Train Tales

As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, First Great Western did not exactly cover themselves in glory yesterday. For me things all turned out right in the end, but I was lucky. Other invitees to the Gollancz party did not fare so well.

I was a nervous about the journey anyway as FGW have been having a bad week, which I think started with over-running engineering works between Bristol and Cardiff. I know the line had a planned closure on Sunday, and there were angry tweets from Bristol folks on Monday morning.

The first problem, however, was nothing to do with that. The train I was planning to catch from Trowbridge was reported running half an hour late before I had even left home. Fortunately there is a regular service, and I ended up on one of the South West Trains services. SWT run about 4 trains a day from Waterloo to Bristol. Their rolling stock is much more modern and comfortable than FGW’s, and they seem very reliable, but the frequency leaves a lot to be desired.

As is depressingly usual these days, the Trowbridge ticket office was closed. I have come to the conclusion that “staff shortages” is an FGW euphemism for “we can’t be bothered to employ enough staff”. When I first moved here we had an electronic ticket machine, but that has been removed, apparently due to vandalism. So I had to buy a ticket when I got to Bath, which meant a long queue for the one guy they had selling them, hidden away by the back entrance where you wouldn’t expect him to be because no one goes out that way.

Anyway, I got to London in good time. We were 12 minutes late, including being held at Reading to allow another service to overtake us, but I had allowed plenty of time. I was, however, very worried about being on the last train home. Little did I know that by planning to get to London a little early I had dodged a bullet.

One of the people I wanted to talk to at the party was Dave Bradley of SFX. I have a short article to deliver to them today (after I’ve done these blog posts, Dave, OK?). He and Joe Abercrombie were on a later train. They didn’t manage to get as far as Chippenham, despite spending over 3 hours sat on the train. Dave’s tweets reported faults with both the front and rear power cars, and eventually the train limped back into Bath and everyone went home.

I left the party in good time to get back to Paddington and grab a bite to eat, but when I arrived it was clear that things were not well. I had just missed the last-but-one train, which departed 14 minutes late. The rolling stock to form my train had not arrived, and indeed did not arrive until just before our scheduled departure time. We left about 15 minutes late, and I had a 15-minute connection to make at Bath. It did not look good.

From there, things got worse. The problems on the system were supposedly due to signaling problems between Swansea and Bristol, but we limped into Reading further behind schedule than when we had left Paddington, and spent a long time sat outside Didcot, apparently due to other signaling problems. I have come to believe that “signaling problems” is an FGW euphemism for “once we get one or two trains off schedule our computers can’t cope and the whole system collapses.”

By the time we got to Bath my connection was long gone. The conductor on the train had promised that road transport would be made available to get me home. I just had to find the station staff at Bath and ask. That proved to be easier said than done.

To some extent I have sympathy. Our train was due to stop at Weston-Super-Mare, but there was an announcement that passengers for that station would have to change to road transport at Bristol. The station had apparently been closed down due to an “incident with a member of staff”. I have an awful feeling that an angry passenger had taken his frustration out on the local staff and the police had got involved.

Anyway, one of the other passengers stranded at Bath with me managed to find some station staff, and they duly ordered us a free cab as promised. I got home maybe 20 minutes later than I expected, which was actually very good.

Earlier in the evening my taxi driver had picked up someone off the same train that Dave and Joe were on. She’d had tickets for a show in Oxford, and was not at all happy.

This morning, I suspect, Joe is having a quiet word with Monza Murcatto and suggesting that she pay a visit to FGW’s HQ. Before you do that, Joe, please note that they did get me home eventually, albeit with a certain amount of confusion and worry along the way.

5 thoughts on “Train Tales

  1. Did you also get a refund of 150% of your ticket? Or maybe that only applies to those you-can-only-use-this-specific-train tickets, not general off-peak super savers.

    Normally my FGW experience is fine, but then I only go to London maybe 2-3 times a year. But once, coming back from Paddington lateish to Highbridge & Burnham station via Taunton, there were signalling and crewing problems and my train was over an hour late.

    I had been told by the infodesk at Paddington there would still be a connection at Taunton, but the conductor on the train, without me asking, said, there are no more connections, but no worries, it’s our fault, we’ll give you a cab for free to Highbridge & Burnham, and here’s a form to apply for your refund.

    In the end I shared a cab with some other people, and after dropping them off near Bridgwater (Spaxton, in fact) the cabbie took me all the way to my door in Wedmore, 8 miles further on from my station. I got home 1hr10mins after I should have done had there been no problems, but more than 60 mins of that was the original delay. Plus I got the 150% discount on the ticket, and no-one had to come and pick me up from Highbridge & B.

    1. As far as I can see, refunds only apply if you are more than an hour late. Dave and Joe should get compensation, but I won’t. And of course one of the reasons they paid for a cab to take me and my fellow passengers home is that it would be cheaper for them than paying compensation.

  2. Signalling problems are nothing else except signalling problems. You are right that there is a lack of robustness in dealing with trains being out of place due to signalling problems, but that is not computers, rather a lack of spare trains.

    When things get ropey, the computers usually take a back seat as contingency and human problem solving actually takes place, and can effect a better solution, BUT if you don’t have a hot spare (train ready at short notice to replace) then your options get limited.

    There has been a real week/ten days of not good stuff happening on the GWML, fatality, track circuit failures as well and breakdowns.

    1. Understood. It just seemed very strange to me that a breakdown outside Bath would cause signalling problems between Swansea and Bristol, which would in turn cause signalling problems between Paddington and Didcot. Of course it could all be coincidence, but it sounded like some sort of knock-on effect from trains being out of place to me.

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