Why the attractive Romanian girl was amazed by British train incompetence

Comedian Janet Bettesworth left Mama Biashara last night after Il Puma Londinese show, buying the chair she sat on

Comedian Janet Bettesworth leaves Mama Biashara last night after buying the chair she sat on at Il Puma Londinese show

Not so much a blog, more a footnote to a blog I wrote a week ago about chaos on Thameslink trains. For myself and future historians of bureaucratic incompetence.

So last night I went to see Il Puma Londinese’s Italian language Edinburgh Fringe preview at Mama Biashara in London, where I found out that, if a woman is feeling a bit lethargic, one cure is for her to take part of a Viagra tablet, which starts the blood rushing around and perks you (the lady) up. Who knew?

Afterwards, I got a civilised Overground train to West Hampstead where I changed stations. There are three stations at West Hampstead – all called West Hampstead – all in different locations about 2-minutes walk from each other. As usual at night, chaos reigned at West Hampstead’s Thameslink station.

As I arrived, just before 2310 and went down the steps to the platform for my 2325 train, people on the crowded platform suddenly started to run en masse up the stairs towards me. Without warning, the train was coming in on another platform. This is normal.

20 seconds later, the train arrived on the other platform. Unusually, as far as I could see, only two passengers did not get over in time and were left stranded when the train left. This is an abnormally low number.

I realised it was going to be worth Tweeting, because Thameslink trains are like a man juggling spaghetti blindfold.

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – 2310 train platform changed at 20 secs notice. Unusually tannoy warning (but on wrong platform) Daily chaos.

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – Good news. Only 2 people missed train cos platform changed at 20 secs notice. Daily chaos.

Normal daily service via Thameslink

Normal daily service via Govia’s Thameslink. Trains either cancelled or overcrowded.

Obviously, as always, I waited at the foot of the steps for my 2325 train, so I could make a quick dash across the bridge to the other platform and, sure enough…

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – 2325 train platform changed at 30 secs notice. No one able to get on 4-carriage train. Daily chaos.

Thameslink have what seems to be a policy that fast trains (stopping at fewer stations with fewer passengers) are 8-carriages and slow trains (stopping at more stations with more passengers) are 4-carriages.

The previous train (8 carriages) had left relatively empty (and leaving two punters stranded).

Passengers went back & forth along platform, unable to get on

Passengers went back & forth along platform, unable to get on

This 4-carriage train I tried to get on was packed to the extent that, when the doors opened, bottoms, arms, bags and heads spilled out. As far as I could see, as about 40-60 would-be passengers like me ran from carriage to carriage, no-one could get on anywhere. The train left, leaving all the would-be 40-60 passengers behind.

No room on train for crowded paying passengers

No room on train for crowded paying passengers

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – No room on slow 4-carriage train. Fast 8-carriage train coming. No slow trains known.

There was a half-heard tannoy announcement (on the wrong platform) that the next train would be a fast train of 8 carriages.

TWEET – W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – Passengers still arriving on wrong platform as that’s what signs say. Daily chaos. Hope of any train fading.

Passenger watches train he could not get on leave without him

Passenger watches train he could not get on leave without him

The indicator board on our platform – the one where trains were leaving from – showed the next (fast) train. The indicator board on the wrong platform, from which trains were probably not leaving, indicated that my next (slow) train, due at 2355, would leave from there. New passengers continued to stream onto that wrong platform. We, the orphans of the previous slow train, stayed on our platform, taking bets our train would come in here.

A Dunkirk spirit broke out. People started talking to each other.

An attractive Romanian girl with a backpack told me she was amazed at the chaotic railway system in Britain.

I said: “Things are probably better in Romania.”

She told me: “No,” but not with much conviction.

The (fast) 8-carriage train came and left, half empty.

TWEET: W Hampstead chaos @TLRailUK – 2355 train platform changed at 2354. Although still signed on wrong platform. Daily chaos.

Cattle never had it this bad, courtesy of Thameslink

Cattle never had it this bad, courtesy of Govia’s Thameslink

Our 4-carriage train, full to overflowing, arrived with passengers still legging it across from the wrong platform. Miraculously, some people got out and some of us squeezed into the train. Most were left behind on the platform.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – I got on cattle truck train at W Hampstead. Many did not. Daily chaos.

Squeezed into my carriage were three small-ish children aged about 8 or 9, coming back from some special day out with their parents. The family had been separated from the other people they had been with because they had been unable to get on a previous train. The children were clinging on to their parents (they did not have much choice) and had scared eyes. Their parents were trying to calm them.

TWEET: Result of 8-carriage fast trains & 4-carriage slow trains on Thameslink @TLRailUK – Daily chaos & scared children.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Just took 70 minutes to do a 14 minute journey. Daily chaos.

It has been like this since Govia took over the Thameslink rail franchise towards the end of last year. It is now June. I imagine the Govia directors have chauffeur-driven cars.

Perhaps Govia should take corporate Viagra.


Filed under London, Trains

2 responses to “Why the attractive Romanian girl was amazed by British train incompetence

  1. Make the most of this whilst you can. Those who play with numbers and find it unbelievable that working systems cannot be 100% efficient and operate with perfect capacity-demand relationships believe that with just 1 track in each direction and no reserve route/by-pass options, we can stuff 1 train every 2.5 minutes in each direction through the central core. This will require the drivers to switch over to an automated system to regulate the flow of trains, and every train will have to load & unload in around 30 seconds at each stop.

    A particular challenge arises because for various reasons the floor inside the carriages is 1100mm above the rail level nut to avoid bashing parts off trains than might run through the tunnels the platforms remain at the UK standard of 915mm, but the short dwell times means that it would be imppossible to deploy and retrieve the ramps normally used to get wheelchair users and others who benefit from level access with a close fit between the train and the platform. Unlike the DLR which has been built with straight platforms and a single type of train profile and the East London Line where again the new stations could be designed to deliver a level access excspt at the historic Wapping and Rotherhithe stations which are unlikely to get step free access anyway. One solution is to have a passive filling for the gap which can be fit by trains that are a bit bigger than the clearance available, but cause no damage to the train or the platform

    This cutting-back on trqain length may also be linked to the transfer of the electric trains (Class 319) from Thameslink to Northern Rail to operate on the newly electrified lines and release the diesel units from there to plug the gaps left because policy currently is not to build new diesel units, with a juggling act moving other types of electric train (Class 377 – built in Derby) over to the Thameslink route pending the arrival of the new trains being built now in Germany…. I suspect that this squeeze on the number of units, is leading to short forming of trains which need to be longer but with the failure to have any firm standard fro connecting the ne trains togetherwith the old ones the consequences include refuictions in the train lengths and the penalty is in the extended dwell times at stations because people simply cannot get on or off the trains, which in turn exascerbates the problem.

    With the Network Rail open data feeds that give us RealTime Trains I’m wondering if there might be some geek task to produce station specific apps, that can not only declare the train lengths at the start of a trip, but also ‘see’ the route setting being applied that sets the points and signals ahead of the train. Given the current headways it might give you more than 30 seconds warning.

    There also remains a serious H&S issue here of crowd stampedes and surge loadings of stair flights. One station reduced passnger falls dramatically by obscuring the glass on the station footbridge so that passengers were not tempted to wait there and rush for a train at the platform they could see it coming in to. If the picture you paint is accurate I predict the potential of a serious injury incident when someone falls on the stairs or tries to head against a stampeding flow. There is presumably a CCTV record of this activity and I suspect some RSSB research into the issue.

    A worry here is in the detail that some modern passenger route designs seem to have been pared down from the generous detailing that can handle surges and high volumes. I’ve noticed this in escalators especially. those designed for high volume use had around 4 treads running level at top & bottom so that the users can get stable on a surface moving in a level plane before it drops or rises. This is vital for those with reduced mobility. I’ve been disturbed by a number of stations where the designs are approaching the retail practice of making the escalator as short as possible by shortening the transition thresholds and steepening the rake to minimise the loss of retail floor area inside a store. A similar detail applies where the stairs go right to the corner (usually 90 degrees) where the passenger flows turn on to the stairs from the bridge or platform.

    I’d guess that if matters really came to a head the protest of passngers refusing to clear the doors, will either lead to the service seizing up, or with trains being Driver Only Operation (DOO), a raised risk of passengers being caught up in train doors as the train moves away, as the driver is not really the best person to both drive the train and deal with the passengers. I note that where all trains are (as a policy) operated with a driver and a ‘guard’ the ability to manage platform dwell times efficiently and actually recover from minor delays by the driver-guard team working together makes the additional cost worth it but not quantifiable in pure bean counter accounting terms. RMT has a campaign with this as a key element, although it puts me off slightly through some of the political demands rather than settling for what can be delivered, with the parties at the table and not waving ‘banners’ at each other.

  2. I’m sure we can all agree with that

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