Transported: When Not Waiting

In December 2009, I was running for the morning train through the dark and rainy streets of Bristol. The time was just before seven and the train doors were beginning to close as I sprinted towards the barriers. The guard used his pass to let me through the gate and then pointed towards the end of the train while the manager held the remaining open door for me.

The train left a few seconds late that morning because of the efforts at Bristol Temple Meads. I was so enthused by the wonderful treatment that my compliments were effusive on Twitter. The response from some was that at least the staff were nice this once. I realised, however, that there had been very few bad days overall. That was one magical event in a series of pretty ok travelling over four years.

The inside of the train is usually warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I tend to get a seat and occasionally have the privilege of having a table to myself. The waiting part is the worst because not only is it indeterminate but the standing around is done outside. Buses are more variable in their service probably due to traffic and other urban centre issues. Trains seem to be better at getting there.

This isn’t just anecdotal information; the annual public performance measures by the Office of Rail Regulation backs up my memories with data. A train is defined as being “on time” if it arrives within five minutes or ten minutes of the planned destination arrival time.

The service I use is now run by CrossCountry but was run by Virgin. In Quarter 2, the on time measures were 89.9% for 2008/09 and 91.8% for 2009/10. Compare that to Virgin whose on time statistics were 81.9% for 2008/09, a huge difference, especially for anyone waiting out in the cold. However even they have improved to around 90%.

When everything runs on time, and that includes my waking up, I can be home in Bristol by 6.30pm. Other times, of course, it’s not that easy.

I remember a winter three years ago when I was still reading my Terry Pratchett book at 8pm in the snow while waiting for the Virgin train which didn’t want to arrive. I went home through Newport once because the track to Bristol had to be closed off. There was snow and ice on the tracks that closed off the Severn Tunnel and made a morning’s journey much longer but provided some beautiful Welsh scenery and the slow journey behind a regional train that extended the 42 minutes into over 160. These tales of woe, however, are sparse and in between. In February 2009, the snow in England which shut down most work was mostly ignored by the trains although I was warned to avoid travelling by a colleague who arrived in Cheltenham and couldn’t get to work because the buses had been stopped. He paused for a coffee and then went back home.

The commute may not be as lovely a journey as those on the Orient Express but it’s usually a nice break from reality and punctuated by a cup of coffee and a good book.

on time

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3 responses to “Transported: When Not Waiting

  1. I love your posts about train travel!

    I never minded commuting when I did. That is, I hated losing so much time just traveling, but the actual travel experience I liked. Just don’t put me next to people that are a bit too talkative in the morning!

    The Dutch railways had an alternative time table a few Sundays ago: they pretended that they had adverse winter weather and they tried out something new: trains would only travel to the next big station (and stop at the small ones if in the time table) and then return to the (big) station they came from, and go back and forth like that all day. That way, any problems with individual trains/tracks would be localized.

    Not sure what the result was, though. We’ll find out what they do when the weather is bad. 🙂

    They do trials every now and then, we also had a off-time table few weeks, where certain lines had a train running every 10 minutes, whereas normally it might be 15 minutes. However, this caused quite a few problems, too!

  2. Faced with the idiosyncrasies of privatised rail travel, old timers like me now look back on the allegedly bad old days of British Rail with fondness for a number of reasons, of which I’ll name but two.

    Firstly, if a main line service was late into Temple Meads, local connecting services, such as the Severn Beach Line service, would be held back so any passengers (not ‘customers’ in those days) could still reach their final destinations.

    Secondly, it’s particularly galling that journey times are now longer under privatised operators than they were under BR. For instance, Bristol Temple Meads to Paddington now takes 15 mins. longer with First Great Western than it used to under British Rail, although the rolling stock is the same. And quite how FGW takes 10 minutes to get from Stapleton Road to Temple Meads, I despair.

    • Thanks Woodsy, I suspect that the length of time has been extended to avoid the ‘delayed’ measures. The scheduled arrival times for Temple Meads and Parkway are usually later than the train arrives, sometimes by up to five minutes. They can then make up a couple of minutes when delayed and not lose their on-time performance measures.

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