These days I am spared the daily commute into London. The occasional trips I now make serve to remind me that life is better without the 7.10 am from Swindon, even when things run smoothly.
Last week I only had to make the one trip. An 11.00 am meeting followed by lunch meant I could avoid the rush and get the first off peak train. On my way to the station I heard on the car radio that there were problems but at the station I was assured that the 8.59 and 9.11 would be on time and the issues were resolved – they were just clearing up the backlog of trains. So I cheerfully bought a ticket and presently got on the train which did indeed leave on time.
When we did slowly come to a halt I accepted that this was to be expected and there was little point in raging or stressing. I had half an hour cushion in any case.
Eventually the train Supervisor made an announcement.
On behalf of First Great Western I apologise for the slow running of this service. This is due to congestion caused by an earlier closure of the line because of a fatality. The line is now open but due to the backlog of trains we can expect a delay. I’ll keep you updated.
It’s worth pausing to reflect on the cause of the problems – a suicide in Slough. Not that long ago I might have moaned at how selfish it was to hurl yourself in front of a speeding express train during rush hour. Now I am genuinely saddened that someone was driven to the point where suicide felt like their best option, to a point where they truly believed that their friends and family would be better off without them. If you have ever stood close to a passing train you will realise that throwing yourself in front of it must take a huge effort of will, it isn’t a cry for help it’s a desire for oblivion. I spare a thought too for the driver, powerless yet left with truly horrific memories and often feelings of guilt.
We did move forward very slowly. My 30 minute cushion had been eroded but my client was understanding and we exchanged emails joking about my OCD tendencies when it comes to timeliness. Then we picked up speed and moved on, to palpable relief in the carriage.
Then we stopped again. The next announcement came
…All lines are now open, there is congestion due to a backlog of trains. All platforms at Paddington are full but as trains are coming out of the station they are freeing up platforms…
Surely that must mean we’d soon be moving on? Once again there was a flurry of texting, but I sensed a general feeling of acceptance. The issue was not one created by First Great Western and certainly not by the train crew who were busy helping passengers who had onward connections to make.
However we stayed where we were for a long, long time.
Around an hour after the scheduled arrival time I was reflecting on the stoic way that the passengers were waiting. I couldn’t hear any angry complaints, most phone calls I overheard made light of it and that traditional British characteristic of smiling in adversity was coming to the fore. Strangers were even talking, breaking the cardinal rule of public transport in and around London – under no circumstances must eye contact be made with fellow passengers.
A further announcement came
Once again I apologise for the delay to this service due to an earlier fatality. There is congestion getting into Paddington station. All the platforms are full and we are fourth in the queue. Unfortunately a fire alarm has now been triggered and the station has been evacuated. Therefore there can be no movement until that is resolved…
I was, I admit, getting a bit stressy. Being over an hour late for an hour and a half meeting was bad form. Worse still my client confessed that he had nearly asked to switch the venue but left it in the City as it was easier for me. However I was deliberately trying to see the positives in the situation and not allow this to ruin my day. It was important that when I did get to my client I was on good form. Likewise the rest of the carriage seemed to be bearing up and the good old ‘blitz spirit’ was coming out in force.
Then the next announcement came.
We apologise for the continuing delay to this service. I am pleased to say that the station has now re-opened.
Unfortunately due to the combination of issues many trains and crews have been displaced and are not where they should be. Crews are only allowed to work for a given period before taking a break. Many crews have reached that limit and so there is now a shortage of crews to move trains out of the station. Therefore we are now waiting for fresh crews to come, or the break period to be over before trains can be moved and free up platforms.
For most people on the train that seemed to be the straw that broke them. No longer was it ‘one of those things’ it was now ‘a bloody shambles’. Train crew became ‘jobs worth’s’ in that instant.
I started to smile because it occurred to me I had found the silver lining. Here was a clear demonstration that in being open and honest in his communication the train Supervisor had initially won the support of most passengers – but the last disclosure was a step too far. It seems that generally being open pays off and sometimes discretion really is advisable.
The trick seems to be knowing when to fully disclose and when to be more circumspect.
PS I was very late for my meeting but my client worked round it and we still managed a pleasant lunch.
PPS I tried to get to Town today and left very early to avoid a repeat. Arriving at the station there were obvious problems. There was a train at the platform and another outside the station. The board simply said delays and suggested that slightly later trains were on time. I later discovered that due to a broken down freight train all services were in fact suspended. After 30 minutes of waiting staff did finally advise us that there was little prospect of movement for at least another hour, then there might be slow running ‘due to congestion’. Being a quick learner I took a refund on my ticket and am sat writing this in my sunny garden, another silver lining.