To the folks at Network Rail & First Great Western

Tuesday, 2 December 2014
London


Whilst I've heard plenty of complaints and mumblings from my husband and friends who frequently commute to London and beyond, never in my wildest dreams (or nightmare, in this instance) would I ever imagine such inhumane treatment and the most appalling lack of accountability by every individual within these two companies. The companies in question? The transportation giants - Network Rail and First Great Western. The last time I checked, I live in the U.K which has the oldest surviving station in the world and built the world's first underground system.

You'd think they have processes and systems down pat having maintained train lines longer than Churchill has been alive. Or perhaps trained their staff to have a decent level of humanity for paying passengers. After all, if you dip below that baseline level, their attitude we've experienced recently was comparable to animals in the wild (actually, that may not be a good comparison as wild animals have been known to show empathy). **I'm sure there are many pretty trustworthy staff but sadly, there were none to be found over the weekend.

I was shoved into a train along with dozens of panicked passengers by Network Rail staff at approximately 23:05 on Saturday. I arrived home in Winchester at 10:15 on Sunday. Yes, nearly 11 hours later. I staggered home, my face haggard with fatigue, having had no sleep for 27 hours.

Let me take you back to the scene of the crime - London Paddington where frustrated passengers were milling about in front of the electronic notice board flashing "please enquire." NO further information was given. Pretty soon, we were told to run for the train which would take us all to Maidenhead (wherever that is) where there would be connecting buses and trains taking us to our final destination. Some took the advice from the British Transport Police. I double checked with the Network Rail staff to be sure. Bewildered passengers soon arrived at Maidenhead and shuffled into the waiting bus but no staff were to be seen save two contracted drivers. Where help is desperately needed, Network Rail and First Great Western staff tend to be more elusive than ghosts.

At approximately 1.45am, we were chucked out off the coach in front of Reading station and voila, it was shut. The crowd dispersed with those living close by forming a long queue for a taxi. I went in search of the taxi dispatch who promptly disregarded my idea of grabbing a cab from Reading to Winchester stating that it was too far and expensive.

Two other passengers and I decided to try our luck at the station, hoping the night staff might find us a solution. By then, one of the passengers, a mom of an autistic child was highly distressed and wanted to speak to the station manager. The man in question (I would not consider using the word gentleman as it refers to a civilized human) became increasingly defensive and argued vehemently, demanding evidence (???) to prove that we were NOT at fault. Ahh.......such incredible logic! We, the paying passengers forked out an extortionate amount of money for the privilege of being stranded on a cold winter's night amongst drunks and crackheads who were hanging about the station. Why? Because we would like to......

1)  experience hypothermia and know what it's like to freeze to death on the streets
2)  live dangerously and know what it feels like to be amongst drunks and crackheads

The mind boggles. A kindly passenger who didn't have far to go persuaded the station manager to let me at least rest comfortably in the waiting room for the night. I was told that taking a taxi home wasn't a possibility. If I went out, I wouldn't be let in again. The waiting room was particularly lively as burly men walked in and out all night. The toilet was a popular destination with one staying in there for ages chatting on his cellphone. Another staff member proudly told me how the station manager at Reading would chuck out any passengers who argued with him. Wow..... Nice one, bud. 

I reminded myself that although I was a single lone female (and petite to boot) in the station, at least there was CCTV above me recording my every move should anything happened to me. I live tweeted as well just in case........ I headed to the bus stop waiting for the 6.47am replacement bus to Basingstoke at 6.20am. Thirty minutes later, no bus appeared but a staff member took the trouble to come out to explain that he'd called for a back up bus and no, he can't stay because his shift has ended and he was going home. Another 20 minutes had passed before I managed to bump into the lovely station manager. "I have no idea when the bus is coming. It'll get here when it gets here. I'm going home now." Like I've said, the lack of accountability is staggering. Do the absolute minimum, show distaste for passengers who pay your salary and always, ALWAYS, fall short of expectations.

A bus finally appeared at 7:40am. Thankfully, the Network Rail staff at Basingstoke were a pleasant surprise. Organized and calm. I boarded another bus and finally arrived at Winchester at 10.15am on Sunday. Instead of a direct journey from London Waterloo to London which normally takes 1 hour, this time, it was London Paddington - Maidenhead - Reading - Basingstoke - Winchester = 11 hours. I was barely coherent having been awake for 27 hours.

I felt terribly sorry for the other remaining passengers who were left on the streets. The feeling of utter helplessness with no one to go to for further information including the staff. So....to the "lovely" fellas that I had interacted with at Network Rail and First Great Western, by the grace of God, I arrived home safely, no thanks to you. I hope you don't treat your family and friends the same way you did to myself and the passengers that I'd traveled with.

p.s. by the way, isn't it great to work for state owned monopolies because you can screw around with customers and they still have to use your services?




13 comments:

  1. Appalling. It's hard to believe your experience. Thank you for sharing. I hope you get the apololgy and compensation you deserve - but how they can compensate for what you went through I really don't know. Poor you!

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  2. This is absolutely horrendous! What a horrible way to spend the night. I can't believe you didn't get home until the next morning! I've been in a similar situation on xmas eve trying to get from the lake district to somerset and it went pretty much the same way as that, it was no one's problem and no one could or wanted to help. The amount we pay for train travel in this country is sickening and you expect the best but more often than not get the worst! Good on you for sharing your story! I hope someone takes note!

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  3. Incredibly annoyed and disappointed to read this is how your Saturday evening unfolded after spending such a nice afternoon together. Please know you have us to lean on if you ever need in the future - I would have gladly driven you to Winchester myself!

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  4. Shocking. It's not as if it's cheap either! I hanker after the good old days of British Rail. Selling it off has improved nothing except for shareholders.

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  5. Oh Marlene my heart goes out to you. This is horrific. If something horrid had happenend to you not one of these organisations or individuals would have been held accountable yet we ( society) witchhunt professionals who do their jobs with dedication and commitment (police, social workers, medics etc). We got caught in the total shut down of the network last Christmas Eve and not a soul gave a damn at Victoria. The feeling was almost murderous. If not for a very kind friend (a rarity too these days) we would still be at Victoria now! The lack of corporate or individual responsibility and compassion in both the public and private sector is terrifying.
    you will be entitled to a full fare refund bur that is all. When my husband missed a west end show because of Southern Rail, that's all he got - no compensation for his ticket! It is daylight robbery that tickets can be sold fir services that don't run. If we did that it would be called fraud but large organisations escape recourse for misselling their services. Huge sympathy from a long term victim of rail fraud. Hx

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    1. Oh gosh! Your experience on Christmas Eve sounds even more horrific than mine. You're right. It's fraud and daylight robbery. What's scary is that not one staff from TFL, Network Rail or any of the train companies gives a damn. Absolutely none. No empathy whatsoever. I'll be shocked if anyone from Network Rail ever got back to me. I thought long and hard about publicizing my situation but I decided to go ahead seeing I've seen so many being mistreated with no recourse.

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    2. No your experience beats ours hands down. I am appalled that you had to spend all night on a railway station with no information help or sense of responsibility from the organisations involved. I am convinced that there is liability there for a journey which was advertised and not honoured. This was more than a delay but a cancellation of services. Interestingly I am replying from a delayed train to london from Sussex although today's delay is due to a suicide and Southern have coped remarkably well for once. I always claim, my thinking being that when the admin costs for processing claims outweighs the savings from clapped out rolling stock and staff cuts, maybe then the rail companies will realise the false economy they operate under! Hx

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  6. Blimey, what an ordeal. I hate trains and particularly those 2 companies as my husband travels on them daily to London and he's delayed a LOT

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  7. Ugh. I am so sorry you had to go through that. Can't even imagine your frustration! Good for you for posting. Can you do anything else to publicize this, such as a newspaper op-ed? Really hope the train operators step up and rectify the situation!
    S in HK

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  8. I live in basingstoke - if we were friends IRL id have come to reading & driven you to Winch. That is astounding! I'm so sorry that you had to go through that.

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    1. Oh, you're a sweetheart! That's so thoughtful of you. It's just that they kept promising me the next bus will be coming....and I believed them (stupid me!).

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  9. Good God Marlene - that's just... I'm so sorry, there are no words.


    See that's what I don't understand about UK AT. ALL. On one hand - people actually queue (don't think I have ever seen anyone try to jump the queue even during the worst morning peak hours in London), the train doors close 30 seconds prior to departure time to keep trains on time (?), etc. These are all foreign concepts to this Eastern European pleb :)

    On the other hand the sheer lack of hm organisation (?) is baffling at times.

    In March our train to Norfolk got delayed. We arrived to Colchester. The announcement goes - oh we are delayed, don't know for how long. We have buses waiting at Ipswich to take you to Norwich, but we still don't know how we are going to get from Colchester to Ipswich. Hm what the what? The dude was apologetic and in the end we did manage to get there somehow. It did take a lot longer (normally it's a 2-hour train ride), but we got there in the end (in all honesty I was ready to murder someone as I had a sinus infection at the time).

    Back in November during that "storm of the century" when the wind was knocking people on the street left, right and center, friend's train was delayed for the better part of the day. There were knocked down trees on the tracks, so obvs the trains won't run. BUT there was no alternative transport offered. In the end she went to Victoria, luckily managed to get a bus ticket (that were almost completely sold out) and arrived safely. Hm seriously? Like - we get the option of alternative transport here when trains/buses are delayed.

    It's just mind boggling.

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    1. It really IS mind boggling with the crazy public transportation when things don't go like clockwork. It's as if the entire organization comes to a standstill. No one knows what's going on. How can they be no alternatives offered, particularly when it's PLANNED engineering work?? Imagine being sick and no one has any idea how to get to the destination while you're stranded....crazy. I just think that there's something seriously wrong with the train companies here.

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