As noted in my last post Ashley and I are suburbanites once again and dealing with the commuting our new countryside lifestyle necessitates.
Although not as nice as the leisurely strolls to work I could enjoy while living in the centre of Brighton, our commuting setup is not too bad in the grand scheme of things – except for one gigantic spanner in the works.
Since my last bout of commuterdom the service has become markedly worse, to the point where it is routinely making me late for work and disrupting my evening plans. In fact, since I’ve been riding the train again (for the last three weeks) they have actually been delayed more often than they have been on time. In typical fashion, I’ve been moaning my head off on Twitter.
.@southernrailuk I’ve taken 8 trains with you this week, 6 have been delayed, 3 by more than 20mins. I pay money for this.
— Jon Norris (@Jn_Norris) February 7, 2013
— Jon Norris (@Jn_Norris) February 17, 2013
The straw that broke the camel’s back came this weekend when, after a delightful Sunday lunch in Brighton it came time to take the train home. We arrived back at Brighton station to a heaving mass of travellers staring expectantly at the departures board. A bored-sounding man announced that due to an electrical fault trains on the London to Brighton mainline were subject to delay or cancellation. We joined the waiting throng and grumbled.
It’s worth noting at this point that our train into Brighton was also delayed, although only by about 10 minutes.
In relatively short order the bored-sounding man came back over the PA system to announce that a train – one solitary train – would shortly be pulling into the station and would be going north. Chaos erupted in the station forecourt as everybody surged towards the barriers to board this train heading north. Nobody knew where it was stopping or when it was leaving, they just knew they had to be on it.
It eventually became clear the train was an express and would only be stopping at Gatwick Airport, East Croydon and London Victoria. It wouldn’t be stopping where we needed to go, but the staff at the station recommended we went up to Gatwick and changed, as they “honestly couldn’t say” when the next train would be arriving.
We rode up to Gatwick and managed to hop on a train heading back in the right direction. All told this little detour cost us just over an hour.
We thought we had it bad. Later that day I spoke to my sister who had spent three hours trying to get back down south from London. She too had to get a train to Gatwick, change, and then was told to board a Brighton train which actually terminated half way to Brighton. Her train was so packed that a man passed out.
If my broadband worked less than 50% of the time, I would change providers. If my lights came on ten to twenty minutes after I flipped the switch, I would get my electrics sorted out.
Unlike all my other expenses, train travel is something I have zero control over. Apart from rent, it’s my biggest expense.
Southern Rail offer token recompense for delayed trains, promising a refund if your train is cancelled or delayed by 30 minutes or more. Of course during rush hour trains run every few minutes, so if your train is delayed that long chances are another one will turn up in the meantime.
Claiming refunds if you have a season ticket is, depending on who you speak to, bloody hard or completely impossible.
Since Southern seem reluctant to compensate their long-suffering customers for their almost inconceivably poor service, I have come up with my own solution. From this week I will be documenting every delayed train to which I am subjected, and at the end of every month I will be sending Southern Rail an invoice for the time I have wasted waiting on them.
I’ll be charging a middle-of-the-road freelance rate (£35 per hour). By my calculations they owe me over £100 this month already.
Southern Rail – consider this your notice. UK trains are anti-competitive to the point of farce (thanks Major), are the most expensive and unreliable in Europe, and this is going to be my own little stinky protest.
A few people have asked (and I considered it anyway), so here’s an embed of the current spreadsheet (it should update live whenever I add a new entry).