National Express East Coast: Lions led by donkeys

National Express East Coast I don’t want my blog to turn into a regular rant against abysmal customer service, but when you have the 21st century equivalent of a publishing press and you’re regularly subjected to deliberate bad service it’s hard not to vent your frustrations.

So here goes. The management of National Express East Coast are without doubt one of the most disgraceful showers I’ve ever had the displeasure to do business with. Since taking over the east coast franchise from GNER the standards of service have consistently gone down hill while prices have gone up.

With GNER the only complaint I ever really had was the expense and that wasn’t totally GNER’s fault as it was as much to do with government subsidy levels and franchise costs.

The people who I really feel sorry for are the lions led by donkeys. The hard working National Express East Coast staff who sometimes unfortunately have to bear the brunt of passengers anger. It’s not their fault that their bosses are complete idiots.

Since January 5 I’ve made about six or seven journeys and each one has been far worse than what you used to experience before they brought in the new ‘improved’ service. It wouldn’t be so bad if they would admit that they are money grabbing oiks, but to spin it that it is i response to passenger demand is shameful.

DSC_0048This picture is of my first class table on this morning’s 9:40 from Leeds to King’s Cross. You can see that it hasn’t even been cleaned since the previous journey and is covered in coffee stains, discarded sugar wrappers and empty water bottles. I doubt this isn’t meant to happen, but it has on virtually every journey recently. I guess it is because of staff cuts.


DSC_0049 The second photograph shows how tables now look in first class. Before Christmas you got a trolley service with a friendly waiter/waitress offering you a complimentary selection of coffee, tea, a choice of cookies and fresh fruit. They had fresh milk in a jug.

Now your table is cluttered with a pile of rubbish including water bottles, plastic cups, one choice of biscuit (lemon curd!), sachets of tomato ketchup and brown sauce etc. What’s causing most complaint amongst my fellow passengers is some nasty little tubes called ‘Dairystix’ instead of the fresh milk.

As part of this service-cutting National Express East Coast has also reduced the restaurant car service to almost nothing.

It is evident that National Express has broken the promises it made when it obtained the East Coast franchise on August 14, 2007. The Department of Transport news release makes it clear that ‘full dining services reatined on 87 weekday trains.’ A lie?

The news release also claimed ‘A simpler website that will highlight the cheapest tickets available.’ That was another lie? The website hardly ever gives you the cheapest tickets available as the Martin Lewis’ Moneysavingexpert.com website makes clear.

I’m also extremely dubious about National Express East Coast’s claim that the changes are in response to customer research. There is a Wolfstar person travelling up and down from Leeds to London at least once or twice a week. We also know a lot of people who do the same journey. Not a single person we’ve spoken to was surveyed. I challenge National Express to publish the full research report and not just the spun version in its news release.

For this reduced level of service National Express East Coast charge you an eye-watering £334! Just for reference you can hire a Mercedes and chauffer to drive you to London and back for about £550, so for just two people travelling it is cheaper to choose the more environmentally damaging route. Admittedly you can get less expensive tickets, but not much cheaper if you want to leave London between about 15:00 and 19:00. And the only way to get the cheapest tickets is by knowing that the National Express website doesn’t give you them, despite its promise when it won the franchise.

And don’t get me started on the free wifi. At least when you had to pay for it (although first class was always free) it usually worked. Now the connection is far more sporadic (which is why at the moment I’m waiting to complete this post as I can’t get the National Express East Coast website to work on my laptop and it isn’t designed to work on mobiles). I didn’t get my connection back before the train reached London and it’s taken me numerous attempts and almost an hour into the journey before I could get this connection.

The hair shirt socialist in me always feels a bit uncomfortable about travelling first class, but the practical reality is that standard class is nearly always far too crowded to enable you to do any meaningful work on the journey.

Back in the days of GNER it was one of the brands on my list of who I really wanted to work for. I naively put National Express on the same list. It isn’t anymore as in the words of President Elect Obama: ‘you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.’

p.s. When I Twittered about this I had an excellent suggestion from 10Yeti’s Andrew Barr. I might just do it.

Twitter National Express East Coast ASBO

And it looks like Rob Brown at Staniforth is having issues with Virgin Rail:

Twitter Virgin Rail problems

Rant over, thank you for reading (if anyone’s actually made it this far!)

UPDATE: If you want to rant about National Express East Coast on your blog or Twitter then lets all use this hash tag #NEEC

Stuart Bruce

International Public Relations Adviser | Trainer | Author | Media Commentator | Conference Speaker | University Lecturer | Online PR | Digital Corporate Communications | Crisis Communications | Digital Public Affairs