South West Trains Does It Again

This entry was posted on
Sunday, November 30th, 2003
3:04 pm and is filed
under South West Trains.

What Happens When you Dare Complain

Andrew Haines
Managing Director
South West Trains

Tim Ireland
30th November, 2003

Dear Andrew,

This was going to be a private letter, but it’s become clear to me after your reaction to my complaint of June last year (which was to send a bunch of flowers to the woman whose life your staff so blithely put at risk) and the treatment to which I was subjected early on the morning of Sunday 30th November 2003 that your company deserves a long-overdue public shaming.

Please bear with me…

I arrived at Waterloo Station in good time for the 00:08 express service to Guildford station. That service was not displayed on the boards. The nearest thing to it was a multi-stop service due at 00:10 that was shown as being 30 minutes late.

At 00:00 I enquired, I would think quite reasonably, as to the fate of the 00:08 service. I was informed by Jobsworth No. 1 that what I saw on the board was pretty much what I could expect.

I avoided naming names last time, but this time I am really – and quite justifiably, I would think – pissed off, so I ask you most humbly to suck this and see:

Jobsworth No. 1: Molly Morgan

Given that the timetable advertised a service that you were not publicly acknowledging as a failed, late, or possibly cancelled service, I saw fit to question the current state of affairs. Enter Jobsworth No.2…

Jobsworth No. 2: Tim Reilly

We’ll hear more from Tim soon, because he’s a plucky young lad, able to hold a man’s gaze, but not above abusing his position of authority in order to stifle valid complaints. Initially, all you need to know is that he intervened at this stage and informed me that The Way Things Were were The Way Things Were.

Andrew, you should know by now that I’m an idealistic chap, prone to impromptu shows of rebellion. The first thing I did as a result was to head to the information boards on the far side of the concourse and inform those staring hopefully at these boards that there was a whole service that had been cancelled without their knowledge, and that they should make a complaint regarding this.

Misguided? Perhaps. Satisfying? Definitely.

By now, it was 00:15. and another service – the 00:23 to Guildford via Clapham Junction, Woking and Worpleston – was long overdue for display.

I went back to the ‘information’ desk and enquired as the fate of this particular service.

I received little in the way of information, or satisfaction, and became quite agitated – especially when Jobsworth No. 3 informed me that this service was ’30 minutes delayed’, but they still saw no reason to advertise this fact on the boards.

Jobsworth No. 3: Rob Boorwell

You know as well as I do that – kept from the information that shows a failure of service – many people will be unable to make a complaint regarding that service. 13 information screens stood empty at ths point (save for a Waterloo Station logo). There was plenty of room to show such a failure, but only one person was complaining about it. Me.

I was soon to find out why, as jobsworth Tim Reilly really came into play. I was informed that my tone was abusive and that the police had been called. I held my ground and enquired in unreasonably reasonable tones exactly what had become of the 00:08 and 00:23 services.

Jobsworth No. 1: Molly Morgan (manning the ‘information’ desk)
“All I can tell you is what you see on the boards.”

Jobsworth No. 2: Tim Reilly (standing not 3 feet from the ‘information’ desk)
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to ask at the information desk.”

My immediate reaction was to turn to waiting commuters and point out what they could expect if they dared to complain. In fact, I even dared to point out what was at stake and why your staff hoped they would not complain.

When faced with multiple layers of bullshit, I tell it like it is. You know this.

Result? Some hopeful faces, but no action; they knew what was in store.

By now, I also had some drunken RWCs (right wing cunts) getting seriously In My Face for daring to question authority. No effort was made to control these individuals. In fact, the smug look on jobsworth Tim Reilly’s face seemed impossible to shift.

Enter the police…

God bless the London Met. So intent on their duty, they ignored each and every aspect of my quite valid complaint and informed me that South West Trains was – as a result of my ‘abusive’ behaviour – refusing to carry me as a passenger. I was to be escorted from the concourse.

They’re ripping us off blind!
“Not my problem…”

You’re leaving me stranded in London with no way to get home!
“That, sir, is *your* problem.. off we go.”

(Hand on elbow; to make any move from this point on is to Resist and get thrown in clink on a technicality. Smile on jobsworth Tim Reilly’s face defies polite description..)

And so I was led from the concourse to resounding jeers. I was informed by the police that these jeers clearly showed my lack of popularity, but….

The clever clogs did not account on me making my way via the Underground, back onto the platform to the now very late 00:10 multi-stop service (which, in the end, terminated at Walton-On-Thames and had to be completed by bus).

On that trip, I met:

The dozen or so people who congratulated me on my courage but failed to speak up themselves for fear of similar ‘complain and you will not travel’ treatment.

The gentleman who informed me of the Guildford service that left at 11:50, made up of 4 carriages (from the 12 that were available) that was so hopelessly overcrowded that many gave up on it.

The few RWCs – one in particular – who gladly took the time to inform the driver of my unauthorised – albeit fully paid for – presence on board. (Happily, I had made the devilishly clever move of removing my jacket, thereby rendering me invisible to the waiting authorities at Clapham Junction and Wimbledon. If you got burgled or mugged in these areas on this night, it was because police were called away to incarcerate The Man Who Dared To Complain. I do apologise.)

Andrew, I appreciate that you’re an honourable man in a difficult situation, but in this case I’m sure you’ll pardon me for saying Fuck You & The Horse You Rode In On.

There is one reason and one reason only why I choose not to work in London. That reason is South West Trains.

It’s obvious to me after this experience that the main priority in too many employees’ minds is to protect this failing system – and/or their jobs – at all costs. In fact, the few small actions I took following our disagreement last year led to many staff fearing my camera (and hating my guts) but not changing their ways.

(Do you remember the charming sign that greeted customers who approached the staff room at Guildford? And how after I took a photo of that and sent it to you, it was removed? Well, following that minor event and the major one that preceded it, I found that I was being carefully watched by staff and so didn’t need to send anything to you to have an effect. I took a photo of misspelled sign; it was immediately removed. I took a photo of shit on the tracks; this area and this area alone was immediately hosed down. This was fun while it lasted, but it did little good in the end.)

You and I, we have serious issues mostly buried in the past, but I hold your company directly responsible not only for undue stress, but well over 700 man-hours that were lost due to SWT’s inability to provide the service promised to this one small commuter.

Others may not dare to complain (and I’m pretty sure by now that we all know why) but – though I may not be reliant on this service at present – I find it very difficult to understand why I shouldn’t be addressing this as a significant ‘in my backyard’ priority.

You don’t want this; I don’t need it – but the problem obviously needs to be addressed.

I got 21st-century on your ass last time, and is didn’t make a lick of difference. What is it going to take to make you realise that this one commuter out of a thousand can – and will – make a difference if necessary?


What do you think? Was I too aggressive in the face of simple diversionary tactics, or do I have a justifiable problem with South West Trains and the way they treat people? Send me an email or get in touch with Andrew Haines via and do what a lot of people didn’t this morning because they did not dare – speak your mind.

1st December 2003

Wibbler was on the scene, and had this to say:

“Good lord, Tim, you were on the train after me!

“My girlfriend and I arrived at the platform at 10.40pm. The Train Entering Platform 8 was an obligatory 15 minutes late, and this strangely worked in our favour. We rushed to the platform, to be met by a very substandard train, due to stop at Clapham Junction, Surbiton and Guildford, which was plainly a replacement. To make matters worse, if you wanted to get further than Guildford (which we instantly abandoned), the remaining journey had to be competed by a rickety old bus. God help the poor 90 year old couple hoping to get to Liphook before sunrise.

“We were then informed that the driver was still to be found. He was still nowhere to be found 15 minutes later, but eventually he was located. It was then that 4 Drunken Fools decided to board (drunken fools who were plainly less of a problem than you supposedly were). They proceeded to discuss, exceedingly loudly and between gulps of recently-bought champagne, the nights events, and life in general. This included the “fucking temperature”, the “fucking bottle”, the “shit weather” and references to a neighbouring travellers’ grandmother that I dare not repeat. Other topics included differing tastes of semen, their musical favourites (with long, loud demonstrations of each song) and where the “fucking toilets” were. The journey seemed long. We supposed this was because of the Drunken Fools, but it was, as we were later told, because of the engineering “works”. I use the term “works” lightly – indeed as we passed one such engineering location, I noted all 5 of the workers sitting down on barrels, sipping their tea and looking at magazines (the content of these can only be imagined).

“So, we arrived one hour late, in the freezing cold of the winter night. The police, although informed of the Drunken Fools, did diddly about them. Oh, and the driver forgot to stop at Surbiton. You can imagine the words coming out of the Surbitonians on the train as the alighted in Guildford at midnight, many miles from home, with no visible means of getting there.”

James was at the same party as I was that night. He’s provided some quite reasonable points about giving feedback to staff members. He’s right on many points, but – well, I’ll let you read his email first…

“Sorry but I think you were too aggressive in your actions described in your letter. I am a frequent complainer and I have worked in customer services so I have a fair idea of what does and doesn’t work.

“Raising your voice, swearing or using aggressive body language is not going to succeed. For a complaint to be handled quickly and effectively you have to make the person you are dealing with want to help you. By attacking them, their colleagues or whatever you are just going to put them on the defensive and make them want to get a victory over you by not being helpful.

“I know it shouldn’t be this way but it is, and it is extremely rare for someone to change their mind by aggressively pointing out that they are wrong.

“People who work in customer services, especially those who work with the public late at night, are frequently exposed to abuse, assault and all manner of downright evil behaviour from the public. Although I’m sure you were not being abusive (at least not at first) this is the behaviour they expect and when approaching the CS rep, you have to immediately show that this is not what you are about. Complaining calmly and reasonably – in a non-personal manner will be much more successful than insults and swearing.

“Unfortunately the same goes for the letter. The swearing, personal tone and general ‘Ranting’ nature of the text will make it much likely that whoever deals with the letter (and you can be pretty sure it will not be Andrew Haines – at least not at first) will mentally file it in the ‘Nutter’ category and be as obstructive as possible when dealing with your complaint.

“I appreciate that keeping your cool can be difficult when faced with the monstrous lack of helpfulness you experienced but calm, reasoned complaint will get you so much further than having a good shout. Although having a rant can be immediately very satisfying I personally find that it is worth swallowing a little pride and anger to get the result I want.

“Sorry if this comes across as a bit preachy but you did ask for feedback. This is all of course just the way I would approach things and YMMV!”

Not at all preachy, and all points that needs to be raised for a reader of this article that doesn’t know:
1. SWT and I have a long history. I’ve been down the ‘reasonable’ path and have seen little improvement to the service as a result.
2. Me being loud isn’t necessarily directed at staff. Often (and, admittedly, this does annoy the staff) it’s me addressing people on the concourse and explaining to them that (a) they’re being robbed and (b) they don’t have to sit there and take it.
3. The email I sent went directly to Andrew Haines, as we’ve had correspondence in the past. I published the general feedback address on my website and not his personal one as a courtesy. I can be downright nice when I want to be.

And now, a word or two from Seamus:

“go for it.. they say we’re a nation of whingers, may as well prove em right.. i followed your bush hunt and saw what complaining can do.. usually best to get a few people on your side first.. that’s something RWCs do understand..

“being a scruffy bastard i know what it’s like to have a genuine grievance dismissed cos you’re alone.. your opponent can easily point you out as if ‘he’s not one
of us..’ But a few seemingly normal folks together presents them a real challenge..

“so keep complaining.. i’d do it myself but there’s too much to go on about.. and i’ll keep reading”

Seamus is spot on. The system SWT has in place to deal with complaints doesn’t make it clear to the public how badly the situation has deteriorated. I’m sure that if this was clear, people would feel less alone and would therefore be more likely to voice their dissatisfaction with the service. A page that clearly explains how you can (and why you should) complain to South West Trains seems to be in order – as does a public forum for those that wish to express frustration over complaints that have not been addressed to their complete satisfaction. (Oooh, look what I just found over at Annies’ blog, along with this post of support… the Evening Standard gets busy with a serious transport protest portal! It’d be nice to have a special one for SWT, though… something that turns up every time people search for ‘south west trains’ in Google would be especially useful.)

Why is this important? Well, if you fail to complain, sooner or later you lose the right to complain. I’m not saying that we’ll see rubber bullets being used at Waterloo Station anytime soon, but ExpatEgghead notes:

“I admire your restraint. I wish more people were like you. Here in Israel, when people got pissed of at the unemployment office being closed for weeks, the security guard used tear gas.”


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

South West Trains – How To Complain

Come and join us, do.


About Tim Ireland

Tim is the sole author of Bloggerheads.
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