The Disgraceful Service Of South West Trains

This entry was posted on
Wednesday, June 12th, 2002
at
5:26 am and is filed
under South West Trains.

This is going to be a very strange blog today, and I apologise for that, but after putting up with years of bullshit from South West Trains, and after what happened last night, I really feel that I must speak out.

It began, as most of my travel adventures have in the past, at Waterloo Station. I arrived in plenty of time to catch the 9:20 but, sadly, it had been announced on the boards as being ‘expected at 9:45′.

A multitude of passengers waited, staring hopefully at the electronic board.

About 20 minutes later, as a seasoned passenger of SWT, I asked why a number of platforms had been confirmed ahead of ours, when our train was listed as due (at 9:45, but the time had been and gone without advice).

“Well, as late as it is, it is confirmed for Platform 9″ came the quiet response from the man manning the ‘information’ desk, “But of course, I can’t confirm that…”

This triggered something inside me. Nothing big, but enough to make me do what an Australian will do ahead of a typical Englishman. No, I didn’t whinge selfishly; I simply spoke up in a loud voice to the majority who were waiting for the same train (and staring hopefully, if you remember, at the electronic board).

“This” I intoned, with as much senatorial control as I could muster, “is typical of how bad this situation is!

“The train is now over half an hour late – and nobody is complaining! And do you know what? Everybody here is hoping that you won’t complain!”

I went on to give a very loud, and I would think quite lucid, account of why privatisation of public transport doesn’t work. A local drunk helpfully chipped in by adding “England!!! England!!”, which pleased the SWT Trains bods no end. It gave them the perfect excuse to pack up and leave.

Yes, they actually lifted the entire information desk and shuffled away with it. I shit you not.

But this (my faithful friends who are actually reading the entirety of this text) is just the beginning. The rot goes much deeper than this, as you’re soon about to find out…

The platform was announced, finally, as Platform 9. I had to shake the drunk off my shoe to get there, but get there I did.

I arrived just in time to see our train – formed of the front four coaches only – arriving. The multitude or former electronic board watchers herded onto this train.

The only SWT staff member who was semi-helpful on this journey pointed out that the subsequent express (also running late) was arriving on the opposite side of the platform.

Not surprisingly, I opted for this eight-carriage train instead of the other (which by now was already standing-room only)..

The journey was uneventful.

I did, however, arrive at my destination a mere minute after my connecting bus – the final service for the night – had left.

I headed straight for the Station Manager’s office and pointed out that it was due to South West Trains’ failure to provide the scheduled service as promised that I was now facing a 3 mile walk home in the rain.

Here’s where the fun begins…

All I wanted was a cab. A simple service, and provided for under the meagre charter that allows for delays over an hour or more. A cost of six quid, to be precise.

He informed me that he was not responsible for buses.

I informed him that he was responsible for trains, and from about then on, he ignored me.

The discussion collapsed irretrievably when he shut the office door in my face.

So, here I was with an unexpected cab fare home that I couldn’t pay for (due to an un-cleared cheque that is a matter for later blog-whinges regarding banks and their archaic ‘7 day clearance’ system in this modern age of instant email and what-not) and a corporation that, rightfully, owed me at least a single fare refund. This single fare refund amounted to pretty much the cost of my cab fare (if you remember, about 6 quid) so, as it was raining quite heavily, I tried to reason with him as a human being.

Big mistake.

Mr Tiddles, as the Station Manager shall be known from this point forward, took great offence at the suggestion that he should be called to authorise such an extravagant expenditure.

His solution was to call ‘the police’.

Now, when an SWT stationmaster calls the police on you, there’s something you should be aware of. When he refers to ‘ the police’, he is, in fact, referring to the Transport Police.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting…

This ‘policeman’ turned up, as if by magic, at about the time when I felt compelled to stage an impromptu sit-in by blocking the doors of (yet another) late train.

I even drew up a sign, being the stubborn little fucker I can be forced to be occasionally, reading:

THIS IS AN OFFICIAL PROTEST

SOUTH WEST TRAINS DID NOT PROVIDE ME WITH THE SERVICE THAT WAS PROMISED AND WILL NOT HEAR MY COMPLAINT

This ‘policeman’ turned up as yet another drunk turned up to take my side. Perhaps God sends these people but, God – if you’re listening – I can do without it.

Ho hum.

Anyways, I stood well clear as the ‘policeman’ cleared this chap from our lives, as in his current state he was no more than an unwelcome distraction.

So, here I am, waiting patiently for the ‘policeman’ to address me.

I explained the situation in some detail, and here – critically – time gets fuzzy.

What it all boiled down to, after roughly thirty minutes of discussion, was that he insisted that he was “merely a keeper of the Queen’s peace”.

Please remember this, as there will be a test later…

At the close of our long, long discussion (during which, I was constantly worried that he had better things to do) I pointed out that the Station Manager held the solution to the problem – not me – and not me – had best take it up with him.

I was certainly not going to endure an hour’s walk home in the pouring rain because SWT had fucked up, and if the Queen’s peace was at stake, then the only resolution lay in the hands of the Station Manager because I was in the right and, subsequently, an immovable object.

It was about this time he pointed out that, as a member of the Transport Police, he was – in effect – employed by South West Trains as part of their security force.

This is the bit where I failed to absorb important information. I take full responsibility for that. I was thrown off by the fact that he had a radio, black uniform and bobby hat like What Those On The Bill wear.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Stupid.

He went off to ‘meet’ with the manager in what looked to be a small office on the far end of the station. I waited 5 minutes, 10, then close to 20…

Then a woman in her late 30’s turned up. She was quite distressed, because a late train had resulted in her missing the last bus (sound familiar?).

I was a prick.

I was so intent on using her to support my cause, that I didn’t see the full scope of her problem.

I asked her to stay where she was while I tracked down the officer from the Transport Police and/or the Station Manager.

I went to the small office they appeared to have disappeared into, knocked politely, and announced: “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I have someone here with exactly the same problem as I have. You may as well deal with both of us.”

No answer.

The woman was getting more and more agitated, so I headed back towards her.

She informed me that she now she had a lift, but she would hang around for ‘a few minutes’ while I tried to sort this out.

I went back and knocked at the door again, but as I looked back, I noticed something particularly strange about the manner of the man who was obviously her promised lift. It’s hard to describe, but he seemed a little too insistent, if you know what I mean. When he saw me looking, he backed off again.

Suddenly, my priorities had (finally) changed. I walked across to the woman, and ensured her she would be able to get a cab. Even though I couldn’t afford it, the last thing I wanted to do was let her go off with this man. She seemed so desperate to get home, but I was looking less and less like a sure bet as the station staff ignored me and/or disappeared into the woodwork as I asked about the whereabouts of the Station Manager.

In the end, she opted to go with the stranger. I did not feel comfortable about this at all. If he’d stepped forward at any time I might have been OK about it, but he seemed so intent on orbiting this distressed woman until she was alone that he made me very suspicious.

I looked toward the small office once more, but she had gone. I chased after her. The stranger was ushering her toward the road near the station.

Say what you like about my paranoia, but by now all sorts of alarm bells were ringing in my head. It didn’t seem right at all.

I ran back into the station (about 12 steps, not a big run) and pointed out what was happening and the possible – if unlikely – ramifications. The staff, bolstered as they were by my status as a troublemaker, ignored me.

I was dumbfounded.

I asked the eight men present (that’s eight of the fuckers) if they were going to let this woman walk away with a stranger.

“Not our problem” said the fat bastard who claimed to be ‘just a cleaner’ (who from now on shall be known as the ‘Fat Bastard Cleaner’).

Of course, at this time, I still had a vague notion that there was a real policeman somewhere nearby – so I this time I *hammered* at the door the member of the Transport Police and Station Manager had seemingly disappeared into.

No answer.

I rushed back out to the front door just in time to see the woman being rushed/ushered out of sight.

Yes, I will admit at this stage that consensual sex between two strangers happens from time to time, but this woman hadn’t been out clubbing all night – she’d just arrived on a train from work. And the surreptitious way in which this woman was spirited from the station made me feel very, very uncomfortable.

So uncomfortable, in fact, that I felt compelled to call 999.

Too far away to give chase (after being under the illusion for so long that a police officer was in attendance) I did so.

It was quite reassuring, after all of the negative and/or ‘who gives a damn’ attitude I had experienced on the platform to hear someone on the other end of the line who actually responded with a reasonable amount of care.

Real policemen were on the way, and by the time I had made it back to the platform it had finally sunk in that Mr Tiddles the Station Manager and the officer of the Transport Police had (instead of making their way into an office) actually disappeared from the station via a nearby set of doors.

I informed the remaining staff of my concerns and told them that police were on the way. Much hilarity ensued. I pressured them again and again as a concerned commuter to reveal the whereabouts of the Station Manager. Hell, I even tried to appeal to them as fellow human beings.

Again, a big mistake.

Fat Bastard Cleaner threatened me with physical violence at least twice. Another gangly git from the security team (hereby known as ‘The Gangly Git From Security’) not only refused to give his name, but even the name of the company he worked for.

“Right,” I said, “Let’s ignore the last hour or so. As a concerned commuter, I want to contact the Station Manager, and I want to do so now.”

The Gangly Git From Security responded with; “Nobody orders me around, mate!”

No help from staff, no management in sight, and no police. Yet.

In desperation, I picked up the same phone Mr Tiddles had used to call the Transport Police. I figured anything was better than nothing. I informed them of the situation, they informed me there was nothing that they could do. Hooray!

So I asked about the previous call-out to get the real name of the ‘policeman’ who had attended the original call (he had reluctantly given his name as ‘White’ or ‘Whyce’ before swiftly changing the subject).

They informed me that no such call-out was made. I asked them to widen their time-frame and/or check if there were officers on duty at the time. After a muffled pause, they claimed to have no record.

The real police arrived at this time, and were Perfectly Reasonable. They listened to what I had to say, and did their best to take action.

They interviewed me, and the staff that were present. Acknowledging the possible gravity of this situation, they requested access to CCTV footage.

Miraculously, Mr Tiddles turned up about 5 minutes after this formal request. He gave his version of the story – at least, the bits he was there for – and was quick to point out that I had wrongly claimed a refund because my train was only 13 minutes late. (If you remember, I had caught the alternative train – so technically he was correct. Score one for Mr Tiddles.)

Mr Tiddles wisely gestured Fat Bastard Cleaner away, but The Gangly Git From Security had already mouthed off once, and was determined to do so again. I’ll leave his description of me to your imagination. You know enough swear words already.

So why all this fuss? What’s my problem?

My problem is that, at the end of the day, these goddamn jobsworths were so intent on protecting themselves and defeating one problematic commuter that they ignored what may have been a much larger problem.

I’m praying it wasn’t.

I also have a slight problem with the fact that South West Trains have their own goddamn Gestapo who obviously act in the company’s interest whilst strutting about in a policeman’s uniform that amounts to little more than a stage costume.

But then, that’s just me…

UPDATE – She’s OK folks! I’d given the woman in question one of my business cards when we first met, and she got in touch. She was most appreciative of the effort I made and the concern I showed, and described as ‘the only gentleman on the platform’.

Guess what? The guy who offered to get her home didn’t have a car. He did, however, offer to walk her through Guildford. It was when he then wanted to go via a dark underpass rather than the High Street that she became fully creeped out and simply walked away from him.

The distance to her home was over 2 miles. It’s at this stage that I should probably mention how old she is. 50.

Charming, isn’t it? Because of the inaction of South West Trains staff, this 50 year old woman was walking through Guildford, alone, about an hour after chucking out time. Happily, she had a key for her mother’s house, which happened to be on the far side of Guildford. She made it there safely, let herself in quietly, and stayed the night.

I gave her the names of the (real) police officers that I spoke to, so by now she would have been in touch to let them know that she is OK and given her account of the incident.

Now all that remains is to make South West Trains answerable for the disgraceful behaviour of their staff. That starts, but doesn’t end, with this web page.

Thanks for your time.

UPDATE II – RB wrote in with a few points:

“I have just had read your SWT article and would like to clarify a couple of points for you (I do not work for SWT, and I do not like SWT services!)… British Transport Police are a special police force who cover the whole of the British Isles and who have different divisions around the country… BTP are NOT security guards for SWT nor any other Train Operating Companies, they are there to keep the peace and to arrest anybody who has committed a criminal offence against railway property.”

Here I should point out that, while the BTP do not work directly for SWT, they are funded fully by the industry, primarily the train operating companies, who contribute 50% (with Railtrack contributing 30% and London Underground 20%). I’m sure you can guess where their priorities lie.

Mr Alex Robertson, the Chairman of the British Transport Police Federation, said the following at their annual conference on 17 April, 2002 (a full transcript is here):

“Turning now to the Force itself, the BTP remains saddled with being funded by the Train Operating Companies. In turn they are driven by commercial priorities in the very difficult market of railway transportation.”

Having a privatised railway system is bad enough, but a privatised police force? It boggles the mind!

FEEDBACK – Many folks have written in with positive feedback. Thanks, everybody. Best quotes are below.

“Today’s entry was actually the best thing I’ve read on your site so far. Don’t get me wrong, I do like your site a lot, but I was very impressed with the way you handled the situation, and the way you expressed yourself. Anger and frustration can be a powerful impetus, both to positive action and to making an interesting read. You did completely the right thing, and more people should have the same sense of civic responsibility.” – Linus

“South West Trains clearly were bang out of order.” – Martin

“Keep the moral high ground, stay calm and aloof…. but above all… get your formal complaint in.” – Paul

“Good for you, I hope you get at least an apology.” – James

“It’s about time this type of thing got some publicity and I hope you have some serious interest from the web community.” – Simon

“What a load of wankers.” – Elizabeth

UPDATE – Oh, you’ll love this… I’ve just been informed by the woman in question that she has finally been contacted by South West Trains… who sent her a bunch of flowers.

SEE ALSO – They never learn. Read about the latest adventure at South West Trains Does It Again.

FINAL UPDATE

So what did I do after being pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed? I did this:

South West Trains – How To Complain

You’re welcome to join. It’s ever so much fun.








About Tim Ireland

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