The Lost Special

Just putting together the draft for Monday to be posted to various local papers.   See how it reads:

XXXXday, October XXst

Dear Madam [or Sir]

There’s a viewpoint that the health of a society can be measured by its trains running on time or indeed – running at all.   If that is correct, then this society is in deep trouble, judging by the performance of XXXX Rail on Saturday.   It wasn’t just the cancelled train, it was the whole attitude of the company.

Allow me to explain.   Though I work four days of the week, only one, Saturday, requires me to take one of your trains.   People have asked why I do it when the bus is as regular as clockwork, a car is far easier and XXXX Rail has such a bad reputation locally.

The train, when it’s running, is not a bad way to go, bicycles are allowed on it and the station staff are friendly and helpful.   It’s only the people at head office who are the problem.

On Saturday, there is one train and one only which runs from XXXX to XXXX and gets commuters to work before nine.   There is one 30 minutes earlier and one which will get us there too late for work.   In my case I have a shop to open, various other disgruntled commuters yesterday simply had to be at work or lose pay and in one case – a job.   I understand that that does not concern XXXX Rail in the slightest but I still thought I’d mention it.

There we all were on the platform at XXXX Station around 8:05 a.m. when the tannoy sprang to life and said that the train in question had been cancelled.   The reason given was that the tracks were “slippery”.

Slippery – yes.

Now, that’s almost as good as leaves on the line and the wrong kind of snow and no doubt XXXX Rail were just showing us that privatized rail firms do have a sense of humour.   I can understand that.   The problem was that apparently the train before had gone through and as one awkward customer pointed out – the rails must have suddenly become slippery between that train and ours – the only one which would get us to work by nine.

In fact, from the direction our cancelled train would have come, between then and the next scheduled in half an hour – making everyone late for work – two trains came through, minus any passengers whatever.   That’s right – they were both essentially our train but did not think to stop and collect us en route.

Then two trains came from the other direction, one after the other.

So the issue was not general slipperiness on the line but specific slipperiness only around 8:15 and disappearing again straight after that, to allow all those other trains through.   Also, it was not the first time this week apparently.   One of the disgruntled customers said that earlier in the week when it had happened, the reason they’d given was that they “couldn’t get the staff”.

They had staff for the train before, for the train after but not for this specific train, it seems.  Ponder that for one moment please.

One customer, clearly away with the fairies, asked why XXXX Rail didn’t just shuffle trains to fill the gaps.   I was scathing.   Didn’t she realize that our train is a special train, it has special conditions attached to it, it is susceptible to special train diseases.   When it is used for the 7:40, it does not have those diseases but when it becomes our 8:10, it suddenly develops them.

There was a certain sardonic laughter at that among customers who were not all that enamoured with XXXX Rail at that point.

I mentioned to the customers in general that I was writing this article and would distribute it to various local newspapers, international blogs and so on – we have a sense of humour too, you see.   One man said: “Oh good, while you’re at it, mention that last winter, the reason given was that grit had got stuck to the wheels.”

I’ve complained three times in four years to your company.   That is not a measure of the efficiency of your service but that:

1.  I am too busy;
2.  You take about two months, on average, to reply [Arriva take a few days].

I’m not expecting that this published letter will achieve anything – it will only have a few thousand readers worldwide and none of them can make this one train run on time.   It’s also not going to stop you putting up those expensive posters at the train station entrances about how efficient you were in the last month – you usually claim about 95%.

In fact, on total trains running, it might well be 95% but the 5% is the work commuter train I’ve been referring to.   I’m not looking for any kind of apology or even compensation for the poor sods who had to call taxis to get to work on time.   I’d just like that XXXX Rail ensures that that particular train does run roughly on time and fulfils its sole purpose of getting people to work on time.

One or two people who were not personally affected said we could have come half an hour earlier, just in case XXXX Rail ever pulled this trick.   The simple answer is why?   Why should customers arrive half an hour earlier and hang about, simply because of the incompetence of XXXX Rail?   Do you see what I mean – the inconvenience needs to be yours – we are the paying customers.

And do you know the best one of all?   When the late train did arrive – it was seven minutes late itself and people were packed in like sardines – the automated voice thanked us for travelling XXXX Rail.   I think some customers threw things at the tannoy but my recollection is a bit hazy on that.

Yours sincerely
James Higham
[details supplied]

5 comments for “The Lost Special

  1. October 20, 2012 at 20:21

    “it was seven minutes later ” typo?

    Just the right touch and surely worth doing. I used to commute by train, preferring it to the car, but in the end sudden cancellations and feeble excuses were too much to take.

  2. ivan
    October 20, 2012 at 20:55

    Humm, somewhat different to what we have here.

    The workers train starts high up in the mountains exactly on time. If, in the winter, there has been a snow fall overnight the the snow plough goes first to clear the way. It arrives and departs from each station at the time stated in the time table – if you arrive one minute late you have missed it.

    In the twenty years I’ve been here it has been cancelled twice because of problems with the line – a land slide that covered the track and a forest fire that turned a cutting into a flame filled gash.

    There have been a few other times but they were caused by strikes and the buses took the strain because we knew in advance when they were going to happen

    I have been told it wasn’t always thus but that things changed when SNCF wanted to take trains over the boarder into Switzerland – they were told the train would cross the border at the stated time or not at all. Strange as it may seem that was the thing that got French trains running on time and now they pride themselves on it.

    It was a strange experience being apologised to by very senior station staff in Paris because the train from Perpignan had arrived five minutes late and there were taxies waiting to take people to catch their trains at the other main line stations because we wouldn’t have time to get the RER.

    But then it appears that the UK is going to the dogs very quickly.

  3. October 21, 2012 at 03:28

    I am told, by unverified sources, that these privatised train services are subsidised. They are presumably also taxed on their profists. That means one set of bureaucrats to collect the tax, and another to pay it back in the form of a subsidy. Cue Flanders & Swann: Oh it all makes work for the working man to do.

  4. October 21, 2012 at 04:14

    We have a similar commuter service into our city. It starts off in Town A, gets crowded at Town B, standing room only at Town C leaving no room at all at Town D where everybody has to run to catch the much slower bus service. The operater does not care since they own the bus company (Stagecoach) too.

    The good thing is that this train service arrives in the city center at 08:45, perfect for people going to work in shops and offices and students going to the 6th Form College.

    For years there were constant complaints from the City Council, the County Council, the College, Town D Council and individuals pleading with the operater to add a third carriage to the train but to no avail.

    One day the Government decided that this years thing would be to reduce the number of complaints about rail services with punitive fines for those who failed to so do and Hey Presto, the provider sprang into ACTION!”

    With a single stroke they vastly reduced the number of complaints against this popular service.
    They cancelled it altogether on the (unsaid) basis that you can’t make a complaint against a service that does not exist.

  5. October 21, 2012 at 04:45

    There really is an attitude over here of don’t care and “tell ’em anything”. It would be well worth analysis to know just how it started and became so bad.

    I was once at a station in Radlett and the stationmaster was sweeping the platform and making sure everything was in order, helping commuters etc.

    Our local stationmaster is like that and he’s used common sense quite a few times, as well as getting a new bike “cage” put in and other improvements. This is not the mentality of the higher-ups who seem to “manage” by the university manual.

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