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?