July 27, 2011

Pain on the Train…

Filed under: Uncategorized — madaxeman @ 10:59 am

Where did it all go wrong?

Last night I had the pleasure of going out for a meal with a friend, which resulted in my having to catch the last train home from York. This isn’t an unusual occurance for me – I usually meet with my friend once a week or so, and in order to maxmise the time I get to spend with her, often travel home on the last service. What is also far from unusual is the ensuing aggravation I have come to expect as a result…

You see, I am that most hated of figures on the railway – a cyclist. This means that before travelling on East Coast Trains, I am required to reserve a space for my bike in the guard’s van. Now, with my practical hat on, I can appreciate that there are very good reasons for this – the guard’s van has a limited capacity, and naturally they want to avoid overcrowding – fair enough. However, a disturbing pattern has emerged. Whenever I try and book the last train I am ALWAYS told that all the cycle spaces are taken. I always (I confess) ignore this, and almost ALWAYS find that there isn’t even ONE bike on the train – never mind five (the supposed maximum…)

If this happened infrequently I could believe that it’s just an unfortunate happenstance – maybe the other customers decided not to catch that train in the end… But this isn’t the case. I truly believe that East Coast operate a policy of trying to avoid having bikes on the last train (maybe because staffing levels on the platforms are so low that they fear the extra time to dispatch the train…) – but rather than be upfront about it, they keep this “Oh, I’m sorry Sir – all the places have already been reserved” line going. Here’s the thing folks – I’m not friggin’ stupid!

Using a bike on the railways has only really proven viable for me because a number of staff, typically at the coalface as it were, are actually blessed with common sense. For instance, if I am only travelling for one stop, and there is space in the van, then there is no harm or consequence from letting me travel without a cycle reservation. Many of the platform staff recognise this, and will collude in extending something called “customer service” and actually take an interest in facilitating my journey. I know – crazy radicals eh? I deliberately haven’t named them lest the powers that be hunt them down and punish their helpful customer loving ways – but they know who they are I’m sure. They have my sincere thanks…

And so  to my next complaint…

When I got off the train, a foreign gentleman also stepped off to check something on his ticket with staff. Unfortunately, the platfom dispatchers released the train before he got back on it, so he ended up stuck in Doncaster over night – this being the final train and all. So he’d be invited to get beded down in the waiting room then eh? That’s the way the railways used to work, back when BR were around and recognised that it was in the business of providing a service. Sadly though, that’s not the way things work now… Doncaster, despite being a mainline station, is closed overnight, so this chap was sent out into the street.

He’s left – no money for a hotel, not speaking English very well, to roam around Doncaster all night. I hope he survived.

However, once he got back to the station this morning, he would have been wanting to board the first train out – which of course he doesn’t have a ticket for. I’d like to think they won’t insist on him paying for another ticket (not least because he didn’t have the money to pay for it). I’d like to think that some sort of accomodation would be made in light of the fact that he chap is from a foreign land, got confused, and the train dispatchers failed to notice him… I doubt this would be how things played out though.

It’s apparently ok now to just abandon strangers in a foreign land and have them sleep rough on the streets – that’s what service on the modern privatised railway seems to mean these days.

The railways need to return to their proud past, and lose the attitude that they’re simply moving paying meat around the country.

Closing note : This is not intended as a complaint against the staff on duty at Doncaster – they are merely following the policies laid down by the management above them. Though they’d never be so unprofessional as to admit it to me, I strongly suspect they aren’t happy about it either.


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