Log in

No account? Create an account
The Titfield Thunderbolt Hue and Cry Whisky Galore The Man in The White Suit Previous Previous Next Next
Murder on the Occident Express - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
Murder on the Occident Express
Sometime towards the end of last year, the Thames Trains franchise was reassigned to First Great Western.

Now as far as I can remember, there was nothing particularly offensive about Thames Trains. They weren't any worse than any other operator. So what's changed? First Great Western Link (which runs services from Paddington through Reading towards Oxford) have introduced new rolling stock. Whoopee. Unfortunately it's new rolling stock that has fewer standard class seats. They are either (a) running fewer services or (b) running services without enough coaches. I have been to London twice since the new year, and on both occasions there have been as many passengers standing as sitting. I'm pretty pissed off with this. It's only half an hour from Reading to Paddington, but it puts you in the wrong frame of mind. And I'm travelling at a weekend, which according to all the train operators is when far fewer people travel on the trains, so I pity the daily commuters who have to put up with this service.

The mood of the passengers was really ugly, and it was close to a riot even without any train staff there. Had an inspector arrived they would have been lynched. I recall an interview on the Today programme with a director of the train operating companies association, who said, George Parr fashion, that the primary duty of the train operators wasn't to run services, it was to provide value to their shareholders. How they can do one without doing the other has become abundantly clear. There is no choice of service, even on a line where there used to be multiple operators running. There is no decent bus service from Reading to London. If you want to make that trip, a First Great Western train is the only choice apart from using the car (ha ha).

I am going to write and complain. I'm sure they'd much rather I phoned or e-mailed them, but frankly I'd rather they provided me with a seat when I pay for their transport service. I don't really see what I can achieve; in the old BR days it was fairly easy to gain travel vouchers by complaining, but the private sector bean-counters tend to fight these things more. At least I can be confident it will cost them as much in administration as I have paid for my journey. Please comment if you have any particularly special phrases you think could be used.

Current Mood: pissed off pissed off

10 comments or Leave a comment
uitlander From: uitlander Date: February 19th, 2005 09:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
You could have gone via Basingstoke and experienced south west trains instead.

Welcome to my world.
pm215 From: pm215 Date: February 20th, 2005 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)

(Why are you using a Thames service rather than an FGW one from Reading to Paddington anyway?)

One of the major limits on service provision is what the SRA is willing to fork out in subsidies, of course... And then the improvements may be in other bits of the service area; a quick browse of uk.railway suggests that FGW were offering improvements on sections like Reading-Oxford, frex.

Dunno why I'm defending them, though (except that my experience of FGW has always been pretty good).

The CoC specify when compensation must be paid (for delays over one hour, 20% refund, with the nice gotcha that you need to present your ticket, which is tricky if it was swallowed by an automatic exit barrier); if you qualify there you can just stand on your rights. Otherwise it's a matter of not being too offensive and they'll probably throw you some vouchers to keep you quiet :-)

New rolling stock being smaller seems to be a modern failing, though (cf Virgin replacing class 47 + carriages with Voyagers).

uitlander From: uitlander Date: February 20th, 2005 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I doubt he'll get much joy out of FGW for any vouchers. They also run the (regularly cancelled) shuttle between Reading and Basingstoke I have to use each day. I have taken to politely complaining and asking for compensation each time they cancel the shuttle. The cancellations mean that the next one always arrives just under an hour later, so they have no obligtation to provide any. The standard response is a letter from customer services informing you of their obligations under the passenger charter, telling me I don't qualify and then thanking me for 'choosing' FGW (as if I had a choice).

The train companies seem to be 'optimising' their services a bit too much. Going home early last week I ended up on the only service to Basingstoke for an hour, which had 3 carriages (one of which was an empty first class one). Second class was packed to the gunnels, and they could comfortably have doubled the carriages and still not had spare seating. In between screaming kids pushing up and down the crowded carriages and a toddler throwing a temper tantrum next to me (and attendant over-stressed parent failing to calm it down) we were treated to cheery messages from the driver apologising for the over crowding.

I always attempted to avoid the Thames Trains shuttles, and catch the long distance trains from the west to get into London - I've always found them less crowded. Might be worth keeping an eye out for those in future?
qatsi From: qatsi Date: February 20th, 2005 11:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Why are you using a Thames service rather than an FGW one from Reading to Paddington anyway?

Well, typically I wouldn't care about the operator - the first train that comes, provided it's not stopping everywhere en route, will do just fine. Probably half the Thames services only stop at Slough, which makes it quicker than waiting another 10-15 minutes for a non-stop train. You're right about the "main" FGW services, though - it's just this newly awarded franchise that seems to have the problem - and as a side-effect it removes the choice of operator (unless you want to take the really slow train to Waterloo, operated by the evil Brian Souter's South West Trains, instead).

Thanks for the CoC link (as you probably gathered, I was in the mood for ranting rather than researching). The train was delayed, maybe 50 minutes instead of 30, but that was due to various stretches of track maintenance work. My complaint isn't about punctuality in this case anyway, but it gives me a pointer.

I've only travelled once on a Voyager; maybe I was lucky, but it seemed fine. On that occasion there were two of them strung together to provide the capacity, though. I'd prefer to make the journey from Reading to the Lake District by train, but as there seem to be several years of closures ahead on the West Coast line, the M6 continues to be the more attractive option (which is saying something).
pm215 From: pm215 Date: February 20th, 2005 11:58 am (UTC) (Link)
A proper FGW service (HST or the new one they're phasing in) has always been a better (more comfortable, faster) option than a Thames service. NB that even if you do wait a bit longer they do go faster so the difference in arrival time is less. I think I'd probably hang around for an HST rather than take an obviously overcrowded TT...

Voyagers are fine; they're just smaller than what they replace (even as two strung together). They're also more frequent, though.

Most of my train travel is firmly off peak, though, so overcrowding is rarely an issue unless things have gone pearshaped, in which case you just grab the first train to come along and grit your teeth. (Although Anglia Railways on a Friday night out of London can be annoyingly busy sometimes.)
qatsi From: qatsi Date: February 20th, 2005 02:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd have to disagree with you there - some Thames services were non-stop and the ones that only stopped at Slough still generally led to an earlier arrival time than waiting for the next HST.

Plus, these days, I am inclined more to the Uncertainty principle: a train that you can observe, even if it might be slower, versus one that is promised to arrive sometime in the future.
pm215 From: pm215 Date: February 20th, 2005 12:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
typically I wouldn't care about the operator

It's not the operator so much as the service -- those franchises like FGW which are really former intercity routes are inevitably going to be better than the ones which are shorter distance commuterish affairs like TT (and since rolling stock, maintenance etc are shared this applies even to longer routes on a commuter TOC, I think).

uitlander From: uitlander Date: February 20th, 2005 11:13 am (UTC) (Link)

New rolling stock

I've noticed a few bad things about the new rolling stock thats currently being phased in on the Waterloo line. Upgrading the carriages is a good thing in general, but I'm not too chuffed with a some of the features of the new carriages.

The first is that the new carriages efficiently block any DAB radio signal, so I'm not getting much in the way of a Radio 4 fix each morning. Secondly they seem to have noticably fewer seats than the old slam-door carriages they're replacing, so inevitably the over-crowding gets worse. The seating width also seems to have been reduced (and people are getting bigger). I can just fit within the boundaries of my seat, but its a rare occassion I get someone thin enough next to me that we're not in almost intimate contact throughout the journey. Again this wasn't really such an issue on the old carriages.
pm215 From: pm215 Date: February 20th, 2005 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: New rolling stock

new carriages efficiently block any DAB radio signal

<optimist>don't suppose that's a side effect of their efficiently blocking mobile phone signal...?</optimist>

uitlander From: uitlander Date: February 20th, 2005 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: New rolling stock

Don't get your hopes up;-)

I try and sit in the 'mobile free zones' and there's always at least one bright spark that thinks that by starting a conversation with "I'm in a 'silent' carriage" makes it OK to yatter on at length about all aspects of their private life.
10 comments or Leave a comment