Plagued by the Trains

I commute regularly, and that might well strike fear into the hearts and minds of anyone else who shares that experience. I all too often see the dreaded word “delayed” or – even worse – the horrendous word “cancelled”.

Reggie Perrin, a brilliant comedy series back in the 1970s, satirised the awfulness of the rail network – and not a huge amount seems to have changed. The excuses given for Reggie’s late trains occasionally sound familiar to me;

  • “Eleven minutes late, staff difficulties at Hampton Wick.”
  • “Eleven minutes late, seasonal manpower shortages, Clapham Junction.”
  • “Eleven minutes late, somebody had stolen the lines at Surbiton.”
  • “Seventeen minutes late, defective bogey at Earlsfield.”
  • “Seventeen minutes late, water seeping through the cables at Effingham Junction – there was a lot of Effingham and a good deal of Blindingham!”
  • “Twenty-two minutes late, black ice at Norbiton.”
  • “Twenty-two minutes late, obstacles on the line at Berrylands.”
  • “Twenty-two minutes late, badger ate a junction box at New Malden.”
  • “Twenty-two minutes late, fed up by train delays, came by bike. Slow puncture at Peckham.”
  • “Twenty-two minutes late, escaped puma, Chessington North.”

An even more ridiculous reason halted services recently; a man with no shirt was using the tracks for some sort of audition. The trespassing incident at Norwood Junction station saw the man repeatedly refuse to get back on to the platform during the evening rush hour before police arrived with Tasers. All attempts to persuade the man, who said he wanted to be on YouTube, to leave the track reportedly failed. He was later seen running off towards East Croydon. Lines were eventually reopened at around 7.30pm, the Mirror reported, but with police unable to locate the trespasser, the trains ran slower as a “precaution”.

Earlier in the day, travellers faced delays after a swan ventured onto the tracks at Staines. According to the Evening Standard, South West Trains passengers were told the disruption on the Waterloo to Reading route occurred because the bird was “refusing to move”.

I despair. But I must share with you some more examples of awful excuses that just make me want to sob into my hot chocolate;

1. Announcing the cancellation of the 8.16 to Bedford. “This is due to slippery rain.”

2. On the train from St Pancras to Derby. “We apologise for the late running of this service. This was due to excessive heat on the tracks between Bedford and Luton.” (It was the first sunny day of the year.)

3. Announcement at Bournemouth station: “The train now arriving on platform one is on fire. Passengers are advised not to board this train.”

4. On a packed train, with many standing for the full journey from Newcastle to London, the conductor apologised that the overcrowding was caused by “too many passengers”.

5. Heard at a London Underground station: “We apologise for the delay to customers on platform one. This is due to a delay in the actual service.” Well, at least they’re honest.

I experienced a classic in the genre of excuses recently; the trains were cancelled because of a tree being blown onto the tracks. Fair enough in itself – no train can yet drive over a tree – but for it to take three hours to be chopped into small enough pieces (when rush-hour commuters are heading to work) is rather excessive. I was talking to one incredibly friendly station attendant (seriously, they need to clone him and use his personality for all station staff), who told me of one incident when another tree had collapsed onto the track, and a member of staff was dispatched with a handsaw.

My usual evening train was recently cancelled because of someone on the train requiring the services of the police to intervene. But once he was removed, the train was then cancelled. This boggles my mind; does it yours? There was nothing wrong with the service any more. It was perfectly safe, and yet South Eastern cancelled the service. Perhaps I’m missing something. But I can’t see what.

Stupidity often reigns supreme these days, and I was reminded of that when talking to the guard on the train I finally caught that day. He told me he was a last-minute replacement for the intended guard and that, if he hadn’t gone on the train, it would have also been cancelled. I was tempted to offer my services, but I don’t think I’m precisely what they’re looking for, do you?

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