Sunday, 21 February 2010

At least co-ordinate your lies

It’s the usual story, a small amount of snow falls in the UK and the transport infrastructure grinds to a halt.

I got up early today because I wanted to have the maximum time in Stratford-upon-Avon. As the first train to Birmingham wasn’t until 08:37 it wasn’t that early, but 07:30 on a Sunday is still unpleasant.

When I woke up I looked out of the window and noticed that there was a small amount of the white stuff on the ground, so I had an idea that there might be disruption.

I got to Coventry station and the train was still showing as being on time.

It was still showing as being on time at 08:39. Then it started to update itself, first to 08:42, then at 08:43 to 08:47, at 08:49 it disappeared from the display at which point someone finally decided it might be useful to make an announcement.

The train was still running, but it would now be leaving from another platform in four minutes time, so we all troop over the bridge to platform 2.

Four minutes later, still no train. Finally just a couple of minutes before 9 as the train pulled into the station there was an announcement apologising for the delay caused by frozen points just outside the station.

OK, we had a reason, we had a train, I wouldn’t have thought much about it, until a minute or so later as the train pulled out the guard apologies for the delay caused by the train that was supposed to be forming this service having broken down and having to get a replacement.

So London Midland, what was it, frozen points or a broken train. If you are going to lie to your customers at least get everyone telling the same lie.

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Saturday, 20 February 2010

Sort it out Boris!

I suppose it is partly my fault for assuming that the tube would be running OK, that on a day when several London football clubs were playing at home TfL wouldn’t have most of the tube closed for engineering works.

Unfortunately, TfL did have engineering works, lots of engineering works, in fact the Victoria line was about the only line which didn’t have line closures and consequently was very busy.

This in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, except that when it gets busy the train bunch up and the have big gaps between them. The big gaps mean lots more people waiting on the platform and that then means the next train is even fuller, more people get left behind and the platforms slowly get so full it’s dangerous.

That’s pretty much exactly what had happened a minute or so before I arrived at Victoria tube station (with 50 minutes to spare to make the 10 minute journey), and when I got to the ticket barriers they had all been locked off.

They kept announcing that we would be let in very shortly as soon as the next train cleared the platform.

Unfortunately, for a line where there are supposed to be trains every 3 minutes or so, there appeared to be several missing, as the next train took over 10 minutes to arrive, and strangely, was absolutely bursting at the seams so not very many people were able to get on and they had to wait another 5 minutes for the next train to arrive to empty most of the platform.

By the time they finally released the gates my comfortable 50 minutes had shrunk to a less comfortable 25 minutes.

The next train was due in 2 minutes and then 12 minutes. I knew full well that if I didn’t get on the first tube I would almost certainly miss my train at Euston.

So I called upon all my years of being a Londoner put my head down, elbows out and piled into the scrum around the door, managing, just to squeeze both myself and my luggage into the train, displacing a couple of people heading to Highbury for the Arsenal match, though having to bend into an awkward shape to avoid being trapped in the doors as they closed.

As the train was so full it, of course, took longer at each station to empty and load so by the time I surfaced onto the concourse at Euston I was down to just 10 minutes to my train (and very thankful that I had made it onto the first train I could)

Now I’m willing to accept that it’s partly my fault for not checking in advance and taking the inevitable disruption into account when I decided what time to set off, but at the same time it is slowly getting impossible to travel round London at the weekend as more and more bits get closed down.

Perhaps it’s time that the blond haired buffoon actually did something rather than just doing Hugh Grant impressions!

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Monday, 21 December 2009

The British Disease continues

Today, wandering back to the hotel through the station, I noticed that again the trains were all running with massive delays (actually what I first noticed was the massive long queue to the information kiosk which alerted me to the fact that something might have been up).

I really wasn’t expecting there still to be problems, I would have thought that they could have got it sorted out, but obviously no.

The idea of Privatising the railways in the UK was to make them more responsive and more like the German railways, Deutscher Bahn now even own a couple of the companies that run trains in the UK. Sadly, it looks as though the process is working in the wrong way, and the UK’s inability to cope is now spreading through Deutscher Bahn and back into Germany itself.

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Sunday, 20 December 2009

The British disease is spreading

It’s heartening to know that it’s not just the Brits who can be crippled by some wintry weather in, well winter.

Normally I would have thought that snow is so common in Germany that they would have the infrastructure in place to be able to deal with even relatively heavy snowfall.

So it was somewhat surprising to see that Dusseldorf Airport had been closed for the whole of the day, and when I got to Nuremberg, that most of the trains were running with delays in excess of 30 minutes, in some cases up to two hours late (yes, that’s right, a German train running spectacularly late!)

Of course, the UK grinds to a halt when there is 2.4mm of snow, it was almost 24cm of snow that had fallen on Dusseldorf.

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Glad I chose Southern Germany

For the last two years I have been going to Belgium for my pre-Christmas trip. I had originally been planning to go again this year, but back in February I got an email from Air Berlin with a spectacular offer on flights to Nuremberg just before Christmas, so I changed my plans and decided to go there instead.

And now, as I sit in the departures lounge at Stansted Airport I am feeling very fortunate that I did make that decision

If I had gone to Belgium I wouldn’t have been on one of the trains that got stuck for 16 hours, but I would have been caught up in the ensuing chaos, if not on my journey out, on my return.

And if that didn’t vindicate Nuremberg as a destination the fact that all the airlines are merrily cancelling flights to Dusseldorf and Cologne because the runways are closed (and there were people in the queue as I checked in trying to get there to get trains back into Belgium!).

My flight, on the other hand, is currently running 7 minutes late on its arrival into Stansted, so I’m hopeful of a, as close as possible, on time departure. Of course, this could be massive hubris and I am about to spend the night camping in Essex rather then in Bavaria!

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Friday, 25 September 2009

If it all appears to be going to well

A massive queue at checkin, but through in 10 minutes.
Another big queue for security, but again through quite quickly.
Before you’ve even had time to grab more than the bare essentials your flight is showing a gate number.
You walk to your gate, the closest gate there is to the departures lounge.
The plane is already on stand and has off-loaded all the inbound passengers.
A couple of minutes later you are all boarding, nearly 30 minutes before you are due to leave.

It’s at this point that it all starts to go wrong.

Sadly, four people hadn’t been paying attention to the screens, and as the time ticked down to our scheduled push back moment they were still nowhere to be seen.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if they just had hand luggage, shut the door and send the plane on its way.

It is a problem when they have two bags in the hold that have to be located and off-loaded as well.

It had all been going so smoothly, it’s just a shame we were over 20 minutes late leaving!

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Friday, 14 August 2009

It never normally happens

It should have been a relatively straight forward journey home from Kings Cross, especially as National Express East Coast had gotten me in 5 minutes early.

A quick scamper to St Pancras, pick up the train to London Bridge and then I’d have nearly 10 minutes to make my train home.

And everything was going fine until Farringdon (the first stop after St Pancras, so it didn’t get that far!)

A bag of rubbish had fallen onto the tracks and the driver had to check the train to make sure their was no damage before setting off. No problem with this, but it did mean that I would miss the connection at London Bridge.

Still no problem as I could move onto plan B, which was to get off and get the stopping train behind to Tulse Hill where the First Capital Connect train always leaves before my Southern train from London Bridge.

I leapt off at Blackfriars, and sure enough a minute later, running just two minutes late, was the stopping train.

Everything went well to Herne Hill (three stops down the line, so still not great), where the train decided, for no real reason to stop for a couple of minutes.

But still no problem, we would arrive at the next stop, Tulse Hill, where the two lines met at the same time as the Southern train, and we would then pull out in front of it and I could get off at Streatham and pick it up.

Every time I have caught the train from London Bridge it has always ended up waiting at Tulse Hill for the delayed First Capital Connect service, it has never, ever, ever, ever, gone out before hand.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

Correct, as soon as the FCC train pulled into the platform at Tulse Hill, the Southern train pulled out. On time to the minute, not wanting to be delayed by the FCC train.

Why is it every time I’m on the Southern train it always ends up waiting for up to five minutes for the FCC train to come in late, leave and clear the signals, yet the one time this would have worked to my advantage I’m left standing on Streatham station with a 28 minute wait, or the bus.

To whichever signalman was on duty, thank you so much, perhaps you could always do that when I’m waiting on the Southern train?

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Monday, 10 August 2009

Jobs I wouldn’t want to do

I work in a situation where I have to deal with angry customers, and occasionally have to give them the answer they don’t want, so I know how angry people can get.

However, the poor station staff at Kings Cross this morning were getting far worse than I have ever experienced and they were trying to only give out good information.

Trains had been severely delayed due to “Overhead wire damage in the Doncaster area”, and by the time I arrived at Kings Cross at 10:30 arrivals due at 08:00 had still not arrived, in fact there were no trains in the station at all.

Over the course of the next 60 minutes a number of trains did arrive and eventually start departing.

It was quite obvious that what had happened was beyond the control of the staff at Kings Cross station, who along with trying to let passengers know what was happening, were also trying to keep an increasingly dangerously full station safe.

Some people though, were still hurling abuse at the poor station staff and accusing them of deliberately delaying their journey (despite the fact there were no trains for them to be travelling on.)

This included one particularly unpleasant person who had been queuing up near platform 2 for over an hour only for his train to then leave from platform 7 (despite all the announcements telling everyone to remain on the concourse as platforms would be subject to change), shouting at a member of staff that it was his personal fault that the train had arrived on a different platform.

I did wonder how he would have reacted if the member of staff had said it had done it on purpose just to spite him, though I think he would have been detailed with cleaning up the bloody remains of a self-exploding passenger.

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Sunday, 28 June 2009

First Great Western has a heart

I’m sitting typing this on the train as it wends its merry way between Taunton and Castle Cary.

Technically I shouldn’t be, as I’m not supposed to be on this train.

I should still be standing on Exeter station awaiting my (heavily) delayed service to London which was going to take over three hours and get me into London at just after Monday.

But the train from Penzance had been delayed by 15 minutes, and it arrived only a few minutes after I got off the train from Barnstaple.

With some trepidation, waiting for the negative response, I approached the train manager and asked, as my train was over 30 minutes late, wouldn’t be here for nearly another hour and wouldn’t now get me into London until nearly 1am, Could I jump on his train.

Without even batting an eyelid he, very kindly, agreed.

Not only does it get me out of Exeter earlier, my train was scheduled to run via Bristol, Bath and I think with the timings Inverness as well, the train I’m on was running direct.

Only one possible problem.

It’s next stop is Castle Cary. The nearest station to Glastonbury. The (very muddy, and swine flu infected) festival finished not that long ago. This could be interesting...

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Friday, 23 January 2009

The (other) hidden costs of Ryanair

Flying Ryanair you always expect there to be hidden extras.

A fiver here to checkin at the airport rather than on-line, £10 for a bag, £20 for a decent meal (£25 if you want Oxygen in the event of an emergency – not yet, but they are probably considering it!)

However, I’ve just been stung by yet another hidden Ryanair cost, caused by their happiness to change the schedule at will.

I’m due to be going to Granada in March, and originally my flight would have been at a 5pm, meaning I could go into work in the morning, leave at lunch to be up at the airport before 3.

However, last week Ryanair e-mailed to say they had made a “minor” amendment to the flight times. A half hour, or maybe an hour I thought, oh No, I forgot this is Ryanair, the company that thinks that 100Km from the airport to the city you think you are flying to is a “short distance.”

The change was more brutal than any I’ve encountered before. Rather than leaving at 5pm the flight now goes at 8am. Checkin is a 6, and for someone living in South London, and who doesn’t drive, that’s the 3am night bus into town and the first train of the morning.

So, not only do I have to take an extra day’s leave, I now have to consider do I get up at 3am and get the night bus, or do I stay in a hotel and get up later. In the end my brain overruled my wallet and I decided to take the hit and pay for a night in a hotel, except there are no cheap hotels anywhere near Stansted, that aren’t a 20 minute expensive cab ride away, so I’ve ended up with a compromise. A night in the Travelodge at Liverpool Street station with two hours extra sleep on coming from home, and the first train of the morning to the Airport.

Thanks Ryanair, I’ve just doubled the cost of my flight!

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Friday, 19 December 2008

Commuting for the fearless

45 minutes trundling through a tunnel, and then having to stand on a crowded train for half an hour. Sounds like the evening commute? Sadly it was my journey to Bruges. Following the recent fire in the Channel Tunnel the train crawled through at little more than tube train speed, and it after the speed of the journey from London to the tunnel entrance it comes as a bit of a shock at how slow the Belgium high speed line is.

Having arrived at Brussels a little late I still managed to make the connection, but only because the train to Bruges was five minutes late, and then when it arrived absolutely heaving.

I’m not certain if the Belgium’s are used to the Londoners idea of a full train, but some of the reactions from those already on the train as wave after wave of British tourists heading for Flanders poured into the carriage, merrily propping themselves up against the edge of seats, implied that this was all getting a bit too much.

Certainly, all those standing were speaking English and there were a couple of comments along the lines of “This is as bad as Southern/C2C/First/Insert favourite company as appropriate.”

Ghent is quite a large town, and I would suspect has a significant population that commutes into Brussels, though as to whether it matches the numbers who poured off the train at Ghent leaving enough space for everyone to sit down is another matter (I get the impression some had decided to get a quieter local train for the remainder of their journey).

Still, it makes a change. For the last five years my commute has always been against the flow heading out of London in the morning and back in the evening. I’d forgotten how miserable standing on a packed train for 30 minutes was!

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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

It wouldn’t be Italy without it

So far on my trip the public transport had behaved itself admirably, every boat on time, every route running correctly. It felt almost Swiss.

Then today, the transport system disintegrated. I’m not certain why, it’s a Tuesday, so its not as if it is the weekend, or the start of the working week. The weather, whilst not being as great as the previous few days, was still OK, the lagoon no choppier and the canals not noticeably higher or lower. There didn’t appear to be any more tourists that there had been yesterday, and yet everything stopped working.

The “next boat” boards which had previously been happily displaying the times of the next services were now all replaced with a message “Servizio Irregolare”, queues were building up at all the stops, and none of the boats appeared to be going to where they said they would.

It was so refreshingly like the Italy of my childhood, and the everyday occurrences of life in London!

Perhaps the transport authorities in the UK could learn from this. Rather than having information systems which keep displaying trains that either left or were cancelled two hours ago, or having everything flashing “Delayed”. Perhaps, in Italian style, when the service goes wrong, just bring out the Gelati, crack open the Chianti and put up “Servizio Irregolare” on the indicator boards.

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

If at first you don’t succeed, change the rules

Shock!, Horror!, my train from Poznan was on time. Despite having travelled all the way from Warsaw it actually pulled into the station a couple of minutes early.

Or at least it did according to the indicator boards on the platform. For this was not the delayed 10:20 service, no, no, this was the on-time 10:42 service.

Which promptly lost time and was a quarter of an hour late into Berlin.

So my final encounter with PKP was as delayed as my first. 10 out of 10 for effort, I won’t comment on achievement.

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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

That was fortuitous

When I was booking this trip I had looked at various options for getting from Berlin to Zurich. The train took far too long which only left airlines, of which there were only two which flew the route, Lufthansa and AirBerlin. Their prices were almost exactly the same and there was very little difference in timings.

I decided to go with AirBerlin, only because I hadn’t flown with them before.

Today I’m feeling horribly smug as a strike by Lufthansa staff has started to hit with flights on many routes (and by the pictures on EuroNews this included flights to Zurich) being cancelled.

Just to feel extra smug (and to ensure that something goes spectacularly wrong because of my hubris) I checked the current prices of seats on my flight. Now selling at €250, I paid €1

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Monday, 28 July 2008

Getting there

Well, PKP (Polish Railways) managed their best effort yet. The train for Warsaw to Poznan left on time (but then it did start at Warsaw so that wasn’t going to be so difficult!).

It did arrive into Poznan late, 20 minutes after its original due time. I wonder how much of that was down to the fact the train is a cooperation between PKP and Germany’s Deutscher Bahn.

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Friday, 25 July 2008

Aspirational, but wrong

Well, I finally arrived in Warsaw, a little bit late. Once again the Polish railways strike, and they had been doing so well. The train was to all intents and purposes on time when it arrived in Gdansk, pulling into the station just 10 minutes after it’s advertised departure time

Sadly, something (I think in Britain it would be referred to as “a-delay-on-a-preceding-train-in-the-Warsaw-area”) held the train up and we eventually pulled into Warsaw Centralny station just over 55 minutes late. I was the lucky one. I was the last to join my compartment at Gdansk, and the first to leave. As the train had started at 6am in the very North West of the country, and was continuing onto Krakow, I didn’t bear to think how late it would be by the time the final passengers got off.

To add to my fun, and in a repeat of Gdansk, albeit this time I didn’t get caught out, as I walked out of the station there was a massive clap of thunder and the heavens opened.

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Thursday, 24 July 2008

Be aspirational, even if you are wrong

It’s always good to be aspirational, aspire to what you want to achieve, not what you are currently able to achieve.

Perhaps not so good to be aspirational if you are the bloke in charge of timetabling for Polish Railways.

It could be that I’ve been using them at a bad time, or it could just be simple old misfortune, but every train that I have caught, waited for, or just seen advertised on an adjacent platform has been late mostly by over 5 minutes, sometimes more.

Yesterday my train from Hel did leave on time, but arrived in Gdynia 15 minutes late, for no apparent reason, it didn’t stop anywhere it shouldn’t have; it didn’t appear to go particularly slowly anywhere.

Today, my train to Malbork was over half an hour late, or it could have been 20 minutes late as the indicators on the platform showed a completely different time to the timetable!

I’m hoping it’s just a spot of bad luck, and that my journeys from Gdansk to Warsaw, Warsaw to Poznan and Poznan onto Berlin are all on time, but somewhere at the back of my mind I doubt it, the people waiting at Gdansk this morning had a very familiar expression… “The 8:15’s late, again, fourth time this week, what a way to run a railway, they do it better on the continent you know…”

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