Dealing with delays and saving lives: behind the scenes with staff at Bedford Station

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Station manager, Bernadette Lee, chats to ticket office staff
Station manager, Bernadette Lee, chats to ticket office staff

It’s fair to say that Bedford Station has been at the centre of frustration for many in the past year or so. Upheaval at *that* new 2018 timetable is still fresh in many minds, and recent heat-wave issues haven’t helped rail users’ confidence in our rail network.

But what about the people who are usually the first to receive a complaint when a train’s cancelled, or the first to help if you’re not sure what platform you need.

There are about 50 members of staff at Bedford Station, helping make sure the station is doing everything it can to help passengers 24 hours a day, and as you’d imagine no two days are the same.

Over four million people use the station each year, it’s open 24 hours, is a Govia Thameslink terminating station, Midland Mainline and freight services pass through, plus Marston Vale services stop there, so it’s always busy.

But one thing was clear while we spent some time with them, Bedford station staff love their jobs.

“The staff at Bedford are brilliant,” says station manager, Bernadette Lee. “Of course I’m biased, but the feedback we get is overwhelmingly positive.”

I myself am only an occasional user of the station on Ashburnham Road and, I’ll be honest, I hadn’t previously given staff there much thought.

I’ve tended to lump them in with the people we seem to blame, sometimes unfairly, as the reason behind train cancellations or delays.

But, speaking to Bernadette I started to realise they’re really a part of a bigger machine that is often just as frustrated when external factors, like the recent hot weather, play havoc with their timetables.

Platform staff are always on hand to help.
Platform staff are always on hand to help.

Firstly if a train is delayed or cancelled, for whatever reason, they’re simply the messengers, the bearers of bad news and the ones who may often suffer the brunt of customer dissatisfaction at a decision that is very much out of their hands.

But Bernadette says her team will never ignore a customer’s problem. “Anytime, any day, if you’ve got a problem come and talk to us and we will find a solution together,” says Bernadette.

“At the end of the day, service has got to be improved and we work very hard to minimise those problems because our customers deserve the best.”

The passion for customer service doesn’t end with Bernadette though. Speaking to the team working in the ticket office, on the platforms, and in dispatch they all seem to have one goal and that’s the make sure customers are happy.

“We’re a family,” adds Bernadette. “We’ve got a number of people who’ve worked here almost all their working lives, in fact two have just hit 25 years here and one about to reach 30.”

“They saved my life”

The family aspect was never more apparent when one member of staff appeared unwell and colleagues urged him to go to the doctor.

“I am so pleased I listened,” says Adrian Weeden, who is a platform supervisor at Bedford. “I had a persistent cough and colleagues were all really concerned and they kept telling me to get it checked out.”

Thankfully Adrian listened and when he finally went to the doctor he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Rigorous treatment including surgery followed and it looks like he will soon receive the all clear. Adrian says the team were nothing short of brilliant in their support.

“They’re not just colleagues. They’re friends and they saved my life,” added Adrian.

Adrian had a staged return to work and is still working ‘off track’ for safety-critical train dispatch, however he is managing his team.

“I had lost 20kg so I wanted to come back and build up my strength,” he said. His voice is weak and husky and he has been told he will need to train it back into shape “but I have my dispatch whistle if I need it.”

But what about the bad days when trains are being cancelled and there’s anger on the platform? “I love my job here. It’s very intense at times, but I worked in retail for 10 years and in comparison to that it’s a breeze,” he said with a smile.

Bedford Station staff Adrian Weeden
Adrian Weeden says the Bedford station ‘family’ saved his life

While the staff may be at the frontline of commuting issues at Bedford station, they do very much share the company wide desire for wanting Bedford station to continually improve.

The Government recently ordered Govia Thameslink to set aside £80,000 for station improvements at Bedford as compensation for the timetable change upheaval in May 2018.

Something the company says it is working very hard to make sure never happens again, and since May 2018, aside from recent weather related issues, has been running a very good service.

Read: Bedford rail users asked how they’ll spend £80k compensation

“We held a ‘meet the manager’ meeting at the end of June to ask passengers how they might want that money spent,” said Bernadette.

“We will take everything on board and make sure Bedford gets better. We’re improving day by day and we will get there.

“We’ve totally moved on [from May 2018] and we will not dwell on the past, to us it’s forward thinking and that’s where we’re going, we’re going up and forward.”

The consultation period for how the funds will be spent has now closed with decisions on where it will be spent due soon.

In the meantime, if you’re passing through Bedford station, say “hello” or give the team there a smile.

Whether the service is running to time or not, one thing was clear while we were there, they’ve got one thing on their mind, you.