org with the details so they can notify our Trains Mgr thanks

And perhaps most incredibly of all:

@1984Saint Best to send everything in to our Customer Relations Department for them to have a look at. Comment forms are available cont/d..

@1984Saint from any staffed Station. Alternatively, write to Customer Relations, 9th Floor, Rail House, Lord Nelson St, Liverpool, L1 1JF

MerseyRail is using Twitter to tell a customer to write a letter to their offices in Lord Nelson Street.

What on earth is the point of having a Twitter account representing one of the northwest’s largest rail operators saying it’s there specifically to answer questions, only to tell them to email customer services or write a letter that’ll get lost in the system for weeks on end?

Surely MerseyRail hasn’t invested in social media (like nearly every other company on the planet) in an effort to look hip, cool and accessible? Because if they have then it isn’t working – mostly on a practical level, as you can see above, which is the whole point having a corporate Twitter account.

It’s not the person in charge of the account’s fault if MerseyRail has just turned to them and said “Morning, yeah, here’s the password for our Twitter, manage it and keep your cool till four.” How can that poor sod answer questions from wankers like me if MerseyRail’s suits don’t provide them with the necessary answers to respond with?

To me, it’s a very public example of the half-arsed way some companies do things on Twitter. Blame government cuts and whatever else, but social media’s free. Transparency is free. Answers are free, MerseyRail.

But, sadly, a monthly train ticket isn’t free, and until I win the lottery then I’m destined to aggravate some poor sod in the MerseyRail office for the foreseeable future as we square off, keyboard to keyboard…

P.S. Here’s a man on the way to Preston that looks a bit like Sean Connery in The Last Crusade.

  • T Sheridan

    Whilst their Twitter feed is pretty pointless, things like signals are maintained by Network Rail, so it’s out of their control.
    Similarly, their fleet is in pretty much constant use so putting an extra unit on the Southport service will mean one fewer somewhere else. How many units they have is controlled by the DfT, so they can’t just go out and buy more. They’re ordering a completely new fleet to replace the current 1970s-built lot at the end of this decade.

  • Maaarten Spaaaarten

    Hashtag festivalofcustomerhatred

  • Adam

    The @merseyfail_ account used to be good for highlighting people’s complaints – and there were a LOT! Account’s gone quiet lately though, sadly

  • Littoral

    Stop whinging. Merseyrail like any other public transportation system cannot be perfect but it is one of the very most reliable train services in the country. And living in West Kirby you are lucky to be on a part of the metropolitan area that is served by it. Most parts of Liverpool and other cities don’t have four electric trains per hour into their city centres. Try living in most of south Liverpool or West Derby that have no trains. And you are not a “slave to Merseyrail”, if you really want to you can get a bus to town from West Kirby instead and then find out what life would be like if you weren’t lucky enough to have Merseyrail serving your suburb.

  • Rob

    “Stop whinging” says one of the site’s worst whingers. Brilliant.

    Merseyrail’s pretty decent and I’ve never had huge issues with it, save for a few signal failures/cancelled trains here and there. But this is more a customer service issue – companies need to understand Twitter a lot more and the way people interact and engage with companies on there.

  • Nel

    Isn’t this more a moan about why they have a Twitter account that is clearly offering more frustration than information. I think I share that view. Sure the train service is by and large punctual, but John wasn’t really having a go at that. Also, the woman with the pushchair isn’t merseytravel’s fault, but it’s just another experience you have to put up with, adding to the general frustration of travelling by train. I think that’s what John was saying – also he did admit that he was a cock, so I think his piece hit the right tone!

  • Everard

    I have to agree with Littoral here. Merseyrail, when looked at objectively, does pretty well. Especially for people who live over the water there are plenty of stations and services running frequently and at reasonable prices.

    Ok, there’s delays and disruption but that’s life. One doesn’t kick off at the highways commission when there’s problems on the motorway.

    Also the lady with her kids blocking seating isn’t anything to do with a rail company. Perhaps you and others could have asked her to move the buggy rather than take pictures and tweet afterwards?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David Lloyd

    Maybe it’s just me, but I read this more as just a light hearted moan about the life of a commuter – I don’t think John was arguing about the frequency or punctuality per se, just the ordinary grumbles of inconsiderate passengers, lack of communication when stuff goes wrong. You know, the tiny stuff that rankles when you’re stuck in the 9 to 5 grind. I for one am grateful we have MerseyRail – and think they do a great job. But I like hearing missives from the frontline like this, it’s just a shared experience, isn’t it?

  • James

    I agree. On the whole Merseyrail is so much better than elsewhere, but what’s the point of a Twitter account that doesn’t seem to do anything, and only does that nothing until 4pm.

  • Jonny

    Hello, I’m writing this on the way home from Preston (on the train) so please excuse grammar mistakes et al.

    Dave, Rob, Nel et al were spot on, it was more to do with the social media side of things as opposed to the MerseyRail staff, who do a wonderful job in spite of all the obstacles they have to put up with on a daily basis.

    That message may have got a bit mixed up in the veins of my rant, but I’m still convinced there are a lot of problems on the business side of things/communication aspects on MerseyRail’s end – the Twitter account the most public and, therefore, easiest to target from a consumer POV.

    The woman blocking the carriage was indeed no fault of MerseyRail’s. But I tweeted the pics and evidence to them on the day. No response. And when the response to normal questions is so fickle – especially when the account itself wants you to tweet problems and experiences to them – is preposterous.

    But as I highlighted, it’s not the fault of the person on the other end of the account. If MerseyRail was serious about providing a transparent social service then it should employ someone knowledgeable about the rail service to allay consumer questions, not someone who just tells people to write a letter to the company’s HQ.

    I was at breaking point with Play.com the other month cause I bought something via PlayTrade for a hundred quid and never got my order, being passed from foreign call-centre to foreign call-centre.

    Their social media services were outstanding. A woman called Jo introduced herself and kept in constant dialogue with me at all stages of my refund, what was happening, when I could expect results.

    I’ve just been asked for my ticket on the Preston train, as happens every time I travel. I see a ticket officer one day out of five on the peak service to Liverpool. Why such a small occurance? If more frequent, then maybe they could have seen that lady blocking the carriage and had a word?

    That’s the kind of question that can be answered over Twitter, but normal consumers are getting robbed off, the evidence suggests. I can’t see it as anything other than MerseyRail seeing everyone else using Twitter to look like it cares and failing- a company that prosecuted a student to the fullest extent of the law for having their feet on the seats, but lets people block carriages.

    Littoral – don’t see what living in West Kirby has to do with anything? It’s not a train catchment area?

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    I started compiling a list of my problems with Merseyrail a while ago but didn’t finish it because my experience of the staff is that they’re very helpful – love the guys at St Michaels and have a lot of stories about their excellent and thoughtful service. But even though my complaints were about performance to some extent they were largely about communication. Merseyrail is bad at communication, especially when something unexpected happens and the network is affected.

    I also was keen to point out that I don’t blame its person or people in charge of the Nerdeyrail Twitter account. But that person – or people – is/ are set up to fail. It’s a very good example of a company trying to use social media without a plan of how, who, when and (most importantly) why.

  • Littoral

    Rob needs to stop whinging about my whinging comments, the whingebag.

  • Littoral

    And Bromborough station has a cat. A big, fat ginger tom who pretty much owns the place. I like that cat, I like Bromborough station and I like Merseyrail.

  • http://adebondphotography.com adebond

    I too use Merseyrail every day, including the Wirral Line, and find the service to be generally very good. The first half of the article seems to be complaining not so much about the rail service itself but about the people who use. What should Merseyrail do? Apply some form of quality control to their service so that only considerate, polite and sober people can use it?

    The second half, addressing the Merseyrail Twitter account, seems to berate them for not using social media correctly. What more can you do with Twitter and a 140 character limit. All of the complaints were responded to and, where necessary, directed to either a phone number or email address where they could take up the issue in more detail. This is the sensible option rather than getting drawn into a back-&-forth Twitter argument.