Saturday, 16 September 2017

My Great British Railway Nightmare

Training my waking
On Friday morning, I got up to the sound of the alarm clock on my mobile phone, I had a train to catch as I had done thrice already this weekend. It was 5:00 AM.
I love trains, and whilst train travel can be both expensive and uncomfortable compared to similar train services on the western part of mainland Europe, there is still a fascination with journeys through the English countryside.
Vicariously, I have journeyed with Michael Portillo who as presenter of the BBC’s Great British Railway Journeys using Bradshaw's Guide, has given us a sense of the beauty, colour and history of Victorian United Kingdom, but there is a world of difference between leisurely travel at a time of your choosing and that which you are compelled to do as a commuter to work.
Where is my coach?
From Tuesday, I found myself making a daily journey from Liverpool Street Station to Norwich, a course of travel I grew accustomed to in the 1990s when I died in Ipswich for 2 years. I cannot after 20 years say I lived in Ipswich, it is such a strange place with even stranger people, but I digress.
Then, the railway franchise was run by an ancestor party of Greater Anglia Railways and they still do today. I booked advanced tickets for all my journeys meaning I had seat reservations whilst limited to boarding specific trains.
On my way out on Tuesday, with my ticket in hand, I sought the coach I had booked a seat on in vain. It transpired that the train had been shortened because the coach had developed a technical fault, so I was advised and consequently helped to an unreserved seat. Electric sockets to charge mobile phones or power laptops and tablets, even free wireless internet connectivity in all classes of travel if it works. How civilisation has conquered rail travel.
Where is the crew?
My return journey from Norwich was without event, I got back extremely exhausted. Before the sun rose, I was out again for my second day at work. My train scheduled for 6:25 AM appeared on the noticeboard for a departure from Platform 9 and I made my way to board the train.
Halfway along the platform, an illuminated sign for the platform indicated the train had been cancelled. Between leaving the main concourse and walking 200 yards down the platform they realised they did not have enough crew for a train journey of 110 minutes just 10 minutes before departure. Go figure!
Twenty years on Greater Anglia Railways was the lesser at impressing me with their service just as they failed to way back then. We boarded the next scheduled train that arrived in Norwich 20 minutes behind schedule with an excuse I cannot be bothered to remember. On my return, I boarded a later train and thankfully the train conductor did not notice my error, else I would have incurred a penalty fare, I not realising I had booked an earlier scheduled train.
When would we get home?
My travel on Thursday was without event with trains running on time, I would not term expected service praiseworthy but by the foregoing experience, it was noteworthy. Now, Friday, I left for work at 5:35 AM and I am still nowhere near home at 11:51 PM. We arrived 2 minutes ahead of schedule with the conductor announcing that unique achievement.
I boarded the 18:30 from Norwich and between Stowmarket and Ipswich the train ground to a halt, then the conductor announced on the Tannoy that there was a fire on the railway and that no trains could traverse either way. Another 15 minutes later we were told the train would only stop in Ipswich and then travel nonstop to Liverpool Street Station. Fat chance.
After another indeterminate time of silence, we learnt the fire brigade had discovered gas canisters at the site of the fire, it could well be that we had just, fortunately, avoided being victims of a terrorist attack. We live in precarious times.
The train eventually returned to Norwich where we plotted a different course back to London with a change of trains at Cambridge. I left home yesterday and I am yet to get back home. In 4 days of travel between London and Norwich, it has been a Great British Railway Nightmare that should never continue like this into next week. Just imagine. I rang the bell at just past 1:00 AM.


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