Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yes! Success!

I'm delighted to announce that, following my second letter of complaint, First Great Western have decided that they should in fact refund the £12.00 my friend and I were forced to spend on a taxi because we were left stranded at the side of the road in the early hours when a replacement bus service never arrived. That'll serve them right for directing my attention to their now notorious so-called "Conditions of Carriage" (CoC), which, following a quick read, proved that they did after all have some small semblance of responsibility to get me home. Fancy that.
Since writing my second complaint letter, I have also read First Great Western's Complaints Handling Policy (another interesting document available on the company's website), and I feel I should give you a bit of a tip - it's always worth complaining twice, because the second complaint is handled by a manager, ie: someone who has the power to actually give you a refund rather than parrotting you sections from the CoC which go something like "I'm sorry, we actually don't give a monkeys whether you had a bad journey or not you prole. You mean nothing to me. My company made billions of pounds in profit last year, so I'm off for a dip in the champagne hot tub, so there." I think it was something like that anyway, I've mislaid the first letter, so can't go back and check. Anyway people, get complaining. There's nothing like several tonnes of paper hitting the complaints desk to raise attention that we're not altogether happy with the way things are. And they really really want us to be happy apparently. I quote: "We believe that customer service is key in everything we do. We know that it is the little things we do that make all the difference in delivering excellent customer service". Yes, those little things, like not providing enough carriages on the trains, or bothering to try very hard to run them on time, that kind of thing. Put pen to paper, immediately!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Photo gallery # 4

Name: Gerry
Location: Slough

Fast cars
Loose women

Berkshire Property Services
Big Brother

Why he hates First Great Western:
Because they're never first, they're far from great, and I use them to go east anyway, so the name just makes no sense really.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Photo gallery # 3

My goodness, here's another one. And he really doesn't look happy does he?

Name: Jonathan
Location: Reading

The countryside
Travelling (but not on FGW)
Alternative guitar music
Fine Whisky

Noisy and disrespectful commuters
Corrupt politicians

Why he hates First Great Western:
Because you just cannot rely on them to get you there!

Photo gallery # 2

Here's another badge owner with an axe to grind.

If you'd like your photograph featured, send it to IhateFGW@yahoo.co.uk. Don't forget to tell me a bit about yourself.

Name: Sam

Location: Reading

Inventing cocktails with rude names
Hairy bikers

Late trains
Falling over
No asparagus

Why she hates First Great Western:
The lateness of the trains eats into my valuable social time. And please tell me why you can NEVER EVER EVER get a seat on a fast train to and from Reading in the rush hour, is it really so hard to make the trains a bit longer?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Please may I fly first class to the moon?

You may remember that last week I was introduced to First Great Western's fascinating "Conditions of Carriage", a document which suggests that, for the payment of a certain sum of money, the company has no responsibility to take you anywhere, at any time, unless it feels like it.
Reading on, however, I found a paragraph saying that if the standard class carriage is full, you can ask the train manager if you can sit in the first class carriage. This sounded promising, I had visions of travelling to work in a much more civilised fashion in the future and looked forward to putting this new knowledge into action.
This morning, my route to work was different, as I stayed overnight with a friend in Reading, so went direct to Reading station. As is well known by the commuting population of Reading, all fast trains to London are full in the mornings, so you have to stand. "A-ha!" thought I, and approached the train manager to ask if it was true that I could ask to sit in the first class carriage when standard class was full.
"You can ask" he said, "but the answer should always be no, because you pay for the carriage, and not for a seat".
Righty ho, so the Conditions of Carriage allow me to ask the question, but it will almost always be answered with a no. So the document might as well say: "If the train is full, you can ask to fly to the moon", or "If the train is full, you can ask to be carried to your destination on the back of a giant golden pigeon".
Also, did you know that if the train is so full that you end up standing in the first class carriage, you can be fined for not having the correct ticket? Luckily, no train manager has ever been brave enough to try and enforce this rule.
I might write myself a new contract at work along the following lines, following FGW's example:
"I might turn up to work, but I might not, and I still want to be paid a lot of money. If I don't fulfil any of my duties, there's nothing you can do about it. You can ask me to do various tasks, but if you do, I'll probably say no. Please can I have the contract to do this job across the country and make vast sums of cash? Thanks"

Monday, May 21, 2007

Calling all Bath haters, and I don't mean soap dodgers

I am happy to announce that the second batch of badges have now arrived, the last lot having been sent far and wide across the FGW network. And, I'm specially pleased that the nice people at More Train Less Strain have ordered 100, to distribute to unhappy passengers in the Bath area.
So, if you're unhappy and in the Bath area, see if you can see anyone wearing an "I Hate First Great Western" badge and they might be able to give you one of these highly fashionable accessories of your very own.
Of course, if you're not in Bath, you can always use the traditional method of e-mailing me at IhateFGW@yahoo.co.uk and giving me your address so I can send you one, or perhaps several.
It seems that FGW are having to seek far and wide to find a bus company willing to pick people up at the weekends for their replacement services. On Saturday night, the driver of the bus replacement from Tilehurst to Pangbourne had to use his sat-nav to find the way. It's 3.1 miles. Still, I shouldn't complain, it arrived and we got home, so compared to recent journeys, it was a positive triumph. The new timetable came into force today, did anyone spot the difference?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Photo gallery # 1

Here's the first in what will hopefully become a regular series, in which those who hate FGW stand up and are counted.

If you're proudly wearing your "I Hate First Great Western" badge, please send a photo to IHateFGW@yahoo.co.uk

Name: Terry

Location: North London

The liberation from the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth thereby reaching nirvana
Cinema (in particular The Bulletproof Monk and The Golden Child)
Nintendo Wii

Tony Blair and George Bush
Despotic Communist regimes
First Great Western
Uncontrolled rebirth

Why he hates First Great Western:
His regular trips to the Buddhist temple have been disrupted by the continual poor service of First Great Western and have severely delayed his journey to enlightenment. Consequently, he has made it his purpose in life to "preach the word of I hate FGW to fellow commuters and thereby bring about a new dawn for rail travel in the UK and beyond".

And another thing...

Two posts in one day, I must have a bee in my bonnet.
Further to my annoyance at the letter I received in response to my complaint, I settled down and actually read FGW's Conditions of Carriage, and most interesting they were too.
Apparently, if the company leaves you stranded, it should provide you with alternative transport home, or put you up in a hotel. Cue another complaint letter, asking exactly how I could report the fact that I was stranded, since the FGW customer service line shuts at 22:00, and I was left by the side of the road at 00:30 on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. Since they were clearly unable to help at this time, I'm suggesting that they do, after all, refund the £12.00 taxi fare I incurred making my own way home. The good news is that the Customer Service address is a Freepost one, so I think I could pursue this one for quite a while. I've asked that they clarify what to do when one is stranded in a situation such as mine, as I'm sure it will happen again soon, so I'll let you know.
A blog visitor has also kindly passed on the First Group final report, which was released this morning, and my goodness, aren't they smug? If you believe what they write, they're running the best public transport service ever in the whole wide world. I quote you the following:
"All of our businesses have delivered a very strong performance. Our UK Rail division continues to go from strength to strength."
"Our successful rail division has delivered its best ever year of growth. We are committed to the long-term development of railways in the UK and are investing to deliver improved services for passengers. We are the only operator to run every type of overground rail service in the UK, from high speed intercity trains and overnight sleepers to local branch lines, regional and commuter services and open access, light rail and freight operations. We will continue to build on our reputation of investment, innovation and customer service."
"During the past 12 months we have consolidated depots, introduced a new management structure and common systems, brought together 4,400 staff, introduced new amalgamated timetables, commenced a substantial fleet refurbishment programme and started the many major improvements which we committed to as part of our franchise. Despite our best efforts to ensure a seamless transition we faced some operational challenges principally as a result of changing the rolling stock maintenance depot and the introduction of a new consolidated timetable. We made great efforts to swiftly rectify those issues, the majority of which we have now overcome. The new timetables which will be introduced in May and December this year will further improve services."
I mean, for goodness sake, I know this is a spiel for the investors, who incidentally are doing pretty well out of our misery, but do they have to sound so bleeding cheerful about it all? Don't they know how much we hate them? Maybe if you all wore a badge, they might get the message. Read the full final report at:
and if it gets you annoyed, order a badge today!

Computer says no....cough

Now, I'm going to have to take a deep breath before I start this post, because I'm so annoyed that I might not explain it well. You may remember that earlier this month, my friend and I were abandoned by the side of the road in the middle of the night, as the replacement bus service which was due to take us home never arrived. Having finally found a taxi, we spent £12.00 getting home. So, the next day, I wrote a letter of complaint to First Great Western, asking for a refund of that same £12.00. I have now received a reply. I shall print a part of it here:
"I regret that First Great Western is not able to accept liability for any loss (including consequential loss) caused by the delay or cancellation of any train, by any missed connection or by the closure of the railway. This is explained in the National Rail Conditions of Carriage. I therefore cannot agree to your claim for the £12 taxi fare incurred as a result of the disruption to your journey".
So, what they're saying, if I understand correctly, is that First Great Western is under no obligation to provide a rail service which works properly, and the three and a half thousand pounds a year I pay to use this service guarantees me nothing at all. The company can cancel my trains, leave me abandoned in the middle of the night, or CLOSE THE WHOLE RAILWAY, and it doesn't have to pay me a penny of compensation if it doesn't feel like it.
But wait, there's more, and bear in mind that both my friend and I are unfortunate enough to be season ticket holders:
"As a gesture of goodwill on this occasion, however, I am pleased to enclose a Rail Travel Voucher for £24.00, which I do hope you find useful...I do hope future journeys with First Great Western are more enjoyable".
Ah, a gesture of goodwill. That's nice isn't it? Rail Travel Vouchers. You might as well have sent me Mars Dollars - since having money for travel is apparently no guarantee that the train will actually take you to your destination, be on time or in fact, arrive at all.
Except, wait a minute. A call to First Great Western has revealed that I can use these travel vouchers as a discount off my season ticket when I come to renew it.
So, how much work do you think I'll have to put in to get them to send me £3,500 of "goodwill" travel vouchers over the next nine months? It's definitely worth the cost of a few stamps and a few strongly worded letters, don't you think?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

No Way to Run a Railway

It's time for a call to arms. Forget what I said yesterday about being too lazy to protest. Another fare strike is on the cards, and this time we all get to join in. Our friends at www.moretrainlessstrain.co.uk are organising a day of action in September, called "No Way to Run a Railway Day" and they need people across the network to take part. Please go to their forum and register your name and location, so we can make this protest bigger and better than their last one, which was mainly Wiltshire-based. And, of course, I'll be trying to make sure everyone's got a badge to wear, so if you'd like some to give out either now or on the day, please contact me at IHateFGW@yahoo.co.uk and I'll get some sent out to you. Please help if you can - it's our chance to get ourselves noticed by FGW, so tell everyone you know, and try to get as many people as you can involved.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Too lazy to protest? No problem!

First Great Western are quite lucky in a way. They're lucky because, as a person, I'm not really the protesting kind. I'm happy to support someone else who's doing something laudable, but, for myself, I'm happy being one of life's spectators.
Which means that to start a blog like this, I must have been very very angry indeed.
But now, the blog is up and running, the badges are regularly being sent out into the world, and I ask myself, what next? I'm loath to spend my weekends going up to London to wave a placard or shout nasty things about the DfT and First Great Western. And, to be honest, it seems that no matter how much petitioning and protesting goes on, FGW are pretty much oblivious.
But, help is at hand! Billyo, a fellow blogger and regular visitor to the site has drawn my attention to the recent work of the wonderful comedian and political activist Mark Thomas. For a £5.00 fee, Mark and his colleagues will organise a protest at Westminster, wave a placard, shout a few slogans, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. They're doing this to draw attention to new legislation banning protests in the area without express police permission. You can make up any slogan you like, I've obviously chosen "I Hate First Great Western", and you'll receive a photograph of the demo to keep as a momento.
Go to http://www.mcdemos.com/ for more information.
I've requested one, and I'd like to appeal to any other visitors to this site to do the same - make up a different slogan if you like, but send me the resulting photographs for an IHateFGW photo gallery.
Bloggers of the world unite! Fight apathy! Pay someone else to do things for you!

Monday, May 07, 2007

The new timetable

So, no fanfare, no big announcement. I was just looking up a train time or two yesterday when I noticed that the new May timetable is available to view on the FGW website. From a Pangbourne point of view I must say it was rather disappointing, as I can't see any extra services or changes at all - is anyone else better off?

To try to add weight to my campaign, I've decided to send the badge to all the MPs who've had their say on FGW's performance. Henley's Boris Johnson, Reading's Martin Salter and Maidenhead's Theresa May will all be lucky recipients. I imagine they'll be mostly ignored, but with Boris you never know, so fingers crossed the "I Hate First Great Western" badge could be making an appearance on a certain lapel during a transport debate soon. Let me know if you think your MP should be involved too, and a badge will wing its way to them. Meanwhile, another request for photographs of you, your clothing or your luggage proudly wearing its badge. Please send images to IhateFGW@yahoo.co.uk. A tip - use the macro option on your camera if it's got one, otherwise it'll look like a vague pinkish blob in the distance, and I'll have to call it art instead of politics. I'll feature the best on the blog, so be creative.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Branching out

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently embroiled in the process of selling my home, and buying another. The location of the new abode will be either Eton or Windsor, which leads me into a new transport situation.
Windsor and Eton Central station is linked by a branch line into Slough, from where I can catch the fast service into London Paddington. I'm expecting a whole new world of fun and games, as of course, the branch line is also run by FGW, oh joy!
Wikipedia tells me it's believed the branch was built for Queen Victoria's convenience, travelling between Windsor Castle and London. I bet she wouldn't have put up with any nonsense about the wrong sort of leaves on the line.
Windsor Station opened in 1849, on the completion of the branch line from Slough, but only after considerable opposition from the powers at Eton College, who were convinced that the proximity of a railway would lead the Eton boys astray. I wonder if it did.
And that's the problem with all the toffee-nosed locations in the Thames Valley. Residents didn't welcome the new railway, and didn't want stations nearby, as it was feared that letting all sorts of riff-raff in was undesirable. Unfortunately, these days it means that those of us who want to live in posh areas like Henley and Windsor have to deal with the branch line scenario. Much more sensible options would be Reading, Maidenhead or Slough. Serves me right for being a snob I suppose. Once I'm firmly esconsed in the new home, I'll let you know how it goes. Does anyone have any fun branch line stories to impart?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Show us your badges

I've been wearing my badge for a week now, and have had no reaction at all. I think everyone on the train is just too polite to mention it. So far, the only major delays have been due to teenagers running around on the line at Hayes, which people are unlikely to blame FGW for, so there hasn't been an opportunity yet for me to turn to my fuming neighbour and say: "You sound very angry about the bad train service, would you like a badge to wear?"
Talking of people running around on the line, am I the only person who thinks that it constitutes an obvious example of natural selection? If you slow the trains down to save the lives of these stupid people, aren't we just preserving their stupidity to be passed on to future generations? I say run 'em down. The only reason I can think of to allow them to stay alive is if hitting them might cause the train to derail, in which case I can see why the driver needs to exercise caution.
Call me callous, but frankly there are too many idiots in the world as it is, and I'm just worried for the future of the planet. How can our species hope to survive if we don't cut out the dead wood? Anyway, I've started sounding slightly right-wing of Hitler there, you'd never believe I'm quite the socialist would you? What I really wanted to ask was whether anyone had had a badge noticed yet, and if so, what kind of reaction they're getting. I'm going to try harder to get mine seen, which will mean manoeuvering my bag into the eyeline of as many people as possible. This will mean I have to become quite annoying. No change there then. Ha ha.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fast links to Paddington...ahem

This week, I am mostly selling my home in order to move a bit closer to London, since all of my work is there, and evil FGW are ruining my life by making my commute unbearable.
The particulars of my flat are now on the internet, and include the following line, which made me splutter into my tea: "Pangbourne Station is a short walk away giving fast links to London Paddington". Ah. Hmm. I was asked to approve the details, and did so, but not without feeling a twinge of guilt. I hope that whoever buys my flat is someone who only commutes as far as Reading, as I wouldn't wish on anyone the travelling experiences I've had since last December. Still, it is a lovely place to live, and I wish I could stay, but I can't live like this, and I hold First Great Western partly responsible for my decision to move. Has anyone else given up the fight and actually moved house, partly because they can't trust the train to get them to work on time? It's a sad and sorry state of affairs. Maybe a new badge is required: "FGW is ruining my life!". Bit dramatic perhaps.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Waiting for a replacement bus service

Ah, there's nothing like a trip to the theatre on a Saturday night. The performance was excellent, and all was going well, until my friend and I tried to get home. At Paddington station, chaos ruled. The 2330 fast train to Reading was being replaced by a much slower bus, due to engineering works. So, we and several million other people squeezed onto the 2320 slow service, stopping at all stations (and there are a lot of them) to Oxford.
Except one.
Pangbourne station is unfortunate enough not to have an extra platform, so when there are engineering works, the train doesn't stop there. Instead, a replacement bus is meant to pick passengers up at Tilehurst.
But, due to the lateness of the train, caused by the chaos at Paddington, we arrived at Tilehurst 20 minutes late. And so, when we got off the train at Tilehurst, there was no bus to be seen. No replacement bus service whatsoever. And, of course, no taxi rank at a station of that size. So, through no fault of our own, there we were, two females, at half past midnight, sober, tired, on the side of the road, with no way of getting home. Not really acceptable at all. So, cue one strongly worded letter of complaint, with a claim for compensation for the £12 it cost us to (eventually) get home by taxi. Let's see if they can manage this without ****ing it up completely, like they do with everything else. Hell hath no fury like a blogger scorned. Let's just say, for their well-being, I hope they're clever enough to deal with the complaint quickly, and that the word "sorry" makes it into the response somewhere.
Anyway, how was your weekend? I look forward to receiving some photos of you wearing your badges, and any comments you've received so far.