Sunday, 25 September 2016
British Rail Travel: Some Things Never Change
Yesterday George and I took the train from Bishops Stortford to London, a journey that should take 40 minutes or so. We arrived at that station and, after the inevitable sharp intake of breath when I saw the cost (Belgian train fares are very low, and I so have been somewhat spoiled over the years), we headed for the platform. We had to cross to another platform, where the 10.09 was waiting - it was 10.08, and I figured we had no chance - but the train departed a few minutes late, and so we made it.
This was fortunate, as I noted during our dash that the following train had been cancelled. This should have set alarm bells ringing.
Boarding the train was problematic as it was totally packed with irritable people and their suitcases (for which there is virtually no storage space). It was standing room only, and a shoulder to shoulder crush.
When the train eventually departed, it all began.
The driver informed us that due to a broken down train ahead of us, our journey would be slow. He wasn't kidding. In fact, our train made an unscheduled stop at the next station, Sawbridgeworth, just some minutes down the line. After a little time the driver opened the doors to allow us to alight onto the platform and get some air.
As well as the broken down train, we now had another problem. Apparently the barriers on the level crossing ahead of us had not come down, and so it would be unsafe to proceed. George and I fished our paperbacks out of our bag, and we settled down to pass the time reading.
Shortly, the driver informed us that the barriers were down, but he was not sure they were for us. So we carried on reading.
Eventually, we were told that the train ahead of us was moving, albeit slowly, but we still could not proceed as the barriers had been raised again. A young hockey player who was due at a tournament in Poland, and so had a flight to catch, was getting very worried at this point.
As the problems did eventually resolve themselves, a new one, somewhat inevitably, arose. It transpired that there was some plastic sheeting on the line outside Harlow, and we would have to wait for engineers to arrive to clear the line. And wait we did.
We were eventually told that the engineers had arrived at the scene, but had to wait until the appropriate moment to switch off all overhead power cables before they could do anything.
After 4 or 5 chapters of an admittedly absorbing detective novel, we were on the move. Hurrah!
However, there would be a further delay, we were told, due to an unscheduled stop to collect passengers whose train had been cancelled. When you make an unscheduled stop, nobody gets off; they only get on. Lots of them in this case.
This is where it got serious. As we tried to squeeze into nooks and crannies to allow families and their luggage onboard, a lady of rather advanced years, and in some distress, entered into the equation. She needed help standing, and there were no seats. A young lady offered her own seat, but to get there the elderly lady had to get past several dozens of people crammed in like sardines and with nowhere to go. Then the train started moving. It was not pleasant, and no elderly and disabled person should ever be put into such a position. But of course there were no staff to help her. There are seemingly no staff other than ticket inspectors at all.
We did, eventually, arrive in London. Our journey on the underground took much longer than anticipated because - yes, you've guessed it - several lines were out of operation. Quelle surprise!
I appreciate the fact that sometimes things do go awry, but the fact is that it is like this seemingly every time I use the train.
Over the last 4 weeks (or thereabouts) I have had a row with passengers who put their suitcases on seats meaning other passengers have nowhere to sit. (Admittedly they have nowhere else to put them as there is precious little space for luggage, and this on a line that runs from Stansted Airport to London. You would have thought it might have occurred to somebody that such a train would require space for luggage, but no, apparently not!) Customer complaint form number one from me.
Then, a week or so later, due to non-functioning ticket machines at Tottenham Hale I was forced to queue for ages to buy a ticket at the counter. 3 windows, only one staff member working, so it was a long queue. I explained that our party would be travelling out together, but returning on different days. He sold me 3 return tickets. On the way back, travelling alone, I had my ticket seized by an inspector as it transpired that the idiot at Tottenham Hale had sold me the wrong ticket, and it was only valid if everybody traveled together. I was told to pay a fine, which I resolutely refused to do. Customer complaint form number two from me.
Form number three I will fill in tomorrow. That's three complaints from one customer from just six journeys.
And for this we have to pay.