As we already know, Dominic Lund-Conlon, Accessibility and Inclusion Manager at Rail Delivery Group (RDG), has already made some questionable claims.
He instructed the Accessibility and Inclusion Managers at all Train Operating Companies to cancel and refuse all disabled people’s assistance bookings during the forthcoming Storm Eunice. When those managers expressed concern, he told them: “If ‘Do Not Travel’ is in place, you can’t offer journeys that you are actively telling all customers not to make.” Then when said managers asked him to obtain Office of Rail and Road confirmation of the decision to cancel disabled people’s assistance, he didn’t. Instead, he lied to the ORR – saying:
all train operators are undertaking proactive contact with customers who are booked to travel on Friday to rearrange their planned journeys. Alongside this, members will be not accepting any new booking requests from customers for Friday.
As I’ve proved previously, this patently wasn’t the case – the ONLY train operator that appears to have cancelled bookings for running trains was Govia Thameslink Railway.
When I revealed this, he claimed via his lawyers to have been relaying a decision already made by Train Operating Companies (TOCs). He claimed that the decision was made at a meeting of the Customer Information Group (CIG) (an RDG-facilitated group comprising representatives of all TOCs.)
On Thursday 17 February 2022, the Met Office issued a Red Weather Warning for Storm Eunice. Shortly thereafter, a meeting of the CIG took place, by way of a telephone call. During this call, the CIG agreed a course of action which included the nationwide issue of “Do Not Travel” notices for train operators, to be accompanied by a press release from RDG.
The issue of pre-booked assistance bookings was raised during the call. The CIG discussed the actions to be taken in that regard, considering the risk that TOCs would not be able to deliver the pre-booked assistance (whether because a train may be cancelled, or because the arrangement of alternative means of transport could not be guaranteed). It was agreed during the call that customers with pre-booked assistance bookings should be contacted by TOCs, to advise them to rearrange their journeys; and that no further pre-booked assistance bookings should be arranged for 18 and 19 February 2022.
I was already suspicious about this claim because (as our Dom’s lawyers helpfully state):
the Customer Information Group (“CIG”) … deals with issues related to customer information, and the Accessibility & Inclusion Group (“A&IG”) … deals with issues regarding compliance with licence-linked accessibility requirements (including the provision of pre-booked assistance to passengers, since compliance with accessible travel policies (“ATPs”) and in particular the delivery of passenger assist is one of the conditions for the ORR to grant each TOC its operating licence).
As I’ve stated previously, it seems not credible that the CIG would decide to initiate nationwide suspension of pre-booked disabled passenger assistance.
So I sent Freedom of Information Requests to all five state-owned Train Operating Companies and Network Rail, asking for records of the CIG meeting at which the decision to cancel assistance bookings was made (ostensibly!). So far, two have responded.
- Transport for Wales said: “There was no meeting with RDG at which TfW Rail was in attendance where this decision was made.“
- ScotRail Trains (SRT) said: “no representative from SRT attended the RDG Customer information Group meeting on 17 February 2022.“
So how can it possibly be true, as our Dom claims, that the CIG made this decision?
One wonders what the other TOCs will reveal in response to my freedom of information request. (They still have a couple of weeks to respond.)
The indications aren’t good. In response to my existing FOI requests specifically asking, among other things, “Please supply the notes and formal decision from any meetings that resulted in the above decision“:
- Northern said: “Northern does not hold notes or the formal decision from any meetings.“
- Network Rail said: “we (Network Rail) were not involved in any discussions with either RDG or any train operating companies regarding the delivery of passenger assistance during Storm Eunice.”
- Southeastern and LNER didn’t provide any meeting notes as requested either. Instead, they provided what they did hold, which included copies of the email in which our Dom instructed them to cancel and refuse all assistance bookings, but no indication of a meeting at which this action was proposed and decided.
So I have to say that it is looking like our Dom may still be lying – first, he lied to the Regulator that all TOCs were cancelling assistance bookings, then it seems like he lied to me, through his lawyers, claiming that the all-TOC Customer Information Group made the decision.
When will the real truth of this come out?
We deserve to know how, for the first time in history, a decision was made to tell all Train Operating Companies to cancel and refuse all assistance bookings for a period during which trains were continuing to run.
So far, all we have been given is snake oil, smoke and mirrors.