Dear First Great Western, Network Rail and anyone else who I might decide to send this to,
I am writing to complain. Ah, those fair words. The words that result in no action being taken whatsoever.
I have been travelling between Exeter St Davids and London Paddington now for years. And years. You will probably know that from all the other complaints that I have made or by the vast amounts of money that I have spent using your “service”.
Travelling by train is my favourite method of crossing the country. You pay upfront, you rock up ten minutes before your train leaves, you board, you sit in a fairly comfy seat*, you relax and watch the countryside pass you by safe in the knowledge that all the suckers in cars are still sat in a traffic jam somewhere. The only fear of train travel is that you might accidentally sit next to someone reading the “wrong” middle class newspaper, or you might be too gushy towards Tarquin and Jemima who have spent the hols with Grampy. It is the only way to travel.
I understand the need to make a living – I understand business, inflation and all those other dreadfully droll reasons for increasing the prices of these train tickets. Really, I do. But I also understand the concept of value for money. Suddenly it seems acceptable for the poor train manager to announce in the tiredest voice that sigh “apologies for the delay to this service, this is due to the inevitable congestion in the Reading area”. I emailed FGW about this. I don’t deem that an acceptable excuse for a delay. As a one off, maybe. But week on week? Nope. I emailed – in a tone more tongue in cheek than this very tome – to suggest that perhaps a more positive spin on this would be to add an additional ten minutes to the timetabled journey time. This would allow for people to organise “onward travel” effectively without appearing to be late all the time. I was told that this was the fault of Network Rail.
Frankly, I don’t care who chooses to take ownership of that unloved blame character. I just want the service that I am paying for. I pay to travel on a particular train, at a particular time. I am very aware that if I am travelling on the wrong train, at the wrong time then I will be contravening the terms and conditions on which I purchased my ticket and therefore will have to purchase a new one at the full price. Did you know that the full price of a single ticket at 0751 on a weekday from Exeter St Davids to London Paddington costs £99.50?
Did you? I do. That was a harsh lesson. I missed my train. I was stuck on the wrong side of a level crossing and I missed it by 90 seconds. This is not the fault of anyone but myself. So I paid the price. Ironic that the next time I tried to catch the 0651 (the train that I had missed) it was ten minutes late. Did I deem it acceptable to charge FGW for contravening the terms of my train ticket? Nope. I did not. I merely took a deep breath and was late for work (again). In fact, I regularly catch the 0651 and it very rarely arrives into London Paddington at 0900 as advertised. Do you know why? Go on, you want to know why this train is ten minutes delayed nearly every time I can tell.
Congestion in the Reading area.
I honestly couldn’t care less. I would rather that I bought a ticket for the 0651 from Exeter St Davids that arrived into London Paddington at 0910 and feel proud that you offered me a great service. Hell, once in every four times that train would get in ten minutes early. How wonderful would that be? Positive PR? Good news story?
To summerise I would like to let you know the couple of things I am taking umbrage with here:
The congestion in the Reading area. I don’t happen to be in a car so I don’t expect to stuck at a roundabout.
Getting on a train to find that the seat reservation I have (which, by the way is contractual to the terms and conditions of the ticket) doesn’t exist. Carriage B seat 82 is now a large area for wheelchairs. I don’t happen to be in a wheelchair. I had to stand until Newbury. Oh, and we were ten minutes late due to congestion in the Reading area. I complained about this too – the very sweet train manager offered me a form to put my spidery left handed rant into. I did. I never heard from FGW. No acknowledgment, no “sorry for messing up the reservation system so embarrassingly”, no “thanks, we passed your hug onto the train manager concerned”. Nothing. Great customer service that. Maybe it got lost in the post?
And now, tonight. The journey that has prompted this most wonderful rant, which has, in turn, prevented me from crying through frustration. Someone deemed it completely logical to ADD three stops on our journey. By now you know me quite well. We are firm friends. This is the 1903 (Thurs, 11th November) from London Paddington to Plymouth. I believe that it calls at Reading, Newbury, Taunton, Exeter St Davids and then possibly (I might have this wrong as I alight at Exeter St Davids) Newton Abbot, Totnes and Plymouth.
We leave Paddington. The train is heaving. The restaurant car is full and some lovely droning customer service host is happily rattling off lists of hot and cold beverages that are available from the buffet car – which can be found in coach F. For food. Love that. By 1915 there is clearly something up. Lovely train manager tries his best. OK, signalling problems in this area. Oh, and congestion. Of course. Fine. Ten minute delay. Yep, no problem. Very normal.
Then, out of the blue, apropos of nothing and with NO explanation we are suddenly stopping at an additional three stops. Stations that don’t even house platforms big enough for this train. What? Why? Who boards a delayed train that doesn’t call at the stop they need? Who would get off? Who, in their right mind, arrives at Bedwyn train station at 8pm or thereabouts on a stormy night on the off chance that a train not timetabled will call there to take them to Taunton? Who would get on? What is going on? Can you see how the logic doesn’t really work?
Who knows? Currently we are due into Exeter at 2154 instead of 2121. I may even still be travelling even as you read this.
I am not entirely sure what I want in response to this letter. At all. (Apart from the obvious spleen ventage that has occurred). I want the staff I have come into contact with to be praised. It isn’t their fault that they work for a company like this. On the whole they deal with everything wonderfully.
I don’t want excuses. They are tiresome and will, more likely than not, include the phrase “congestion in the Reading area”. By the way, how bored are you of reading that now? I know. I feel like that listening to it.
I think I just want a service that is worth it. The megabus is cheaper and the congestion in the Reading area much more tangible.
But I love travelling by train. It’s so romantic. Honestly, I really do. Hence the passion I think. But it is increasingly so over priced and so, so, well, crap really.
Give me a shed load of vouchers if you like. But not the same excuses, please.
Well, I feel better now. And we are approaching Exeter. So this is where I get off…
With heartfelt condolences that you work for such a firm,
*I say “fairly” comfy because even in my 26 years of life on this planet I hark back to the good old days of the Intercity 125 in the manner of a gentlemanly grandfather. I think the company was just called Western back then. Still, those trains were majestic. Like travelling in a first class carriage today – you know, the wings for your head to loll on, the room for your elbows so you can knit without impaling anyone, the room for your luggage at the ends of each carriage, the absence of fear that if the driver breaks suddenly you wont duff your face up on “volo:TV”…