Saturday, December 22, 2007

We wish you a Merry Christmas

I imagine most of you will be settling back this weekend and enjoying Christmas already, so in the spirit of the tradition of playing word games whilst slumped on the sofa after a massive roast lunch, I thought it would be fun to give you a few anagrams of "I Hate First Great Western" that I've been slaving over whilst at the office today.

Not really, the part about being at the office is true, but I found a brilliant anagram-making website, so here are the best five:
Reintegrate a Fresh Twist
Sweethearts a-Frittering
A Teenager Writes Thrifts
Thereafter is a Grits Newt
Twit Rehearses a Gift Tern
Very silly, but made me laugh. And if you'd like to have a go, visit
And here's the best one made out of the letters of my full name:
Red Jellies, Ooh a Nun!
Have a great Christmas everyone, and come back with your gripes and grumbles in the New Year. It'll be the blog's first birthday in January, so I'll have to think of something special to do to mark the anniversary.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tidings of comfort and joy

When I became a commuter, a few years ago now, I soon realised that I had also become a bit of a bore, because talking about our horrible commute is what commuters do. A lot. And probably quite angrily. So it's always nice to find others in the same boat, who can share their stories about "the day it took 17 hours to get home from work", or "the night I went to prison after finally punching the drunk man on the late train who wouldn't stop talking loudly and incomprehensibly into his mobile phone".
In that spirit, here are two other blogs you might find sympathetic to your complaining needs. Thanks to Lee from the First Great Western Coffee Shop, who is also a useful port of call when your nearest and dearest tell you if you mention First Great Western one more time, you'll be banished to bed with no supper.
I'll add these to my links list too. It seems the number of places to go when you're fed up with FGW is growing. Soon, you'll only have to switch on your computer to hear a collective "Aaaargh! Wait until I tell you what happened on the way to work/from work/at the station."
I imagine we make up quite a varied and disparate bunch of people, coming as we do from up and down the Thames Valley and the West. But with just one voice: "I Hate First Great Western!" Someone should write a blog about it I reckon.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ho, ho, ho! A merry Christmas commute to you

Hello peeps
Apologies for my rather substantial absence, and sorry if you were under the impression that I'd disappeared entirely. Things have been rather busy at work, and, I find myself having to admit, my commute has been fine recently.
That is no excuse of course, as I know there are many of you still struggling with delays and overcrowding on a daily basis, so I'm back to assure you that I'm still here, and still reading your messages with interest.
Sadly, I also currently find myself badgeless, as I have now sent out 600 of the little fellas, and have run out of my present stock. If, demands it, I shall reorder in the New Year, but until then, apologies, and to those who have them already - you are now the possessors of a limited edition item, so don't lose them!
But, back to business, and a timetable change has occurred during my absence, something that always upsets a fair few of us. I was a bit disappointed to discover the disappearance of some of the daytime fast trains to Paddington from Slough. I expect this will begin to get on my nerves in the next few weeks, when I shall be on late shifts. How has it affected you?
I'd also like to assure the staff member who has commented on my previous post that, honestly, we know commuters are a bit pushy and annoying and the badges are not meant as an insult to you personally. I myself am very fond of the nice people I talk to on the platforms, most of them anyway, and usually find them helpful and sympathetic to my complaints.
But even nice people can turn into a horrible baying mob when pushed to extremes, and sometimes, I am ashamed to say, even I catch myself barging old ladies and children out of the way to get that last available seat, something I am not proud of. So, seeing as it's the season of goodwill, a big apology to anyone who's felt the sharp end of my elbow during the past year, I'm normally a very calm person and quite kind really, yes it's true.
Anyway, a very merry Christmas to you all, and I hope you have trouble-free travel throughout the Christmas and New Year period.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To hell with global warming, give me a patio heater!

The weather's taken a bit of a turn for the chilly, as I'm sure you've noticed.
Whilst actually on the train, this is not an issue, as we are warmed in the same way as people stuck up mountains. No, we don't get naked and climb into each other's sleeping bags, but we do huddle close together, whether we like it or not.
No, the part of the day that really pains me is the bit where I stand on the platform with the wind somehow managing to bypass the gloves, the scarf and the extra pair of socks, in its mission to climb into my bones and stay there all day long.
At these times I crave the warmth of a patio heater. Just imagine how happy we'd be clustered around these planet-killing wonder-inventions, all toasty and warm and slightly less annoyed about the delays.
But we couldn't have those, as they're too bad for the environment. So, what else can we do to beat the freeze? I suppose the second-best option is the waiting room, but all too often these are locked, especially in the evenings when we need them the most.
My least favourite place to be when it's cold is the Hammersmith and City platform at Paddington Station. I'm convinced this platform exists in a separate weather system to the rest of the city, as it always seems to be at least three degrees colder there than anywhere else along the journey. And it appears to be something of a wind tunnel. I'm shivering just thinking about it.
So, what are your top tips for keeping warm on the platform? Maybe we could sing protest songs and someone could bring a guitar.
Or perhaps we could just huddle like we do on the train. Next time you feel someone invading your personal space, don't worry, I'm not getting over-friendly, I'm just trying to stave off an attack of hypothermia.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We are not amused, but not so angry

Well, it's been nearly a year since I started the blog, and as the long winter nights start to draw in, I have to say I'm a lot less angry than I was back in January.
And I think there are three reasons for this.
1) Moving house - I can highly recommend living nearer your place of work. It still takes me a fair old while to get to the office, but the delays just aren't as severe as when you have to travel out into the wilderness beyond Reading. Of course, I realise this is not a solution for most people, but it's certainly made a difference to me. And, is it just me or are things slightly better in terms of delays these days? I think they are, at least up my neck of the woods anyway.
2) Getting the full picture - My gratitude to those members of FGW staff who have made such an effort to explain to us why the trains are late, overcrowded and cancelled. Two have even set up their own blogs for the purpose, which is marvellous. It's so much easier to cope with delays if you understand why they happen, even if you don't have much sympathy at the time.
3) Having someone to talk to - Thanks to everyone who takes part in this blog on a regular basis. I find that it's very hard to explain to a non-commuter how awful things are sometimes - people either assume I'm a scary aggressive person, for wanting to give out badges with the word "hate" on them, or just switch off once I start relaying my morning commute to them, blow by blow. It's good to share, even if we're only sharing the need to have a good whinge.
But, on the flip side of the coin, there are things I still don't understand, and which still make me unhappy. And these are they:
1) Why are the train managers given stupid rules to follow that don't make sense?
- Not allowing season-ticket holders to sit in First Class if standard class is full, even though the Conditions of Carriage say you're allowed to ask
- Not allowing standard class ticket holders to upgrade to First Class on the train, even when they're offering you money up front and the rest of the train is full
2) Overcrowding
- It's still not okay to pay a large sum of money to be squished up to your neighbour's armpit on a regular basis, and no-one's come up with a really good explanation of where all the carriages went and why. It's something to do with money and the department of transport, but to be honest, isn't providing the maximum number of seats possible on each rush-hour service something that should be a priority?
3) Customer Service
- Why does the complaints department always try to fob you off with a standard letter, no matter what your complaint? It's insulting and makes us angry. No-one likes complaining, and certainly no-one likes complaining twice, or three times...
- Things seem very unclear. I've discovered that season ticket holders can reserve seats, although I'm not sure if they're supposed to. And I only found out about the off-peak upgrade from someone else with a season ticket, it seems that passengers could do with a bit of the website that would tell us about the reasons for delays, any offers, and other useful information. I'm sure it's all there on the website somewhere, but it's not the easiest to get around.
I shall be investigating, and see if I can find some answers...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Calling all cattle: do you use Twyford?

An appeal, from some TV programme-makers, who want to investigate the cattle-truck-like conditions faced by commuters:
Do you use Twyford station during the morning rush hour, either as a resident, changing from Henley, or on the long haul from Oxford to Paddington, or any of the stations in-between?
If so, they, and I, want to hear from you.
If you'd like to be involved in making a point about the crushed conditions faced by the daily London commuter, please get in touch with either me ( or the programme's producer ( who can provide you with more details of what will be involved, when you get in touch.
Please join in, it's a really good opportunity to make your grievances heard, and you'll get to be on TV as well, as an added bonus.

Save Ashchurch train services

Look at this for a picturesque village church. Doesn't it look like the sort of place you might want to visit sometime?
This Gloucestershire village, near Tewkesbury, is served by the brilliantly named station "Ashchurch for Tewkesbury", once a railway centre of some importance, according to Wikipedia.
These days, its services are under threat, which is a shame. And that's where you come in.
Please help the lovely people of this countryside parish to keep their train services, by signing this petition.
The deadline is the 22nd of November, so put your name down now.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Don't let the sun go down on me

My work leads me to research lots of interesting things. And today, I've been finding out about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and its non-clinical cousin, the "Winter Blues". Apparently up to half of us experience the blues in the winter months, manifesting as lethargy, overeating, sadness and anxiety. This is because we aren't getting the sunlight we need, and our bodies prepare to go into hibernation as a result. I've certainly been finding it harder to get out of bed over the past few days, and my need to eat cake has increased to a ridiculous extent.
All this is very well and good, but "So what?" I hear you cry.
Well, how's about this for an idea?
Why don't train companies give us a boost by offering lightboxes, either on the trains or in the stations? Bright light therapy helps 80% of people with S.A.D. and can also be effective for anyone who's feeling a bit down in the dark months. They could even hire them out for the journey, as any delays would mean a longer exposure, and a happier passenger as a result.
Making people happier the longer they spend on the train is about as win-win as it gets, and since there will always be delays, how about a range of things to make people feel better about them - from a simple cup of tea to a blast of extra-strong light?
Surely it's about time that FGW thought about employing me as a Great Ideas Manager?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

You can't sit down, not even if you pay me

My eyes and ears at Reading station (actually she's a whole person, but it would take too long to list every part) has complained to me of a worrying case of jobsworthiness, as follows:
She quite often pays on the train on the way home from Paddington for a first class upgrade, as when it's very busy, she feels it's worth the £13 extra just to have a nice sit down after a hard day. However, two days ago she asked the train manager if she could upgrade and he said no. She asked why, and he said she couldn't upgrade her ticket on the train, and should have done it beforehand.
However, how did she know whether or not she was going to get a seat until she got onto the train? And surely, anyone who's prepared to pay a few pounds to go and sit in a half-empty carriage and help ease the congestion in standard class should be welcomed?
My friend then questioned the train manager, saying she often upgraded her ticket on the train. His response was that the people who were upgrading her weren't doing their jobs properly, as it wasn't allowed.
Livid, my friend found that her only possible revenge was to stand defiantly in the first class carriage all the way back to Reading, and then ring me and complain about it.
Surely this train manager was wrong? Please can I have some guidance on this, as it seems unbelievable that on-train upgrades aren't allowed, when seats are quite clearly available.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Oh please can I keep it, please please please?

Well now then. There have been some fun and games as I tried to convert my season ticket from a Pangbourne one to a Windsor one, the upshot being that I currently have more than £2000 on one of my bank cards which First Great Western have accidentally credited to me.
And now they want it back, which is a terrible shame.
The real refund, once a manager from Slough was despatched to sort out the problem, was only a few hundred pounds, which was very disappointing.
How tempting it would be to go on a spending spree at FGW's expense, and consider it a payback for all the hours I've spent delayed on trains over the last couple of years.
Sadly, they know where I live, and I'm not really the hardened criminal type.
But god, it's tempting.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A sad day

Hello again
It was with great sadness earlier today that I stepped into the last first-class carriage in which I am properly entitled to sit down and make myself comfy.
Yes, the free first-class upgrade has expired, no more will a free flapjack and a cup of tea brighten up my trips to work. RIP upgrade, I will miss you a lot.
But, what other news?
Those of you who use Facebook may notice that anti-First Great Western groups are springing up there - it seems the anger is still running just as high as it was when I felt compelled to start this blog more than ten months ago. One has even named itself "I Hate First Great Western", but has no relation to this blog, though I hope its members will come and visit, and perhaps order a badge or two.
So, ten months on, are things any better at all? Well, I do feel that I have a better understanding of why bad things happen, but I must admit the customer service still doesn't seem to have improved much, what's your experience?
I'm about to try and take the major step of changing my season ticket, so that it runs from my new home in Windsor instead of from Pangbourne. I imagine this will not go off without a hitch, but we'll see.
There's still no news of when my meeting with the First Great Western people will take place. They're quite busy with the Ufton Nervet inquest at the moment, so fair enough, but it's been rather a long time since I asked. I hope to be able to bring you some answers to some hard questions in the next week or two.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Oh how very strange

Do, please, visit You Tube and have a look at this, if you're not feeling too sensitive:
How very strange some people are.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Tickets please!

Is it just me, or has today been a ticket-checking day? I was asked to show my ticket on two occasions this lunchtime, maybe it's just because I'm on a late shift.
I'm glad actually, because I hadn't seen a ticket inspector yet on the Windsor-Slough line, and having paid £30 for a month's season ticket to pootle backwards and forwards between the two, I was wondering if I should have bothered. But this lunchtime, several youngsters were given a severe dressing down for boarding the train without a ticket, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I am an generally a pretty honest person and always buy a ticket even if I think no-one's going to check.
Then, on my Slough-Paddington leg, I duly sat in first class, and the host came and asked me to show her my ticket. I had a moment of horror as I realised that my upgrade might have expired, but thankfully it's still good for another week, so phew, a free cup of tea and a nice empty carriage, thanks very much. I'll be sad to see that upgrade go, as I'm sure will all the others who've taken advantage of it. I must remember to ask FGW what the effect of the offer has been, and whether they might be considering another similar scheme in the future, I for one would be heartily in favour, not too surprisingly.
I do have one note of complaint today. Last night I shuffled up the stairs of the Hammersmith and City Line entrance to Paddington Station. As I'm not yet used to the timetable to Slough, I asked the person at the information desk whether the 1833 Oxford train on Platform 12 would be stopping at Slough. He said yes. I got on it. Then a lucky announcement moments later declared that the train would be stopping at Maidenhead, Twyford, Reading.... I got off again.
So, either the information man was mistaken, or lying. In either case, he's not a very good information man, and nearly sent me to the wrong destination. What's the use of an information man that gives out wrong information?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Merry Christmas, from First Great Western

Lee at the First Great Western Coffee Shop, where you can drop in and natter to your heart's content about the latest news on cancellations and delays, has pointed out to me that while FGW haven't yet officially released their December 2007 - May 2008 timetable, the draft is already available on the website, in fact, it's here. So, what do you think?
The news from Slough is that there are more fast services to and from Paddington, so yay, but the new morning ones all at around 6am, so boo, as fingers crossed, none of my shifts start that early at the moment.
The other good news is that the High Speed Trains with 515 seats per train will replace Adelantes with 282 seats per train from Dec 9th onwards, oh joy.
So, have a look and see what you think, will it be a Happy Christmas from FGW?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Friday night is fright night

Hello all
Proper news about the new December timetable and a request for your views on it coming soon, so watch this space.

But as the leaves begin to fall, and a chill begins to bother the back of my neck as I wait at the station, my thoughts turn inevitably to Halloween, and all things horrible.

A-ha, you think I'm going to say my thoughts turn to First Great Western, don't you? Well, no, in fact, I'm talking once again about the horror of passengers behaving badly.

My increasingly more frequent chats with FGW employees has uncovered the fact that, while we have good reason to be frustrated, we may sometimes not behave in a manner becoming upstanding commuter-types.

One employee reports that he has been spat at, and I myself have observed the pack-like instincts of the drunken commuter faced with a cancelled service late at night, something which resembles the behaviour and sound of hyenas. Our friend the Insider has also reported that staff are unwilling to say which platform a train is expected to arrive at because there are some travellers who do not care who they push and shove in order to be first on the train and first to a seat.

Now, we all know the reason for our frustrations - delays and cancellations. Nothing new there.

But, we should expect to be judged by the way we behave, and if, as I have heard, train managers sometimes decide not to come out of their rooms at all during some services, then that's a worry.

On a lighter note, I'd like to ask for some views on visual protests. The badges provided by this blog are clearly a marvellous opportunity to make our feelings known. But they're very small, and staff usually don't see them at all.

So, should I happen to be organising some kind of visual event (let's just say for the purposes of argument that I might be, but I might not) what should it be - flags, t-shirts, hats?

I'm thinking of something along the lines of the Flash Mob trend, which started a few years ago, and involves lots of people turning up to the same place at a time agreed at the last minute, all demonstrating, or acting in a certain way, then going away again. Not very well explained, but here's a website which might help:

I'd like to something amusing, very visual and which will give the message that travelling by FGW is a real pain in the bum - perhaps we could all wear giant prosthetic bums?
As you can see, I do really need your help, so, since I know you all have plenty of time staring into space, or the next person's neck, on the way home, get your thinking caps on and come up with some ideas.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I am now considerably posher than yow

Hello all, sorry for the absence of more than a week, during which I moved house and am now resident in the Royal Borough of Windsor. And very nice it is too, thanks for asking. Windsor Central Station is really lovely, terribly twee and touristy, and alarmingly clean. Must be something to do with the Queen.
Happily, I am now nearer to London in miles, though curiously, that doesn't seem to shorten my commute, due to the fact that Slough is not as good as Reading (station-wise, though actually in most other ways as well), and I am now on a lovely little branch line, which chugs along from Windsor to Slough in its own good time, pausing so that we can enjoy the sights along the way. Well, that's how I've decided to look at it anyway.
The bad news is that my season ticket does not include this byway, so I'm having to pay £2.40 a day to get from Windsor to Slough and back, something that is almost (but not quite) persuading me to put a pair of trainers on and walk the 45 minutes down to Slough station, poverty stricken person that I now am, and a bit of a skinflint where paying for train tickets is concerned.
What all this does mean is that the focus of my ire has now moved up the main line from Reading, and I shall be saying some very stern things about Slough station, based on the fact that it is rubbish. Its only plus point is that it has a mascot in the form of a stuffed dog on platform five, but even that can't make up for the fact that the information boards seem to be on the blink more often than they should be and there aren't enough fast trains to Paddington. Or enough trains in general come to that. I remember the old days when every Paddington train stopped in Slough, what happened? I think what happened is that Maidenhead took over, but I wonder if people would be terribly upset if some trains stopped at Maidenhead AND Slough on the way to Paddington. What do you think?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Are you sitting comfortably?

Since my post about the Evening Standard article on Adelantes two days ago seems to have caused a fairly lively discussion, I would like to talk in more detail about what we actually want from our trains.
Personally, I want a seat on a train that runs reasonably to time. It's as simple as that. Other things are nice, like cleanliness, enough toilets that work and tea and coffee, but my basic need is to sit down and get home from work as quickly as possible.
I don't mind if the carriages are old- or new-style, I don't mind if they have a table, more leg-room or a place to plug in a computer. I can imagine these things are important to tall people and laptop-users. But to me, they're extra things are secondary to sorting out the
problems of capacity and delays, surely you agree?
Of course, in a perfect world, it would be nice to be able to have some input about what kind of mod-cons we would like in the carriages. I would nominate a referee in each one, who could "send off" annoying people who are behaving badly, ie: make them stand in the corridor, and if they carry on, make them get out at the next station.
It would also be nice to have a "gym-carriage" where out-of-shape commuters like myself could jog their way home, using the delays to tone up bodies made flabby by sitting at a desk all day.
Perhaps the gym machines could be used to generate electricity, thereby further reducing our carbon footprint.
And, of course, a selection of free hot drinks never goes amiss, perhaps served up by jesters in a "comedy-carriage" where commuters can forget their woes by being made to laugh all the way home.
Oooooooooooooooor, you could just run my train on time, that'd do me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Blame the children

I noticed on this morning's commuter sardine can from Reading to Paddington that the winter coughs and sneezes have already begun.
At the time, I wondered why, considering most people (not me, I've been saving up for a gigantic stamp duty bill, no, please, don't feel too sorry for me) have had a nice summer holiday somewhere sunny. While I've been slaving away in a basement in Knightsbridge until the late hours, these same people have been sitting on the decking sipping wine and being generally relaxed during those few sunny evenings we've had this year.
Then I realised, the children have gone back to school, and it all became clear.
The little darlings have been and caught each others' bugs and are now distributing them liberally amongst their hard-working parents, who are now bringing them onto the train in the morning for us all to enjoy. I'm thinking of getting a Japanese-style face mask, though I would need earplugs too, as it's the sniffing that really gets to me. Perhaps I should make up some "I Hate First Great Western" tissues to hand out over the coming winter.
I have also realised that a couple of months of first-class upgrades have made me much more sensitive to noise on the train. Last night a drunken couple in the first class area were being so loud, I couldn't concentrate on my book. I didn't dare to challenge them, because one man who was unfortunate enough to sigh and glance over in their direction received a torrent of abuse that lasted all the way to Maidenhead. Which was annoying, as the man himself had got off at Slough.
And this morning, in the quiet carriage, a woman in the corridor spent the whole journey talking in a voice like a foghorn about the saga of dropping her child off at nursery school. I wouldn't mind if either of these incidents had involved conversations of interest, but both were so banal, I became filled with rage that they should be contaminating my brain with such rubbish, though of course I was much too polite to say anything (aren't we always?).
I have definitely become a low-tolerance commuter, which doesn't bode well for my return to the daytime hours this month, when my upgrade is no longer valid. I really think the earplugs might be the way forward, as they'll also block out the onboard announcements.
I know where the safety cards are. And I know where the quiet carriage is. I'm in it. Now SHUT THE HELL UP!!!
Yes, definitely a low-tolerance commuter.

Friday, September 07, 2007

All change at the top

The Guardian newspaper reports today that FGW has appointed a new "over-arching" manager, Andrew Haines, while managing director Alison Forster focuses temporarily on the company's high-speed train services. I'm not sure what this means in terms of my forthcoming interview with a senior manager, but I will give the company a call on Monday and find out.

In the meantime, what do we know about Mr Haines? Here are five interesting things I found on the internet (I won't say "facts" as they are not double-sourced and I don't want to find myself being accused of "sexing-up" the blog):

- he's from Merthyr Tydfil in Wales (but we won't hold that against him, ha ha, only joking)

- he once had a holiday job in the lost luggage office at Victoria, and joined British Rail as a graduate in 1985 (a lifetime of trains!)

- according to one transport correspondent, he once shed four stone in as many months (clearly has some serious self-control)

- in an address to a the International Rail Operators Young Professionals in 2006, he reportedly told his audience that plans often fail because people look too much to the future and that instead, you should “Live in the world you are in” (sage advice indeed)

- finally, and best of all, Mr Haines agreed to sit down and listen to the concerns of commuters in an interview in 2004, when he was managing director of South West Trains (hurrah, there is hope for us!)

Andrew Haines is also himself a commuter. I like him already, now let's see what he can do.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Don't worry, be amused by the train manager

Hello again all.
Things are getting serious here at blog central, what with various members of rail staff of different kinds across the network ordering "I Hate First Great Western" badges (no names, no being fired for being naughty) and you unhappy commuters giving me your grievances to ask the company's managers.
But, as I continue to feed my local postbox with protest badges, on a lighter note, I was most entertained by the train manager on last night's exceedingly slow train from Paddington to Reading. As each station was reached - Acton Main Line, Ealing Broadway, Hanwell, Southall, Hayes and Harlington... (god, it's endless), the manager announced the station with words such as "It gives me immeasurable pleasure to tell you that we will shortly be arriving at Maidenhead" and "I can hardly contain my excitement as I let you know that we will soon be at Twyford". Fair made me chuckle so it did, which is a difficult thing to achieve at that time of night on the stopper-from-hell I can tell you.
And my happiness was made complete this afternoon, when a lovely First Class Host brought me a cup of tea in a way that made me feel like some kind of VIP. What a wonderful way to travel, thought I, it took me right back to the old days of the Orient Express. No, not really, I've never been on it, but I think maybe I should, though it's probably the only train service that costs more to use than First Great Western.
Bizarrely, I was even quite happy about the tube strike, because it was a nice day, so I walked to work across Hyde Park and most pleasant it was.
So, there you go, a moment of happiness in this sea of complaining.
Normal service will be resumed next time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

And so, we meet

Good news, it looks as though I am to be granted an interview with a senior FGW manager in the next few days, so I will be looking at all your comments and putting together some questions.
If you have a burning question you'd like to ask, please let me know by adding a comment below, and if it's a good one, I'll put it on the list.
I'd also be interested to know your views on the following. My friend rang me, furious, on Bank Holiday Monday, saying she'd been unable to get to work. The Reading Festivalgoers were arriving at the station en masse, and because of health and safety concerns, all entrances to the station were closed. Only a few people were being admitted at a time. My friend went to the side entrance of the station, explained that she was a season-ticket holder trying to get to work, and asked to be let into the station. She was told she'd have to join the gigantic queue of tent-carrying welly-wearers and take her chances. She gave up and went home.
Now, should she have been allowed into the station? Or shouldn't she be given special treatment just because she's a season ticket holder?
My view is that the Reading Festival happens every year, and that perhaps there should be some provision to help get those extra people home, maybe some buses or extra trains, or at least some way of letting everyone else go about their normal business rather than bringing the whole thing to a standstill. I'd be interested to know your views.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

You want to talk? Let's talk

The recent appearance of an article about this blog in a local newspaper has led to a small flurry of appearances on local TV and radio.
The latest of these was on BBC Oxford, and while I was on air, the presenter Bill Heine read a statement from First Great Western, which suggested that the company is always happy to listen to people's problems, and that it seemed that some people (I think they mean't me) simply didn't want a constructive dialogue with them.
It's half an hour later, and I'm still fuming. A dialogue is exactly what I do want, and now I've decided to try and get it, since they've laid down the gauntlet. I'm not sure whether the comment came from a press officer, or from someone in management, but it's typical of First Great Western's approach of "stick your fingers in your ears, shout 'la la la, I can't hear you' and pretend everything's fine"
So, I've now decided to call the press office myself, and see if I can get myself a bit of dialogue with someone. But first I need to know - do you feel First Great Western is happy to listen to your problems? And if not, what would you ask them if you had the chance?
I'll be happy to pass on your grievances, and will let you know what they say in response.
Hell hath no fury like a commuter scorned.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hallelujah! The cheque arrives

Well my friends, here's proof, finally, that you can obtain a refund from First Great Western, if you really try hard.
Thanks to some timely intervention from the Insider, a priority cheque was dispatched, and my claim from the 28th of April is finally settled, thank goodness. I do wonder how long it would have taken had the Insider not stepped in and performed magic, but let's not dwell on that, on such a happy day.
In other news, starting the week after next, my run of late shifts comes to an end, and sadly therefore, so does my first class upgrade, as I'll be travelling during peak hours again.
I have so much enjoyed the peace and quiet, and occasional cups of tea that go with a first class upgrade, that I can understand why those with First Class tickets are so loath to let any of us cattle-types in. But to be honest, as long as I've got my bum on a seat and the train runs to a reasonable schedule, I can live without the occasional free biscuit.
And in a month's time, I move into my new abode, which is considerably nearer to London, and therefore begin a whole new commuting experience, from the branch line in Windsor. I can't wait to tell you about all the Slough-based adventures I'm sure to have.
As the summer (what summer?) comes to an end, and things begin to change in work and home life, perhaps its time to reflect that things aren't quite as bad as they were when I began this blog back in January, and perhaps there's room for hope that they might get even better in the near future, with a favourable wind and a bit of luck.
Or maybe the arrival of the cheque has given me a rose-tinted moment, I'll probably be back to my normal grumpy self tomorrow, so that's something to look forward to, I'm sure you'll agree.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tom Harris on Radio 4

You and Yours this lunchtime featured the question: A government White Paper aims to give the UK railway network a clear direction over the next 30 years. Will it?
Listen again here
No specific mention of First Great Western was made, but the Minister for Rail Tom Harris was asked about the budget set out in the White Paper and said the following:
- 1,300 new carriages will be bought to increase capacity across the network
- "Reading was identified by Brunel as a major bottleneck in the mid-1800s... The amount of money we're going to spend there will make a major difference in terms of extra platforms and extra capacity."
- "The government doesn't need any additional increases in fares in order to achieve the revenue streams predicted in the white paper"
This final point only relates to restricted fares like season tickets, but I must admit it's really nice to actually hear a government minister say that there won't be fare increases for commuters as a result of the planned improvements.
Rail groups on the programme all welcomed the White Paper, but say they'll be watching the fares over the next few years, as the bad news is that unrestricted fares could go up sharply - one contributor predicted a rise of 20% in unrestricted tickets like standard return fares.
Have a listen and tell me what you think. Do you believe it?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I'm not completely bonkers, who knew?

My thanks go to the diary editor of the Reading Evening Post, Steven Hughes, who kindly gave the blog a mention in Friday's edition of the paper, and has also done a pretty good job of making me appear like a normal human being, fancy that.

He says (in case you're not from the Reading area)

"Okay, so the campaign's name is straight out of the 'na na na-na naaaa' book of playground taunts, but The Diary salutes it for expressing the exact feelings of most of the people who have to catch FGW trains".

So, hurrah! If the newspapers (alright, one newspaper) say I'm doing the right thing, then I must be.

What this does do, apart from allowing me to show off, is to bring your attention back to the main reason for this blog, which is persuading people to wear "I hate First Great Western" badges, in order to embarrass the company into listening to us, the mere customer. So, if you haven't ordered one yet, e-mail me today and do so. There are three good reasons why you should:

1) They're free!
2) They're funny!
3) They're due to be the fashion sensation of the autumn season!*

Just think, if you don't, First Great Western will eventually get round to realising that the one thing that's stopping them making even more money than they are at the moment is having to actually run the pesky trains, and will cancel them altogether in order to maximise their profit margin. It certainly feels as though that's the way it's going.
So, e-mail me at and order your badge today.

*This might be a lie, but you never know, remember the puffball skirt? Stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hello? Can I say it more loudly?

The past few days have seen quite a debate about whether or not London TravelWatch libelled First Great Western when they wrote to the government criticising its punctuality record, and suggesting that its franchise be taken away.
Now, I frankly don't care whether or not the comments made were defamatory, because that is not the point.
The point is this, and it's the point of this whole blog, the only reason it exists, other than to give me something to do during those quiet moments at work.
The point is: customers of First Great Western are not happy. We are not happy with the fact that despite paying very high prices for our train tickets, we do not get the service we need in order to go about our business. We are not happy because when we try to get a refund, we are always sent the standard brush-off letter, and are forced to complain again and again before we get any sensible response. We are not happy because there are not enough carriages on the trains, so we are forced to spend hours sweating like sardines in the dirty foyers. And we are not happy because (pause to take large breath) WE FEEL AS THOUGH NO-ONE IS LISTENING!
I don't care who runs my trains. If First Great Western would listen to us for long enough to make a few improvements and run things a little better, I'd be happy for them to run the service. I know that the main problems are the Department for Transport, Network Rail and years of neglect. And, I don't think FGW should have the franchise taken away, because the next company probably wouldn't do any better. But, guess what? We have a few ideas, and we'd like a bit of dialogue. It's the mushroominess of it that I can't stand, being kept in the dark and being fed bullshit.
So, please, can we have a conversation about how we can improve the system, rather than having a fight about who said what to whom, and who started it?
Thank you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The McDemo photo

So, here it is, Mark Thomas and one of his McDemo colleagues hating First Great Western on our behalf. They certainly don't look very happy, but that might be because they had a total of 181 demos to do that day, and I think this was the first.

Still no cheque from First Great Western, but this may be partly due to the postal system collapsing around our ears.

The Insider has posted a very interesting explanation of the madness and complications of the fare system, so if this is your particular beef, go and visit him here. I tried to read it all, but began to lose the will to live about half way down, I'm so glad I'm not the one trying to sell the tickets, the system's a mess!

I'm beginning to feel a bit like a message board, so let me tell you a story instead.

I'm on a late shift again. Last time I worked a late shift on a Friday, there was a drunken businessman being sick next to the departure boards. Let's call him Mike. He wasn't in a good way, and a kind young drunken man was trying to help him get home. Let's call him Jim. Then a much less kind drunk person decided that Jim was patronising Mike, and tried to have a fight with Jim. So far, so typical of Friday nights on Paddington Station.

But then, amazingly, everyone joined in to look after Mike. Once he was on the train, the whole carriage decided he was their pet project for the way home. Despite the fact that he kept disappearing under the luggage rack to be sick, everyone was very nice to him, and made sure he got onto the platform safely at Reading. I'm afraid to say I don't know what happened to him after that, as I didn't really fancy taking him home in my car, what with him being sick everywhere every five minutes and all. The most intriguing thing about Mike was that he was carrying two umbrellas. Jim was very concerned that either he'd stolen the second umbrella, or, more worryingly, that it belonged to another extremely drunk businessman who he'd lost somewhere along the way.

There are two things I took away from that journey. The first is that drunken people aren't always annoying and stupid, though they usually are. That trip was fun, everyone was in a good mood, and the atmosphere was great.

The second is that I thank FGW from the bottom of my heart for the off-peak first class upgrade that will allow me to escape the worst of the pantomime tonight, as it's not usually anywhere near as fun as that.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Actual magic happens

That Insider is a bona fide miracle worker. As promised, I received a letter yesterday with an offer of a free first-class journey of my choice, and news that a priority cheque to the value of £12.00 would be sent out with the greatest haste. I will provide photographic evidence of the cheque when it arrives, as it will indeed be a historic moment.
I think we can deduce from this that the Insider does indeed have the ear of the FGW management, and that we can rely on the sage advice available on the blog In Defence of First Great Western.
However, I have been asked to say that your complaints should still go through the official channels, except in exceptional circumstances. This is because the Insider is very busy fighting crime, leaping tall buildings, and of course answering our many and varied questions about the inner workings of the First Great Western empire.
If talking of those inner workings is your thing, I have also been asked to draw your attention to the First Great Western Coffee Shop, a forum where you can discuss the ins and outs of your daily journeys to your heart's content. It is also a useful place for us to organise ourselves when the time comes for the next fare protest, which the nice people at More Train Less Strain are organising sometime in the autumn.
Thank you for your attention, you may now go back to staring out of the window and wondering why you're not sitting in the garden in the sunshine with a cold drink instead of being stuck at work.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Free money from FGW

My diary informs me that it is now 100 days since First Great Western failed to provide a bus replacement service, and left me beside the side of the road in the middle of the night, forcing me to spend £12.00 on a taxi to get home.
Since then I have written three letters of complaint, and received two rail travel vouchers and a free standard-class return trip to the location of my choice.
What I have still not received, sadly, is the £12.00 which was the subject of my original request.
I'm wondering what comes now, as I pen my fourth complaint letter this week. The apologies have become more and more grovelling, the offers of free travel more and more generous, but still no cheque arrives, so what next? Well, my fingers are crossed for a first-class upgrade, as I am thoroughly enjoying my free three-month off-peak upgrade, (see previous post to find out how to get yours, if you haven't already) but I fear that may be beyond the power of even the most senior complaints manager.
Still, it can't hurt to ask. I'll let you know how I get on.
On another note, it seems more and more people are jumping to the defence of FGW, and setting up blogs to answer our questions and explain the problems behind the delays. This is great, and the sort of thing that the FGW management has been too short-sighted to provide so far. So, please visit In Defence of First Great Western and see if you can get your questions answered.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Seduced by a flapjack

Oooh, first class is nice!
I took advantage of my upgrade this morning, as mentioned in yesterday's post. The empty carriage was a haven of calm in which I was able to concentrate on reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (children's version, I'm not one of those who needs to pretend to be reading a grown-up book) without having to listen to the usual babble of people on their mobile phones and children on their summer holidays.
Then, even better, a man appeared, offering tea and cake! Flustered at such generosity, I took the nearest, a date and honey flapjack, and extremely nice it was too.
I can see why the First Class ticket holders wouldn't want to give up this kind of treatment. There was even a copy of the Times newspaper tucked unobtrusively into the pocket of the seat back. I had no need of this, being fully armed with a large hardbacked book, as previously mentioned, but put it into my bag anyway. It's not often you get anything free from First Great Western, and I wanted to make the most of it.
Well, I'm sold. Delays feel much better when there's a man poised by your elbow offering a selection of hot drinks and cake. If FGW realised this, they'd give out a few biscuits to customers in cattle class. I tell you what, I bet the number of complaints would fall rapidly.

Monday, July 30, 2007

First Class Upgrades

As a season ticket holder you are one of First Great Western’s most important customers, apparently, and as a thank you for your continued custom, they would like to offer you a free First Class upgrade during off-peak journeys on your normal route for three months.
Go here and fill in the form to print off your upgrade voucher.
I know it's not much use to those who only use the train during commuter hours, but if you've been working late, why not take advantage of the comfy seats? I know I will be.
I don't want to sound an ungrateful note here, but do you know how I found out about this promotion? Not on the FGW website, not on a poster at the station (though apparently there are some, maybe I'm not paying enough attention), but on a FGW customer's forum. I sometimes get the feeling FGW have a tendency to bury their good news, why would they do that? Still, there it is, sign up today!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bigger, stronger... and more expensive, perchance?

I see the government has announced its plans for a "bigger, stronger" railway, carrying twice as many passengers by 2030. Among the schemes in Ruth Kelly's masterplan are the enlargement of Reading Station and a rehaul of the signalling system, both of which I heartily applaud.
But, hang on a minute, how are these schemes to be paid for I wonder?
Well, the plan is that the extra passengers will provide the money, except that it's going to take an awful lot of extra passengers to pay for all this improvement, which includes longer platforms and more carriages on trains, again, great ideas, which I welcome.
I fear that the cost will be passed on to the passengers, who already pay a premium for a crap service. Will we be prepared to pay more for a good service? Surely we can't be expected to pay more to endure years of work on the lines, while we wait in queues outside the station?
Government ministers insist there won't be a big rise in fares. But I don't believe them. We'll end up paying in advance for a service which is bound to get worse before it gets better. What a surprise.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mark Thomas Hates First Great Western!

At least he does tomorrow. That's when my McDemo is due to take place in Parliament Square. For more on McDemos, see here.
Between 09.30 and 10.00am tomorrow, Mark Thomas will hate FGW on our behalf, and will send me a photograph to prove it.
Tragically, I can't be there because of work commitments, but if anyone happens to be down that way in the morning, please go and have a look, and make sure he's hating them as much as we would like him to.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Glug glug

Well, what can I say? A mini-monsoon descended on the south of England at the end of last week, and I'm sure we've all felt the effects.
Strangely, the worst delays to my journeys to work and back have been caused by the roads rather than the rails. My village sadly disappeared under water, as you can see. The picture on the left is courtesy of the BBC and local resident Phill Nederend, see more here. I've been leaving my car in Reading, which is lucky, as that's one of the only places the trains were still going to at the height of the flooding, so I was able to drive home, though I had to turn back several times as I tried to find a road into Pangbourne that wasn't under several feet of water.
The village is now once again passable, but now I have new worries. As the water flows down from the tributaries into the River Thames, there are new flood warnings. And where is my parking space in Reading, you may ask? Yes, it's at a friend's house right next to the river, near Caversham where the river is threatening to break its banks.
Strange times indeed. Should we start building an ark?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A commuter out of water

Its very strange. I'm the same, I wear the same clothes, I take the same route to work. But everything else is different, everyone else is on holiday, towing enormous suitcases, wearing garish t-shirts, and having absolutely no sense of urgency whatsoever.
My summer of late shifts means that I travel to work in the middle of the day, and it's making me feel like I've landed on a different planet. Normally, when I tut and shuffle, trying to get to the front of the queue for the train door, I'm surrounded by other people dressed in dark clothes, tutting and shuffling along with me. And it works fine. We're like a moody river, all moving in the same direction, all in a bit of a rush because of some signal failure or other, all moving smartly away from the train upon exit and striking out with purpose towards our chosen tube line. And absolutely never, and I mean never ever, stepping down from the train, stopping dead still, and looking around in amazement at the sheer excitement of being on Paddington station, suitcase blocking what's left of the doorway, with no awareness whatsoever of the commuter standing behind you, fit to burst with frustration and almost falling over your stupid suitcase.
There were actually a million people on Paddington station today. Where they hell were they all going? And why did they feel it necessary to sit all over the floor, so that I couldn't find a way through the milling, disoriented, bag-dragging, stopping-suddenly-for-no-reason-whatsoever-and-then-staring-around-in-wonder crowd to get to the underground entrance.
I think I need a holiday. And when I do have one, I will be sensible and get into my car. Like normal people do.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Great big gigantic signal failure

Well, last night's trip home was a bundle of fun I can tell you.
Due to what I eventually found out was a great big gigantic signal failure (that is the technical term), we were all turfed off our late night train at Slough, and treated to a double decker bus ride through Maidenhead and Twyford, before being deposited at Reading. Through a stroke of luck, my car happened to be at a friend's house in Reading, otherwise I shudder to think how I would have got home to Pangbourne, where another dreaded rail replacement bus is also in place from Tilehurst because of work on the line. I still didn't make it home until after 1am, but at least it didn't cost me anything.
So, this leads me to another question - why do signals fail so frequently, and why can't they be fixed or replaced so that they don't fail so often?
Signal failure is one of the most common reasons why trains are delayed, so I feel I should try and learn a bit more about it. I realise that the signals are not part of FGW's remit, but I don't care about that, I just want to know why the system doesn't work, and how to fix it.
This is all I know so far from a brief foray on the internet: signals can fail for a variety of reasons (what reasons?) and when they do, they always "fail safe", which means they go to red for safety reasons. That's about it. I can't find anything more helpful, apart from very technical descriptions of type of signal and signal procedures, which I can't bring myself to read.
So, rail fans, what's the answer? Whose fault is it and why isn't it being sorted?

Friday, July 13, 2007

What a lot of old Potter

Reading station may not have enough platforms, but it does have ten, which is why I was getting quite irate at having to wait outside it at midnight last night. When we eventually got into the station and I finally got off and began to wait for my connection to Pangbourne, I heard one of the station staff say that the reason the train couldn't use any of the other platforms was that work was being done on the line.
Does that also explain why we had to wait outside Paddington station at one o'clock this afternoon? Why am I always sitting on trains outside platforms, is it simply that work is always being done on the line, or is it a lack of staff, or simply bad management?
I have another theory. In the middle of the night, when the ghosts are abroad, I think the line is cleared for the Hogwarts Express, and assorted ghost trains, leaving us mere mortals on First Great Western crawling along in the dark, slowly losing our minds.
I'm afraid that the late shifts might be taking their toll on my sanity, but I would like to know the answer to this question. Why are the late trains always so badly delayed when there's so little traffic at that time of night?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Not sure whether to laugh or cry

Poor First Great Western. Sometimes I feel almost sorry for them. As regular visitors will know, I've been trying for some time to get a refund of £12.00 for a taxi I had to take when a replacement bus service failed to turn up. Since then, I've been exchanging letters with the Customer Service Department, who eventually agreed to give me a refund. However, a month later, I'd still not received a cheque, so I sent a third letter, chasing up the payment. These are selected highlights from the letter I received yesterday:
"I regret there has been an administrative error, and the ordering of your cheque has been severely delayed. However, I have arranged for another cheque to be sent to you at the earliest available opportunity"
"As a goodwill gesture ... I would like to offer you a complimentary Standard Class ticket to make a return journey with First Great Western at any time in the next twelve months"
"I am happy to enclose a Rail Travel Voucher for £5.00"
"I would like to thank you for your letter and your patience in this matter and hope that this will be resolved to your satisfaction soon"
Honestly, all I want is my £12.00 back, but FGW seem utterly unable to send it to me. So, instead, they've so far given me £30.00 in rail vouchers and a free return ticket, valid for 12 months. Which must be worth a few pounds as it's a standard return, which as we know is almost as expensive per mile as a charter rocket flight to Mars.
It almost makes me feel guilty, as though I'm kicking a puppy, when they're so grovellingly sorry for not being able to give me what I want.
But then, I think back to my journey this morning, in which my train from Pangbourne was delayed, and I only made my connection at Reading by sprinting full tilt across the entire station in a most undignified fashion, even though I'd allowed plenty of time for delays.
And, I read articles like this one in the Times, and it turns out I don't feel so bad after all.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The left luggage ... found!

The bag has been retrieved, with only minor disruption to its contents, and a charge of £3.00 for the dubious pleasure of rifling through my smalls. Happy days.

The left luggage

I don't know how it happened, but this morning I managed to leave a bag on the train when I got off at Paddington. Actually, I do know how it happened, because last night I was celebrating with my friend, who'd just passed her motorbike test. Champagne on a school night can have this effect on the brain, and somehow my poor fuzzy noggin managed to forget that I'd packed up some clothes for the weekend, and stashed the bag in the overhead storage area. It wasn't until I was almost at work that I stopped dead in the middle of the pavement with the horrible realisation that my bag was probably about to become the subject of a controlled explosion. It's not a very clever idea to leave things hanging around on trains in the current climate, even if it is a bag containing nothing more dangerous than a pair of jeans.
I immediately phoned the lost property office at Paddington, and got a recorded message asking me to leave my name, number and details of the lost property. This I did, and heard nothing back. When I got to work I found another number and called again, only to get hold of someone with very bad English, who could only tell me I needed to come to the Lost Property office on platform 12. Not easy, as I had to go straight into a meeting.
So, the current situation is that I don't yet know if the bag has a) avoided being blown to smithereens, or b) made it to the Lost Property office at platform 12.
I'm now going to spend my lunch hour travelling to Paddington and back, so I'll let you know.
Apologies if you were at the station earlier and this caused you any delays, it's the sort of thing I'd be really annoyed about if someone else did it. So, if you're really angry, let me know, and I'll give you the mobile number of the friend who gave me the champagne, as really it's all her fault. I'm nothing if not fair.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Straight from the horse's mouth

I am delighted to welcome members of FGW staff (and indeed those from other train companies) to the blog, who've recently become involved in the debate about how customers are treated, and why delays happen, and have put forward their points of view. It helps us no end to know that we can finally get a straight answer to a straight question, something that is sadly unforthcoming from the company's management.
So, please visit a new blog that could be very useful, giving out the kind of information that can help us understand the challenges involved in getting the bloody trains to run on time, something we all want, staff and customers alike.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to distance myself very clearly from the kind of people who abuse the staff, the idiots who ruin it for the rest of us by proving that we can't be trusted to behave like civilised human beings, I hate people like that even more than I hate FGW. Maybe there should be some kind of "sin carriage" which gets towed behind the back of the train, with no seat and no roof, for those kind of people. That'd learn 'em.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

We are human beings, honestly we are

Ah, July. The seemingly endless sunny days, the birds singing, the children playing in the park ... half of the country under water and rail signals being hit by lightning. What in the name of all that is normal is going on with the weather at the moment?
I arrived at Paddington last night to see the commuter's worst nightmare: a departures board with the word "cancelled" on every line, and thousands of tetchy suit-wearers milling around impatiently.
The reason, it seems, was a lightning strike at a signal at Southall. Now, I of all people realise that we can't blame FGW for the weather. But what annoys me is the way we're treated when things like this happen.
Rather than give out the latest information as quickly as they get it, we are herded behind closed gates and forced to guess which will be the next train to leave.
I wonder, does the crowd really become uncontrollable if you tell them that the train that's just arrived at platform four will be the Penzance service, calling at Slough and Reading, but please could you wait for it to be cleaned before we let you on it? Surely we're not such animals that we would charge through the barriers willy-nilly, barging the poor cleaning people out of the way as we set our sights on the prize - the empty seat? Would we?
I do wonder sometimes, when I see the way people behave during rush hour. But I like to think that we're civilised enough to be given all the information and still behave ourselves. And, actually, when it is something like a lightning strike, we don't mind so much, because we realise that's not the company's fault.
Though the trains were absolutely packed last night, people were fairly cheerful. It would have been different if trains had been cancelled because there was no driver available, or not enough carriages. So, please, try to treat us like human beings and let us prove that we are capable of behaving like them.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Will I also hate Virgin?

I'm being given the opportunity to try out another train service this week, as my work takes me to Birmingham. Not sure how that happened, but there it is.
The only things I've noticed about Virgin to date are the amount of time the trains seem to spend sitting at the platform at Reading station (long), the length of delays the services are able to rack up on a long distance journey (epic), and the fact that the staff look like airline cabin crew in their swish new red trains. This is probably not enough information for me to make a proper comparison with the services of First Great Western, so I shall be taking copious notes.
This latest development also means that I have a seat reservation on the 18:45 from Paddington to Reading on Wednesday which I won't be using. Any takers?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Corporal Mortification? Try commuting on FGW

Abandon hope, all ye who were hoping for an improvement in the railway network, for Ruth Kelly is the new Transport Secretary.
Luckily, her religion expects her to undergo a certain amount of suffering, in order to bring her closer to God, under the Opus Dei organisation. So, I suggest a period of using First Great Western train services to try and get to work. If this kind of suffering brings us closer to God, then we're all pretty close to being saints by now.
On a serious note, she's not done very well so far in the ministerial posts she's been given, let's see if she can make the transport system any worse, that's a pretty formidable challenge for anyone.

What's wrong with this picture?

Today, I was going to write "Bum on seat, part 2: C34a", but to be honest, I got to the station, the seat was free, I sat on it, and, well, that's it really. There's nothing much else to say except that the seat reservation system continues to work, and it's delightful.
I would, however, like to pass on some of the comments that I've been receiving in my inbox at, as they are far more interesting.
Firstly, today's photo comes from Tangers, who wonders how exactly the disabled people at Swindon Station are supposed to exit after going through the special barrier. Answers on a postcard.
Also, I was delighted to hear from Ryan, who tells me there's a FGW guard currently to be seen wearing an I Hate First Great Western badge that he was given by a passenger at Bristol. Apparently he's doing it for a dare, brilliant!
Finally, news from our regular visitor Billyo, who's discovered that the fares system is such a mess, it's sometimes cheaper to buy a ticket to Paris, or Rosslare in Ireland than it is to get an open return between Bath and London. This is because open returns are uncapped by the government, and are therefore often priced at a level that can only be described as bonkers. I've heard from others that you can save a small fortune on your ticket by breaking it up into smaller journeys, or buying a cheap ticket to a location beyond the one you'll actually be getting off at. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has tips on how to save money. I'll also be trying to look into it, but I went on two European websites yesterday, and trying to find out the rail fares from the UK made my brain melt, so I gave up. Check his blog post here for the full debate on the issue, really quite unbelievable.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bum on seat, part 1: E27a

The system works! Not a phrase you hear often in relation to FGW, but it seems that despite suggestions to the contrary, season ticket holders can reserve seats.
As I have mentioned before, I am the proud owner of a reserved seat on nine services from London Paddington over the next three weeks, and last night was the first: seat E27a.
The tube was functioning surprisingly well, so I arrived in good time for the train and did not have the satisfaction of booting someone out of my seat, but I was still pleased to see the little cardboard ticket poking from the back when I boarded coach E. The train was full by the time we left, and there were people standing, but unfortunately I was too happy in my private area of reservedness to remember to hand out badges to those passengers less well off than myself. Hey ho.
If you'd like to try this for yourself, the e-mail address you need is, let me know if the system works for you too, or if I happened to catch the customer service team on a good day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

28 days later

There are a lot of things you can buy with £12.00. For example, a quick glance at Amazon informs me I could buy the film The Train (with Burt Lancaster, 1964) on DVD, a copy of the Bob Dylan CD Slow Train Coming, or even the book Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. I could buy any one of these and still have enough change from my £12.00 to buy sweets in the shape of trains (can you get sweets in the shape of trains?) if that is what I chose to do with my £12.00.
But, sadly, this option is not open to me, because I have still not received my compensation cheque from FGW for a journey I took on the 28th of April. It is now, if I have counted correctly, 59 days since I spent the money on a taxi after being abandoned beside the road late at night. It is also, more importantly, more than 28 days since I was informed that a cheque would be forthcoming. And I quote, from a letter dated the 24th of May:
"I have arranged for a cheque to the value of £12.00 to be sent to you from our Finance Department. This will be sent directly from them, under separate cover, at the earliest available opportunity, please allow up to 28 days for delivery". Well, the 28 day period has passed, and the cheque has not arrived. So, complaint letter number 3 is on its way to the customer service department, which, by the way is a freepost address (First Great Western Customer Services Team, FREEPOST SWB40576, Plymouth, PL4 6ZZ).
I should have warned them, I get very upset from the lack of sugar which results from eating no sweets in the shape of trains (there must be sweets in the shape of trains, surely? Imagine the pleasure in being able to bite them in half, a bit like jelly babies), and when I get upset, I write letters. Lots and lots of letters. I think you should too.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What's wrong with you people?

Ah look, a fantasy train, with eight carriages on it. Just like the train that was supposed to be the 18:30 service out of London Paddington yesterday. I bet everyone in that fantasy train has got a nice seat to sit on, the train is clean, and it leaves on time and doesn't stop inexplicably for twenty minutes outside Reading station. Unfortunately, this was not the train that made it into service last night. Instead, only five carriages were provided on this major rush hour service and you can easily imagine the kind of squeezing into the lobby that followed. Luckily, I had recently replenished my stock of badges and cards, so eased them out of my bag, trying not to elbow anyone in the face at the same time, and began to offer them around the packed lobby area. You would think I had asked each passenger if they wanted a slap in the face. A couple of nice ladies opposite me took the badges suspiciously, read them, then told me that they agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment, and put them on. Everybody else looked like I was trying to sell them a timeshare apartment on a Spanish golf complex. For goodness sake, I'm trying to campaign for a better service here, isn't that what you want? This kind of reaction is so frustrating, and leads me to believe that there are some people who'd rather moan and whinge than actually try and do something about their problems. So, don't whine, complain! Write a letter and tell the FGW customer service department what you think, otherwise I won't be the one listening when you're bellyaching yet again about how useless the service is. Okay, rant over, consider yourselves told.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The importance of sitting down

Great news to impart. I have successfully booked a seat on nine trains from Paddington over the next few weeks, starting next Tuesday.
I have the seat numbers in my possession, and will unceremoniously be chucking people out of any that are occupied, so I'm sorry if it's you, but it's a jungle out there in commuterland, and it's survival of the fittest.
So, this disproves something I saw written on the FGW website, which says that season ticket holders can't reserve seats. I think it's actually the goodwill of the FGW Customer Service staff I have to thank rather than any change of policy, but I'm not complaining, as long as there's a seat there for me to sit on. I'll report back next week on how it goes.
My only problem is that sometimes I don't get that train, but I'm going to try very hard, just to make sure I give the seat reservation system a good trial, all in the name of research of course.
In other news, still no sign of a cheque in the post, sadly, so I continue to await my refund. It'll be 28 days on Thursday since I received the second letter replying to my complaint, so a third letter will be despatched on that day to try and hurry it up a bit.
And I'm not even going to mention my 50 minute wait at Paddington Station on Friday night at 11:45pm, after a late shift, when the train failed to turn up because it was delayed in the depot. Whoops, I just did. I tried to mention my blog to some of the hundreds of people waiting with me, but sadly most of them were drunk, so I'm not sure my point got across very well. Still, if I only get one more visitor it'll be worth it. No, it won't, I need hundreds more. Spread the word!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The blog celebrates its 2000th visitor!

I'm delighted to announce that at seven minutes past two this afternoon, the I Hate First Great Western blog received its 2,000th visitor. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who's visited the site, ordered badges, and made helpful comments (I sound like I'm making an Oscars speech). And, to mark this momentous occasion, I'd also like to thank the 2000th visitor with a bottle of bubbly. So, if it was you, get in touch. This is all I know about you - you appear to work at Star House in Maidenhead, according to your IP address, and you spent 32 minutes on the site, finding it through a Google search at 2.07pm on Friday the 15th of June and exiting by clicking on the link to a BBC story called "Rail passengers want lower fares". Is this you? Can you prove it by visiting the blog again from the same IP address and then e-mailing me your details to If you can, I'll reward you with not only champagne, but your very own shiny I Hate First Great Western badge, you lucky lucky person.