Hashtag Stop that Train – Alex Burrows the Virgin Trains commuting hero

Everyone at some time must have been secretly tempted to pull the emergency cord on a train, just to see what will happen.

That’s strictly for emergencies obviously, but now there’s a more subtle way to be a commuter hero – using the power of Twitter, as shown by our head of Innovation Challenges Alex Burrows

As Alex, a.k.a. @alexburrows wrote on 3 March in his blog post I stopped a train!:

Amazingly, this is true and is a cracking example of, what I perceive as, a changing world! I did in fact stop a train – not by applying the brakes or any alarms myself of course!

  No, it was an example of the power of twitter!

On my usual morning train from Birmingham New St to Milton Keynes I heard a lot of banging coming from pretty much underneath me. Now I am not any kind of practical expert on the undercarriages of trains, so my very rudimentary knowledge applied to my love of twitter brought me to tweet Virgin Trains to bring to their attention the amount of noise I could hear coming from underneath the carriage – I thought it might be an issue with the toilet tanks or some piece of metal worked loose and clattering along – hitting ballast along the way and causing a right racket.

After a twitter exchange on the subject the Virgin team left me with the promise that the Alstom maintenance team (who built and now look after the Pendolino fleet) would look into it – this was somewhere between Coventry and Rugby.

Well, I started to worry a little when just south of the Kilsby tunnel, alongside Watford Gap services on the M1, we slowed down to a complete stop. I tweeted Virgin to ask if the issue was with our train when the train manager announced that the driver had stopped the train and was outside visually inspecting coach B – my coach!

Yes, Virgin confirmed on their next tweet to me that my reports had raised an issue. Now not for one minute would a train be stopped, blocking the West Coast Main Line towards London on a Monday morning, on the say of one passenger! But trains are sophisticated machines and Pendolinos are, like Formula 1 cars, sending information back to base so that they can be monitored remotely. So I presume that Virgin and Alstom had seen something that made them feel a visual inspection was required…

So there you go. This morning I brought the West Coast Main Line to a stand still. I am sorry if you were delayed – it wasn’t for very long! But it shows that the world has indeed changed, that passengers get listened to – and indeed can play a part in customer service! Yes, I must confess that I am pretty pleased with myself, but I am pretty pleased with Virgin Trains as well – that is a great example of engaging with your customers!!!

So, not only a positive outcome all-round, but Alex’s public spirited Tweeting has since gone viral.

His blog post was picked up first by the London Metro – #PleaseHelp: Virgin Trains stop service after tweet from passenger – quoting a Virgin spokesman as saying ‘We thank him for bringing it to our attention’… and thereafter The Birmingham Mail – Train passenger tweets about clanging under his seat – minutes later service halted for inspection – and also locally to Transport Systems Catapult in the MK News – Train passenger on way to Milton Keynes stops train with one tweet to Virgin.

It even reached the Brazilian press: Internauta para trem em movimento com apenas uma tuitada and Homem para trem de alta velocidade com um tweet.

According to its Twitter page, Virgin Trains’ account is monitored “for news, advice and chat 24 hours a day” – and as you can see from their timeline they Tweeted to Alex that they had the “issue in hand” within about 17 minutes of his first Tweet reporting his concern.

As one of the many commenters among the online coverage said, bravo all round.

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