The hourly train service on the Matlock branch has been a tremendous improvement, but the attitude of East Midlands Trains (EMT) to passengers on the branch has made me reluctantly conclude that it is just not safe to rely on the service if you need to be sure of arriving on time.
Last Friday afternoon, EMT had signal problems near Nottingham. As a result, many trains ran late and EMT cancelled two consecutive departures from Matlock – reportedly so that the trains could be turned round at Derby to get the Nottingham service back to normal more quickly. EMT eventually provided a replacement bus – but those of us who arrived for the earlier train were 90 minutes late at Derby.
Even if EMT can’t help service disruption, they could do far more to help passengers, with useful information, and they could do a better job of providing replacement services from Matlock.
How do passengers on the station platforms (not just at Matlock, but right down the line) find out about a cancelled train? They play EMT’s “spot the difference” game, they look carefully at the display screen every few minutes and spot when details of the promised train have disappeared and been replaced by details of the following train. There is no indication that a train has been cancelled, and on Friday there was no mention of the replacement bus (which leaves from a stop that is out of sight from the platform in Matlock, and half a mile away on the main road for passengers at Cromford). There were no announcements. On Friday, the Matlock Station call point with a button marked ‘Information’ wasn’t working.
Phone calls are little better. Call EMT and you are routed to National Rail Enquiries, there seems to be no way to speak directly to EMT staff. On Friday, four successive calls brought a different (and worse) story each time. The final promise was a bus at the time that the second train should have left. The time came and there was no bus. Eventually an off-duty driver on the station found that the timing of the replacement bus could not possibly have got it to Matlock in time to leave as promised. Accurate and timely information wouldn’t have moved us to our destinations any faster but it would have allowed us make informed decisions on whether to hire a taxi, drive all the way by car, or give up and go home.
Crucially, EMT seem to have no arrangements that allow them to hire a coach (or even a couple of taxis) from Matlock. So when things do go wrong, passengers have to wait for a coach to be sent from Derby, which guarantees that when there is disruption, passengers on the Matlock branch will be seriously delayed.
So from my painful experience on Friday, next time I need to be somewhere at a specific time, I will have to drive to Chesterfield station, costing me more, creating more pollution and making the economics of the Matlock branch even more tenuous. For anyone without a car, the best strategy for Matlock passengers seems to be to turn up at the station ten minutes early, and if the train isn’t waiting there, give up and race across Matlock to Bakewell Road where the Transpeak is scheduled to depart for Derby one minute before the train. Of course, it is anyone’s guess when that Transpeak coach will actually turn up, but it looks like a better bet than waiting for EMT to try and look after Matlock branch passengers.