THE RMT has been holding demonstrations today at London, Swansea and Plymouth about the lack of buffets on GWR’s new Intercity Express Trains. Surfers have also been protesting about the simultaneous withdrawal of space to carry their boards.
The last scheduled HST is set to depart from London Paddington this Saturday on the eve of the timetable change, marking the end of more than 40 years of service on lines to south west England and south Wales.
GWR has retained some refurbished HSTs, which it has dubbed ‘Castles’, for routes between Cardiff and the west of England, but these consist of four Mk3 standard class trailers and do not have a catering counter.
The HST’s replacements, built by Hitachi, include a full kitchen for GWR’s Pullman Dining services but have no buffet area. Apart from the restaurant, which is only provided on a few trains, the catering service relies on trolleys.
The RMT said it had warned GWR that passengers would be unhappy about the abolition of buffets, and has now published the results of research which appear to justify the claim.
A survey of GWR staff revealed that 19 out of 20 staff think the lack of buffets is a mistake, and has had a negative impact on passengers. More than three out of four believe safety has been affected.
The RMT has included some comments, such as: ‘Every regular passenger to whom I’ve spoken about the buffets believes it’s a disaster that they were ever taken off. Revenue has plummeted, but first and foremost, safety has suffered,’ and ‘Passengers are constantly telling us how they miss the buffet car.’
The staff also claim that the substitute trolleys are ‘not fit for purpose’, and that ‘the weight alone is ridiculous and many people have back, neck, shoulder, hip and knee problems’.
An online petition calling for buffets to be provided has been signed by more than 1,500 people, according to the RMT.
The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘The axing of the buffet car was a cash-led move that was all about maximising profits at the expense of the traveller. RMT catering members are an integral part of the rail team and deserve respect and support. It is those members who face the backlash when the catering services are letting down the passenger.’
Another controversy has flared over surfboards, which were traditionally carried in the guard’s brake sections of HST power cars but for which GWR says there is no room on the Intercity Expresses.
On 10 May, Steve England from Newquay-based Carve Surfing Magazine told BBC Radio Cornwall: ‘We're used to surfers getting on the trains and they'd let you use their guard van. If they take that away and definitely make it a set thing, then they're going to lose a lot of customers.’
A GWR spokesman said significantly more seats were now being provided on the IETs, and that passengers have been saying they prefer not to leave their seats to visit the buffet ‘for a variety of reasons’.
As far as surfboards are concerned, James Davis of GWR said: ‘Our new Intercity Express Trains are providing more than 3,200 extra seats every day between London and Penzance, with over 100 more seats than the trains they have replaced. To accommodate the extra seating, the space in the guard’s van previously used for surfboards on long distance trains no longer exists.’
Surfboards can still be taken as hold baggage on flights to Cornwall’s airport at Newquay, although the airlines charge a fee.