Friday, 30 March 2007

Endless Endless Engineering Works

Moving on from the poster competition, it's back to business as normal at the Girl on a Train blog. Thankyou for your contributions, I suppose as Blue is disqualified and I am the host, that makes Daniel the winner. Congratulations, you have won this prestigious competition, your poster shall form the epitome of the South West Trains campaign against Bag Morons, perhaps.

So, back to business.

The trains are making front-page news in the local papers relentlessly at the moment. I would never have thought it would be such a gigantic storyline – trains are something that we all know are there but don’t really talk much about in person (in blogs, well that’s another matter!)

Some people’s lives appear to be being devastated by engineering works happening around our area. It’s a typical engineering works saga actually. They say to the customer from the start, ‘oh don’t worry, it won’t take long and will not cause any disruption, or at least, if it does, the disruption will be minimal.’

5 weeks later and they admit that they aren’t to schedule at all.

Another month later and they confess that, actually, they have no idea when the engineering works will finish.

So it has turned from 5 weeks of minimal work to a mammoth job of god-knows how long.

Well, personally, it doesn’t really bother me much. I can still take my train to work and (normally) get there in reasonable time.

However, some poor sods who live near the train tracks are finding their lives ruined by this mess. A lot of engineering works goes on during the nighttime, when there are no trains running. But this keeps people awake all night long with the sounds of heavy machinery and shouting from the site staff. Poor them. I feel for them, actually.

I just hope they get some sort of fair compensation for the hassle.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Seats are For Bags - Entry Two

An accomplished entry from Bluesoup here. Her Photoshop skills look rather special in this fine poster entry. And again, very convincing - it's as if South West Trains did it themselves. (Even the moron bit.)

Seats Are For Bums - Entry One

Our first entry - a rather official looking number from Daniel. Thanks for sending this to me. Well, it certainly looks very convincing!

Thursday, 22 March 2007

"Seats Are For Bums, Not Bags" - Poster Competition

In response to YorksDevil's comment, I have spent hours and hours designing an elaborate poster for Train Companies to use up and down the country. I really do think this will get the message across. This poster shows enormous originality and will make people understand the issue like never before witnessed in this public-transport travelling era.

If you have a better idea, please e-mail your poster to me at ... and I shall post them up here. Truly inspirational.

Seats Are For Bums, Not Bags

Isn’t it exasperating how people put their bags on the seat next to them, and then look at you in annoyance when you ask if you can sit there?

I’m sorry, but resting my weary body after a long day at work takes precedence over allowing your treasured bag to have pride of position on the seat right next to you.

I never have any qualms about walking along the aisle and asking people to remove their bag. Perhaps that is because I have a relatively long journey and cannot bear the thought of standing up for part of it.

Other people, I notice, are less inclined to ask people to remove their bag, and stand in the doorway area instead. I understand their reticence to an extent. It is a little bit of a pain to request a seat. Some people go to great pains to let you know what an inconvenience it is to have to displace their belongings. But so what?

“Seats are for bums, not bags.”

Perhaps South West Trains should have a quirky little poster up in trains to highlight this point. Heck, I’d even design it for them.

On another note, today this is my 50th Post, so 'Happy Fiftieth Post' to me !

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

South Western Trains - who are they?

The other day on the train, we got to a stop early.

This often happens and we just have to sit and wait until the timetable allows us to continue on our merry way. This is the buffer zone. The extra time added to the timetable to allow for any minor mishaps.

It is all part of managing the expectations of the passenger. Set yourself a generous timetable so that any minor incidents will be covered day-in-day-out. And it works. If you expect the train to arrive at 7.43 and it does (or it even arrives early) then you are happy. It doesn’t really matter that they have added a good 4 minutes or so to the timetable, it is all about expectations. I have noticed that my evening train consistently arrives 5 minutes earlier than the publicised train. Great! I can get on the train and wait in the warmth of the train rather than waiting in the chilly winter air on the platform.

Furthermore, they like to tell you that you have arrived early so that you don’t think we are getting delayed while the train sits there idle. This is all sensible stuff and makes sense. Instead of getting irate and stressed out by the feeling that we might be late, we know that it’s ok because we are even ahead of schedule and that NEVER happens on public transport, right?

Anyway, the point of this entry is a small matter of something on of the announcers said. The tannoy came on, and the man spoke out to the captive audience,

‘I would like to inform you on behalf of South Western Trains, that we are currently ahead of schedule and are not due to depart from C…… until 07.43.’

Hang on a minute, South Western Trains? Am I on a different train? I thought it was called South West Trains, has it been taken over? Is it experiencing a brand overhaul directed by the Marketing and Branding team over at Head Office? Or did it used to be known as South Western Trains back in the day, and this chap has never gotten over the change?

Well, it had me intrigued for a minute of two. And then I returned to my book, ‘Winter in Madrid’ by C.J Sansom. It’s really very good.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Life Without Oyster

I used to reside in London. Since moving out of London, I no longer have my Oyster Card. I left my old job with 2 months of zones 1-2 already paid for, and therefore gave my Oyster Card to a friend to use. She promptly lost it. So I no longer have the blue ticket to freedom and, considering I don’t live in London, I haven’t got around to applying for a new one and stumping up three whole pounds for it.

And then I went to London and saw the non-Oyster-card price for a single in Zone 1. £4! I thought it was a mistake. An error on the machine. It can’t be £4 just for one journey surely! I remember when you could get a Zones 1-6 for £4.50!

Well, I paid up, with a grimace. And then headed straight for the Oyster application form…

Monday, 19 March 2007

The Bus Replacement Service and other gripes

I had a nightmare journey back from Hull yesterday. Firstly, it was a Sunday which always seems to signify cr@p rail service for some reason. South West Trains expanded the network of buses to cover a much wider region than normal. So this meant that on the way home from London, we had to get a bus for the last leg of the journey. And that bus took ages. And we couldn’t even get a bus to our required station – the station printed on our ticket. Well, that’s not technically true. We could have got there if we were prepared to wait a further 45 minutes once we’d got off the bus. But at the end of a long journey back from Hull, the last thing we wanted to do was to wait for 45 minutes in the freezing cold at 9.45pm just to get a bus 2 miles up the road. Ridiculous.

So that was terrible.

And this morning, the BF took the train one stop to get to work (where he’d left the car on Friday night, but we couldn’t go and get it last night). His train just sat on the platform. Nobody told him what was going on. Nobody mentioned that his train wasn’t likely to move. He waited 40 minutes at this station in order to go one stop while other trains came and went. Why were there no announcements?! He paid £1.90 to sit at the station for 40 minutes to take a 4 minute journey. He was very late for work.

He hates the trains with a passion. I am starting to see why.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

1,000 New Carriages

The night before last, as I relaxed on the sofa watching BBC 10 ‘o clock news, stretched out enjoying the evening and thinking about going to bed soon, I watched a news article about those 1,000 extra carriages to be added on to a number of routes.

Pictures of sorry commuters squeezing themselves into carriages that are already too packed. One poor chap holding a bunch of flowers returning home after work getting his black rucksack caught in the door as he desperately tried to wedge himself onto the train. People wearily standing in the aisles as their train took them to their place of work.

I sat on the comfy sofa watching these images.

I thought to myself, ‘thank god I don’t work in London anymore.’

Trains in the ‘country’ are less crowded, less stressful and generally a more pleasant place to be. The quality of those trains in the news article were old and shabby. My trains are new and shiny. I always get a seat so that I can fall asleep. I never get crushed (except between those internal doors) trying to get on the train.

Get those trains more carriages! Ah yes, 1,000 more carriages from the government you say? And then, at the end of the section, the news reporter finished off with, ‘the new carriages are expected to be ready by 2014.’ Hmmm, that’s 7 years away! Not soon enough to quell the immediate problems on the trains in some parts of the country then!

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Turn that Racket Off!

Trains. A place where people of all shapes and sizes are flung together in a carriage. They travel together day in and day out. Nobody speaks to anyone they don’t know. Everyone (well, most people) is the model of decorum and politeness.

One day, on the journey home, two teenage girls got on the train. The train pulled off and chugged along merrily for a while. We then got near to a station and stopped and everything went quiet. You know how it is when the engines stop all their whirring and crunching. You just get silence, aside from quiet ticks and squeaks from the train as it waits patiently on the track. All is quiet in carriage number 3.

And then the teenage girls turn on some music on their mobile phone. On loudspeaker. The entire carriage is subjected to a tinny version of P.Diddy blaring out into the quiet carriage. People start getting a bit fidgety about this. Yet, nobody says anything. The woman next to me is clearly very irritated by this noise and starts turning around to give the girls ‘commuter evils’ (*this is when you dislike what someone else is doing, yet do not want to break the Commuter Code by actually talking to them. Neither do you want to glare at them so much as to encourage a response from them.)

She then starts muttering under her breath, ‘good god’, ‘for god’s sake’ and the like. As I am sitting next to her, I feel like I need to acknowledge her mutterings. Yet the carriage is so deathly quiet that I don’t want to. I smile bleakly at her. She carries on her mutterings to me. But there is nothing I can do! I am starting to feel uncomfortable now.

And then the train comes back to life with a whir and a groan, and the P.Diddy is partially blocked from our eardrums.

Thank goodness.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

The Train: My Second Home

Sometimes I sleep very deeply on the train.

I get involved in dreams that seem to last for eternity, only to wake up with a jolt and realise I am on the train and it is daytime. Sometimes, I twitch and drop my book that I have been holding on the floor. I twitched a lot last night. Normally, I tend to twitch in my train-sleep when I have an aisle seat. My reasoning for this is because I have nothing to lean on, and am therefore engaging in a careful balancing act in my sleep. It’s a bit like sleeping while standing up I imagine (although I am not sure I could manage that), where you have to balance your body. Sometimes, I fall asleep with the seat free next to me. When I wake up I find that there is someone sitting next to me, and I hope to God that I have not been talking in my sleep again or pulling silly faces.

Yesterday, I was so deeply asleep that when my train reached its terminus (fortunately, this is my stop), a lady had to gently, but firmly poke me on the arm to awake me.

Poke poke. ‘urgh?’ said I. ‘Sorry, I thought I ought to wake you there,’ said she.

I don’t think I fancy a night on the train, or a return trip to London, so I am thankful she did wake me.

I also think I need to pay attention to the way I am sleeping. Neck bent to the side, head lolling about, slumped down in my seat. I do notice that I frequently have a sore neck. Is this doing long-term damage I wonder? Will I one day be visiting the chiropractor and blaming my bad back on ‘those commuting days on the trains’?

Monday, 12 March 2007

To all those anonymous commenters

Last week, my blogging experimentation took on a new significance. I realised that some people were in fact reading my musings and taking some points rather earnestly! See some of the comments (some of them a little bit nasty, I do think. By all means comment if you do not agree with me, but try to avoid resorting to nasty insults!) left on this post to see what I mean.

Internal doors. I never knew what trouble they would get me in. Yes, they are there for fire safety reasons and I am sure they will do a stirling job in the (fortunately) unlikely event of a fire. However, day-to-day, they are irritating when they close just as you are walking through them.

Anyway, that is another issue that has already been given quite enough time here.

Something I have learnt is that there are some people who take their job very seriously. This is actually rather cheering. I am not a train person. Well, I take them everyday, but I give no thought to the complexities of running a large train network. However, there are some people who think about it a lot, and indeed, it appears to be quite a passion for them. I am pleased about this and I can understand how people feel. When people have a misconception about my line of work, I will strive to change their attitude, and sometimes I will take it quite personally. I think, ‘hey this person is insulting my industry, they must be insulting me too.’

So. My presumption from all of this is that South West Trains must be a pretty good employer for all of these people to defend them so energetically. This is in itself a success. I suppose happy employees build successful companies.

Now then, those internal doors…..

The Mystery of the Cheap Ticket

Why are singles cheaper than a return?

I have just booked a train to Hull for a meeting. When initially searching for a Return Ticket the price was about £130. I thought this was pretty expensive to be honest, even though Hull is absolutely miles away. Then I noticed a little link saying ‘singles might be cheaper’, click on this, filled in my details and have managed to get a return journey (using singles) for less than half the price. Very strange! Long distance journeys often seem to have the situation where 2 singles is cheaper than one return, yet local services charge almost the same price for a single as for a return!

Well, it confuses me. I am just pleased that I had the sense to trail through all the forms to find the cheapest combination of tickets. Although, saying that, work were paying for the ticket, so it doesn’t really matter to me personally. But still, I like to feel like I have nabbed a bargain!

Friday, 9 March 2007

The South West Trains Key to the Door

I experienced another predicament with the internal beeping doors this morning. These doors are giving me hassle this week! (see post) Those little green buttons are completely ineffective. The door slid shut as I approached it. Sensibly, I pressed the green button for it to open. It rudely ignored me. I pushed the button again, except this time a little harder. Still no response from the elusive door. I pressed it a couple more times with my thumb. No reply.

With a bemused expression on my face (at least, I hope it was bemusement rather than irritation) I looked around at my fellow passengers who were standing behind me, patiently waiting while I battled to get the door open. One man stepped forward to help. I am sure I saw a little ‘roll-of-the-eyes’ as I was clearly very incompetent, couldn’t open a blimming train door and here he was to step in. He pressed the button. I was quite relieved to see that the door did not open for him either (Hurrah, it’s not all about the strength of the button pushing, man!)

I was about to turn around and go into the carriage on the other side, when along came a South West Trains employee. One push of the button from her blessed finger and the door slid open obediently, straightaway. So, are they putting internal door codes into the fingertips of South West Trains workers in order to outfox the common, paying, passenger?

I think this is the case.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Spring in my Step

The days are getting longer. The mornings are brighter and lighter. The birds are singing. The flowers are blooming. Etc. etc. before I launch into a badly worded, clich├ęd poem, you get the message. I am feeling the Spring effect. We all know it, ‘The Spring Effect’, where you feel inexplicably happy, relieved and jubilant at the prospect that those long winter nights are almost over.

It has been a particularly long winter for me. My first winter of commuting (not in London) and rarely seeing daylight. Now at least there is hope of going for a nice summer evening-pint outside when I get back from work. Or enjoying a cool jog by the sea and watching the sunset. Or going for an evening game of tennis. Or a BBQ on the beach before sunset.

Ah, all those romantic notions of summertime. They are nearly upon us.

Isn’t it amazing how great it makes you feel? I sat on my train this morning watching the countryside speed by, marvelling at the crisp blue sky, the green-ness of the trees, the sparkling of the water.


Talking of the crisp blue sky, I got very close to booking a sky-dive today. A bit of a ‘tick the box to say I’ve done this’ life-time ambition. I was going to press the submit button, and then read the ‘Terms and Conditions’ and got rather freaked out by how many times the word ‘death’ was included in the clauses.

I know it’s pretty safe (especially if doing a tandem), but my sensibility got the better of me, and I will wait for another day when I am feeling a bit braver.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Stop the train, I want to get off!!

South West Trains take sticking to the timetable a little too earnestly. It’s as if station staff have been told, ‘at all costs you must stick to the timetable, do not send your train chugging off into the distance a minute late, it MUST leave the station at the designated time.’

This is assuming the train gets to the station on time in the first place, but that is another, well documented, story.

The other day, the train I was on pulled into my station on time. This isn’t news in itself, to be honest, this happens quite frequently really, so I shouldn’t grumble about that too much.

Does anyone else get rather irritated by those silly internal doors that can’t recognise when there is a person passing through, and attempt to close with a sly little beep-beep-beep, thereby trapping the person in-between them? That has happened to me quite a lot. I dislike that little lit-up green button that you have to press as the doors are closing in order to get it to stay open. Someone with less manual dexterity than myself may struggle with pushing a moving button. Sometimes I struggle when I am half asleep in the morning.

However, when my train pulled into my station, I waited until everyone had queued up in the aisle and traipsed off the train as normal before leaping up and following them, bringing up the rear, as they say.

I got to these pesky internal doors and they began to close as I approached them. I dived forward to press the green button to get them to open. They didn’t. They paused for a second while my finger was on the button, so I tried again. They didn’t open. So I got a little bit frantic and pressed the button rapidly. Eventually, after about 5 pushes, they opened again. In the meantime however, passengers getting ON to the train had almost finished embarking. I realised that the outside doors were beeping and about to close (despite there being about three people outside still queuing to get on). I dashed to the door and squeezed through as it was closing, rudely (I’m sorry) pushing past the three people trying to get on. One of them shouted ‘hang on’ to the station whistle blower, who ignored him and blew the whistle and waved the round-headed stick thing. The waiting passengers did a frantic squeeze through the doors to get on to the train, and the last one got stuck. Fortunately it was a fairly big chap who just prised the doors open so that he could through. I am sure if I was in that situation I would just stutter meekly, ‘argh, what do I do?’ and get carried off with the train.

So, despite the train whistle blower being aware of three people waiting to get on the train (not to mention me trying to get off!) they signalled that the train was safe to close its doors and move on. I understand the need to keep to timetable targets, but at the detriment to paying passengers being able to GET ON (and off!) the train they have paid for?!

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Books Books and Books

I have read a few books in February on the trains – I thought I’d create a short post to remind myself of those that I have read. I find that once I have finished the book, it completely slips from my memory and it is very hard to get it back again.

I once started reading a book (
Patrick Gale’s ‘Rough Music’) and only realised HALF WAY through that I had already read it just a year ago.

I have enjoyed,
Ben Elton’s Gridlock ( a book about commuting!), Jeremy Paxman’s The English (very pompous but what do you expect from Paxman?), John Grisham’s ‘The Summons’ (why do I keep reading Grisham books, they are not good!), Dean Koontz’s ‘The Husband’ (a thriller and very entertaining!)

Monday, 5 March 2007

The Arrival of 6 Free Tickets

Looking at my last few posts, anyone would think I was a bit of a grumbler when it comes to the trains. Please accept my apologies for this. Generally, I am fairly satisfied (please note, that is ‘fairly’, not ‘very’ satisfied, oops, there I go again!) and am normally able to get to work well before it is officially necessary to get to work.

I received my 6 free train tickets on Friday with a personalised letter from South West Trains. When I say ‘personalised’, I don’t mean it was handwritten or anything. Good heavens no. But it did appear that someone had taken the time to bash the letter off on a computer rather than resorting to the standard templates found in the ‘Response to Complaints from Those Pesky Customers’ folder in the South West Trains computer drive.

Put simply, the letter said, ‘here are your 6 free tickets. Thanks.’

Upon examination of the 6 free tickets, the deal is not as good as I originally had hoped. I had anticipated being the generous giver of train tickets, and being able to hand out free tickets to my friends and family for when they come to visit me in my new abode.

This is not so. Travellers have to be with the Gold Card Holder (so it has to be me, or someone with me, at least). I suppose this is fair enough and it prevents me selling them. However, I very rarely take the train at the weekend. Why would I? I have a car?! So how am I going to use them up?

Well, it’s a canny trick of South West Trains. Firstly, don’t give the tickets out in the first place until prompted. Secondly, make them sound blimmin’ amazing when really they are not.

However, fear not I shall stop moaning now. I am sure I will find some opportunity to use them at some point.

Took the late train home after work on Friday. It’s only the second time since I started this job in September that I have taken a late train home. I am always surprised by how deadly quiet it is on the train. Not a soul to be seen. It’s such a contrast to the morning and evening rush hour. It doesn’t seem real to be sitting on the familiar red seat all alone with no fellow passengers nearby. A bit creepy really.

Friday, 2 March 2007

6 Free Tickets

I decided to write to South West Trains to ask them where my 6 free tickets have disappeared to. Seeing as this is one of the major perks to getting an annual gold card, I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to receive them, or if they had just conveniently forgotten about them.

So I e-mailed them about it. Surprisingly I got a response fairly rapidly. (well, within 2 days, which is pretty responsive for them). It was quite simple, the answer.

‘We will send them to you in the post today. Kind Regards, etc etc’

What?! So if it is that easy, why haven’t they sent them to me yet? Do they hope that people will forget their entitlement and not send them out unless prompted by their more scrupulous passengers (i.e. Me, I don’t like to miss out on a freebie)? If I had not written to them, would I never have received my 6 free tickets?

Good news about my Diploma in Commuting – I have now completed essay number 3 of 4, so I feel like I am on the homerun now!