Category Archives: Trains

The Loneliness of the British Transport Policeman on a London tube train…

I posted this on my Facebook page last week but the incident is staying in my mind because it was just so surreal.

In the middle of the afternoon, I got on a Metropolitan Line train on the London Underground.

There were not many people on the train. 

But, standing in the middle of the aisle with his back to me, was a British Transport policeman.

He just stood there silent, un-moving, like one of those human statues who stand for hours in Covent Garden, hoping for cash to be thrown in their hat by passing tourists with cameras and thinking heaven knows what for all those immobile hours.

What do they think while they stand there?

I was on the train for four stops.

He was there too, standing immobile and silent for four stops. He was bulky and bearded and real. Like some bizarre policeman-suited Buddha. 

Occasionally, one of the other two passengers in the carriage would look at him.

But no response.

There he stood, immovable and silent, perhaps thinking he was some oddball PR message from the Metropolitan Police to travellers. 

YOU ARE SAFE

WE ARE WATCHING OVER YOU

But the surreality overwhelmed any message he might be trying to give, standing there, blocking the aisle, silent, looking to neither left nor right.

When I got off the train, he was still there, silent, blocking the aisle, thinking whatever thoughts he was thinking.

Not moving.

Eight minutes of my life.

And his.

Less than a pinprick in eternity.

One man, standing alone, immobile, silent, on an underground train, beneath in a city, on a planet, in a solar system, in infinity.

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Govia Thameslink Rail and the complaint about the chiropodist’s bill

Cattle never had it this bad… travelling by Govia Thameslink

The appalling Thameslink rail franchise run by Govia (who also currently have the equally appallingly-mismanaged Southern and Northern English franchises) is notorious for cancelling trains at the last moment.

Its recent catastrophic timetable change caused such chaos that they had to bring in a new changed timetable to the changed timetable and then another timetable with changes to the changes to the timetable and the current ‘ interim’ timetable under which they have reportedly withdrawn 200 scheduled trains per day.  

Thameslink is also notorious for not stopping at the scheduled and announced stations and for changing platforms (especially at West Hampstead) roughly 20, sometimes 10, seconds before the train arrives without any warning nor announcement with the result that passengers have to race over the footbridge and sometimes miss the train.
 
At St Albans station, apparently, they DO sometimes inform passengers. Someone who works for Thameslink Customer Services tells me of this complaint by a passenger (possibly but not certainly at St Albans):

A lady wrote in, enclosing an invoice from a chiropodist. She said:

“I arrived last Tuesday at the station to take a train to London. The signage said it would come in on Platform 4. So up I went over the bridge down onto the platform. Two minutes later, the announcer said: “Sorry, but the train to London will now arrive on Platform 1.”

“I ran up the stairs, over the bridge, down onto Platform 1.

“Two minutes later and, yes, the train was now going to arrive back on Platform 4.

“Up over and back down again.

“Therefore please find enclosed a bill from my chiropodist and, as evidence, a zip lock bag containing the hard skin from the bottom of my feet.”


Thameslink did not reimburse her.

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The nightmare effect of travelling on too many Thameslink trains – beetroot

I very rarely remember my dreams but I woke up during one this morning.

I was working, freelance, for a TV company and, during the lunch hour, I had to go to hospital where one of the treatments was to put beetroot on my stomach.

Next, I was scheduled to see the oncologist, but I could not remember the name of the person I was working for to phone and tell them I would not be back after lunch and someone had, as a joke, tattooed the bottom half of both my legs while I was asleep during the beetroot treatment.

This is what happens when you have to travel four times on a Sunday during a Bank Holiday weekend on the anarchic rail service Govia Thameslink – as I did yesterday – it turns your head into a gooey mess.

The beetroot was not even edible.

It was a nightmare.

The journeys not the dream.

134D8B41-4F1D-425A-966E-E065FAA4A011

‪Happy Thameslink passengers enjoying the relaxed holiday atmosphere on one of the tranquil platforms at St Pancras station in London, untroubled by trains.‬

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Adham Fisher, record-breaking Extreme Commuter. Why? “No reason”

Adham Fisher in the Soho Theatre Bar, London

“So what are you?” I asked Adham Fisher in London’s Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’m not a comedian,” he told me. “Not a proper one, anyway. I have held a Guinness World Record but I have never been in the Guinness Book of Records. It wasn’t considered for the book because there are thousands of records and they can only put a select few in the book.”

“What is your world record for?” I asked.

“The fastest time to go to every New York subway station.”

“How long did that take?”

“22 hours, 26 minutes and 2 seconds… I must stress that I no longer hold the record, but I did hold it for 14 months. The current record is 21 hours, 49 minutes. There were 468 stations at the time I attempted it; there are now 472.”

“And why did you want to hold that record?” I asked.

“It stemmed from my attempts at the corresponding record here in London: the fastest time to go to every tube station. There are 270. I have been attempting that for 13 years. I have been a dismal failure at that and everything else.”

“Do other people do similar things?” I asked.

“There are a lot of people who have attempted the tube record or the various other unofficial challenges and races. There is a yearly one for Zone One stations only.”

“Why have you been a dismal failure at the tube record for 13 years?” I asked. “Is there a trick to it?”

“The trick,” Adham told me, “is the tube running as it should. Every single day there is a delay or suspension or a trespasser on the line or whatever.”

“You should go to Germany,” I suggested. “I imagine their trains run on time.”

“I did go to every station in Berlin – 8 hours, 2 minutes and 56 seconds. There are only 173 stations.”

“Have you met any of the other people trying to visit stations?”

“Yes I have.”

“Do you find they are kindred spirits?”

“Not really.”

“Why,” I asked, “do you want to do this at all? Just to get into the Guinness Book of Records?”

“Not necessarily,” Adham replied. “I have no reason.”

“Well,” I told him, “that is a very good reason in my book. But it must cost an absolute fortune going round the world doing this.”

“I have only done it in Europe and North America.”

“What is the ultimate?”

“Just to go on every rapid transit system in the world.”

“Do you have a full-time job?”

“Everyone thinks I don’t, so I will let them carry on thinking that. It makes for some very interesting comedy. If, for example, I happen to court some media attention, people will comment online, saying: Well, obviously he doesn’t have a job. And these are people who are able to spend tens of thousands of pounds following football teams.”

“Have you had media attention?” I asked.

“Yes. My moment of fame was appearing in the Guardian.”

Adham took the cutting out and showed it to me.

Adham’s own copy of The Guardian, 28.11.16.

“You carry it around with you?”

“Yes.”

“How did all this start?”

“When I started trying to ride every single bus in Leicester and Leicestershire. I was 16. When I first attempted to travel to every London tube station, I was 19.”

“How old are you now?”

Adham did not answer.

“What did your parents say when you were 16 and went off to ride buses?”

“Well, I had to leave the house at about 4.00am.”

“Did you tell them why you were leaving that early?”

“No… Well… I said: I am just going to ride buses all day. See you later.”

“And they said: Fair enough…?”

“They might have done. I shut the door before they could answer.”

“Do you live with your parents now?”

“Maybe.”

“Are they in any bizarre way related to transport?” I asked.

“No. In fact, I don’t think my parents have ever liked me being interested in transport and so that has led to me just not talking to them.”

“What did they want you to become?”

“I don’t know and I never cared. I never really talked to them about that sort of stuff.”

“16 is an age,” I suggested, “when people start thinking about future careers. What did you want to be?”

“I have never had a career plan.”

“Are you,” I asked, “trying to make order out of disorder?”

“I suppose.”

Adham still always plays the revered Human League on vinyl

“I have all my LPs in alphabetical order,” I confessed. “I am so old I have LPs… Before your time.”

“I was,” said Adham, “the only person at my school who liked the Human League and I was the only person at my school who knew what vinyl was. I sometimes DJ at Leicester railway station… with vinyl.”

“They employ you to do this?” I asked.

“Oh no no no. I just ask them once in a while if I can turn up and play.”

“You sit in a corner of the station and play vinyl LPs?”

“Pretty much.”

“Inside or outside?”

“On the station front. Not in the foyer: that would interfere with the announcements. There is a nice bit outside by a coffee bar.”

“You have two turntables and loudspeakers?”

“Yes. A little busking amp.”

Adam Fisher - The MMs Bar Recordings

“The greatest record ever made”

“What sort of music?”

“Anything. There is a record I almost always play, called the MMs Bar Recordings – a compilation of buffet car announcements from the old Midland Mainline trains before they became East Midlands Trains. It consists of various staff saying things like: Good morning and welcome to the 1054 service from London St Pancras. The MMs bar is now open and clear for service with a wide selection of sandwiches, savouries, sweets, hot and cold drinks and complimentary Midland Mainline tea and coffee.”

“This was released commercially as a record?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“To acclaim?”

“Yes. I actually think it’s the greatest record ever made because it’s so stupid it’s great.”

“Who released it?”

“An artist named Sandra Cross. I have met her.”

“Is it,” I asked, “edited in a creative way so it has rhythm?”

“No. It’s just as the announcements were recorded.”

“Do passers-by get confused by this as they enter the station?”

“One or two have. Very few of them stop. About 99% turn their heads with either smiles or bemused looks.”

“You only play announcements?”

“No. Absolutely anything from Peter Gabriel to…”

“How long,” I interrupted, “do you do this for?”

“The longest stint has been about 13 hours.”

“Is there a record for this?”

“Not yet.”

“You know the Rule of Three?” I asked. “So far, we have had the Guinness Book of Records and you playing vinyl records. Is there a third type of record in here?”

“There is the Public Records Office.”

“Have you been there?”

“Not yet.”

Adham’s publicity for a 2016 MOvember record attempt

“You have been doing this since you were 16,” I said. “How are you going to develop it? You could play your records on every station platform. You could play Midland Mainline announcements on the New York subway system. Do you think you will still be doing it in ten years time?”

“I would like to.”

“Are you married?”

“Not last time I checked. I am the least likely person I know to be married.”

“Why?”

“Marriage just isn’t really my thing.”

“Your main passions are transport and music?”

“I describe myself as a very unpassionate person. I don’t consider myself very passionate about or an advocate for anything. I have just somehow wound up doing certain things. I never wanted to be a DJ. Public transport and comedy and music are just things I have happened to do. I would not describe myself as being any good at any of them. Or anything.”

“You should,” I suggested, “be working for some transit system somewhere.”

“I think if I worked in the transport industry, I would end up hating it. Rolling stock track gauge, infrastructure; I know nothing about that; I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing. So far, it has always been a novelty for me, especially in London because I have never lived here. So taking the tube, the bus, any commuter rail or the tram or the cable car is always a novelty for me.”

“You did a comedy show at last year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.”

“Yes.”

“What was it called?”

Extreme Commuter.”

“And this year’s show was called…?”

Publicity for this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival show

“Extreme Commuter 7.”

“Because?”

“The Comedy Festival gig this year was my seventh. I have done one since, which was the 8th and the next one will be in Sheffield. My ninth.”

“Have you got Asperger’s?”

“I have no idea. I have never been diagnosed with it, but… I don’t even know what I would have to do to request a diagnosis.”

“These comedy shows you do are anecdotes about you riding the rails?”

“Exactly. Rails, buses, trams, whatever.”

“Do you want to do the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“To have a successful show in Edinburgh is the Holy Grail of all fledgling comedians but, because I don’t consider myself very good at this comedy thing, I am not actually bothered if I go to Edinburgh or not. If it happens, great; if it doesn’t happen, great. It would be nice, but I don’t expect ever to be a success there.”

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Thameslink – the Third World railway company giving a second rate service

Thameslink phone app

The Thameslink phone app today

If you have a blog, you can whine. Yippee!

Occasionally, this has meant I write a blog whining about the disaster that is Thameslink – franchise-holders for the Bedford-Brighton railway line on which I live. Though I have not burdened blog-readers with the daily chaos.

Suffice it to say that, in the evening at West Hampstead station, those in the know do not go to the platform the indicators say the train will be arriving at. Because it is often – or even usually – changed to another platform about 30-60 seconds before the train arrives. One evening, there were 31 people on the bridge, ready to run to whichever platform the train actually arrived on. A Dunkirk spirit of camaraderie broke out.

Which brings me to today’s whine.

So, today I went to see comic Martin Soan at home in Nunhead, South London. No problem there, you might think, because it is on a direct line from my home in Borehamwood and, although today is Boxing Day, the trains are running. I checked on the Thameslink app yesterday. And this morning.

So there could be no problem except a late or cancelled train. This is Thameslink we are talking about.

Last night, I checked on the Thameslink app and chose which train to get. And double checked this morning.

I arrived at my local Elstree station which, of course, was open. Well, the main ticket office was closed but that is not uncommon and the side entrance was open. The platform indicators just displayed a generic notice, but I knew there was a train at 11.12am because I had double-checked the Thameslink app yesterday AND this morning.

Although the platform indicators showed no train times, they did say: For train information please listen to Announcement. And, reassuringly, an occasional loudspeaker announcement usefully told us the Overground was not running; the Waterloo & City Line was not running; and there were some sections of the Underground were closed.

The Thameslink indicator said Listen. I listened. First mistake.

The Thameslink indicator said Listen. I listened. First mistake.

I say We. I had got there early, as had about eight other people, all reassured that the 11.12 was going to arrive. That included two Italians who could speak no English and a Bulgarian who lived in Borehamwood.

My Thameslink app reassured me there was definitely at train due at 11.12 – although another app (presumably using information supplied by Thameslink) said the train was due at 11.38 and yet another app said the train was at 11.48.

It was the Bulgarian who spotted the poster in among other posters halfway along the platform at Elstree which said, about halfway down in among other details that there were no trains running today. No information about this, of course, at the entrance to the station.

The platform indicators remained on. Occasionally, there was the reassuring tannoy announcement that the Overground and Waterloo and City Line were closed – plus helpful details about the Underground, A useful announcement by Thameslink which made no mention of the fact that, in fact, Thameslink itself was not running any trains.

It was the Bulgarian who realised that a scheduled bus (totally unconnected to the Thameslink situation) left Elstree station for Edgware tube station at 11.13.

So we waited (there were about ten of us) until the train did not arrive but the bus did and off we went to Edgware tube station. Well, not all of us.

The Italians who could not speak English had no Oyster travel card and there was nowhere to buy one and the bus driver refused to let them on because, apparently, buses will not accept cash (all they had) any more.

A traditionally Peckham Rye totem pole

A traditionally Peckham Rye totem pole

As the rest of us left, six more people were arriving at the station.

The day went on like that.

I won’t burden you with the details.

I just had to get it off my chest.

Eventually, I got to Martin Soan’s home in Nunhead/Peckham Rye by bus and tube and bus.

He has a nearby totem pole.

No surprise there.

 

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Chaos on Thameslink rail line continues

Cattle never had it this bad, courtesy of Thameslink

A typical late-night carriage, courtesy of Govia’s Thameslink

I have blogged about the daily chaos on the Thameslink rail line through London before.

I have not mentioned it for a while because the cancellations, overcrowding, chaos and delays simply continue daily

Tonight was no different.

Only two platforms were open at Hendon station: one going north; one going south.

I had a 26 minute wait for the 2301 northbound train. At 2300, it disappeared from the indicator board to be replaced by a 2334 train.

At 2305, I suddenly realised the train which had just arrived on the southbound platform had arrived heading north and I legged-it up the steps, across the bridge, down the steps and (with luck) got onto the train literally 4 seconds before the doors closed.

Of course, this being Thameslink, there had been no visual sign or audio announcement of the platform change, just the visual display changing the next train’s time to 2334.

This has been going on for around a year and started about one month after Govia took over the contract to run the line from a previously perfectly-OK company.

It makes me long to live in North Korea.

You can get people shot there.

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Govia Thameslink – ISIS duck-billed platypus of UK rail franchise holders

A few of the experienced travellers on the bridge

A few of the more experienced travellers waited on the bridge

I blogged about Govia Thameslink – London’s comedy railway company – a fortnight ago and a week ago. I fear this may turn into a new running thread.

Thameslink is to efficiency and customer service what ISIS is to easy-going agnosticism and strawberries are to wildebeests.

Others waited on the platform but close to the stairs

Some waited on the platform but made sure they were close to the escape stairs

Govia Thameslink have now honed their management style to perfection – if you consider style and perfection to look like a duck-billed platypus wearing a kilt. And I have realised there is mileage in taking notes by sending Tweets.

Tonight I got on the very efficient TfL-run Overground to West Hampstead and then switched over to the Thameslink station. The indicator said the 2255 train would leave from Platform 2 although it almost always switches to Platform 4 with no warning about 10-20 seconds before its due time.

A collection of more experienced passengers (aka past victims) waited on both of the bridges between platforms 2 and 4 to hedge their bets. More passengers huddled at the foot of the stairs on Platform 2, ready to run. Foolish people actually stood on Platform 2.

Some waited on and at the foot of the stairs

Some just awaited their fate on and at the foot of the stairs

A perhaps even more foolhardy Japanese man asked that rarest of all beasts – a visible Thameslink employee – which platform the next train to Elstree would come in on.

“Platform 2,” the equally foolhardy employee said with calm authority, pointing at the indicator board.

30 seconds later, as the train appeared, the Thameslink employee yelled in panic: “It’s coming in on 4! It’s coming in on 4!”

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead platform changed 15 secs before train arrived. No warnings on signs or tannoys. Daily chaos.

I managed to squeeze into one of the overcrowded carriages because I was the first person onto the platform. Others were not so lucky.

But, as I say, Thameslink have refined their comedy act.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – W Hampstead train fails to stop at next 5 scheduled stations and ends up at St Albans. Daily chaos.

People piled out of the train at St Albans, many trekking over to another platform to return from whence they had passed through but had not stopped.

TWEET: Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One of around 30 passengers trying to return from St Albans says: “We can only pray”. Daily chaos.

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – One passenger says: “They couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Second passenger says: “They wouldn’t find the brewery”. Daily chaos…

TWEET:  Thameslink chaos @TLRailUK – Southbound service from St Albans stops as scheduled at Elstree. Some mistake, surely? Daily chaos…

The train from St Albans to Elstree ran on time.  I receive a Tweet from Trainslate @TLRailGB which said:

How is anyone supposed to know where they stand with trains turning up on time?!

I look up the Twitter account for Thameslink. It says: Currently we are running a good service.

I look up the Trainslate account on Twitter. It says:

Thameslink – a not-fit-for-purpose ‘service’ from Govia. Treating customers with contempt whilst lining shareholder pockets (Go-Ahead/Keolis) #BrokenFranchise

At last. Sanity!

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