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Now, UK's national rail inquiry services to move to India

UK train commuters may soon have to call Bangalore to find out the time of their next connection.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2003 21:34 IST

Train commuters in Britain will have to call Bangalore to find out the time of their next connection under a secret plan to save up to £10m by shifting Britain's national rail enquiries service to India.Train operators plan to educate Indian call centre workers in the eccentricities of Britain's railways.

The move it is reported could not only put 1,700 jobs at risk at the existing call centres in Cardiff, Derby, Newcastle and Plymouth, Indian staff will also need to cope with queries about anything from the availability of smoking carriages to disabled access and weekend engineering works.

According to secret papers leaked to The Guardian, an internal memo to the board of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) reveals that the chief executive of National Rail Enquiries, Chris Scoggins, visited eight call centres in three Indian cities earlier this year. Scoggins found that they delivered "excellent quality" service: "In two operations the agents had virtually no Indian accent." His memo requests approval to set up a pilot operation in Bangalore, saying the "business case is strong" but warns: "There may well be trade union agitation and negative media coverage regarding jobs." It warns that "short-term ridicule and cynicism" is likely to be a problem, and says: "We should consider this in the context of a significant proportion of calls going offshore, rather than just for the pilot."

Reportedly the first call centre to see its work moved to India is likely to be Newcastle. The report is nevertheless giving rise to severe criticism. Caroline Jones, of the Rail Passengers Council, said: "Our main concern would be a lack of knowledge about the rail network in the UK. If you call up asking about trains from Peterborough to King's Cross, there's no way they're going to know every stop en route."

The union Amicus, which includes many call centre workers, said it was a myth that jobs could be exported without loss of quality. David Fleming, a national official at Amicus, said: “This would be an act of crass stupidity. Outsourcing this service abroad will not make trains run any faster and will result in a loss of confidence among the travelling public.”

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST