Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Going off the Rails

A TRAIN trip used to be a joy. It was quiet and peaceful, and you could curl up with a good book and take time out from the busy world around you.

Not any longer. Apart from the fact that these days trains are frequently overcrowded, dirty and smelly, they sometimes terminate unexpectedly before you arrive at your destination, and they are invariably late - if they run at all.

We are all aware of the classic reasons for the non-appearance of a train: the wrong kind of snow, leaves on the line, engineering works, signal failure, something wrong with the train,vandalism.

But I've also stood on a crowded platform waiting for a train that was waiting for a driver, and one occasion passengers were told there was no engine!

Once your train arrives you are pushed and shoved as people elbow you out of their way, desperate to leap inside and grab a seat - and woe betide anyone foolish enough to try and leave the carriage at this point, because no-one wants to give way and let you out.

I daresay it's a sign of old age on my part, but why does everyone have to be in such a hurry and so rude? And what would happen if the doors closed and I was carried away, against my will, to an unknown and unwanted destination?

But it's the noise that really annoys. There's tinny sound of music from earphones, the constant cacaphony of mobile phones ringing, and conversations where people shout intimate details about their lives into the piece of plastic clamped to their ear.

Worst of all are the constant announcements on the train itself.

A train manager welcomes 'ladies and gents'(what is wrong with saying gentlemen?), which makes it sound as if travellers are on a plane or a boat. I don't want him (or her)to greet us, and I don't care what their name is. I just want to be transported to my destination safely, comportably and on time.

Nor am I interested in messages about the catering service (if there is one); the number of carriages (why do we need to know that?), or the location of the first class carriages (I am sure anyone who can afford first class tickets is sitting happily in their seat, not squashed in with the rest of us) listening to inane annoucements.

Notifications about the destination and the stops along the way are useful, I suppos(at least you know you are on the right train).

But it's the use of the words 'next station stop' which really irritates me. What other sort of stop is there where we could alight?

Unscheduled stops are obviously just that. If the train is stuck with fields, houses or factories on either side, then clearly this is not a station, and people cannot get out - and even if we wanted to, modern trains have electronically operated doors to prevent us leaving when we shouldn't.

Equally, if you the train does not stop at a station then you cannot get out.

And it's just as bad on the platforms. Passengers are bombarded with endless messages about not leaving unattended packages or luggages, not smoking, standing well back from the edge, and the number of carriages.

Ironically, however, announcements about cancellations, delays and platform changes are always the least clearly heard, so travellers are still left wondering what is happening.


  1. Couldn't agree more about announcements, Chris. "Lack of available train crew" - In other words, 'someone's rung in sick', is the one that really annoys me.
    And there are certain conductors (I believe they are called train managers these days) whose line in patter just makes me want to strangle them - if I could reach their necks across an overcrowded train, I probably would!

  2. Alas I am now filled with dread as I plan my train journey to London town next week! Altho on my last train journey the 'conductor' was most amusing & helpful ... perhaps the exception to the rule ?


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