Monday, April 09, 2007

The Perils of Modern Day Train Travel

From Simon Hoggart's Guardian diary. Sums up my view of train travel perfectly and why I never travel by train unless I have to...

Midweek, and I'm off to Norwich. A two-hour train journey, the perfect length for a relaxing nap followed by a little work. I settle in the quiet coach. Except it isn't. "Welcome aboard this 11.00 One service to Norwich, calling at ..." The voice is very loud. We are told to keep an eye on our things. We learn that safety instructions are in every carriage. First-class accommodation is available only for those in possession of a first-class ticket. Our informant, the guard, will be shortly be coming down the train to inspect our tickets. Our next station stop will be Colchester. Coach B is the quiet coach, where mobile phones, laptop computers and portable music players are
banned. We are invited to sit back, relax and enjoy the journey.

Then the woman from the buffet comes on. Apparently it is open. They are serving a selection of hot and cold snacks, tea, coffee, and alcoholic drinks. But what else might a train buffet sell? "We are open for a wide range of ocelot pelts, rare porcelain and small farming implements?"

When we approach a station they get very excited, because it's time to tell us where we are, to mind the gap between the train and the platform, and not to leave any personal belongings behind. Colchester, Manningtree and Ipswich are each only 10 minutes apart, so the team are on the air more or less full time - when we arrive and much the same again when we leave. As the train nears Norwich we are running late, so we get minute-by-minute updates on whether the connecting trains to Lowestoft and Liverpool (Liverpool? How many people go to Norwich to connect to Liverpool?)
are going to be held. Apparently not; they are run by a different company, so screw the passengers.

No, of course I didn't once nod off. Do you think they might invent a quiet coach that was quiet, leaving some of us experienced, "old hand" passengers to use our eyes to detect which station we had reached?


Keir said...

Is it true?!?!?
"The hostages yesterday were awarded the Victoria Cross, one of the highest British military honors."
As a Canadian whose country still honours the Victoria Cross, does the British Army know of no other depths to lower itself? I am trusting this is a scurious lie, as if allowing these people who used their position to lower the esteem of Britain in the eyes of the world to profit from it wasn't bad enough. Shame! The British have no right to bemoan the loss of the respect they had once expected as their due. I don't feel as bad as the EU demanding the surrender of the red ensign as the country today has no right to fly it.

Adrian Yalland said...

On South West Train, 'old hands' now wear ear plugs, ear muffs, and big scarves over their heads! said...

Not to mention how expensive, dirty and slow they are.

Machiavelli's Understudy said...


If you a 'trusting this is a scurilous lie', then why do you continue to give us a kicking?

For the record, that article is full of shit.

It wouldn't have been too hard for you to check somewhere other than 'the New York Daily News' (you just know it's going to be a bastion of quality journalism as soon as you see the title) and see that the article is riddled with errors and lies.

There were a few things in it that left me bewildered- Liam Fox as a 'defense (sic) official', anyone? But what left me fairly incensed and offended was the notion of the 'journalist' that we just dish out Victoria Crosses to all and sundry. That was what left me boiling.

If that is the state of world affairs coverage in a typical town newspaper in the US, it's no wonder a number of Americans have a myopic view of the world. Not so much their fault, but those whom they seem to trust with imparting them with crumbs of information, when they can be bothered to look for it properly...

scroblene said...

Morning Iain,

You didn't mention the serial mobile abuser...


Luckily there are four tunnels between Tunbridge Wells and London Bridge.

ranter said...

I think I'll ignore Keir and say that the time difference between the UK and Canada must mean it is still April Fools Day!

Re Train travel, for my daily one hour Journey between Kent and London Charing Cross I have to use an iPod to drown out the banal chatter, the shouting mobile users, the dull, dull, dull mobile users and the BLOODY announcements!

They NEVER shut up! I suppose they are there for H&S reasons or some moron complained that he didn't wake up and got of at Hastings etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Keir - no it's not trur

vervet said...

My own favourite is that tautological inexactitude often heard on Silverlink:-
"We are approaching our last and final stop ...."

Being such a definite statement, I look up fearfully to discover whether I have arrived in heaven or hell !

Maggie Thatcher Fan said...

Re Keir, wes it written on April 1st ?

BJ said...

The announcements annoy the bejaysus out of me. But I suppose they're helpful to blind passengers.

Iain -- is the "Steve Norris" reason actually why you don't like trains: that's they're full of other people?

Andrew Kennedy said...

What a wonderful post.

My all time favourite announcement came at a time when I had to regularly communte between Birmingham and London courtesy of Virgin Trains.

It was a bitterly cold February evening and due to a cancellation, two journey's worth of passengers were crammed into one train.

As we pulled out of New Street the Guard came on to apologise for the fact that there was no heating in carriages C and D. Apparently this was due to "a fault".

However.... "Passengers in carriages C and D are invited to go and stand in any of the other carriages to warm up as the heating is working elsewhere - but please take care if walking through carriage E as due to another fault there is no lighting."

Voyager said...

If they cannot have compartment trains why don't they broadcast white noise instead ? Then the passengers could appear dazed ready for a day's work

Anonymous said...

It's hard to blame the train companies alone for all those announcements. Rather, blame a culture which treats 100% of us as incapable, when only 1% are either. The worst are the Mind the Gap announcements on the Tube, when the gap is only an inch. The HSE and associated lawyers are completely out of control.

Little Black Sambo said...

"This service will terminate in the capital". You what?

Realpolitik said...

I gave up on the Quiet Coaches. I sit in the normal ones now. The trouble is that when people use mobile phones in the Quiet Coaches (which they invariably do) it is ten times more annoying because they shouldn't be doing it there. The noisy coaches are the lesser of two evils.

Anonymous said...

I travel every week, inter city, by train. It is reliable, convenient (city centre to city centre), quick, smooth, I can work on the train - or relax - and there are good facilities. If the train is delayed, I prefer to be told the reason than to sit in silence. It is far preferable to being stuck in a massive traffic job on the motorway, not knowing the reason for the jam, not being able to get on with work, no one coming round with refreshments, and even worse if running low on petrol or needing to make a pit stop. Even if not in a jam, there is the problem of other drivers - some of whom seem to think the middle lane is fine even if there is nothing in the nearside lane. I am not too keen either on being stuck for miles on a single-lane carriageway behind a trailer or tractor.

I don't mind particularly the tannoy announcements on the train. They interrupt anyone who is using a mobile 'phone and on my service the announcers can be (deliberately) very funny. If it means that people like Hoggart are not travelling, then so much the better.

machiavelli said...

I've never quite understood why, in the Quiet Coach, you're not allowed to use a (silent) laptop, or listen to an MP3 player through headphones, or have a conversation through a mobile phone (half the conversation, half the noise), but it's ok to bring babies and small children in there, and it's ok for two or more people, in the coach, to talk to each other?

It seems to me that it's more the whinger-about-modern-life coach than the Quiet Coach. You have to go first class if you want to escape all the noisy plebs with their feral children and cans of lager (sold to them on the train).

I'm feeling much better now...

Trumpeter Lanfried said...

My favourite announcement: "We apologise to passengers for the fact that this train is running fifteen minutes late owing to ... [long pause] ... circumstances."

Actually, announcements are OK. If we didn't have them we'd only ask, "Why don't they tell us what's happening?" So cheer up please, all you grumpy old men.