Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Trains, then and now (mostly OT)

Yesterday, I travelled down by train to meet up with the lovely Petrona (aka Maxine) as reported on her blog. Here's how I faired with my trains:
#1 Redditch to Birmingham New Street (BNS), as normal 5 mins late as it's a commuter train.

#2 Birmingham Moor Street - London Marylebone. No trains, freight train derailment outside station.

#3 Back to BNS, hopped on to super fast Virgin Pendalino to London Euston. Texted Maxine to say I'd be 30 mins early. Pendalino not so fast, 20 mins late due to "points problem" followed by "signals problem". Met Maxine 20 mins earlier than planned.

#4 It's now 4pm. Marylebone back to Birmingham. Departure boards showing trains running back to Moor Street, hoo-rah. Swiftly followed by announcement that trains terminating at Dorridge (10 miles or so outside Birmingham). Hmm. Just before train gets into Banbury driver advises passengers for Birmingham to change at Banbury and pick up Cross Country train.

#5 Banbury to BNS. Train arrives at BNS 23 mins late due to congestion at Coventry.

#6 BNS to Redditch. Train left BNS a few mins late but nothing out of the usual there. I heave sigh of relief, text Maxine to say I should be home at 7.30pm. But no...train arrives at Barnt Green station (8 miles from Redditch) and is terminated there due to "signalling problem". Eventually train reverses back one stop (now 10 miles from Redditch) and passengers are advised a replacement bus service is waiting. 25 min wait later in rain and dark, still no bus. Finally the great train god takes pity on us and ...

#7 a train arrives and takes us all to Redditch, arriving at 8.30pm, an hour and ten mins late.
And of course the trains had been in chaos over Easter due to Engineering works...

Compare that with this comment from Death in Breslau:
November 13th, 1934
The Breslau-Oppeln train was two minutes late, which to Mock, who was used to the punctuality of German trains, seemed unpardonable. (It's no surprise that in a state governed by Austrian sergeants, everything breaks down.)


Anonymous said...

Oh Karen, I do hope it was worth it! What an ordeal. Do you think we are desperate enough to call in Mussolini? In the meantime, I must give Death in Breslau a try. I bet they didn't have constant announcements about beggars operating, and you must buy a ticket, etc, on the trains then, either. (Note to self, must buy earplugs.)

Uriah Robinson said...

Probably snow on the line in November Karen caused that 2 minute delay.
Our railway system must hold the record for late or cancelled trains.
I used to travel from Exeter to London Paddington once a year for 16 years, and every journey was similar to your account I could never rely on arriving on time.
Yet in visits to Sweden and Finland during the harsh winters train travel was a pleasure.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Isn't The Virgin Pendalino an opera by Donizetti?

You might be interested in the following, from the introduction to The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes about the Edwardian and late-Victorian England portrayed in its stories:

"The railway is the quickest means of travel and, in the case of emergency, a special train can always be ordered to some country station; time-tables are reliable and for a train to be seven minutes late is cause for alarm."
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Anonymous said...

A simply horrendous journey - end to end both ways - for which you have my utmost sympathy.

It makes me laugh that during my recent forays with the train services there are public announcements to say that in order to ensure a timely service "please close the doors after you" and that all the doors will be closed "40 seconds before departure".

So, how to stress the traveller part one:
make them feel harrassed on the platform before the train even arrives and have them counting the seconds...

Part two:
Forget the importance of communication when there are delays on the train. Leave all passengers wondering what the hell is going on for at least 15 mins.

Part three: attain the level of "hop, skip and jump" service at all times and forget the words "smooth operator", and the actions implied.

Lovely stuff in south Wales at the mo, which I read in the local rag today: the Severn tunnel needs some maintenance work and it will all be performed on weekends. Thus weekend travellers will have to coach it some of the way for the foreseeable future but at least an explanation came from the media. Last time I looked there was nothing when booking tickets on FGW or Trainline to let you know. And as online bookings mean they have your email addy and knowledge of the journeys you book, you'd think they could send you an email to warn you of forthcoming events? Nope. Just incessant marketing, usually telling you how cheap the fares can be, although finding them in reality has odds like winning the lottery.

End of rant.

Our train services can be pretty crap and don't we know it!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, forget to say this:

But the Brits can be good in a crisis and this was proved last year in July when we had all that flooding. They pulled out all the stops to ensure people could travel.

I had to return to south Wales from Harrogate and did so via London, which was not allowed on my ticket. But no tickets were checked anywhere anyway. You could even just walk onto the trains at Paddington, the barriers were open.

Why can't we just get it right most of the time though?

And LOL, or cry continually for some, T5's opening at Heathrow seems to have made us the laughing stock in the global travelling world...

Big project management is not a proven skill for the Brits. Think the Dome. Think the NHS computer system. Think the Stock Exchange's IT project. And now think the forthcoming Olympics. Oh what a bill we face and let's hope it's not a fiasco like T5 when it opens.

Martin Edwards said...

Karen, your difficulties illustrate why a modern writer could never write a book where an alibi depended on trains running to time. Freeman Wills Croft is no doubt revolving in his grave...